Why Facebook is Destroying Civil Society: In 218 Words

By   Shlomo Maital

Social media are destroying civil society.   Here is why, in 218 simple words. I base this blog on the brilliant words of a young Egyptian, whose Facebook posts initiated the massive 2011 protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak. He was interviewed on a recent BBC program.

              Facebook and all social media earn fortunes in profit. In 2018 Facebook had $55 billion in revenues and made $22 billion in net income (profit), a 40% net margin!

       Facebook earns money by advertising. Advertising is based on ‘eyeballs’ (number of viewers). So Facebook engineers build algorithms that maximize profit by maximizing ‘engagement’ (number of viewers).

       Engagement is maximized by hatred and negative messages. Why? Psychologically, negative messages gain more attention than positive ones.

       What role does truth play?   Virtually none. You can post almost anything. Like the fake video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ‘stumbling’ on her words (didn’t happen). Facebook refused to remove it.

       Result: Conventional media like newspapers are driven out of business by social media. The investigative journalism of newspapers is replaced by the vicious falsehoods propagated by social media, entirely to make short-term profit.

     Result: A sharp decline in public trust, in the institutions that govern us — legislatures, politicians, political leaders and even the courts.

     What can be done, when a lot of really bad people, like Russia’s “Fancy Bear” unit linked closely with GRU (KGB’s successor), use social media to screw up elections? What happens when economists pitch the idea that if you let greedy companies like Facebook maximize profits, everybody wins?   What happens when people don’t yet grasp the immense harm social media are doing, let alone press for action to constrain them? What happens when the evil asymmetry of ‘hate drives out love’ generates $22 billion a year in profit, when just a decade ago Facebook LOST $56 million?

       I have no idea.

Advertisements