By Justin Sanders
Facebook and Google have given us enough evidence for the urgency of #PlatformAccountability to last a lifetime… and that’s just in the seven weeks since the last time we published this series. Their burning dumpster fire burns hotter than ever, and the more they claim to be fighting it, the higher its flames seem to get.
Around the world, governments are starting to take action to curb the harms these internet giants have wrought. In the U.S., House lawmakers launched an antitrust investigation focused primarily on Facebook and Google as bold privacy laws marched forward in both California and New York. Meanwhile, Canada proposed to increase penalties for privacy-spurning tech giants (after getting really angry when Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg resoundingly ignored a request to appear in front of Parliament).
Rather than take the hint, the giants have doubled down, doing everything in their power to sway public opinion and shape the coming regulations in their favor – even as their own founders accuse them of sacrificing “security and civility for clicks.”
In the void of their total inability to fundamentally change, #PlatformAccountability must come from the outside – and here are 16 more reasons why, culled from across the spectrum of political, cultural, and sociological discourse.
1. Because the information ecosystem is broken.
“Our political conversations are happening on infrastructure—Facebook, YouTube, Twitter—built for viral advertising. The velocity of social sharing, the power of recommendation algorithms, the scale of social networks, and the accessibility of media manipulation technology [have] created an environment where pseudo-events, half-truths, and outright fabrications thrive. Edward Murrow has been usurped by Alex Jones.”
– Renee DiResta, director of research at New Knowledge
2. Because the Google-Facebook antitrust probe is officially open and we already know how they will respond.
“They will plead innocence or argue for the value of self-regulation, a mythical concept with no foundation in law or governance. They will proclaim their belief in innovation and competition. They will promise — despite all evidence to the contrary — that they are mature stewards of our personal data. Tech leaders, like Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, will tout the virtues of privacy — a bizarre about-face for someone who once implied that privacy was ‘no longer a social norm’ and whose company’s tremendous profits are generated by industrial-scale surveillance of its users. We should believe none of it.”
– Jacob Silverman, author of Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection
3. Because YouTube has a sports piracy problem and it’s only getting worse.
“We saw how popular the Fury vs. Wilder fight was across piracy networks just six months ago and how a significant part of the audience was coming in through YouTube. The Joshua vs. Ruiz fight has been the largest unauthorized audience that we’ve ever tracked across boxing and it’s staggering to see that 93 per cent of the audience watched via YouTube.”
– Andy Chatterley, CEO of MUSO
4. Because Facebook’s own co-founder thinks his former business partner has gone too far.
“Mark [Zuckerberg] is a good, kind person. But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks. I’m disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders. And I’m worried that Mark has surrounded himself with a team that reinforces his beliefs instead of challenging them. The government must hold Mark accountable.”
– Chris Hughes, Facebook Co-Founder
5. Because leaders around the world think Hughes’ former business partner has gone too far.
“I am sick to death of sitting through hours of platitudes from Facebook and avoidance tactics about answering questions… I want [Mark Zuckerberg] to take responsibility.”
– Jo Stevens, a British member of Parliament from the Labour Party
6. Because if Canada stops being nice to you, then you’ve definitely gone too far.
“Shame on Mark Zuckerberg and shame on Sheryl Sandberg for not showing up today.”
– Bob Zimmer, chairman of Canada’s House of Commons Ethics Committee, following the Facebook executives’ failure to attend a hearing in front of the Canadian Parliament
7. Because they can behave this way, in part, because we have failed to set a precedent.
“The FTC must set a resounding precedent that is heard by Facebook and any other tech company that disregards the law in a rapacious quest for growth.”
– Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Josh Hawley, in a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons
8. Because as long as we fail to set a precedent, we will just keep hearing this:
“We apologize to our users and will do better.”
– Google Cloud blog, in a post announcing the company has been storing G Suite customers’ passwords in plain text since 2005
9. Because Facebook’s privacy pivot is yet another cynical ploy.
“To be blunt, I fear that your new platform’s aim is to capture and subvert the privacy revolution that threatens your business model and claim an empty public relations victory. You claim your goal is to limit Facebook’s window into users’ lives, but your future profits demand that you expand that window.”
