After a devastating oil spill, the responsible company doesn’t donate billions of dollars to public schools or immigration reform. It cleans up the toxins. Zuckerberg fails to realize his company has facilitated a societal crisis. While his personal philanthropy is admirable, no unrelated charitable ventures will change this stark reality.
The revelations that Facebook not only sold ads to Russian troll farms seeking to influence voters, and allowed others to target “Jew haters,” clarify its betrayal of human values—turning Facebook into anti-social media in the process.
The new media conglomerate—including Twitter—is the Wild West: unknown, unregulated, unlawful. Users wielding sensationalist or fraudulent stories and cowboys trying to solve terrorism investigations before federal agents are rewarded with ad revenues, clicks, and popular relevance. Many voting Americans are fooled in the process.
These reports are unsurprising; in fact, they are products of how Zuckerberg, and by extension Facebook, sees the world. His declaration in his Nov. 12, 2016 Facebook post, “In my experience, people are good,” is incongruent with present reality. Perhaps he believes we should give ad buyers the benefit of the doubt, since he waited almost a year after the election to determine if they were Russian entities or were purchasing ads targeting people who were interested in the “history of why Jews ruin the world.”
In his Harvard commencement speech, he challenged the next generation “to create a world where every single person has a sense of purpose,” arguing that this was the “key to true happiness.” His thinking is misguided. All humans inherently have purpose, but many times it is the wrong purpose. Neo-Nazis marching through Charlottesville, a sheriff harassing Latinos, a politician stoking hatred, and a foreign adversary tirelessly tampering with free elections—these people all have purpose.
There’s an ideological pattern here. Facebook’s initial mission pledged to “make the world more open,” which it has since revised. Neither purpose nor openness is a virtue in and of itself. Should we be open to racism? Xenophobia? Hate-mongering? Zuckerberg and Facebook both reflect libertarian individualism paired with indifference to values and morality.
According to Pew, 44 percent of adult Americans get their news from Facebook. Zuckerberg has repeatedly dismissed criticism directed at the social network, initially calling the claim that its bungling of fake news tilted the election toward Trump “crazy.” His contentions that “more than 99 percent of what people see [on Facebook] is authentic” and “only a very small amount” is fake are infuriatingly bogus. All evidence proves otherwise.
So far, Zuckerberg’s only allegiance has been to Facebook’s bottom line. And politicians and their campaigns are complicit in exploiting the masses for their own ends. The result is no standard for the integrity of our communications apparatus. Zuckerberg’s deflection is a cop-out. Silicon Valley is often accused of a liberal bias, but recent revelations have provided further evidence that Facebook, far from being an “arbiter of truth,” is happy to disregard principles as long as its quarterly report shows strong ad growth. Whether this is calculated or not is irrelevant—the problem is real all the same, and something needs to change.
When BP or Exxon is responsible for a massive oil spill, they may not want to pay. They file appeals and litigate until they have reduced their culpability to the minimum, but eventually they are forced to contribute to the clean-up. With this latest news, Zuckerberg’s 2016 denialism is no longer viable—Facebook’s culpability is significant and unquestionable. Abstract claims that “people are good” are invalidated by Facebook’s real-life failures.
Zuckerberg should start the clean-up on his own. If he refuses, its users and Americans must demand action, if not from Facebook, from the Federal Communications Commission, which has long abandoned its vital regulatory function. It is high time that we debate anew the scope of its mandate and how to preserve a literate democracy against the treacherous forces of misinformation. We cannot afford the continuous disaster Facebook has wrought.