Money Quote Monday Oct. 2 2017
Is the United States coming to terms with social media? It’s complicated.
It was an extraordinary weekend for news, but then again, they all seem to be these days. Beyond the unimaginable shooting in Las Vegas, the facts around which are still unfolding, the past two days have brought an avalanche of news around the role of social media in our culture.
Let’s start with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s brief but powerful post this past Friday, on Judaism’s holiest night (the end of Yom Kippur). “For those I hurt this year, I ask forgiveness and I will try to be better…For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask for forgiveness and I will work to do better.”
This was yet another example of Zuckerberg being Zuckerberg — failing fast(ish), acknowledging his mistakes, moving forward (Facebook delivers 3,000 ads to Congress today, by the way). But the test in front of him and his outsized company is unique: Americans seem to have finally woken up to the power his company and others like it marshal, and to the fact that not even the Lords of Tech truly comprehend how to contain it.
Let’s start with Jacob Ward’s fascinating piece in NewCo Shift, detailing an underreported Polish study of Russian social media hacking. According to the study, Russia’s been more than up front about its information warfare on the US, and it’s been going on for years. In other words, it seems no one — not the folks at Twitter or Facebook, and not our government — was paying attention, despite the facts being out in the open for quite some time.
For a scathing point of view on Zuckerberg’s recent defense of Facebook (which he posted prior to his atonement this past weekend), Zeynep Tufekci’s broadside in the New York Times is a must read. “This doesn’t hold water at all,” Tufekci writes of Zuckerberg’s rationalizations. “In a largely automated platform like Facebook, what matters most is not the political beliefs of the employees but the structures, algorithms and incentives they set up, as well as what oversight, if any, they employ to guard against deception, misinformation and illegitimate meddling. And the unfortunate truth is that by design, business model and algorithm, Facebook has made it easy for it to be weaponized to spread misinformation and fraudulent content.”
Wired goes one step further, declaring that “Facebook Built Its Vision of Democracy on Bad Math.” “These arguments rest on a simple equation: The amount of information that a population shares is directly proportional to the quality of its democracy,” Wired explains. “And, as a corollary: the more viewpoints that get exposed, the greater the collective empathy and understanding.” But information overload has taken its toll: “Zuckerberg’s formulation, that more information is always empowering, may be true when I’m sharing information — I certainly benefit from my ability to say whatever I want and transmit that information to anyone in the world. But it’s not necessarily the case when it comes to receiving information… We have more data then ever before, but when you put it all together, it doesn’t add up to much.”
And NY Magazine gives Facebook and Zuckerberg the cover treatment with a headline-as-a-question that sums it all up: Does Even Mark Zuckerberg Know What Facebook Is? The author struggles to answer the question, as this money quote around Facebook’s work in Germany evinces: “ A private company, working unilaterally to ensure election integrity in a country it’s not even based in? The only two I could think of that might feel obligated to make the same assurances are Diebold, the widely hated former manufacturer of electronic-voting systems, and Academi, the private military contractor whose founder keeps begging for a chance to run Afghanistan. This is not good company.”
For more on Zuck’s apology this past weekend, head to the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, This All Happened Too
He had to know this would look exactly like it looks: A crass move by a barroom brawler. He did it anyway.
Society is actually beginning to seriously debate whether pure free market capitalism is a good thing. It’s about time.
And the third shoe falls (first Facebook, then Twitter, now Google).
Everyone says “it sucks to get old.” This series shows just how much.