The revelations of Frances Haugen, aka The Facebook Whistleblower, have been devastating yet unsurprising. So too, have the responses to her mission — a lot of hand wringing and people expressing outrage, including sharing that outrage on Facebook — with little substantive change to back up the talk.
This has caused me to take a long hard look at my relationship to Facebook. For years I ignored it and preferred to spend my time on twitter. Those early days were heady indeed! The mood was one of wonder and curiosity. People were friendly and open and happy to retweet and follow and share information. I met a lot of people on twitter who became friends IRL and remain so to this day. But soon the corporatization kicked in and when I started to see hashtags like #Imlovingit I knew Twitter had moved from the frontier of social media to become just another marketing arm for countless brands. That was when a friend convinced me to move to Facebook.
And for many years it was a great ride. I’m someone who has been collecting memes and comics for years — I have over 5,000 in my library — and FB offered a great way to share them. I follow a lot of fascinating people who post the most marvelous things. I also connected with many wonderful people on FB and have had the pleasure of hours of DM’ing with some of them. Because I am interested in supporting and evoking collective intelligence, I started a private group to focus on sharing positive developments in the world — along with many bad puns. ;-) But my favorite thing about FB is my birthday. On that day I can count on receiving good wishes from literally hundreds of people. It truly warms my heart.
Of course, I’ve long been aware of Facebook’s business model. How, in exchange for all the fun stuff, FB was carefully assembling a profile of my likes and dislikes and selling the data to advertisers who would, with creepiness that often made me wonder if my home was bugged, fill my internet searches and my FB timeline with ads for products I only mentioned verbally. Aware too, was I that FB (along with other tech giants) has spent millions of person hours and millions of dollars to create the perfect addictive interface. Learning how to exploit our neurocircuitry for maximum engagement, everything about FB serves FB.
When Ms. Haugen made off with the thousands of pages of documents detailing how Facebook is only interested in profits regardless of how those profits are made she cast in stark relief the moral bankruptcy of its Founder and its C-Suite. I found myself torn between my desire to stay connected to FB friend and keep up my habits of trying to be of service (and sometimes clever) and the dawning realization that my continued engagement with the platform was fueling a growing darkness across the world.
It is well documented that Facebook has:
• Tuned its algorithms to spread hatred and anger and outrage.
• Interfered with the democratic elections of several countries — my own included.
• Become a platform for extremists from which they can launch misinformation campaigns that go against Facebook’s community standards yet also go unchecked by those that Facebook charges with enforcing those standards.
• Ignored internal studies showing the damage it and its ancillary platform, Instagram, does to the self-esteem of teenage girls, leading to nobody knows how many suicides.
• Undermined the public trust in science by allowing the spread of misinformation to go unchecked leading to who knows how many preventable deaths from the pandemic.
• Actively fomented genocide.
• Shown no remorse for its actions but instead defends and deflects and justifies what it does.
Facebook is often said to be the world’s largest country with a population of some 2.85 billion people. The demonstrated and documented behavior by the leadership at Facebook clearly shows that the only “citizens” of Facebookland who matter are those who pay into the system in order to exploit the populace. So far, none of public revelations of the wrongdoings listed above seems to have risen to the level of any soul searching and behavior change on the part of Facebook’s leaders. So far, Congress has failed to step in and regulate or dismantle their monopoly. Nor have the revelations of Facebook’s misdeeds led to a mass exodus on the part of its “citizens” who might be better classified as “users” in the sense of people who are addicted to harmful substances and know they are harming themselves, yet can’t bring themselves to quit because they love the high so much.
Which brings me to my interactions on FB… I don’t keep a particularly close on eye on the statistics of my posts but I do know that I once made a glib comment that had something to do with Satan and wallpaper on a forum dealing with home improvement and it was by far the best liked post I ever made with over 2,000 likes. Yet, when I post links to amazing people like Heather Cox Richardson, who provides such wonderful historical context from which to understand the daily news, or intriguing science articles, or the fantastic writings of Sophie Strand, I am lucky to see perhaps 30 to 50 people engage with the post.
