[EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: Facebook beyond Zuck
How little we know of a universe where we spend most of our hours.
That’s the biggest irony in Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance in the US Congress last week, as he apologized for a data breach that took hard-nosed investigation to uncover, talked about a networked platform that few lawmakers could comprehend, and defended a business model that’s at the core of the technology industry but which has largely escaped regulation.
Harvard’s most famous dropout stuck to one message in the face of lawmakers’ grilling: that Facebook should have taken a broader view of what it had engineered. What he did not say is that there have been various instances in the past that would have prompted this “broad” view, if only Facebook was scared enough to listen then.
In the last couple of years, the tech giant has been exposed and questioned for the following:
- flippant management of its team of human and machine content moderators
- insistence that it was a “neutral” platform that could not be accused of manipulating people’s thoughts and choices
- refusal to deal with fake news head-on and its delayed response to it
- attack on journalism, especially in countries such as Guatemala, Cambodia, and Slovakia, where Facebook removed news stories from users’ social feeds
- lack of transparency in how it is governing (or misgoverning) the regime that it had created
Pre-Cambridge Analytica, some were already calling for blood, such as the shutdown of Facebook. Pre-Cambridge Analytica, Facebook was already being bombarded with doubts about how it was running its backend. That Zuckerberg is now the subject of nasty memes and being pummeled on the very platform that he built shouldn’t shock the former boy wonder; he had it coming.
But what now?
The problem is for Zuckerberg to solve. He did not only build the company from his dorm room, he controls it to this day. This is not a case of a CEO facing the prospect of getting ousted by his Board; this is the case of a CEO who has both majority shares and the public persona to do anything that can move the company forward.
As one of the leading technology thinkers had written in an opinion piece in the New York Times, Zuckerberg “has the power to shake things up” and “rather than circling the wagons, Facebook can join the cause.”
Yet, the problem is also not just for him to solve.
Policymakers, both in the US and elsewhere, need to have a better understanding of the complex and nuanced landscape that social networks have brought to bear on society and our processes. This way, they avoid crafting policies meant for a traditional, static environment, which our tech-driven world clearly is not. The last thing we need is instant policing online that may be used against citizens later.
Institutional users of Facebook, such as media, research and technology organizations, must also not fence-sit their way through this.
Even if Facebook hired millions of content moderators, they are no match to the vetting capacity and breadth of its very capable and knowledgeable users, who should now engage Facebook more aggressively and intelligently. (READ: Facebook partners with Rappler, Vera Files for fact-checking program)
If Zuckerberg thinks the solution lies internally, he is wrong. He should in fact seize this opportunity to listen to and mobilize the very people who use the platform – to reform it and stop it from further endangering democracy.
That is the real meaning of connection, that is the real meaning of what he termed as the “idealism” that made him think of Facebook.
Because a lot is at stake.
The Philippines, for one, is going to have its mid-term elections next year, an activity that will be supervised by an essentially jurassic elections commission that could not even begin to grapple with how networked data targeting will influence the vote. Add to this the little knowledge that Philippine lawmakers and policymakers have of what’s happening online.
To be sure, there are no hard and easy answers to data privacy and networked cultures, because as you read this, chances are your data is already being peddled universally and your social feed has yet again shown you lies that you liked, simply because they were shared by friends you trusted.
So the challenge to those who govern us is this: for them to know what they do not know and to begin to consider social media platforms as something many citizens could no longer do without.
Therefore, anything indispensable to the public must be obligated to serve it well, and not merely enjoy the cover provided by free markets. – Rappler.com