Facebook: The Right-Wing Data Collection Company That Ruined The Internet

open tabs

and probably the world

Facebook is terrible. This is not a controversial or edgy take to have in 2019. It’s an agreeable fact. They are a data collection site that also allows your mom to comment on your photos from college. Aka the worst of all possible Internets.

It is a terrible website that has ruined the Internet as we once knew it, and will go on to ruin everything else if we don’t stop it. They’ve secretly collected and sold our data. Damaged the psyche of millions, from the traumatized Content Moderators to the Boomers addicted to arguing about clickbait. Their lies about metrics skewed the entire internet toward an untenable trend that no one wanted, leaving a hollow shell of content to crumble in on itself.

The 2020 election in the US is looming, and Facebook seems as committed as ever to their laissez faire approach regarding political ads. They claim “free speech” but are much more concerned with promoting right wing content as legitimate. This is a dangerous time for the future of the internet.

When a Scam Ruins Journalism and the Internet

Facebook is fine being a platform for disinformation campaigns, as they are notorious for making up and inflating their own data. Of course a company that inflated data about their video views in order to make more money wouldn’t care about political ads with blatant lies!

The “pivot to video” is a dark era of the internet, one that makes old-school bloggers and journalists shudder. Facebook’s promise that video would be the new way forward in advertising gave media companies a new carrot to chase, with no regard for what would happen if it failed. Like a carnival barker or snakeoil salesman, Facebook unceasingly touted the idea that video content was next big thing. (The way of the future. Way of the future) Get your amazing stats, right here! Video ads, 100% views, guaranteed! Zuck said it himself, video’s the future!!

Turns out it was a scam. Who could have possibly predicted that Facebook wouldn’t accurately represent their statistics?!?? This is a company that, after all, has a terrible history of lying.

When Users are the Product

Facebook is a fancy data collection website. It started out as a mashup of HotOrNot and Friendster, a college kid’s dream perverted far past its origin. Yet FB has shown, multiple times, it cannot not be trusted with user data. It’s shaky history with our personal information includes multiple breaches thanks to sloppy code, secretly selling our private messages, improperly storing our passwords. Only after user backlash did people get to decide how much of themselves could be sold. “Share first, ask later” is their ever-present strategy.

Much of the public took a little while to realize they were the product on a “free” platform. The site has exploded across the world and became invaluable to advertisers, so the bottom line incentive to cater to users does not exist. The long list of controversies throughout Facebook’s history is strong evidence that they are incapable and uninterested in proper and ethical user security.

As is a common refrain here on Open Tabs, FB’s response to these issues has generally been worse than the fuckups themselves. Their responses are frequently too little, too late. “We need to do better”, ad infinitum. The company has been accused of repeatedly lying to the SEC and Congress.

Public trust in FB is bad and has been for at least the past year. They are stagnating in a crucial age demographic. Despite this, financially they are doing fine. The bottom line is, siding with the advertisers (and the right wing, more on that below) pays. As a company without morals, they have no incentive to treat user’s data with respect or moderate their platform sufficiently. It’s an ouroboros of breach and capitulation.

The FCC fined Facebook $5 billion for all the damage they’ve caused. That’s roughly a third of their gross profit for the quarter. Considering they destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of journalists, that is a paltry sum. Certainly no incentive to suddenly care about the consequences of their decisions.

New Media Collapse

Thousands of journalists in both new media and local publications were a victim of a transition to a format that noone actually likes that much. Constant auto-play ads and video versions of news articles are not the future of the internet. Between the shaky ad revenue sources and the expense of producing videos, this downfall is not surprising. Facebook misrepresenting and lying about video metrics was more than an “oopsie”, it did serious damage to journalism and the internet at large.

Publications like Mashable, Vice, Mic, and Upworthy slashed their staff. Small publications were either shuttered or gobbled up by (much more conservative) conglomerates. Those big companies are concerned with the bottom line. There’s a push for clickbait content to drive ad sales. To make money. This culture has permeated all our online spaces. We want takes to arrive instantaneously, so reading a headline is all anyone has time for.

from The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, so it’s not completely up to date, but this is the closest graphic showing online media I could find.

