Billions of users, And dollars too. Zuck’s been riding high But does he really know what to do?
From his dorm room, To the boardroom, To everyones pocket, Where we consume. He thought he was on a roll...
But are things now out of control?
When the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in March 2018, it revealed how the information we give to Facebook was being used topolitically profile users, with the intention topersuade voters. This is particularly relevant to the outcomes of the Presidential election in the USA in 2016 and the Brexit referendum in the UK. The winning parties in both cases were spending money on Facebook advertising, with Cambridge Analytica working on the digital campaigns.
I have learned so much more about Facebook since then, information which has rocked my faith in this digital metropolis, in the digital space we have all moved into. A place where I have spent the last decade, dedicated to helping people build platforms, using it to grow their businesses and reach more people. I feel that I naively placed my trust, as many of us have, in Facebook Inc. They appear to be very out of favour with the mainstream media and have been making a lot of headlines, and trust in the company is at an all-time low.
Having watched Mark Zuckerberg speak to Congress about Facebooks new digital currency Libra, where he was questioned on a number of topics relating to the power both he and Facebook have, I am concerned. I wonder who is he working with and if he really knows what he is doing.
Congress is grilling him about how the social media network he created to keep tabs on the relationship status of his crush is facilitating the downfall of Western civilisation.
Source: Rolling Stone Magazine: Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez Exposed Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook : Facebook isn’t only tolerating disinformation in political advertisements, it’s facilitating it, by Ryan Bort.
To explore this further, I want to share an interesting exchange between Mark Zuckerberg and New York district congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If you haven’t already seen it, it is worth watching or reading. It was one of the most reported on questions he was asked during the roughly six hour hearing. I love how she begins:
Mr Zuckerberg, I think you of all people can appreciate using a person’s past behaviour in order to determine, make decisions or predict people’s future behaviour, and in order for us to make decisions about Libra I think we need to dig into your past behaviour and Facebook’s past behaviour with respect to our democracy.
She continues by asking about their new policy on advertising for politicians, an advertising policy that was changed soon after Zuckerberg had a closed-door meeting with President Trump.
Ocasio-Cortez: Could I run ads on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal? If you’re not fact-checking political advertisements... I’m just trying to understand the bounds of what is fair game.
Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head.
Ocasio-Cortez: So you don’t know if I’ll be able to do that?
Zuckerberg: I think probably.
Ocasio-Cortez: Do you see a potential problem here with a complete lack of fact- checking on political advertisements?
Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I think lying is bad. I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie, that would be bad. That’s different from it being... from it... in our position the right thing to do to prevent, uhh, your constituents or people in an election from seeing that you had lied...
Ocasio-Cortez: So you won’t take down lies or you will take down lies? It’s a pretty simple yes or no?
Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, in most cases, in a democracy, I believe people should be able to see for themselves what politicians they may or may not vote for are saying and judge their character for themselves.
Ocasio-Cortez: So you won’t take themdown? You may flag that it’s wrong, but youwon’t take it down?
Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, it depends on the context that it shows up... organic posts... ads...
Source: Live video streamed from Capitol Hill, October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Personalised Persuasion and Propaganda.
I wanted to understand how these targeted political posts and ads worked. I wanted to know how they have been manipulating us, so I could protect myself better by being more aware of what is going on in our newsfeeds and with our data. Because if Cambridge Analytica weren’t doing it anymore (they claimed for bankruptcy soon after the scandal), you can bet your bottom dollar that someone else probably will be and it will have gone dark. Somewhere out there, it is likely that governments, politicians or companies are using this kind of advanced targeting through social media. It will not have gone away; it’s too powerful.
In The Great Hack, a documentary on Netflix about how our data is being used in this way, Brittany Kaiser, a whistle blower who worked at Cambridge Analytica says:
Psychographics should be considered weapons grade communications tactics.
Source: Netflix; The Great Hack, Brittany Kaiser
Does Facebook know this? You can make up your own mind about that.
