I detest Facebook. I mean I really detest Facebook. Just thinking about that site makes me mad, from the way it’s purposefully designed to make us miserable, the way it deliberately creates and sustains ideological bubbles in order to sell us stuff, or the way it casually implements policies that harm transgender people and victims of domestic abuse without any thought to the consequences.
But this year has really proved how right I was to abandon all meaningful connection with the social media behemoth. This year, we saw not one but two massive scandals that should destroy any lingering trust we have in the intentions of Zuckerberg and co.
It all started in March this year when The Guardian published a ground-breaking expose on Facebook’s seedy relationship with an organisation called Cambridge Analytica (CA). Exploiting Facebook’s terrible privacy rules, CA tricked thousands of users into granting access to their account details through an app on Facebook. The app then trawled through their friends’ accounts and harvested their data as well. Soon enough, CA had amassed the personal details on millions of Facebook users, mostly in the US.
According to the New York Times, “the idea was to map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook, and then use that information to target audiences with digital ads.”
Now so far, this doesn’t sound too bad. Targeted ads are the lifeblood of the internet, after all. But then CA was hired by Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign team. As the Guardian wrote in the expose mentioned earlier, the Trump team “used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters in order to target them with personalised political advertisements”. As we all saw, it was incredibly effective.
According to CA’s then chief executive Alexander, who was caught in a sting operation by Britain’s Channel 4 News, the firm basically ran the entire Trump presidential campaign.
“[Cambridge Analytica] did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting, we ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy.”
Now being a vital tool in the far-right fake news machine should be reason enough to burn your Facebook account to the ground but against all odds, this farce gets even worse.
In November, the New York Times published a shattering report on Facebook’s many devious attempts to deflect criticism away from the ever-growing pile of scandals surrounding their platform.
How did they do it? By hiring another PR firm to spread far-right conspiracy theories with one hand while accusing all their detractors of being anti-Semites with the other. No, I did not make that up.
In October 2017, Facebook hired Washington-based Definers Public Affairs, a conservative organisation funded by former Republican party staff. Definers is a close affiliate of conservative news website NTK Network and shortly after being hired by Facebook, NTK began publishing a slew of articles blasting Google and Apple for poor business practices in order to muddy the waters. All this was just the opening salvo, however.
In July this year, protesters crashed a hearing of the US House Judicial Committee where a Facebook executive was testifying. Some protesters were waving signs which, according to NYT, depicted Zuckerburg and Sheryl Sandberg – another Facebook exec – as heads of an octopus encircling the globe. The signs were meant to be a parody of old political cartoons about Standard Oil but Facebook instead latched onto them and used them as “proof” that their critics were funded by anti-Semites.
They convinced the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish civil rights organisation in the US, to issue a statement condemning the protesters and the statement was soon picked up by various conservative news outlets which sought to link the protesters to “extreme anti-Israel groups”.
Definers then sent out a research document out to reporters which claimed that George Soros, a Jewish financial mogul, was funding the anti-Facebook movement. Soros has been the target of multiple far-right conspiracy theories over the years, most of which paint him as part of a Jewish conspiracy to overthrow the West. It’s part of a long-running series of anti-Semitic tin-foil hattery that goes back to Nazi Germany and their belief in “International Jewery”.
So to summarise: Facebook allowed the personal details of millions of their users to be siphoned off by a shady organisation with even shadier motives, allowed that same organisation to use the information they had stolen to spread fake news in order to directly influence a major election in one of the most powerful countries in the world, and then resorted to far-right scare tactics in order to discredit their critics when all of this was eventually revealed.
I think it’s safe to say that whatever positive side Facebook has is now greatly overshadowed by it’s anti-democratic, reactionary business model. Maybe it’s time to move on to another platform and let Facebook go the way of MySpace before it.