Let’s commandeer Facebook to promote regulation and reform…of Facebook

I shall henceforth use the platform only to share news of the dangers it poses, and how to subvert them.

I hope you will do the same.

[Note for my millennial and Gen Z friends: read “Facebook and Instagram” everywhere I’ve written “Facebook” alone.]

You’ve probably heard the basic story of late: after years of undermining democracy and causing social and political division (and not just in the U.S.) and allowing the spread of deadly misinformation about vaccines and then also about ivermectin, and then lying (and lying) about what they knew and when or about what the platform does, and even ending independent research into its impact on society, Facebook appears to have suffered the beginning of its ‘Big Tobacco moment‘ (or ‘Big Oil moment‘ – ironic because Facebook has allowed Big Oil to spread misinformation). Has a reckoning arrived?

Sparked by devastating testimony from whistleblower Frances Haugen the media narrative – punctuated by particularly horrifying details, such as Facebook’s long-standing knowledge that Instagram (owned by Facebook) is bad for teens’ mental health – has shifted, perhaps permanently. I hope the public discourse follows, with Congressional action to regulate the platform (and others) not far behind.

(If you haven’t caught up on this news, here’s a summary of the so-called Facebook Files. For more, I recommend the Wall Street Journal’s original reporting, Lawfare’s articles and podcast or the Wall Street Journal’s podcast.)

So how will I use Facebook from now on? First of all, I shall return to using it at all – disgusted by the firm’s dishonesty and recklessness, I had all but stopped, with only a half-dozen posts total since early in the pandemic. But I’ll post only to share information that does one of the following:

  • describes the negative effects of Facebook on democracy and society;
  • proposes regulatory changes; or
  • offers users tips for reining in Facebook in the meantime.

In that last category, kudos to Brian Barrett at Wired for this excellent story titled, I Used Facebook Without the Algorithm, and You Can Too. It has inspired me to revamp my use of the platform for the singular purpose of spreading news of how dangerous it is, and then the occasional bit on how to use it less dangerously, which is what Barrett explains.

Feel free to send me ideas!

But what about the pictures of my kids and pets?

I get it, you’re sad to leave behind all of the fun. Me too — though I assure you that you’ll survive, as I have for the past six months with virtually no use of the platform whatsoever.

In fact, I’m trying to get us (back?) to a world in which we can use these platforms without undermining civilization. I believe two facts are now clear: platforms’ efforts to maximize profit lead to a wide variety of social ills; and Facebook can’t be trusted to police itself. (If you doubt either of these assertions, please review the sources linked above.)

If you sign on to those two facts, a conclusion follows inexorably: we must regulate social media platforms, with Facebook at the front of the line, in order to enjoy the substantial benefits without the intolerable costs.

Fortunately, lots of people have ideas about how to do this, and some folks have made concrete proposals and explained regulatory approaches. Success is not a given, as some have warned. But we must try.

And while it’s fine to hope for the best, you can do something. Use the criteria above to guide your posts, and ask others to do the same. Don’t let anyone you know on Facebook continue to drift along without confronting the platform’s horrific consequences for our society.

Turn the platform on itself

This all sounds harsh, but I predict it won’t last forever. We will win. Before too many months or years go by, there will be regulation of Facebook and other platforms. New rules will force Facebook to moderate content more consistently and fully, listen to oversight bodies created to address its most severe problems, and track less of our personal information. Ultimately, we will emerge victorious.

Meanwhile, we have a moral obligation to subvert Facebook’s power however we can, and ironically Facebook provides a helpful vehicle for the message. By definition, the people who see Facebook posts are the ones who most need to be continually, bluntly, reminded of the platform’s insidious and destructive impact. To quote Wired writer Siva Viadhyanathan, we must “make Facebook matter less.”

And until it serves people first rather than profit at all costs, we shouldn’t let it matter at all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s