Suddenly, all hell is breaking loose for Facebook — yet again.
And already, it feels like the fix is in and that the furrowed brows in Congress and the televised hearings that began on Tuesday may lead to little reform and lax punishment for the omnipotent social media platform that is messing with the minds of 2.9 billion people around the world.
The latest brouhaha was sparked by a startling exposé published last week by The Wall Street Journal (where I worked for 16 years, long ago). It was based on thousands of pages of internal documents provided by Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen.
She then appeared in a ''60 Minutes'' interview on Sunday night and testified before a U.S. Senate committee on Tuesday. A hat trick.
The WSJ exposé showed that Facebook is knowingly guilty of multiple sins: that it favored elites (mostly liberals) and let them violate Facebook guidelines restricting hate speech and misinformation; used algorithms that fostered discord to increase engagement and ad sales; and was used openly by drug cartels and human traffickers.
The Journal series also cited Facebook’s own research showing that teenage girls were being harmed by Instagram algorithms in terms of body image and anorexia.
Haugen told senators that even when Facebook knew its platform in some countries enabled oppressive governments to stoke ethnic violence through hateful posts, CEO Mark Zuckerberg rejected algorithm reforms that would cut down on engagement in those regions and reduce ad revenue.
Though Haugen was a mid-level product manager who worked at Facebook only two years, she makes a credible witness, intelligent and well informed in her expertise, never overreaching or spouting baseless opinions. Her revelations make you wonder — where the hell was everyone else at Facebook who knew about this stuff?
Facebook’s own employees lamented on private chat boards that the company was failing to live up to the public promises it had made to protect users. Politicians complained to Facebook that their campaign messaging had to be geared to be more provocative and divisive to benefit from Facebook algorithms that favor the spread of discontent and vitriol.
In all of this, the role of Facebook users themselves gets zero attention. Politicians chose to be more divisive.
People chose to engage in hate and invective, and to traffic in misinformation and use Facebook to stoke division. No reforms will succeed in changing that.
The angle getting the least attention was featured in Part One of the Journal series: that Facebook, while cracking down on mostly conservative voices, was letting liberal elites run wild on the platform.
Facebook allegedly let five million users — celebrities, liberal influencers, members of the liberal media, and millions of others — routinely violate Facebook guidelines restraining disinformation, hate speech and other wrongful content. Without penalty.
Yet Facebook maintains its two-year ban on the account of President Donald Trump. We rarely will see the senators — not even Republicans — complain about that because, "Trump bad."
This is why it is doubtful that Facebook will suffer any lasting damage from all this. Facebook has been, one could argue, a liberal ally of the Democrat Party, the liberal media, and woke followers.
Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $400 million in grants to states and cities in the 2020 elections, helping boost Democratic turnout in Georgia, which handed the U.S. Senate to the Dems.
When riots broke out in the summer of 2020, Facebook turned off the ''downstream'' algorithms that stoke engagement and repetition — but only for messages about health content, witness Haugen testified on Tuesday.
In other words, "fan the flames."
As Time reported last February in ''The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election,'' the protests were orchestrated in cooperation with Democrat and liberal activists.
Democrats at the hearing, scrambling to get out in front of this, expressed the requisite outrage about the Facebook disclosures, mainly as they relate to any threat to children.
They couldn’t have cared less about Facebook’s apparent bias against conservative content.
On Twitter, some conservative voices were quick to dismiss all the buzz as a contrived event aimed at making it look as if the Dems were cracking down on their former allies at Facebook, when in reality they all are teaming up to further quash conservative views.
In the unlikely prospect of any meaningful reforms, you can be sure the Democrats will figure out how to use this to their advantage — and that Facebook barely will feel it.
Dennis Kneale is a writer and media strategist in New York, after six years as anchor at CNBC and Fox Business Network and 25 years at The Wall Street Journal and Forbes. He helped write "The Trump Century: How Our President Changed the Course of History," by Lou Dobbs, published in September 2020 by HarperCollins. Read Dennis Kneale's reports — More Here.
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