Pivot to video emerged as a scam after completely cratering our online landscape. It’s too late to go back to a pre-consolidated internet. Users have very little to rely on that isn’t gobbled up by a mega-corp, an equity firm, or funded by the Kochs or Mercers. Google and Facebook make up roughly 70% of online ads now. If you aren’t using those platforms, good luck turning a profit!

But the local news industry has already been gutted, its carcass feasted upon by corporate conglomerates and private equity vultures with no more concern for informing the public than Facebook itself has.

As for the big national outlets, they’ve mostly given up on Facebook already and found other ways to sustain themselves, mostly by moving their content behind paywalls. Facebook News might help or distract them at the margins, but it won’t save or ruin them because they’ve already saved themselves — no thanks to Zuckerberg.

Will Oremus for OneZero

Damaging the Young and Vulnerable via Content Moderation

Inability to de-platform hate ruins lives. Many of the contracted employers moderating FB’s content have broken the NDAs they signed to speak up about the awful environments they work in. The stories they have shared are horrifying. What kind of platform is giving people PTSD for moderating content? They are dubbed with a meaningless title like Process Executive and paid minimum wage to watch videos of murders, animal cruelty and other unspeakable acts. Supervisors do not have the resources to ease people through constant trauma. Of course the outcome is long term damage to the psyche of thousands. No one is coping well.

Contract labor is cheap, and puts Facebook a step removed from anything happening in these workplaces. They are not responsible for the jaded workplace culture, high turnover, and bad hygiene.

These are vulnerable young people (“the future!”) fresh out of the college environment, thrown immediately into some of the most horrific content possible. $15 an hour is the rough compensation to deal with those videos, plus dark jokes and weed smoke all day as peers attempt to cope. Monitored and compartmentalized like an Amazon warehouse worker. Bed bug infestations and nightmare bathrooms. What is Facebook doing to people?

Their obsession with accuracy, concrete numbers dividing speech perfectly between right and wrong, is exhausting on its face. Imagine making these distinctions, and picking the right reason it violates policy, hundreds of times per day. Everything is tracked. All while being encourage to suppress your emotions and keep from talking about your personal horror queue.

Incidents like mass shootings mean inconsistent application, the same national trauma looped over and over for the content moderators to deal with. The policy is ever-changing and gives little room for human error.

The job resembles a high-stakes video game in which you start out with 100 points — a perfect accuracy score — and then scratch and claw to keep as many of those points as you can. Because once you fall below 95, your job is at risk.

The Trauma Floor, by Casey Newton

Casey Newton of the Verge has done some great reporting on the lives of content moderators. But what of those publishing the awful content? The ones livestreaming animal cruelty or spreading white nationalist propaganda. How broken are those people? They are also victims of this shitty website and its unreliable algorithms.

(The contrast between the harrowing life of a content moderator contracted to facebook and an actual Facebook employee is pretty stark too. Remind me to write another article sometime about that class divide!)

Yeah, Facebook is a Right Wing Website

Zuck holds meetings with people like Trump and Tucker Carlson (also Dana Perino, Lindsey Graham, Hugh Hewitt and Ben Shapiro!), yet there is no evidence he is engaging with anyone as consequential on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Where are your dinners with Amy Goodman or the editor of Jacobin, Marc? What about Bernie Sanders, AOC or maybe The Nation? Mother Jones? Go on Chapo?

The truth is, Zuckerberg cares about the money coming from the right wing. Much like CNN, Trump has been great for Facebook. He brings in the views and the ad dollars. His reality show presidency keeps engagement high. While Zuck’s personal politics may reveal a preference for an actual empire, he will totally settle for a sham empire as long as the dollars keep coming in.

Facebook props up this false narrative that conservatives are being censored on the web, another way in which “free speech” becomes a warped retort to the rejection of bad ideas.

Embedded in the First Amendment’s protection of political speech is the assumption that deceptions will be exposed and then rejected in the marketplace of ideas. In Zuckerberg’s view, Facebook, though a private company, is the public square where such ideas can be debated. But when political ads with false claims circulate only among the people who will be most receptive to them, there is little chance that the veracity of those ads will be openly debated. Social media intentionally bypasses the marketplace of ideas.

