I have read and listened to Joseph Bernstein talk about Facebook being a propaganda tool. There is a lot of defining what misinformation is, and what disinformation does, but it’s mostly political. In my opinion, that makes it propaganda. My take away from Bernstein is that the existential threat of Facebook is also propaganda, from Facebook.
One very interesting fact about the Facebook whistleblower disclosures to the SEC, and one that got almost no press attention, is that she claims, based on internal Facebook research, that they were badly misleading investors in the reach and efficacy of their ads. And to me, the most damaging thing you could say about Facebook is that this kind of industrial information machine doesn’t actually work.
Knowing that some of Facebook’s power is a lie is somewhat reassuring. It’s not reassuring enough for me to go back or anything, but it does help me to not look down on the people that still use it.
I am also a big fan of Cory Doctorow’s writing. A few years ago, he blasted Facebook for basically ruining western civilization in order to make money off of advertising. There’s way more to it than that, but basically the huge troves of information that Facebook gathers in the interest of targeted advertising has cause all kinds of negative externalities. Much in the way that hydrocarbons have destroyed the environment for the purposes of selling cheap plastic shit.
Facebook isn’t a mind-control ray. It’s a tool for finding people who possess uncommon, hard-to-locate traits, whether that’s “person thinking of buying a new refrigerator,” “person with the same rare disease as you,” or “person who might participate in a genocidal pogrom,” and then pitching them on a nice side-by-side or some tiki torches, while showing them social proof of the desirability of their course of action, in the form of other people (or bots) that are doing the same thing, so they feel like they’re part of a crowd.
I have done more than my fair share of my own complaining about Facebook. It would appear that Facebook is not the all-powerful propaganda machine that it has been made out to be, and if its stock price is any indication, Facebook may very well be on the decline.
Facebook now has to somehow retain users who are fed up to the eyeballs with its never-ending failures and scandals, while funding a pivot to VR, while fending off overlapping salvoes of global regulatory challenges to its business model, while paying a massive wage premium to attract and retain the workers that it needs to make any of this happen. All that, amid an exodus of its most valuable users and a frontal regulatory assault on its ability to extract revenues from those users’ online activities.