During my research I also learned that profilesand accounts weren’t always using fake news, as I assumed, to change our thinking. Instead content was being created with the intention to manipulate our emotions, either one way or the other, using opposing opinions.
These accounts don’t change what you think, but exaggerate what you feel. This network wasn’t trying to change your mind,it was trying to confirm it. To make youeven surer that you are right, and make you angrier with the people who are wrong. The messages were poles apart, and all of it was calculated to provoke exactly the same response: outrage. This strategy, a similar one to those uncovered on Twitter in the past, is all about inhabiting both ends of the political spectrum, and to pull them further and further, angrier and angrier apart.
Source: Wired; “It’s still ridiculously easy to manipulate Facebook with anger”.
As I watched The Great Hack on Netflix my mouthfell open when I learned about Cambridge Analytica’s approach to political campaigns. Cambridge Analytica called themselves ‘a behaviour change agency’, and it appeared that the people in charge at Facebook were aware of what they were doing, as they were working directly with their advertising teams.
In the run up to the 2020 Presidential campaign it is possible that our data will be targeted in even more sophisticated ways to ‘change behaviour’.It does not appear like Facebook is trying to make this any better at this point. If anything, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested when she questioned Zuck in congress, he is saying it is OK for politicians to lie on their platforms. Katie Harbath, Public Policy Director for Global Elections at Facebook wrote this in a letter to Joe Biden’s Campaign, which was reported by the New York Times, after they complained about a sponsored post by Trump:
Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinised speech there is. Thus, when a politician speaks or makes an ad, we do not send it to third party fact checkers.
Source: New York Times; Facebook’s Hands-Off Approach to Political Speech Gets Impeachment Test’ by Cecilia Kang.
Politicians have been speaking up about it. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate, invested in a series of Facebook ads that targeted both Donald Trump and Mark Zuckerberg with intentionally false information, as a way to make her point.
Facebook changed their ads policy to allow politicians to run ads with known lies—explicitly turning the platform into adisinformation-for-profit machine. This week,we decided to see just how far it goes. We intentionally made a Facebook ad with false claims and submitted it to Facebook’s ad platform to see if it’d be approved. It got approved quickly and the ad is now running on Facebook. Take a look.
Source: Senator Elizabeth Warren @ewarren (onTwitter).
This issue has been gaining momentum while I have been writing, with a letter leaked from over 250 staff at Facebook HQ demanding Zuckerberg change his position on this. This gives us some hope.
‘Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing,’ the letter reads, according to a copy of it published by the NYT. ‘Misinformation affects us all. Our current policies on fact checking people in politicaloffice, or those running for office, are athreat to what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponise our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted bypolitical figures is trustworthy.’
Source: Business Insider; Hundreds of Facebook employees call on Mark Zuckerberg to change the social network’s controversial rules on political ads, by Rob Price.
Twitter have since responded to the controversy surrounding political adverts with CEO Jack Dorsey making the decision to ban them altogether. I expect this ethical social media question around political advertising is likely to keep making the headlines.
‘It’s not just about one election, it’s about so many of the choices that we’re facing in society right now,’ Clinton reportedly said about the current moment. ‘The use of our data to manipulate us, to make money off of us, is really one of the cardinal challenges we face ... this is our information, but people seem to forget that they should demand to own it.’
Source: CNET; Hillary Clinton: Zuckerberg should ‘pay a price’ for hurting democracy. Clinton speaks out about social media and the ‘war on truth,’ by CNET News Staff.
We will have to see what happens as we roll through 2020 and beyond.
As David Carroll, an associate professor ofmedia design who filed a formal complaintagainst Cambridge Analytica, in The Great Hack says,
Our dignity as humans is at stake.
Source: Netflix; The Great Hack, David Carroll.
In 2018-19 the UK Governments Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee had a 18-month investigation into disinformation and fake news where they described Facebook in their final report as a ‘digital gangster’.
Facebook behaves like a digital gangster. It considers itself to be ‘ahead of and beyond the law’. It ‘misled’ parliament. It gave statements that were ‘not true’. Its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has treated British lawmakers with ‘contempt’. It has pursued a ‘deliberate’ strategy to deceive Parliament.
