Facebook is not going to change

Facebook is not going to change

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This article is Part 1 of a series of blog posts on the current social media landscape – and how and where to find alternatives to the controversial tech giants. Read Part 2 and Part 3, where we discuss the advantages and limitations of such alternatives.

To show solidarity with Black Lives Matter, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Unilever, Verizon, and many other big corporations have pledged to pause Facebook advertising this July 2020. As of this writing, the list of corporations who have joined the Stop Hate For Profit campaign has grown to 800 advertisers. Unilever has announced it’s extending the boycott to the rest of 2020.

The campaign’s first two recommendations demand significant changes to Facebook’s leadership and transparency:

  • Establish and empower permanent civil rights infrastructure including C-suite level executive with civil rights expertise to evaluate products and policies for discrimination, bias, and hate. This person would make sure that the design and decisions of this platform consider the impact on all communities and the potential for radicalization and hate.
  • Submit to regular, third-party, independent audits of identity-based hate and misinformation with summary results published on a publicly accessible website. We simply can no longer trust Facebook’s own claims on what they are or are not doing. A “transparency report” is only as good as its author is independent.

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay. Used under a Pixabay License

Facebook’s problem with hate speech, however, is nothing new. Last month, 5,500 Facebook employees demanded that their leaders change their policies. But a recent report revealed that since 2015, Facebook had been making concessions to Trump not only for hate speech but disinformation as well. A few weeks ago, new details emerged from a secret meeting in 2019 between Zuckerberg and Trump which alleges the forging of an “uneasy alliance,” adding more context to the concessions.

As with Facebook’s problems, promises to fix them are nothing new – as is their slowness (or failure) to do so. Facebook’s pledge to combat COVID-19 disinformation was belied by a report that shows how they allowed advertisers to target people more likely to believe in disinformation. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, such issues – which includes one from just last week – should be addressed more proactively (or even prevented altogether).

Despite relatively small or latent successes in the campaign to fix the platform, Facebook is “not gonna change”:

We’re not gonna change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue, or to any percent of our revenue,” Zuckerberg said during a virtual town hall on Friday, according to The Information.

My guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough,” he said, according to The Information, adding that the boycott was a “reputational and a partner issue” rather than a financial one because most of Facebook’s revenue comes from small businesses and not large brands.

My guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough

- Mark Zuckerberg

Ultimately, Facebook changing in a meaningful way is up to the whims of one man. Calls to break up Facebook and its (or Zuckerberg’s) consolidation of power are nothing new, and many will continue to make them. But with Facebook’s apparent alliance with the White House and their growing revenues and userbases across their platforms, Facebook might have become too big to break up.

While we should continue demanding Facebook’s sole sovereign and long reign of unaccountability to change, we can also consider opting out or reducing our use of platforms by Facebook. No doubt, the choice to opt out of the platform remains a privilege in many parts of the world; there remain millions of individuals still whose only access to the internet is through Facebook. But for those of us with the ability to choose, there are alternatives aside from just fighting the losing battle of changing Facebook. After all, how – or whether – we use Facebook is one thing Mark Zuckerberg does not control.

In the next posts in this series, we’ll discuss better ways to use Facebook and better alternatives to Facebook (and other problematic social media platforms). Read Part 2 on the Fediverse here. 

About the Author

Red Tani is EngageMedia’s advocacy and communications director. He helps advocates tell meaningful stories that create impact using the power of video, online tools, & other technology that is free, secure, and ethical.

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