Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s two top executives, met with civil rights groups during a Zoom call in an attempt to quell any concerns they have over how the social network treats hate speech on its site. But the meeting fell short of the critics expectations.
Instead of committing to a timeline to root out hate and disinformation on Facebook, the company delivered the same old talking points to try to placate critics without meeting their demands, according to NY Times reporting. Prior to the meeting, Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg published a message on Facebook in which she expressed the company’s deep concern and care about the issue of hate and disinformation running rampant on the platform but did little to explain how Facebook is actually going to fix these systemic issues. And they are definitely systemic.
How did we get here?
The best place to start my case is at the beginning: when Mark Zuckerberg decided that the Facebook NewsFeed was the next big innovation. If you’ll remember, at first, people hated the NewsFeed, but Zuck & Co. pressed on and it actually became one of the best features for a while. That is, until, people had the idea to game the algorithms.
The first set of people/companies to take advantage of Facebook’s NewsFeed algorithms were viral news/content sites (e.g. Upworthy, ViralNova, BroBible, etc), which ultimately led Facebook to have to make changes to their algorithms as well as limit the organic reach of Facebook pages.
At this point the writing was on the wall. This was going to become a problem that Facebook would have to deal with. It’s like how criminals always want to be one step ahead of the authorities. People are always looking for ways to abuse systems and platforms to benefit themselves.
Fast forward to today and we see how the Russians and the Trump campaign utilized Facebook to spread disinformation and hate by abusing the system in some cases, but in others, simply using it in a way that Facebook had enabled through existing functionality.
Can Facebook be fixed?
Where we are now currently is a place that has been years in the making. Facebook has been stuck in an “arms” race attempting to combat abuse but clearly can’t keep up. But why?
Well, as much as it pains me to write this: it’s not in Facebook’s best interest to fix it. If it was, I feel they would have done it already. The company makes its money through keep users engaged and frankly, hate, divisiveness, and conflict are big levers of engagement. This is why we need to build better social products, such as the kind I discussed with Chrys Bader on the TechieBytes podcast.
Ultimately though, Facebook’s top leadership has failed us. All of us. With over 2 billion monthly active users, that’s more than any country in the world. Mark Zuckerberg has proven time and time again, that he’s just not the right person to be running this company. Have you noticed how Facebook is always apologizing or trying to fix issues they’ve quite literally amplified and made worse? And it’s not just hate and disinformation, remember Cambridge Analytica?
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter do not need to be centers of hate and disinformation, they let it run rampant because it’s good for their numbers. I remember the days when these social platforms were fun, insightful, and helpful. Now they’re just toxic and leave you feeling on edge.
In fact, I remember a time on the internet before any of these social giants even existed. Every forum, message board, and site on the internet that allowed for user generated content always had rules against feeding the trolls. No matter what site you were on, one of the rules for being there was don’t feed the trolls. Now, regardless of whether that was because site owners didn’t want to deal with the headaches or because they didn’t want to promote hate (or both), it made the places I hung out more pleasant. Compare that to social media sites today where these companies incentivize users to post and engage because of the early mindset of growth at any cost.
Well, growth at any cost has (I believe) directly contributed to the situation we find ourselves in right now. It’s caught up to us and it’s not sustainable.
Zuck needs to be held accountable. I’m glad that 300+ advertisers are currently boycotting Facebook, I sincerely hope they don’t cave and come back. As more people move away from Facebook, it’ll be less valuable to them anyway.
This is why I think it’s the perfect time to be building better, more inclusive, social products. We need to rethink about social on the internet and that’s why it’s time for Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg to step down. They represent the old guard of social, we need new eyes, new ideas, and fresh perspectives. From a strictly business perspective I don’t think they’re the right execs to take Facebook into the next stage of its life.
Lastly, if Zuck ends up reading this, I have one question, what do you tell yourself to sleep at night being that the product you created has destroyed democracy and you’ve done little to fix it?