The Facebook dilemma: the disruption of democracy
Katherine Pecora, Staff Writer
On Monday, Oct. 29, and Tuesday, Oct 30, Frontline aired a two-part series called “The Facebook Dilemma.” This two-part series investigated the many problems that developed with Facebook, as the company grew out of Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room into a pivotal piece of a generation. Facebook was born out of Zuckerberg’s goal to connect the entire world, the globalization of ideas, organization of groups and movements. The documentary looked at the powerful social media platform’s impact on the privacy of individuals, and democracy specifically in the United States.
We are now living in a unique age of misinformation. Facebook is intertwined with the social, economic, and political fabric of many countries. The documentary comes out as the company scrambles to improve its image after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cambridge Analytica provided data used to target voters through carefully crafted ad campaigns.
In the 2016 U.S. election, President Donald Trump’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica. The tactics of targeting specific groups of voters were also used in former President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
In 2009 when the “news feed” feature was added, it created a nominal success for the company and a barrier to overcome. At this time, there were no laws that regulated the content as much as we have now. It was much harder to hold Facebook liable for what was posted on the site. At this point, the company took a “libertarian” perspective, and allowed people the freedom to go up to the edge with their speech barring statements that violated their constitutional right to free speech. Facebook has a list of things that are not allowed on the website. These include nudity, hate speech, and pornographic material.
This has created an interesting situation for misinformation to brew. Facebook has often relied on the public’s common sense and common decency to police the site. In 2011, the Arab spring came to Cairo, Egypt. It took hold from a Facebook page protesting Hosni Mubarak. After a post on the page by Wael Ghonim, an Egyptian Activist, to protest the social injustice hundreds of thousands had filled the streets to protest. Eighteen days later, Mubarak stepped down. The technology was the enabler to this movement. After this, Egypt began to polarize and violence insued. The tool that had brought a country together began to tear it apart.
While addressing Congress earlier this year, Zuckerberg took responsibility for the Facebook’s slow response to misinformation in the U.S. “It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy,” Zuckerberg said. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
The documentary explains the current circumstances and unprecedented power that Facebook holds. Facebook’s success as a vessel of social globalization was seen as a positive tool, until it fell into the wrong hands.