– Sen. Josh Hawley, in an open letter to Facebook following the release of their new “privacy-oriented” platform
10. Because a maliciously doctored video of a prominent leader went viral on Facebook and all we got was another lousy excuse.
“We think it’s important for people to make their own informed choice for what to believe… Our job is to make sure we are getting them accurate information.”
– Monika Bickert, Facebook’s product policy and counterterrorism executive, defending her company’s decision to keep up a viral video that falsely portrayed Nancy Pelosi as drunk
11. Because Facebook’s Pelosi video decision points toward a much more sinister intent.
“We have said all along, poor Facebook, they were unwittingly exploited by the Russians. I think wittingly, because right now they are putting up something that they know is false. I think it’s wrong… I can take it… But [Facebook is] lying to the public… I think they have proven — by not taking down something they know is false — that they were willing enablers of the Russian interference in our election.”
12. Because Facebook’s Pelosi video excuse shows they still haven’t accepted their role as a media organization (and probably never will).
“The only thing the incident shows is how expert Facebook has become at blurring the lines between simple mistakes and deliberate deception, thereby abrogating its responsibility as the key distributor of news on the planet. Would a broadcast network air this? Never. Would a newspaper publish it? Not without serious repercussions. Would a marketing campaign like this ever pass muster? False advertising.”
– Kara Swisher, co-founder, Recode
13. Because the previous quote from Kara Swisher is so good, we have to include another one.
“Silicon Valley tortures the concept of free speech until it screams for mercy… By conflating censorship with the responsible maintenance of its platforms, and by providing ‘rules’ that are really just capricious decisions by a small coterie of the rich and powerful, Facebook and others have created a free-for-all with no consistent philosophy.”
– Kara Swisher, co-founder, Recode
14. Because corruption flows from the top and at Facebook’s top there sits an unremovable sociopath.
“Antisocial behavior in media is not new, it’s just new and (uber-) improved here. The President has a direct line to 68 million people via Twitter. Rupert Murdoch serves right-wing propaganda to his 2.4 million viewers. However, these are mosquito bites compared to the Ebola of [Facebook]. [Facebook] aims to encrypt, abdicating all responsibility, the communications of 2.7 billion people. The algorithm determining the content this cohort receives (greater than the Southern Hemisphere + India) is controlled by a sociopath, who cannot be removed from his post, and who could be in that role for another 60 years.”
– Scott Galloway, author of The Four
15. Because we’ve become more worried about fake news than racism.
“More Americans view made-up news as a very big problem for the country than identify terrorism, illegal immigration, racism and sexism that way. Additionally, nearly seven-in-ten U.S. adults (68%) say made-up news and information greatly impacts Americans’ confidence in government institutions, and roughly half (54%) say it is having a major impact on our confidence in each other.”
16. Because there are fundamental questions about our digital lives that we demand answers to.
“What good reason is there for Google to store six years of detailed purchase information? Why can’t I delete it without deleting the emailed receipts? Why aren’t there default time limits on how long information is stored? … Why do our apps hoover up our personal information and funnel it out in the dead of night? Why aren’t these behaviors limited by our phones by default? … Why does the internet have to work this way? Why is the currency of the commercial web our increasingly granular information? Why is it collected, sorted and traded in ways that are nearly impossible to see in the aggregate? … It may seem overly simplistic, but our current privacy reckoning is about just that: finding satisfactory answers to the most basic questions about the future of our digital lives.”
– Charlie Warzel, The New York Times
The words above are powerful and stirring, but we can’t just let them sit on the page. We must act – for it’s become abundantly clear that public shaming alone has no meaningful impact on companies whose business models are fueled by attention, privacy violation, and outrage. We have now endured years of scandal and strife from the likes of Facebook and Google, and yet despite their endless promises to do better, we continue to live in a world riddled with piracy, hate speech, misinformation, and other horrors. The antitrust probe is a good start, but our leaders must do even more to hold these companies responsible. If they don’t, who will?