Facebook’s moral bankruptcy



On Sunday October 3, shortly before “60 Minutes” aired an interview in which Frances Haugen was revealed to be the Facebook whistleblower, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a video that began with his wife, Priscilla Chan, sitting on a sailboat. . She smiles for a second, as if posing for a photo; then she turns around, her smile starting to fade; then, apparently realizing that she is being filmed, she does her best to keep a smile. In the final cut, the sound of the whipping wind was replaced by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane playing the opening bars of “In a Sentimental Mood”. “Sailing with Priscilla and her friends,” said the legend of Zuckerberg. “Pulled on 😎.” The clip, in other words, was not just a life update, but a product demo: Zuckerberg had recorded it using a pair of Stories, new “smart glasses from first generation ”co-designed by Facebook and Ray-Ban, ideal for people with whom we can relate. everyday times when you want to keep streaming but you need to keep both hands on your jib sheets.

Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, have taken an aggressively defensive stance against claims the social media company is profiting from the division.Photograph by Abdulhamid Hosbas / Agence Anadolu / Getty

In “60 Minutes,” Haugen summarized some of the wealth of evidence she had gathered when she was a Facebook employee: thousands of pages of internal documents, some of which escape to the Wall Street newspaper, the Securities and Exchange Commission and members of Congress, in which researchers and other Facebook employees describe, often with frightening precision, what their products do to humanity. As reported by the the Wall Street newspaper, the documents reveal (or, really, confirm) what many social media skeptics have long argued: that Facebook makes millions of its users angrier, more confused, and more psychologically fragile; who comments on discouraging vaccination against COVID-19 are “crawling” on the platform, and that efforts to flag them for review are “poor in English and virtually non-existent elsewhere”; that a not insignificant proportion of suicidal adolescents “brought up the desire to commit suicide on Instagram”; that it is against Facebook’s rules to post vengeful porn, but that when you are a star they let you do it– that in other words, Facebook is just as toxic as we thought it was, and the top executives of the company know it but seem to treat it as just a PR problem. (In an article refuting the the Wall Street newspaper series, a Facebook official wrote, “These stories contained deliberately misinterpretations of what we’re trying to do and imparted patently false motives to Facebook executives and employees. “) On” 60 Minutes “, Haugen concluded that it was time for Facebook to declare” moral bankruptcy “, which she defined as “an opportunity for Mark, for Facebook, to come in and say, ‘We screwed up completely.’ “

Of course, Zuckerberg was say more or less these exact words since before Facebook was Facebook. What Haugen really, presumably wanted was for him to think it this time, and do something about it. In “An ugly truth”, A formidable tour de force published in July, co-authors Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang provide about five reasons per page to view Facebook as the socio-cultural equivalent of a fossil fuel company. Before you even open the book, however, there are the blurbs. Zuckerberg, September 2017: “I ask for forgiveness and I will work to do better. Zuckerberg, April 2018: “It was my mistake and I’m sorry. “Zuckerberg, May 2020:” We have to do a better job. The book’s designers were only limited by the dimensions of the cover, not a lack of similar quotes.

Last month in the Times, Frenkel and his colleague Ryan Mac published an article titled “No More Excuses: Inside Facebook’s Push to Defend Its Image.” In the article, Facebook’s current communications and policy makers (that is, those who chose to stay with the company and whom Zuckerberg chose to promote) portray themselves as thin-skinned, provincial, defensive almost to the point of self-delusion. They seem convinced that Facebook is the victim of unfair and disproportionate bad press, and that attempts to appease the public have only backfired. Instead, they settle on what is called, in a revealing oxymoron, “a more aggressive defense.” (The idea that the criticism is mostly justified – that the salient problem isn’t an overzealous regulatory state, overwhelming mainstream media, or an inexplicably irrational user base, but that the central problem with Facebook is Facebook – doesn’t seem to come to mind a way for it to spend less time weathering headwinds and more time posting about surveillance sunglasses. (A Facebook spokesperson declared to Times that the company had not changed its approach.)

On Monday, the day after Haugen’s “60-minute” interview and the day before his speech at a Senate hearing, some of Facebook’s routers failed, causing Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to crash during the most of the afternoon. It was a big enough deal that Zuckerberg briefly suspended his no-apology rule. “Sorry for the disruption today,” he posted. “I know how much you rely on our services to stay in touch with the people you care about. Conspiracy theories abounded, but the outage seemed to have been a coincidence – the sort of thing that can happen, just about anytime, when the online lives of billions of people depend on the infrastructure of a single one. business. “Monopoly systems are fragile and dangerous and, besides allowing abusive and extractive behavior, they are just a foolish way of conceiving anything,” tweeted Zephyr Teachout, activist and anti-terrorism expert. competetion. “Break them. In the roughly six hours that its apps were unusable, Facebook’s share price fell, causing Zuckerberg, on paper, to lose nearly $ 7 billion. By Monday night, however, the share price had started to rebound and he was back to posting about non-sequiturs – in this case, one of the nonprofits funded by his philanthropy.

The next day, Zuckerberg wrote an aggressively defensive memo to his employees, then shared it on his Facebook page. The no-excuse rule was back in effect. “I’m sure many of you have found the recent coverage difficult to read because it just doesn’t reflect the business we know,” he wrote. “The argument that we deliberately deliver content that angers people for profit is deeply illogical. . . . Moral, business, and product incentives all go in the opposite direction. It’s been her line for years, but her tone has recently become more defiant, if not desperate. In a way, it was disheartening, roughly the opposite of the timing of the road to Damascus that Haugen envisioned in “60 minutes”. In another sense, it was invigorating, like the moment of a fierce argument where your antagonist finally drops his layers of pretense and admits how he really feels. As usual, Zuckerberg supplemented his reasoning with some carefully curated stats, but his heart didn’t seem to be there. “When I reflect on our work, I think of the real impact we have on the world – people who can now stay in touch with loved ones, create opportunities to support themselves and find community,” a- he concluded. “I am proud of everything we do to continue to create the best social products in the world. This has always been his bottom line; he hardly seems to care, these days, how many rhetorical contortions it takes to get there. (“We have absolutely no business incentives, no moral incentives, no company-wide incentives to do anything other than try to give as many people as possible a positive experience on Facebook, and so on. ‘is what we do day in and day out, ”Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, told me.)

In her review of “An Ugly Truth,” my colleague Jill Lepore compared Facebook to a church. In any type of church, let alone a tiered marketing system or doomsday worship, there are true believers. If you start to get the insidious feeling that your church’s core ideology is untenable, you have two options. You can do whatever it takes to defend the indefensible, or you can go. For most true believers, however, the latter option – choosing apostasy, which is a kind of self-exile, – is not really an option at all. If this is the dilemma that binds a disciple, how much more strongly does he bind the founding pastor of the church, or its prophet?


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