Source: The Guardian newspaper, A digital gangster destroying democracy: the damning verdict on Facebook, by Carole Cadwalladr.
Damian Collins, the committee’s chairman, also warns us in the report:
Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘ dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day.
It seems this is a good time to be asking if Mark Zuckerberg should have so much control and if it is time for regulation. Zuck released an article about his vision - A Privacy Focussed Vision for Social Networking-where he writes about ‘bad things’ on the network...
There are real safety concerns to address before we can implement end-to-end encryption across all of our messaging services. Encryption is a powerful tool for privacy, but that includes the privacy of people doing bad things. When billions of people use a service to connect, some of them are going to misuse it for truly terrible things like child exploitation, terrorism, and extortion. We are working to improve our ability to identify and stop bad actors across our apps by detecting patterns of activity or through other means, even when we can’t see the content of the messages, and we will continue to invest in this work.
While it seems he is addressing some ofthe issues relating to the problems we find on social media, I feel that he isn’t owning mistakes Facebook has made. He is completely by-passing how Facebook itself uses and sells our data to advertisers, politicians and corporations on the platform.
My focus for the last couple of years has been understanding and addressing the biggest challenges facing Facebook. This means taking positions on important issues concerning the future of the internet. In this note, I’ll outline our vision and principles around building a privacy-focused messaging and social networking platform. There’s a lot to do here, and we’re committed to working openly and consulting with experts across society as we develop this.
Source: Facebook; Mark Zuckerberg; March 7th 2019.
Can We Trust the Zuck?
Facebook, and therefore Mark Zuckerberg,has great power and can influence billions ofpeople worldwide, without our being aware of it.
At the time of writing this Zuck is worth c. $62.3 billion dollars (get your Austin Powers pinky out for that one) and is the world’s third richest person. Someone give him a cat to stroke. [Searches internet for meme of Zuck stroking a cat, Bond villain style. Reddit gives me this. I do hope the picture isn’t copyrighted. It is too good not to share.]
Creating Facebook at just nineteen years old,he didn’t finish his degree and he hasn’t had any experience working anywhere else. He has been repeatedly asked by shareholders to step down from his role as Chief Executive, but he seemingly will not budge.
In a leaked audio from an internal Facebook team meeting this year, Zuckerberg is heard to say;
‘So one of the things that I’ve been lucky about in building this company is, you know, I kind of have voting control of the company, and that’s something I focused on early on,’ Zuckerberg — told employees. ‘And it was important because, without that, there were several points where I would’ve been fired.’
Source: Business Insider article Zuckerberg toldemployees that he would have been fired several timesover if it weren’t for his total control of Facebook.
Internal grumblings at Facebook HQ have made it into the papers with a number of high profile people leaving the company due to disagreements with him and his team. The founders of both Instagram and WhatsApp left because they didn’t agree with the direction Mark wanted to take with those digital properties and data. I wonder exactly why they left. Any reports and articles I have read and researched are unsurprisingly vague on the issues.
Zuckerberg says that Facebook can do better. But as someone who has covered this company for most of its life, I truly don’t believe he’s capable of change. If anything, Zuckerberg’s ‘pivot’ is just a way for Facebook to monopolize another marketand keep the cash flowing.
Source: Vanity Fair: THE FALSE PROMISE OF MARK ZUCKERBERG’S COME-TO-JESUS MANIFESTO, by Nick Bilton.
I am keen to ask the Inner Unicorn Questions we should all be asking of
Facebook Inc: what is it is doing to the world through the ownership of Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram? It impacts many of our day-to-day lives. It is a place where many of us run our businesses, communicate with others and spend many hours a day investing time and energy into, consciously or otherwise.
Profits over People?
Amongst all of the scrutiny, Facebook continueto report record profits.
Despite the scandals and subsequent #DeleteFacebook campaign, Facebookposted record profits just before its 15th anniversary, an equivalent of $7.37 from each of its 2.32 billion users.