Sue Halpern for the New Yorker

It could never be possible that the death cult party, the party that claims to follow Christ yet locks children in cages, might have ideas that are simply unpopular and bad. The right wing pushes back on this with gaslighting. Public acts like Zuck meeting with Trump are a public endorsement of total lies.

Instead, Breitbart ends up as one of Facebook’s trusted News sources. Standards for journalism are set back uncountable steps when a right wing hate site that disguises itself as reporting gets legitimized. It is a clickbait scaremongering website focused on transphobia, misogyny and Islamophobia, not news. On its face, Breitbart completely violates much of Facebook’s official policy regarding hate speech. Why does it get to slide by? We’ll discuss this below.

It’s not just Breitbart. The Daily Caller, founded by ZuckerBFF Tucker Carlson, is part of the “fact-checking division” on Facebook. The Daily Wire, a different website founded by a different right wing hack, is also gaming Facebook’s system.

The media already has a status quo bias. Any progressive ideology is threatened, fighting an uphill battle against disinformation and false framing (see Bernie Blindness). Media continues to conglomerate and slant to the right as independent and local outlets shutter.

This is how fascism gains hold. Big companies with influence capitulate to the right wing because money is more important than morals. Facebook also owns other extremely popular services (Insta and WhatsApp) and instances of their selective censorship is more evidence of them bowing to the right. A recent ep of the Reset podcast from Recode/Vox delves into the issue Instagram has with women’s nipples specifically. Men’s nipples? Fine. Go off! Trans or gender non-conforming nipples? Uh, well…. *banned*

Everyone in power is a Republican

former FB employee

To really understand Facebook’s position in 2019 it’s important to look at the most powerful people behind it. We see a lot of Zuck and Sheryl Sandberg. But there are even worse actors behind the scenes, with close ties to some of our hackiest right wing hacks. Joel Kaplan, Katie Harbath, and Kevin Martin. These three are relative randos to most casual consumers of tech news. They really shouldn’t be.

Check Judd Legum’s post to see full details about these Republican operatives at the heart of Facebook. I could write another thousand words on why these three specifically have damaged the internet and media landscape. They are so entwined in the DC culture that it should honestly be illegal for them to have this amount of power at the biggest website on the internet.

Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s VP for US Public Policy, is a major right wing shill. He’s a buddy of Justice Kavanaugh, who sat behind him during the hearings. Kaplan threw Kavanaugh a party once he was confirmed. Kaplan’s also the reason the Daily Caller is part of the site’s fact-checking legion, and why Breitbart gets to slide through Facebook’s hate speech policies.

Kevin Martin, used to be the FCC Chair under Bush. So guess what he’s into? Why, deregulation of course! A House committee wrote a 110-page report about his tenure that can be summed up with this snippet: “heavy-handed, opaque, and non-collegial management style…created distrust, suspicion, and turmoil.” A resume like that might get most people ghosted by potential employers, but Martin’s style is perfectly fine, encouraged even, at Facebook. One of their biggest concerns is looming regulation, especially with Elizabeth Warren running on a promise to break the company up.

Katie Harbath is in charge of Facebook’s election policy. As we hit full speed on 2020’s election cycle, the site’s response to interference is crucial. Looking at Katie’s past, I do not feel confident the site can be non-partisan. She is the former digital strategist for the RNC, and the digital director of one Mr. Rudolph Giuliani’s campaign in 2008. So the site’s decision to allow lies in political ads makes a lot of sense.

None of these people give me any faith that Facebook can act as a neutral or fair platform. Their histories are interwoven with DC’s most partisan. All Facebook has done is slide public perception about journalism to the right. According to them and their conservative friends, the AP is too far left of a fact-checking resource and must be countered by the Daily Caller. Facebook is selling a misrepresentation of reality to its users.

Judd has also uncovered evidence that The Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro’s website, is gaming Facebook’s engagement with a coordinated group of pages pretending to be independent, but are essentially Daily Wire feeds. This is a direct violation of Facebook’s policy against “inauthentic coordinated behavior”.

If you take a look at The Daily Wire’s metrics on FB it is clear they are up to something. Their engagement blows way past MSM juggernauts like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The Washington Post produced 10,591 pieces that were posted to Facebook in September, and the New York Times produced 13,442. The Daily Wire has a much smaller staff and produced just 1,181 pieces in September. 

