Just delete your account. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?Facebook, the biggest social-networking platform on the planet, was offline for six hours on Monday — along with WhatsApp and Instagram — and the world gasped, then vented on Twitter. Some people felt a hole in their day. Others, like myself, felt freed from the feed.
How would small retailers that found new life during the pandemic selling their wares on Facebook and Instagram sell their furniture, clothes and other paraphernalia? When could we once again peer into the lives of friends, family and followers to kill time? Instagram influencers were left without an audience to influence. People, especially immigrant families, rely heavily on WhatsApp for communication. And how would we post photos of our children’s gold stars? Do those children want to be seen? Do they even have a choice? Is it any wonder that many studies suggest teenagers who are heavy users of social media report higher levels of anxiety and depression — something that, according to the recent whistleblower allegations, Facebook
was only too well aware of? What began as a way to connect with former high-school friends — many of whom we have spent our adult lives trying to avoid — has morphed into a Google-esque landing page where we are fed news and, yes, fake news, while literally browsing other human beings on Facebook Dating.
“I hate how Facebook has become a Frankenstein’s monster, and a dominant global power in its own right. ”
Like many of Facebook’s 2.9 billion users, I have a love-hate relationship with it. I love that I can stay in touch with friends and family overseas, and share those small, important moments. But I hate how Facebook has become a Frankenstein’s monster, and a dominant global power in its own right, even influencing elections. Some people missed Facebook during the outage. That’s understandable. After all, we spend one to two-and-a-half hours there every day, depending on what survey you read. We may complain. But we don’t leave. I’m still there, and I probably check Facebook as — if not more — often than I check my watch. On Tuesday evening, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally updated his status, vehemently denying the allegations from a whistleblower in the Wall Street Journal that his company puts profit over safety, and that Facebook’s algorithm favors high-engagement posts. “The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical,” he wrote. “We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content.”
“Facebook Messenger has become our 21st-century Rolodex and virtual town hall.”
Those debate-card arguments sound good on paper. But if widening political polarization in the U.S. has taught us anything, it’s that a) social media intensified these divisions; and b) the more fired up people are, the more they engage on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter
Zuckerberg’s other non-sequitur: “And if social media were as responsible for polarizing society as some people claim, then why are we seeing polarization increase in the U.S. while it stays flat or declines in many countries with just as heavy use of social media around the world?” Because Facebook has effectively reached peak saturation among adults, and continues to grow in the U.S. with more than 220 million users. Facebook Messenger has become our 21st-century Rolodex and virtual town hall. We have years of photos stored there. Around seven in 10 U.S. adults say they never use Facebook, according to a phone survey carried out in early 2021 by the Pew Research Center. More than half of teenagers say they use Facebook. But YouTube
Instagram and Snapchat
are the three most popular social-media apps for teens. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, “60 Minutes” and Congress, whistleblower and former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen alleged that Facebook was putting profit, hate speech and misinformation over safety.
“It’s almost like the masterminds behind Facebook are awestruck by their own business model.”
She acknowledged there are teams of people working hard to make Facebook a safer place, but she was referring to choices being made at the top. (The company did not respond to a request for comment to Haugen’s allegations.) “Almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook,” Haugen told lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. “The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, from the U.S. government, and from governments around the world.” In response to Haugen’s whistleblowing, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post that Haugen’s characterization of Facebook “impugns the motives and hard work of thousands of researchers, policy experts and engineers at Facebook.” Clegg wrote of social media containing “complex problems” and described it as a phenomenon that is “nascent and evolving” and “changing rapidly.” It’s almost like the masterminds behind Facebook are awestruck by their own business model — in the same way a child gazes at the sun or moon. But Facebook is not, like the constellations, a creation of time and space. It’s a Menlo Park, Calif.-based company with algorithms designed to captivate and entice us. It must figure out ways to keep us coming back for more. Just ask the CEO. In Zuckerberg’s words, commerce is community. “When I reflect on our work, I think about the real impact we have on the world — the people who can now stay in touch with their loved ones, create opportunities to support themselves, and find community,” he wrote Tuesday. “This is why billions of people love our products.”