This book discloses an ugly truth, the Facebook social network is weaponized for political propaganda, and the company Facebook, aka Meta now, is incapable or unwilling to stop the abuse.
Company over country
Zuckerburg had repeated the mantra of “Company over country”, and he believed that false information should NOT be taken down, even including the holocaust denials:
Everyone gets things wrong, and if we were taking down people’s accounts when they got a few things wrong, then that would be a hard world for giving people a voice and saying that you care about that.
I think his viewpoint is idealistic, especially in the age of social media. To optimize the engagement, the platform feeds us with curated content to maximize ad revenue. Should the platform be held responsible for misinformation if it serves as the de facto editorial for information aggregation?
During the 2016 election, a Russian group known as the Internet Research Agency, or IRA, produced more than 80,000 individual pieces of organic content, and reached out to 126 million Americans with marketing spending of around $100,000. This underscored how powerful Facebook’s precise targeting was for the advertisers. The CSO Alex Stamos led the security team for internal investigation of Russian interference, but down played the damages as the company did not want to link to the geopolitical conflicts.
Connecting the world
In August 20, 2013, Facebook partnered with telecom companies to found Internet.org, an initiative to bring affordable access to selected internet to developing countries. This reflected Facebook’s mission:
Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.
The tragedy in Myanmar demonstrated how good faith may lead to unexpected outcome when content regulation was lacking. The traditional media was tightly controlled by the Myanmar military authority, and Facebook filled the vacuum as the major news source when the mobile network was accessible. Ashin Wirathu, a anti-muslim monk dubbed by Time Magazine “Buddhist Bin Laden” quickly discovered the platform’s power. To incite hatred against the Rohingya muslims, he used Facebook page to post explicitly racist political cartoons, fabricated photographs and staged news. There was only one Burmese-speaking Facebook employee in Netherland in charge of content moderation. Facebook wast criticized to play a “determined role” in the Rohingya genocide.
Sharing vs Privacy
Facebook launched Open Graph API in 2014 F8 Developer Conference, which enabled advertiser to share site visitors and their friends profile data. This directly led to Cambridge Analytica scandal, 87 million user data was harvested while 270,000 people downloaded the survey app.
Facebook was fined $5 billion by Federal Trade Commission due to its privacy violations. Ironically, the Facebook stock surged 1.8% as the settlement was merely a slap on the wrist.
In 2016, Mark Zuckerburg’s request to demolish and downsize four neighbor houses for better privacy was rejected by the Palo Alto’s Architectural Review Board.
No.1 and No.2
Sheryl Sandburg, the Chief Operating Officer, acted as the second in command in Facebook to oversee whatever Zuckerburg lacked interest in, such as public relationship, and revenue generation. They complemented each other, a software visionary and a business leader. Collectively, they stewarded the company to a global Ads power house.
But the skirmish between the two escalated during recent scandals. Zuckerburg blamed Sandburg and her teams for the public fallout, and Sandburg was even concerned about her job security in Facebook. To be fair, Facebook was, and is always Zuckerburg’s company since he controlled 58% voting power. He made the final calls NOT to remove President Trump’s When the looting starts, the shooting starts post and to suspend Trump’s Facebook account.
Facebook employees, especially minority groups, were disappointed that Sandburg did not push back Zuckerburg’s decisions hard enough. They challenged the company’s inclusiveness and diversity policy were misaligned with the platform content policy, and concerned that the damage of democracy:
If we break democracy, that is only thing we will ever be remembered for. Is that what we want our legacy to be?
In 2019, Zuckerburg announced the initiative to merge Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct Message and WhatsApp. It followed the DRY principle, Don’t Repeat Yourself, but aroused privacy concerns. Facebook could consolidate users’ accounts in all three products, and profile the user more precisely with enriched data. This also violated the promises to the founders of Instagram and WhatsApp to keep the apps independent.
Tim Wu and Scott Hemphill, law professors at Columbia and New York University, respectively, also viewed the integration of the apps as a ploy to ward off antitrust action, — it would be infeasible to break the company or force it to sell apps.
On May 2019, Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, is calling for the breakup of Facebook citing the threat of the platform’s unchecked power. With 1.8B active users, $60B case reserve and pro-political ads attitude; Zuckerburg’s decisions have great influence on the political dynamics.
We cannot count on the self-consciousness of the benevolent dictatorship, we should do something to keep the power in check.