Today, I had turned on MSNBC while I made lunch, and was half-listening as the host and various guests discussed Facebook, who, due to yesterday’s announcement of removing pages due to coordinated inauthentic behavior, is hotly in the news again.
A man, whose introduction I had missed over the sound of a boiling kettle, began to discuss the presence of 'conspiracy theory’ groups on Facebook. He said, “it turns out conspiracy theories––disinformation––are a lot more engaging, and get shared virally, a lot further, much faster, than photos of puppies, or babies, or things that make people feel happy.”
The gut feeling I had when Zuckerberg said he felt Holocaust deniers had a place in the Facebook community, last month, was expressed in this 7/18/18 tweet, which I would post as a pic if that was allowed:
“The decision to let hate-based conspiracy theorist communities exist on Facebook doesn’t make me worry they will start breeding there––it tells me they already have & are a demo that is so big, or so responsive to ads, that they feel it’s financially beneficial to support them.”
Which, is essentially what this expert guest on MSNBC was indicating––that content like this, is good for business. I have a lot to say about how cultivating a society of conspiracy theorists is absolutely not humane, but, we’ll save that for another discussion.
I rewound and found out the name of the expert who was being interviewed, and it was Roger McNamee––who is a founding advisor for the Center for Human Technology. I have had this forum open in a tab for months, thinking that this was perhaps a place I should be sharing these thoughts, instead of Twitter(where I think most of my followers just wish this wasn’t happening). I just felt it was a sign that Roger was agreeing with me from the TV screen(surely I was agreeing with him… but you know what I mean), that I should come, finally make a post.
I absolutely believe that one goal of those who wish to create humane & ethical online communities, must be to push businesses to develop models in which they are unable to convince themselves that hosting, breeding and growing groups of conspiracy theorists is lucrative(or a net-positive)––as true as it is, that stripped of their humanity, these groups are seemingly an army of revenue-builders that are reliable for clicking and sharing.
I believe that Facebook(Twitter, etc) viewing these groups as valuable and functioning to protect them, is impacting our society––people who never would have been pushed towards these extremes, have discovered them on these platforms and watched what are complete lies gain likes and reshares––which gives the lie the appearance of legitimacy. It’s not just pre-existing conspiracy theorists finding one another. It is vulnerable people being used, by Facebook, advertisers by others––because, bottomline, there is money to be made.
This is a big, difficult problem, but that means we need to start/keep talking about it.
I definitely have much more to say. Thoughts?