Facebook rocks/sucks/whatever

The recent outage of the social media giant shows how dangerously over-reliant we’ve become.

I know a couple of people who don’t use Facebook. I never remember their birthdays, tend to forget to stay in touch because they’re not in my face, and view them much the way I once viewed those laggards who refused to own mobile phones.

 

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Yeah, I know. The “no Facebook” contingent have their reasons for not participating, and some of those reasons are legitimate. Facebook has shown a degree of contempt for its users by going beyond the usual corporate information gathering, and its scurrilous data mining has seen the face of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, red-faced and having to defend his company’s policies to officialdom.

But Zuckerberg knows that Facebook is bigger, cleverer and more pervasive than any government. He may appear contrite when hauled over the coals by American senators, but there’s no sign of any genuine change in its ethics.

So yes, I get that there are people who don’t feel safe using the platform; who have very real privacy concerns, or any one of a number of different issues with Facebook, including the marked deterioration of the culture of social interaction highlighted by families and friends being driven apart by polarised views on Trump/Brexit/Covid-19/you name it.

“I think that modern corporates should be legally bound to adopt democratic values and to enshrine them into their operational philosophy.”

But here’s the zinger: I’ve got huge issues with Facebook, too, yet I still use the platform. I would guess that the same is true of many of my friends.

My biggest bugbear with Facebook isn’t the fact that it undoubtedly knows everything about me. I couldn’t really give a rat’s ass about that, because I don’t really have anything to hide, and the whole world already knows the shameful fact that I hold great affection for some really terrible artists and records. No, it’s something that I don’t see discussed much in articles and opinions. What really worries me about Facebook is that it operates like an authoritarian state. I think that modern corporates should be legally bound to adopt democratic values and to enshrine them into their operational philosophy.

I would expect a social media platform unique to China, for instance, to reflect the value system of that country. You know: no dissent allowed, complete respect for authority, blah-blah. I’m flabbergasted and beyond disgusted that Facebook – an American company – operates with impunity, and that in effect, it’s a law unto itself.

Everyone knows that Facebook is seething with disinformation, and that it’s become a new Wild West where various shades of extremist nonsense can fester. Everyone’s seen how its algorithms will, if given the opportunity, chase you down relentlessly with toxic rubbish that’s willing you to jump headfirst into the wormhole of your choice.

Although I’m diametrically opposed to all that, and I know its impact is pernicious and damaging, it’s not what bugs me on a day-to-day basis, because I know how to avoid it, and how to focus on what I want from the platform.

What does prove upsetting and frustrating, however, is the complete absence of concern for its users, which is expressed in the denial of the right to be heard when some bot (or perhaps a spotty teenager on minimum wage) decides that a post has not met with Facebook’s “community standards”, and has been summarily deleted. What I’ve seen happen literally hundreds of times now is that friends have had their accounts suspended for weeks at a time for some imagined infraction. Sometimes, the offending post might have strong language in it but on other occasions I’ve been made aware of, the Facebook bots have seized on something completely erroneously, or have misinterpreted an intelligent remark as its opposite.

“Facebook as a military junta. Facebook as the Lord High Executioner.”

My belief is that someone commenting on their own timeline should be given the benefit of the doubt and that the tenets of free speech should apply. Sadly, Facebook doesn’t think so, and what Facebook thinks (or should I say determines), goes.

So let’s imagine a scenario. Imagine that two amateur astronomers are having a conversation and one of them mentions the rings around Uranus. An illiterate fuckwad (excuse the language) for some reason thinks he’s talking dirty: “The rings around your anus! Disgusting! Immoral!” and dutifully complains to Facebook. The bot that takes the complaint automatically takes the post down and disables the account for a week. This is what has become known as “Facebook jail.”

“The rings around your anus! Disgusting! Immoral!”

The amateur astronomer then thinks it’ll all be sorted with a quick email to FB HQ. But no. There’s no recourse. You can indeed put in a report saying what you think about said situation, but the submitted report will simply go into a blender for future analyses, not be applied specifically to your situation. Facebook as a military junta. Facebook as the Lord High Executioner.

The reason I’m so hot under the collar about this is that I know a bunch of very vulnerable people for whom Facebook is important for the very reason that it first became such a valuable tool: friend connection. I’ve got friends with cancer and other life-threatening conditions. Friends who even before the Covid lockdowns were cut off from their regular social lives and for whom Facebook quickly became an integral part of their life.

“The Facebook bosses should be ashamed of themselves for such a cavalier abnegation of their responsibilities to other human beings.”

The Facebook bosses should be ashamed of themselves for such a cavalier abnegation of their responsibilities to other human beings. Perhaps it’s because these Facebook users are just digitally connected (or just data to mine?) that they’re of so little value. Maybe if those bosses had to look at those users eye to eye and hear their stories… maybe then they’d get how they’d betrayed their care of duty.

I think it’s this obvious flaw in the way Facebook works that needs addressing and mending and that government administrations in countries where Facebook operates should be applying pressure to get the company to operate more democratically, and with more care of its users.

The thing is, there’s no real alternative in the social media landscape. Facebook has the same advantage to social media that the TradeMe marketplace has in New Zealand: everyone’s going to go where everyone else is. Many have tried starting up competition to Facebook but none have really succeeded. Even Google couldn’t do it, because all the friends want to be in one place – which puts the onus on Facebook to do the right thing. If there was suddenly a new alternative to Facebook that happened to have much more integrity and someone could persuade and organise a mass evacuation, then I’d make the move in a minute.

“Government administrations in countries where Facebook operates should be applying pressure to get the company to operate more democratically.”

Me? Oh, I love Facebook as much as I hate it. I’ve found it wonderful for staying connected with friends and family strewn around the world, and have met many really wonderful new friends through the platform. I find it ideal for writing (hopefully) pithy paragraphs about whatever I have the notion to fling out there, or share interesting links or pics or whatever. And it’s invaluable for my writing activity. If I wasn’t on Facebook personally, I would still have to use it to promote my stories. (That’s a double-edged sword, because FB has become the de facto media distribution format… fuck-all people go to websites anymore unless they can afford their own apps and ads).

“Me? Oh, I love Facebook!”

I hope the recent glitch where Facebook was unobtainable for upwards of a day might just have been enough of a break to bring about an insurrection. If nothing else, the Facebook so-called “community standards” need to know that NIPPLES ARE FANTASTIC!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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