after watching Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen accused her former employer on Sunday night benefiting public safety, I went to my computer and clicked on the site. I was ready to be filled with righteous anger. And there, at the top of my feed, was the shocking news that the wife of an old friend had died.
I shed tears as I read his grand tribute to him, and a few words of condolence for his final months. And I realized I wouldn’t have known about it to anyone other than Facebook.
Over the years I have been angered by the police anger, unrest, and its pathetic attempts at potentially deadly misinformation on Facebook and on its platform, but I haven’t given up. How will I be with my cousins, nieces and their families – graduations, jobs, victories and travel and birthdays, comedy (“Lederhosen? Seriously?” I asked a cousin of her new profile picture) and tragedy (a cousin death of brother who waited too long for care).
My elementary school classmates and my high school English teacher are on Facebook. Journalists and operatives I met during decades on the national political circuit, and friends who share their adventures and appreciate hearing about me.
So is my distant older child, who helps me keep an eye on his life and career. (The little kid wouldn’t go to Facebook and follow Twitter without posting a word. Journey from junior high school, when he joined MySpace and described himself as a divorcee.)
Algorithms that reinforce anger
Social media started out as a professional necessity for me. In 2009, at an online startup, we were instructed to join Facebook and Twitter to gather as many “friends” and followers as possible. The goal was to brand both ourselves and our new website. The site was shut down 10 years ago, but I’m still on Facebook and Twitter.
I recently confessed in private to a friend in the world of Congress victory that I love the community I met on Twitter. He felt the same way. I have similar heartfelt feelings about my little corner of Facebook. I try hard to avoid the dark, angry, lie-fueled side of social media. But I know these are the parts that others find and flourish, and are sometimes used to plan dangerous real-world actions like America capital attack.
How do we get here? Algorithms and benefits. Singer-songwriter Vienna Teng perfectly captured it.”Hymn of the Acxiom.” Unless you seductive song And think about how they relate to Facebook, Amazon, and Google:
Leave your life open. You don’t need to hide.
Someone’s collecting every piece you drop
(mindless decisions and) moments you’ve long forgotten.
Keep them all.
Let our sources find your soul mate.
Online giants protest in vain
I was surprised recently when an Amazon Prime truck came near my house, and was quite relieved when it stopped next door. As the driver drove back to his truck, I told him from my porch, “I thought you were coming to deliver bacon, I was thinking of ordering. Now that Amazon can read my mind. “We both thought it was funny.
These companies have incorporated themselves into our lives and have done their job so well that resistance seems futile. Amazon can deliver king beds overnight (no joke, my son is living proof). It can send you four 72-strip packages of the exact brand of bacon you want—the type that’s been missing from shelves throughout the metropolitan Washington area for weeks.
Last month it sold me a book at a brick-and-mortar Amazon store at a deep discount my local independent bookstore couldn’t possibly match and keep in business. It already produces, buys and streams content, and now, with the Amazon-MGM merger on the table, some fear it will monopoly on the film industry.
Teng’s hymn ends with these words:
Now we have you. You will own it in time.
Now we will build for you an endless upward world,
(reach in your pocket), you deserve all.
is that wrong?
Isn’t that what you want?
so be it.
That’s what the online giants want – to make money. This is what we want, for our tribes to find. But what happens when online communities want to stigmatize elections, threaten political figures and block the peaceful transfer of power?
What happens when people die in real riots planned online and from real COVID after reading vaccine lies online? Or does online content drive teenage girls to starve themselves and commit suicide?
Facebook is a private company. It can decide what is appropriate for its own platform. Nevertheless, it is clear from Haugen’s repository of evidence that Hate, Violence and Provocation Facebook is prevalent and is a great threat to the world.
Only Congress, the courts and other authorities can compel action. It’s time for them to draw clear boundaries—and leave it to the rest of us to catch up on holiday news and share the latest about our kids.
Jill Lawrence is a columnist for USA Today and the author of “The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through GridlockFollow him on Twitter: @JillDLawrence