Contrary to earlier claims, Meta had not threatened to leave Europe because of the continent’s strict privacy rules. The social media juggernaut, however, had instead informed Wall Street that it will soon be left with no other option – and it’s happening again. According to a report by Bloomberg, the Facebook and Instagram owner had repeated its threat to withdraw his services from the EU if a new transatlantic data-sharing agreement is not reached.
Facebook criticisms and controversies
Several criticisms from scholars, journalists, and even former employees about the social media giant had long been published before the company had amassed two billion users. Given the recent surge in Facebook news, it may seem as though the situation at the business just deteriorated. But hardly will a week pass without a new Facebook scandal. Its criticism, despondency, and even downright loathing seem unabating and evergreen.
The world’s largest social network is the subject of more journalistic inquiries than ever before, shedding light on issues such as the dreadful working conditions of its content moderators, the company’s struggle to stop the spread of malicious content (like the questionable story about Hunter Biden’s laptop in the New York Post), Mark Zuckerberg’s connections to the Trump administration, and the influx of hate groups on the platform.
Even Facebook’s harshest critics often echo Zuckerberg’s claims. “In 2016, we had no idea. We were innocent. We still thought that social media connected us to the world and that the connections were beneficial. Carole Cadwalladr, an investigative journalist and founding member of the Real Facebook Oversight Board who was a Pulitzer Prize nominee for her investigation into the Cambridge Analytica scandal, writes in a recent op-ed in The Guardian, “That technology equaled development.”
Zuckerberg has every motivation to persuade people that Facebook previously had a “glowing” reputation. If the company had been a universally celebrated project several years ago, it would imply that simple regulations and reforms might contain it and that with just the right policy, Facebook could revert to the benevolent path it took before.
But Facebook has been a concern for a long time
This false assumption that Facebook had little opposition in the past erases the groundbreaking efforts of its early critics — a circle that includes Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher.
The Facebook platform, according to Zuckerberg and his staff, is secure since no one can use it anonymously. This has led to everyone using it as their genuine selves. MacKinnon challenges these notions in her book published in 2012. She considers the benefits of the internet as a “digital commons” — the open, universally usable World Wide Web and TCP/IP — and the dangers of the unchecked dominance of businesses like Facebook.
According to MacKinnon, Facebook employees “perform the roles of legislators, judge, jury, and police altogether.” In cyberspace, “they exercise a sort of private sovereignty.” She talked to David Willner, a former employee of Facebook who developed policies for the company’s “hate and harassment” team, on how the website shielded people from cyberbullying and spam. Ultimately, Facebook believed it had solved the problem. According to Willner, “most people won’t engage in antisocial behavior if it’s related to their real-life identity.”
Meta Inc. failed to acknowledge the messy reality of online abuse, harassment, and propaganda. Hence, the company missed a crucial opportunity to establish uniform and consistent standards for removing content on the platform. Why some users are blocked and certain posts are deleted still a mystery. These inconsistent and poorly explained guidelines have exaggerated political rifts.
MacKinnon cites content that denies the Holocaust as an example of what is illogically permitted on the platform. Despite pleas for action from Holocaust survivors in 2011, Facebook dallied on this issue for years, citing its “free expression” values. Holocaust deniers were later banned by the company. While this is going on, Willner has joined the chorus of ex-Facebook workers who have spoken out about the threat their former employer poses to the global community.
How can technology be helpful if certain factors don’t influence how it is used?
There are drawbacks to having an internet that caters mostly to English speakers, as well as how mythologizing the internet as a “borderless world” disguises biases and hierarchies that come with using it. As the monster around the corner, Facebook is set to make all of these problems even worse.
The social media giant thrives on deleting the past and portraying each incident as a new issue. Hence, it’s important to understand how a series of poor decisions led to the current mess on social media today. We must take note of early criticism and build on it if we ever want to hold Facebook responsible.
Featured image credit: Mark Zuckerberg F8 2018 Keynote by Anthony Quintano under CC BY 2.0