Facebook: Shut It Down
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Facebook has proved it can’t police itself, and the integrity of the American election system could be at stake.
By Nick Fouriezos
Enough with the employee town halls, the mealy-mouthed apologies, the feigned ignorance, the purple-prosed press releases.
It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to shut Facebook down. At least for the days preceding Election Day, and definitely for the week immediately after, when the results are likely to be in serious flux as states count mail ballots.
First, a recap for those of you whose Facebook feeds are (blessedly) filled with cat pics and family photos rather than partisan screeds. The social media giant initially conceived by Zuckerberg as a way to rate the hotness of his Harvard classmates has become unwieldy. It can no longer police itself and so has become a target for bad actors with nefarious aims, from those inciting an ethnic cleansing in Myanmar in 2014 to the Russians interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections.
In the past year alone, Facebook’s worst excesses have been revealed. GOP salesmen have used it to skirt American campaign finance laws while touting Trump campaign messaging through kitschy products like “Trumpy Bear.” A new-age Chinese religious movement, the Falun Gong, has continually spread so-called Obamagate conspiracies through its U.S. newspaper, the Epoch Times, pivoting to fake accounts and names when Facebook has managed to disable its main pages.
The advent of private Facebook groups, advertised as a new avenue for internet togetherness, has instead become a cesspool of hidden misinformation networks — leading to everything from mass anti-vaxxer activity to pregnant women having dangerous “freebirths” (i.e., unassisted childbirth), in some cases leading to deadly results.
It has recently become a major gathering place for QAnon conspiracy theorists, who believe an elite cabal of satanic child molesters are running the country. The conspiracists notably have been deemed a domestic terror threat by the FBI. And when an armed teenager shot and killed two men in Kenosha, Wisconsin, amid protests, it was later found that a local militia group had posted on Facebook recruiting people to take up arms and head to the scene.
That last episode caused another in a series of “reckonings” from Zuckerberg, who organized a town hall meeting with staff to admit that the Kenosha Guard page had been reported as violating the site’s standards yet hadn’t been pulled down by moderators before its deadly aftermath. It “feels like we’re caught in a cycle of responding to damage after it’s already been done rather than constructing mechanisms to nip these issues before they result in real harm,” one Facebook employee reportedly wrote in the companywide virtual meeting.
Facebook’s most recent decision, to ban new political ads in the seven days leading up to the Nov. 3 election, continues that trend of misguidedness. As several digital experts have pointed out, banning political ads just means that pages with the largest organic followings — outlets like Fox News, Breitbart and Ben Shapiro, which have all trafficked in misleading and conspiratorial posts in the past — will be the only pages able to meaningfully influence Americans in the election’s final days. “This policy will ensure that these pages are able to drive whatever narratives — true or false — about the election and the candidates without regulation and with expansive reach to tens of millions of voters,” said Tara McGowan, CEO of progressive digital firm Acronym, in a statement.
That decision is particularly problematic when you look at the contours of the 2020 election. Because of a mass influx of mail ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic, election officials likely won’t be able to announce a winner for days, if not weeks. However, that likely won’t stop some partisan sources, including possibly the president himself, from declaring premature victory. If right-leaning outlets are able to spread propaganda organically, while left-leaning groups are unable to respond due to their smaller reach and the inability to pay for new political ads, it could deeply affect the public’s perception of the election results — particularly given Trump’s willingness to cast doubt over the veracity of mail ballots.
With that in mind, Facebook has one option to preserve the integrity of the 2020 elections: Shut its service down for at least the week before and the week after Election Day. Anything less could be disastrous.