The landmark New York Times piece uncovered layer upon layer of issues at Facebook. However the one most shocking to the public is that Facebook employed a public relations and opposition research firm out of D.C. called Definers Public Affairs. Per the Verge:
The Definers issue went nuclear for two reasons. One, the company circulated a document that attempted to link criticism of Facebook — wrongly, it turns out! — to George Soros. Linking events to Soros, a liberal philanthropist who escaped the Holocaust, is a well-worn tactic of anti-Semites. And Zuckerberg and Sandberg, of course, are Jewish.
...And indeed, the Times found that NTK pushed dozens of pro-Facebook and anti-Facebook competitor messages during its time of employment with the company, some of which were picked up by Breitbart. For a company that has spoken loudly and often over the past year about its commitment to reduce the spread of misinformation, the fact that it had hired a crisis communications agency to actively spread misinformation was hypocrisy of the rankest sort.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a statement on—where else?—Facebook listing what he says is a comprehensive plan to attempt to solve the myriad issues with the company, from content management to algorithms to transparency.
I have focused more on these content governance and enforcement issues than any others over the past couple of years. While it has taken time to understand the complexity of the challenges, we have made a lot of progress. Still, we have significant work ahead to get all our systems to the levels people expect, and where we need to be operating.
Even then, there will always be issues. These are not problems you fix, but issues where you continually improve. Just as a free society will always have crime and our expectation of government is not to eliminate all crime but to effectively manage and reduce it, our community will also always face its share of abuse. Our job is to keep the misuse low, consistently improve over time, and stay ahead of new threats.
In this note, I will outline the approach we're taking. A full system requires addressing both governance and enforcement. I will discuss how we're proactively enforcing our policies to remove more harmful content, preventing borderline content from spreading, giving people more control of their experience, and creating independent oversight and transparency into our systems.
We've apparently always trusted Mark Zuckerberg to keep his word before, why would we stop blindly following him now? Vive la Facebook!
That said, we probably should stop following Zuckerberg over proverbial cliffs. Facebook is a corporation just like any other and is therefore out for self-preservation and gain. Evan Osnos writes in the New Yorker:
The portrait of Facebook presented in the Times, as in other reports over the past two years, is no longer that of a hacker but, rather, that of a practiced participant in this golden age of manipulation, in which influential organizations—companies, candidates, murky political actors—use their power to shape political outcomes in ways they don’t disclose and that the public rarely fully understands. Facebook appears less a company outside the bounds of big-money P.R. and politics than one operating squarely within them—a contradiction that Zuckerberg, so far, has been willing to accept.
In the short run, the Times story will revive questions about whether Zuckerberg and Sandberg should remain at the head of the company. But nobody involved with Facebook thinks they are at obvious risk of losing their jobs, because they maintain the support of a board of directors that some observers believe has been far too passive in the face of Facebook’s stumbles.
While there are many compelling reasons to finally log off of Facebook forever, we must also consider what we would be losing. Without Facebook, where are we going to find videos of small children we don't know doing adorable things?
Without Facebook, none of us would have seen this truly heartwarming videos of a toddler hugging a park full of complete strangers. Is that a world you're ready to live in? Only you can answer that!
Michelle Goldberg presents some compelling counterpoints in an op-ed for the New York Times:
United Nations investigators concluded that Facebook played a “determining role” in fomenting genocidal attacks against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. Hate speech on Facebook incited murderous mobs in Sri Lanka; as The Times reported, “Facebook’s newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing.” Social media was key to the elevation of brutal Filipino demagogue Rodrigo Duterte, and, as Bloomberg reported, his government uses Facebook as a weapon against his enemies.
Without Facebook, Donald Trump probably wouldn’t be president, which is reason enough to curse its existence. The platform was an essential vector for Russian disinformation. It allowed the shady “psychographics” company Cambridge Analytica to harvest private user data. And Facebook helped decimate local newspapers, contributing to America’s widespread epistemological derangement.