Judd on The Daily Wire’s ridic metrics

A whole bunch of FB pages with names like Conservative News and Fed-Up Americans only post articles straight from The Daily Wire with the exact same commentary.

Facebook has already determined that somehow this behavior isn’t inauthentic. That a dozen definitely-real people are all posting the same The Daily Wire article within seconds of each other.

Further reporting from Judd reveals that several of these FB pages happen to be owned by The Daily Wire’s parent company. They are just shell pages promoting The Daily Wire’s awful content. Gaming the algorithm because the more people see and interact, even more people see it in turn. As I expertly illustrate below:

(You should subscribe to Judd’s newsletter, Popular Information, btw. We seem to be on the verge of the Newsletter Era in a post Gawker Media world, and his is one I would absolutely recommend. He’s great at contextualizing important issues that may get overlooked. More on Newsletter Era later, maybe?)

What is Online Media’s Future? Does it Include the Facebook We Know?

Our Media Literacy Legacy

Right now, on the precipice of 2020, Facebook is doing a real bad job of being responsible. It is one of the biggest websites in the world, yet it bows to a clear right wing ideology and is perfectly happy allowing lies and misinformation to spread via their platform. Awful, disturbing content is constantly being uploaded, and underpaid exploited workers are forced to constantly view these images to “accurately” enforce Facebook’s content guidelines.

This is a site that hungers for user data, but refuses to monitor what they feed the users in return.

Their horrible inflation and misrepresentation of stats has sent a large part of the internet into a tailspin from which it will never recover. Many of the websites we frequent rely on use Facebook’s metrics or ads to guide their social presence. Yet, FB cannot be trusted with metrics or data. What will this do to the future of internet media, especially as calls for a breakup of the platform are only getting louder?

Our admittedly shaky media literacy has been damaged by Facebook’s algorithm, which is itself easily gamed. We are trained to outrage over headlines and lose focus quickly in the deluge of a 24 hour news cycle. Even if the future of Facebook is merely a series of apps like Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, so much damage to our collective consciousness has already been done.

The future of Facebook is likely to continue on their tradition of inflating stats, covering up and downplaying controversies. Instagram will probably continue deactivating accounts of sex workers or ones that dare show a nipple that seems feminine. I don’t even know what is going on with WhatsApp, but it’s probably suppressing messages in countries in turmoil or something.

Many major news sites have clear bias toward the status quo. Fewer publications are pushing back, and our media literacy will continue withering. Misinformation will keep spreading, because of how FB has trained us. Those of us with means can give Facebook the bird, but many still begrudgingly log in.

The good news is each day more people are aware of Facebook’s role in the breakdown of our society. Facebook’s own employees are getting fed up. If enough people demand it, change can be made.

It’s part of why I can’t stop writing these damn essays. I want to uplift important journalism and question the status quo in hopes of tearing it down someday. So, please, delete your Facebook. Call your reps, and call out propaganda when you see it.

I hope we live to see an Internet born out of the ashes of what Facebook ruined.

Did You Click on the Links in the Essay? Click on them Here:

Facebook’s biggest failures by Irina Ivanova

The Republican political operatives who call the shots at Facebook by Judd Legum

Keeping it “real”, by Judd Legum

With Mark Zuckerberg giving an interview to Fox News, it is clear that Facebook is actively biased in favor of conservatives, by Angelo Carusone

Inside Mark Zuckerger’s private meetings with conservative pundits, by Natasha Bertrand and Daniel Lippman

Facebook News won’t fix the news, by Will Oremus

The problem of political advertising on social media, by Sue Halpern

We can’t find one leftist Mark Zuckerberg invited to dinner, by Jon Schwarz and Sam Biddle

Facebook staff demand Zuckerberg limit lies in political ads, by Josh Constine

The Trauma Floor, by Casey Newton

Bodies in Seats, by Casey Newton

Facebook’s muddy account breach response could be the new norm, by Kate Fazzini

Other Recommended Reading:

Facebook would’ve prevented the Iraq war, by Bryan Menegus

Stress eating an entire frozen pizza for Deadspin, by Katelyn Burns