Recently the Wall Street Journal (not exactly a bastion of the left-leaning press) broke the news that when Facebook tweaked its newsfeed algorithm in 2017 to reduce the visibility of political news, the company’s engineers intentionally designed the system to disproportionately impact left-leaning news outlets.
While assuring Mother Jones editorial director for growth and strategy Ben Dreyfuss that the algorithmic changes were not designed “in a way that favored or disfavored any single publication or class of publisher,” Facebook deliberately and knowingly wrote its algorithms to favor right-leaning pages while suppressing left-leaning ones– and this was done with Mark Zuckerberg’s explicit approval.
Indeed, the Zuckerberg who once claimed he would prefer to leave the politics to others has been doing anything but. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Zuckerberg is now an active political operator. He has dined with President Trump, talks regularly with White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, and has pressed lawmakers and officials to scrutinize rivals including TikTok and Apple Inc., people involved in the discussions say.”
I’ve long been critical of Facebook
Back in 2017 when the company rolled out a proactive suicide detection algorithm, I wrote an article noting that the new feature was less about helping people and more about damage control. Facebook doesn’t care if you’re considering suicide– they just don’t want your blood on their lawn.
As the WSJ notes, “Facebook’s massive reach and focus on free speech have at times made it a super-spreader of falsehoods, hate speech, terrorist propaganda and other posts it struggles to control.”
Facebook has been one of the largest and most mainstream purveyors of every kind of misinformation imaginable, and the issue has only grown as the platform grew in popularity. Aside from Facebook’s cute attempts to fact-check external links, and the heavy-handed use of deboosting and hate speech-removal tools that seem to catch a strangely disproportionate number of acceptable posts, we haven’t seen Facebook do anything of substance to control the flow of misinformation.
It has been noted that Facebook’s political content may have played an outsized role in the 2016 political election. It appears that Zuckerberg is determined to do the same in 2020– only this time, he’s taking an active part in ensuring that the far right dominates the political discourse on the site.
WSJ’s report notes that Zuckerberg’s political pandering and apparent cozying up to Trump, Kushner, and far-right propagandists like Ben Shapiro might be “part of an effort to protect his company from pressures that range from antitrust scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic to criticism of its privacy practices and of its role in disseminating misinformation and conspiracy theories.”
I may not be a lawyer, but even I know it’s generally easier and less legally questionable to follow the law than to suck up to ‘the right people’ in the hopes that they’ll protect you.
In light of the discovery that some of its users’ worst suspicions are true, where do we go from here? Facebook is an undeniably major part of many people’s lives, and many are not ready (or able) to move to other platforms. If you’re as outraged and disgusted about these revelations as I am, here are some suggestions.
Don’t Give Facebook Your Money
If Facebook advertising has actually been shown to provide a positive return on investment, good for you! But from most accounts I’ve seen, it doesn’t. If you’re still fiddling with Facebook advertising in the hopes it’ll pay off, or merely considering it, stop. There are better, more effective places to spend your money.
There are other great platforms with large user bases and widespread adoption. (Except Instagram. They’re also owned by Facebook.)
Twitter is my personal go-to at the moment because I find it easier to connect with other authors, readers, and activists there. It has less of the cliquish feel of Facebook, and more of the feel of an open conversation. That said, there are still rules of polite engagement and trolls who gleefully try to harass people into silence. The block button is a great tool; and if you’d like to replicate the friends-only circle you have on Facebook, Twitter has tools that allow you to do that as well.
Twitter not your thing? In today’s world of social media diversification, you’ll probably find a lot of your friends willing to suggest their favorite alternatives– and you’re likely to find more of your social circle than you’d expect already using those platforms.
Prepare for the End
Social media sites have a life cycle; Myspace (anyone remember Myspace?) is a great example. At this point Facebook is desperately fighting to remain relevant and on top of the social media pile. The site is slowly losing relevance, and the information exposed by the Wall Street Journal and others has every reason to hasten that progress. As a “bastion of free speech,” Facebook has failed miserably.
Whether you use Facebook to funnel people to your business, connect with fans or customers, network with other professionals, or just to connect with friends and family, now is a great time to begin exploring other options and shifting your strategy away from the site. Zuckerberg’s actions are despicable, and deserve to cost his company relevance and revenue.
Editor’s Note: You may have noticed that the Wall Street Journal locks their content behind a pay wall. If you’d like to read the articles we’ve linked here, you can purchase a subscription for $1 a month for the first two months. It can be cancelled at any time.