How our culture and government gave too much power to Facebook

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Capitalism offers an optimal paradigm for organizing the economic affairs of a virtuous society. But virtue is a prerequisite for capitalism, not a product of it, and no modern phenomenon highlights this distinction better than the rise of addictive social media platforms.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on Facebook’s awareness of the damaging impact of its Instagram platform on teenage girls; on Facebook’s role in promoting anger on its platform; on Facebook’s weak response to drug cartel and human trafficking activity reported by employees on its platform; on how the Facebook platform thwarted Mark Zuckerberg’s desire to promote COVID-19 vaccinations; and Facebook’s “XCheck” program, which exempts high-level accounts and VIP users from Facebook enforcement actions. More stories are yet to come.

It’s easy to criticize Facebook for these apparent failures, but we should stop and assess what we, as a company, should hold Facebook accountable for – and not.

The real problem with Facebook’s behavior is the revelation of its creeping institutional lie. In XCheck’s story, we learned that after Facebook spent over $ 130 million to create an independent watchdog to oversee its content moderation decisions, Facebook executives routinely lied to this advice. Facebook told the Supervisory Board that XCheck was only used in “a small number of decisions,” even though the program had grown to include 5.8 million users by 2020.

“We don’t actually do what we say we do publicly,” and the company’s actions constitute a “breach of trust,” read a confidential internal review by Facebook.
We also learned – shockingly – that the CEO and COO of the trillion-dollar giant are routinely involved in decisions about which messages to delete when those messages are posted by certain people who are exempt from the Facebook community guidelines and content moderation procedures. All this while Facebook has claimed that it applies the same standards to everyone.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wields too much political and social influence over countries like Israel and India.
The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Apparently, XCheck was created to mitigate “press fires” or negative media attention when Facebook takes the wrong action against a high profile VIP. Even worse than the existence of the XCheck program was Facebook’s dishonesty about it, reflecting the mindset of a company that knew it was doing something wrong – and doing it anyway.

These revelations reinforce the fact that Facebook is probably increasingly serving as the censorship arm of the US government, just as it is doing other governments around the world.

In countries like India, Israel, Thailand and Vietnam, Facebook frequently removes posts at the behest of the government to deter regulatory retaliation. Here at home, we know that Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg correspond regularly with U.S. officials, ranging from email exchanges with Dr.Anthony Fauci on COVID-19 policy to discussions of “problematic articles” that “spread disinformation ”with the White House.

Silhouettes of mobile users are seen alongside a screen projection of the Instagram logo.
The media are now starting to understand the devastating effects of Instagram on today’s youth.
REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration / File

If Zuckerberg and Sandberg also directly make decisions about which positions to censor or clear, they are much more likely to respond to threats and inducements from government officials.

This is what we should find alarming in the Journal’s reports. But we should separate that from blaming Facebook for the anger of its users or the self-esteem of teenage girls with body image issues. The underlying cultural issues that create the conditions for anger, hostility and psychological insecurity should be addressed in areas of public life that go beyond a social media business – through the family. , faith and civic engagement.

Certainly, Facebook and other platforms amplify our pre-existing cultural failures and psychological vulnerabilities. A revival of, say, faith in God could solve these problems more effectively than anything Mark Zuckerberg could do on any given day. The mistaken premise that it is Facebook’s job to address these cultural failures through its platform reinforces the unique postmodern problem that we have transferred our faith to new gods.

A teenage girl is frustrated looking at her laptop.
American teens constantly face self-esteem issues at the expense of Facebook’s lack of moderation.
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Instagram has become a church for precarious teenage girls; Facebook has become a church for angry Americans. Journal reports accuse these churches of having let down the worshipers, when the real problem is that Facebook and Instagram should never have played the role of these churches in the first place.

Don’t you love God? Well – platonic virtue or civic identity may be enough. But our ability to find true meaning in the real world is a prerequisite for a healthy internet experience. No website will ever fill our postmodern cultural vacuum.

Yes, it’s true that Facebook amplifies our cultural failures, but attributing responsibility to Facebook for solving these cultural issues mistakenly empowers the very actors we should instead be stripping of social power.

Facebook deserves harsh criticism for its widespread hypocrisy – claiming to make the world a better place while knowingly doing the opposite, and lying about its knowledge every step of the way. She should be held accountable both in the court of public opinion and in federal courts for her lies – drawing inspiration from consumer fraud legal doctrines that punish businesses for saying and doing one thing. another, as well as state action doctrines which recognize that private companies should be constitutionally bound if they work hand in hand with government actors to censor political speeches the government cannot censor himself. Social media giants should also be responsible for the illegal activities they allow, such as arms trafficking, drug dealing and child pornography.

A photo of a potential hacker on his phone and laptop.
Facebook allows drug dealers, human traffickers and pedophiles to roam freely on social media while targeting conservative media for political reasons.
Getty Images / EyeEm

These actions would make Facebook less able to influence American democracy and fool the public.

But forcing the company to take responsibility for body image and anger management issues will, ironically, make Facebook and other social media players even more powerful in our culture. The government, through a big tech proxy, would soon control what we can and cannot say, politically and culturally. Is this really what we want?

Vivek Ramaswamy is the author of “Woke, Inc .: Inside Corporate America’s Social-Justice Scam”.


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