Facebook Escapes Responsibility

New Orleans    The reviews are in on Mark Zuckerberg’s trip to Washington to visit with Congress. Amazingly, he seems to have emerged largely unscathed from two days of hearings.  All reports indicate that the political class was befuddled and confused, didn’t really understand social media or grasp the full range of the business model, and let Zuckerberg skate on question after question with responses that he would have his “team” look into it and get back to them.

Is this the way a Congressional grilling works?  Is this accountability from Facebook?  An apology and another, “we’ll try harder” is about all that emerges clearly here.   That’s a bag of potato chips for dinner kind of response.  Very unfulfilling!

Not that I’m quitting.  It’s too vital for our communication.  Just minutes ago, I got a message needing urgent advice on a tenant problem in Virginia.  We use Facebook as an organizing tool many places.  We’ve opened up whole countries for ACORN organizing based on a first reach out via a message sent over the internet transom that Facebook facilitates.

Furthermore, reading how difficult it is to quit, it is also pretty clear that they have pretty much all of my information and everyone else’s as well.  I got the Facebook message that one of my almost 3000 friends had opened some random app that made me one of the 80 odd million folks that Cambridge Analytics had sucked up through their scam.  The message wasn’t a remedy and didn’t offer a fix.  Just a note that I’m one of the millions, so it’s too late for me.

But, why is this so hard to fix?  I’ve never opened an app on Facebook and never clicked on an ad.  How hard could it be to require that Facebook ask for permission to use my data?  How hard could it be for Facebook and its algorithms to block random apps from getting my stuff?  This isn’t complicated.  Why when Facebook turns its other cheek are we getting the cold shoulder?

Not that Facebook is any better than Google or any of the others.  The business model is based on ads and pimping me out along with everyone else I know to advertisers.  For the life of me I can’t understand why Congress finds that confusing.

I want a team.  I want our team in Congress to get back to Facebook and tell them to wipe the smirk off of their faces and toe the line for real not with more than vapid apologies.

How hard is it for Congress to pay attention, do its homework, and do right?  And, if it’s too hard for them to regulate Facebook and its friends, then how hard is it for us to find some new folks to go to Washington to figure it out?  The answer is simple:  it’s not that hard really.


The Political and Organizational Problem of Imperfect Incumbents

Detroit    The Working Families Party is a ballot line party in New York State that ACORN helped found and with different hats has supported consistently as a way to count our members votes more vividly and express our issues in a political form more powerfully.  In New York and several other states fusion is legal, and it allows different political parties to endorse the same candidate for office and candidates to seek the endorsement of multiple parties.

Recently a donnybrook broke out in the party and publicly when the WFP announced that its leadership was recommending an early endorsement for actress Cynthia Nixon, best known for her role in the HBO show and movie, “Sex in the City,” as a challenger to two-time incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo in his efforts to seek a third term.  The WFP in a contentious convention process that left bruised feelings and some disappointed members had endorsed Cuomo in his last election and some felt he had not measured up as sufficiently progressive during his recent stint in office.  For his part, Cuomo has championed his record, citing progress on raising the state’s minimum wage, his work to advance women, and a number of other reforms.  Worse for the WFP, some of its major union members, including the giant building service union, SEIU 32BJ and CWA District One, who with ACORN and New York Citizen Action, was a founding member of the party, supported Cuomo’s record with labor and have resigned from the party, threatening its future in some ways.  What a fine mess we have ourselves in!

Regardless of the merits, this presents a classic political and organizational dilemma:  what do we do with imperfect incumbents?  Especially ones that have delivered real wins for our people, but have come up short on other parts of our agenda?

For years when I was a member of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO first as an executive board member and then as Secretary-Treasurer for six years, we confronted this issue repeatedly and unsatisfactorily.  The central body, like many others in the labor movement, had what they called an “incumbent rule.”  If we had endorsed the incumbent in a previous race, there was a default presumption that unless there had been an extraordinary problem, they could assume we would endorse them again.  In the political world our rule was well-known.  Every cycle as candidates presented themselves from mayors to countless judges and legislators and lesser offices, incumbents would tout their bonafides to labor, and challengers would point out their weaknesses, sometimes which were major.  Not infrequently the challengers were closer to our positions than the incumbents, had a history of delivering more, and always promised more, yet we were harnessed, especially by the exacting calculations of the building trades locals of what they had added up in their “favor” bank.

Politically the advantage of the rule was that it made decisions simpler.  The disadvantage is that it diluted our power to both reward our friends and punish our enemies.

Organizationally, the rule had an advantage because it generally kept unions together on the endorsements.  We were bound to the decision as members of the central body of the GNO AFL-CIO.  Union leaders who went rouge often did so individually outside of their organization and could count on being shamed and shunned for it.  Some offered “name only” support.  As distasteful as the rule felt, it prevented the WFP problem of key supporters leaving over disagreements about a politician rather than general party principles.  It put the organization first which is appropriate.

We needed a rule, which I could never win, that added an extra layer and forced what I’m calling “imperfect incumbents” – and certainly Cuomo would qualify in that category – to go past the leadership and be forced to fight for the endorsement before the entire membership on the merits of their performance.  Open meeting and convention fights are messy and fraught with risks as well, but at least challengers and incumbents both are forced to measure up, and when it is over and done our unity is at least protected by our democracy rather than some questionable rule or obedience to our leadership.