Facebook Playing Duck-and-Cover, Distraction, and Delay

AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Nashville     Quit Facebook?  How can we?  There are countries ACORN works where Facebook and the internet are synonymous.  We have learned how to use Facebook as an organizing tool in England in recruiting members to the ACORN Tenant Union.  We use it as a communications tool in many of our organizing drives and campaigns.  Facebook is a substitute website for many of our efforts.  We use its calling service between some of our offices because it is better than Skype.  In places like Honduras and many countries in Europe, WhatsApp is as important, and often more useful, than knowing someone’s mobile phone number.  My own family shares information on a separate WhatsApp group for just the four of us.

So, just because we can’t quit, doesn’t mean we like Facebook.  On, no, don’t make that mistake.

Of course, there’s the privacy thing, but we’re fighting guided missiles with toothpicks whether it’s Facebook, Google, Amazon, or the rest of the tech terrors. Unless you’re whispering, forget about it.

Facebook is increasingly standing at the front of the line as the face of the evil empire.  The steady dripping and dropping of bad news about the company and their foot dragging and lame ass excuses for their irresponsible and dissembling conduct is even causing their stock price to drop which may get their attention because it seems to be about the only thing that CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg and his number 2 partner Sheryl Sandberg really care about in addition to the profit-and-loss statement.

Now with new revelations in a deeply reported story in the New York Times, about the internal machinations of the company and its efforts to avoid scrutiny, evade responsibility, deflect and harm competitors, and resist regulation, our distrust of the company and its leadership is on steroids.  They hired a Republican, rightwing opposition research company to try to hurt their competitors when they were under attack.  They tried to claim that protestors angry at Facebook’s antics and mismanagement were being paid by George Soros.  They leveraged contributions to defamation groups to claim that protest actions singling out Zuckerberg and Sandberg were anti-Semitic because of their religion rather than their irresponsibility.  They cashiered their security chief for investigating the Russian exploitation of their platform and telling board members the truth about the inadequacy of their effort to stop it.  Sandberg, as supervisor of their political efforts, hired Republican lobbyists and tried to manipulate key Senators and Congressman on both sides of the aisle by shifting positions on certain bills, hiring their staff, and direct contributions and threats.  New York Senator Chuck Schumer was compromised and enlisted in this effort with a child working for Facebook.  Perhaps worse, according to company insiders, Sandberg and Zuckerberg were so concerned about their “brands,” their legacy, and their own personal interests, projects, and ambitions, that they let their self-interest trump the public interest of all of their users.  This is not just mismanagement this is plain and simple terrible and unaccountable leadership.

Need I say, that’s not all.

The long call for grownups in the room is a misdirection pass.  With 2.2 billion users, Facebook is a global force.

For all of our sakes here and around the world, we need to get a grip and regulate this company so that it does no more harm.  We need to see management change and rules put in place, and we need to see it done now.


Facebook Fail

New Orleans     Facebook’s constant unfulfilled promises to fix the problems with their platform and its role in offering voice to violence seems to have finally come to the “sell by” date.  Patience has been exhausted.  The evidence has mounted steadily and seems to have hit a tipping point.

First, their #2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, leaned into the hearing before Congress, and rather than fixing anything, there seemed to be a collective yawn that emitted from capitol to cities and towns across the country.  Somehow, she has now moved from being the “adult in the room” to another apologist without a clue to the cure with her credibility shot.

Secondly, flipping channels before falling off last night, I stumbled onto the John Oliver show on HBO and a forever long piece that excoriated Facebook, held up Mark Zuckerberg to ridicule, and mounted a devastating indictment of Facebook’s impotence and incompetence in allowing Myanmar’s ethnic minority, the Rohingya, to become victims of genocide.  Even a few months ago such an attack and satire in the name of either news or humor would have been unimaginable.

Oliver and his team went point by point detailing how rapidly Facebook had grown in Burma in recent years.  They showed advertisements that Facebook had run in order to expand, arguing that most of the features of their platform were free and encouraging people to “get connected.”  They reviewed the fact that most people got their news from Facebook with the proliferation of smartphones, and, more tellingly, that most of the Myanmar population saw Facebook and the internet as one and the same.  Having established how successful Facebook was a growing its business there, they then point out that even as they became synonymous with the internet, they only hired two native speakers to monitor content.  They were warned about hate speech and ethnic smears by nonprofits and others continually during this period.  They then hired two more native speakers through a subcontractor.  Now, Zuckerberg claims to have hired 60 native speakers, though after all hell broke loose for the Rohingya and tens of thousands were killed and raped, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

Let’s have some context which the show didn’t offer.  Myanmar is not a small country.  There are more than 55 million people that live there.  Social media statistics indicate that 93% of the population is on Facebook, compared to say only 2.5% on YouTube as the next most popular site.  Under military dictatorship, it was effectively closed to the outside world for years until very recently.   There was no natural filter that would establish real facts from fake news.  What Oliver didn’t share, but that members of the Organizers’ Forum delegation who visited there several years ago would have noted, Burmese is not the only major language.  Quoting Wikipedia, “Aside from Myanmar (Burmese) and its dialects, the hundred or so languages of Myanmar include Shan (Tai, spoken by 3.2 million), Karen languages (spoken by 2.6 million), Kachin (spoken by 900,000), various Chin languages (spoken by 780,000), and Mon (Mon–Khmer, spoken by 750,000).”  The show did provide examples of mistranslations even in Burmese on Facebook’s website.  Oliver was careful to not say that Facebook did not cause the ethnic cleansing, but it was clear they abetted it through their indifference, greed, and incompetence.  What could Facebook have been thinking?

Finally, a new tech-journalism partnership, called Mark-up funded largely by $20 million from the founder of Craigslist, is rolling out and will pair journalists with coders to unpack the algorithms and mechanics of big tech’s claims with what they are really doing about privacy, content, and the rest of the mess.  The FANG companies, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google had better get a grip on a new reality because their game is up, and real police are coming.

For Facebook, the honeymoon is definitely over when there is blood on their hands and when HBO and Oliver’s show can end the segment with people in various countries in their own languages repeatedly say that Facebook is cow manure or words in the vernacular to that effect.

Facebook has a role, but from Russia to Myanmar to the rest, change is coming or they are a fleeting fancy for all of us and an out of control danger to the world and its people.