Source: istock / Independent Newspaper.
Individually we are worth relatively little, but enmasse we are worth a lot. I hear of people turning away from Facebook or that they want to do so, but at this point it is not enough to make an impact.
Interestingly on March 13th, 2019, (in the midst of a Mercury retrograde for my astrology fans reading) Facebook Inc suffered one of its biggest outages to date. Its services across Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp were inaccessible for up to fourteen hours worldwide. During this down time I noticed what people did and where they went. A lot of people went to Twitter to ask what was going on with Facebook.
Aren’t we funny, hive minded humans? We want to be connected, all the time, on some level, collectively. Facebook is where we do that. I don’t know if I see that being replicated anywhere else, but we shall see. But when we have one company, one organisation who owns the main platforms used by the majority of a global online society, we really have given them a great amount of power. Over the past fifteen years, many of us have putour golden eggs in Mark Zuckerberg’s social media basket.
Look at what happens when we let one company control everything. Facebook is down which means Instagram and FB Workplace (where I communicate with myteam & clients) are down. I figured this couldhappen eventually but it’s extremely crippling to be part of this monopoly.
Source: Twitter; Rebecca Brooker @beckybrooker
It is a basket that might break. It is a basket that has holes leaking our data. It is basket we can’t fully trust. We need to decide on an individual and collective level how okay we are with that. If we are okay giving our time, our content, our energy and our advertising budget to them. If the pros outweigh the cons.
I’ve been supporting The Campfire Convention, an alternative social network. Something different, no algorithms or data collection, witha proposed profit-share system. A platform forsocial change, run by the people for the people. But it is no easy feat. Relying on volunteers and good will, founder Pete Lawrence, who was inspired by a forum he ran for the Big ChillFestival and what they achieved there, finds itironic how much they have to use Facebook tocommunicate about the Campfire.
Facebook have more money than we can shake a stick at in terms of research, development and manpower. This makes it tough to compete, and if competition does arise, Zuck often tries to buy it. It is not a tool I necessarily want to turn my back on, not yet...
In a recent rebrand, FACEBOOK is trying to reinvent itself across Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp, with this quote in the Guardian bringing a wry smile to my face:
The rebrand has prompted general eye- rolling – the AV Club’s Allison Shoemaker points out that even peppering the logo with unicorns would not save the company’s image. But that won’t stop marketing teams from trying.
Source: The Guardian, Facebook rebrands as FACEBOOK: can capital letters save a toxic brand? by Matthew Cantor.
FACEBOOK is convenient. We can’t blame it all on them. It’s there, it’s ‘free’, everyone is on it and it is easy and fun to use. I love the way it connects us to each other. It is something I use in so many ways. I often turn a blind eye to its shadow sides, but I have to start to draw lines and think more creatively about how I use it for good, how to be the light from the inside. And to be mindful of its quest for power and domination of all things digital. For example if Libra, FACEBOOK’s proposed digital currency happens, I will do my best to resist using that service if I can.
Most other cryptocurrencies are basically investment schemes. Libra is an effort to change the entire currency of the world. Facebook wants you to buy stuff with Libra and to send money to people with Libra.
Source: Gzero Media: Takeaway from Mark Zuckerberg Testimony on Capitol Hill.
Why does this concern me? Ultimately becauseI think Mark Zuckerberg values profit over people. And those people, that’s us.
During his testimony before the House of Financial Services Committee, Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, asked the 35-year-old billionaire whether he’s a capitalist or a socialist:
‘Congressman,’ Zuckerberg said, suppressing a laugh, ‘I would definitely consider myself a capitalist.’
Source: Fox News.
INNER UNICORN QUESTION TIME
Does Mark Zuckerberg know what is best for the future of the internet?
If we want to have a say in the future of social media how can we be more actively engaged in the process?
If Facebook Inc is out of alignment with our own personal morals and ethics, will we look elsewhere and into other options to communicate and connect?
If enjoyed reading this and you would like to get the book, which helps to support my research and publishing journey it is available on Amazon worldwide.