The only solution to the existential dilemma threatening us all whether we use social media or not is for governments to require platforms, and that includes search engines, to be legally responsible for the veracity and intention of the information they publish just like newspapers. The 2018 election looms yet here we are still drowning in a sea of lies on social media while Zuckerberg has been given yet another pass by lawmakers who could regulate his company.
Zuckerberg stressed so many times that the Facebook mission was to “bring the world closer together,” or some version of that, that it became, for me at least, an Orwellian-like slogan with fascist overtones. I realize the word fascism, under the Trump presidency, is getting used a lot these days, but Zuckerberg’s constant repetition of the refrain gave it an eerie Big-Brother quality and his refusal to simply concede openly that Facebook exists to make money made it The Big Lie. What’s Zuckerberg and Facebook going to do with the world once it’s all brought together under one platform? The idea that money is somehow secondary to the mission of Facebook is ludicrous, just another corporate deflection. For the record, Facebook deploys personal data to micro-target its users for advertising that generates billions of dollars of year in revenues. That is why it exists.
There are no easy answers to the recent emergence of the myriad of problems social media has created by de-centering truth, promoting a reductionist rhetoric to debate serious matters and using personal data to sell advertising. These problems threaten our democracy. Trump can use Twitter so well because it encourages and even rewards low-information people like himself to lie and bully. That’s the way it makes money. Twitter should pull the plug on Trump, but it won’t because he’s just too good for its business.
The real, prevailing tension is between the obscenely wealthy people in the world—a relatively few thousand capitalists reaping all the rewards of an unfair financial system along with their surrogates—and the masses of people struggling to get by and living in financial insecurity. For example, income inequality and lack of basic opportunity is an issue that concerns many nationalists on the right and all democratic socialists like myself in the U.S. on the left. The two groups have serious and important moral disagreements, but people on both sides believe citizens of their countries should be able to make a livable wage.
One thing Facebook has in common with old-school capitalism is the immoral idea of making money no matter what the social or political or human cost. There’s really nothing new here in the treachery caused by greed. What’s new is the magnitude of the advertising lie and the fact it was based on selling nothing physically tangible to people, just mostly generic “likes” or, to put it another way, fleeting moments of temporary acceptance. That’s hardly worth the demise of democracy.
If corporations like Ford paid their fair share in taxes, maybe San Francisco, Oakland and any city could afford to operate their own completely free bike share program and maybe BART could be improved to make it good enough and easy enough for one its managers to actually use it.