Knowing that if I were posting inflammatory pieces that my posts would be picked up and amplified by FB’s algorithms only adds insult to injury. Judging from their actions both, pre- and post-whistleblowing, the leadership of Facebook regularly undertakes the kind of actions that we see in power-hungry dictators.
Facebook regularly undertakes the kind of actions that we see in power-hungry dictators.
It’s hard not to conclude that the C-Suite at Facebook cares not a whit for those whose lives lie in ruins due to the decisions made in Facebook’s boardroom. Those in charge have made it clear that they would rather play the well-worn role of those who use their power to divide and conquer and turn people against each other at the exact moment in history when we need leadership to help us see how much we have in common and how it is in our vested self-interest to put aside our quarrels and pull together in order to collectively rise to the existential challenges posed by the times in which we live. Actions such as those we are seeing from Facebook’s C-Suite goes against every fiber of my being and have become intolerable and unsupportable.
No matter how I attempt to justify maintaining my presence on Facebook, none of the good I can conceive of doing comes close to being an antidote for genocide, undermining democracy or spreading lies, hatred and disinformation. I can no longer ignore the callings of my conscience and I must do something beside drift along comforted by the friends who like my posts and thinking how much I will miss the platform if I leave — which is considerable!
Abraham Lincoln is often credited with saying that all that is necessary for evil to triumph in the world is for good people to remain silent. I can no longer remain silent about the evil that I charge Facebook with encouraging.
“all that is necessary for evil to triumph in the world is for good people to remain silent.”
Years ago I went to hear David Suzuki speak. He gave a fantastic lecture. Embedded in that was the tale he told about how his family lost all their possessions and was interned during WWII, not because they did anything wrong, but simply because they were Japanese. He reminded us that democracy is fragile and requires regular engagement on the part of its citizenry. If, when the time comes for you to act and you do nothing, then good people will suffer and worse. Facebook is a cancerous growth that is eating away at the very fabric of life — while ensnaring the naïve into thinking that they are engaging in a bit of harmless fun. If we allow ourselves to be lulled into complacency because of all the warm fuzzy feelings we have toward Facebook while ignoring the atrocities it is directly supporting, then we turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the suffering that we too are directly supporting through our engagement with Facebook and we join the silent ones who allow evil to triumph.
It has been my practice for several years now to begin each New Year with “Dryuary” wherein I refrain from drinking for the month of January. Last year I added a month-long break from social media to the mix and found it wonderfully refreshing. This year will be slightly different. I will do Dryuary as usual and I will take an extended hiatus from Facebook because of how destructive the platform is. Despite all that I do to seed goodwill and hope here, the net impact of Facebook on the world is one that is causing enormous suffering for people and planet alike. I do not know at the moment just how long I will be off the platform, a minimum of three months I think — I’ll come back for my birthday in the beginning of April because, as noted, it’s the best thing that FB does for me. But I am likely to be gone for much longer. Two things could bring me back. One, would be If Facebook offers up a mea culpa and makes substantive changes in their business and revenue model, becoming more transparent and open to actually becoming a force for good in the world. The other would be if Congress steps in and forces such changes. Should neither of those occur in 2022, I will delete my account on 1 Jan 2023.
One, would be If Facebook offers up a mea culpa and makes substantive changes in their business and revenue model, becoming more transparent and open to actually becoming a force for good in the world. The other would be if Congress steps in and forces such changes. Should neither of those occur in 2022, I will delete my account on 1 Jan 2023.
I thought about reengaging on twitter, but that platform too has problems. It’s likely that I will post some things on LinkedIn and hopefully I’ll write a few blog posts that will be found on kenhomer.com. Mostly, I plan on being more active offline, i.e. interacting with real reality — before the metaverse swallows us all. So I think a break from social media to reassess my options is called for.
I want to thank all of you with whom I’ve interacted over the years. I’m certainly going to miss a great many of you. It’s been a fun ride, but now it’s time to update what my mother told me on Saturday mornings when I was a kid: Turn off the Facebook and go outside and play.
I’m here for a couple more days, I wanted to post this now so that I could interact with anyone who wants to chat me up before I go.
Wish you all greater clarity as to what is truly important in the New Year,
December 30, 2021 (BCE)