There’s a lot of political news out there, and while ChurchMag strives to stay about politics, sometimes we have to address it. Even so, I will endeavor to do so without partisan passions. For now, let’s forget our political persuasions and talk about Elizabeth Warren, US Senator and Democratic candidate for the presidency, and her relationship with Facebook.
For some time, Senator Warren has called for the break-up of several tech giants (read: “monopolies”), Facebook being one of them. Of course, none of these huge tech companies want to be broken up, and I can’t say that I blame them. Unfortunately for Facebook, its CEO was caught on tape saying as much:
Zuckerberg is clearly uncomfortable with, or maybe even afraid of, what might happen to his company under President Elizabeth Warren. Like many companies in a similar position, he might spend money on lobbyists to try and sway opinion in Congress to stave off any major legislation against Facebook and similar companies.
While that might sound unseemly, it is how these things have been handled for decades, even centuries. What is really frightening, though, is the thought that he might levy Facebook’s nearly incalculable influence against Warren and her policies.
Partisan Press and The Un-Neutrality of Facebook
Facebook has often resisted being considered a publisher of content. They are a platform upon which others can publish their own content. What if they begin to limit that platform to those whose opinions that they find disadvantageous to themselves? Facebook’s algorithms (the mathematical, learning formulas that filter the content in the background) are already fine-tuned to show you the content you’re most likely to engage with.
They could easily relegate Warren’s anti-monopolistic message to a circle of like-minded people, to avoid claims they are silencing her while still preventing her message from spreading and swaying others against them.
Warren herself is already concerned about this, as evidenced by this recent Twitter thread.
Facebook has incredible power to affect elections and our national debate. Mark Zuckerberg is telling employees that he views a Warren administration as an “existential” threat to Facebook. The public deserves to know how Facebook intends to use their influence in this election.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 7, 2019
While Warren is engaging in a certain amount of speculation about Zuckerberg and President Trump, she does have a point about Facebook’s desire to play both sides, even if one side does play fast and loose with the facts. But what she isn’t acknowledging is that Facebook, so far as their advertising arm is concerned, is just one more example of a long-standing tradition of partisan press.
Media corporations, wether that’s newspapers, radio stations, tv stations, etc., have always had a certain political or social angle. In the modern era, most attempt to at least appear non-biased, but that’s not always possible, or even wise. Should we have presented a non-biased view of slavery or the Holocaust? If the devil walked down Main Street and killed a puppy, should your local paper make sure to present multiple perspectives of the even so that no one feels offended?
The difference, of course, is that slavery, the Holocaust, certainly the devil are clearly evil. These’s a clear moral line. The line here is a bit more gray. I have been worried about Facebook’s growing power, and its nearly nonexistent levels of oversight. Whether certain people want to admit it or not, social media in general and Facebook, in particular, were used by Russian cyber-warriors in an attempt to divide the U.S. and sway elections. This happened as a result of Facebook’s naiveté. What might happen if that reckless innocence was replaced with a fear-driven cynicism?
Facebook can do so much more than a partisan newspaper or radio because Facebook isn’t a simply a publisher of content but instead a purveying of a worldview.
In my last book I made reference to how Facebook has conducted experiments in the past with users’ moods. They intentionally fed people negative stories to see if this altered their own moods or perspectives. By and large, it did. Facebook has determined that they have some considerable ability to alter users’ moods and realities.
What if Facebook begins to boost news stories that make them look good and Warren seem too extreme for the US electorate? What if they’re already doing it now? Would they allow this post to be seen by everyone who follows ChurchMag’s page or would it be limited to a smaller circle of less impressionable or already decided readers? What if Facebook weaponizes its reality re-ordering ability?
I don’t want to be seen as a fear-monger, but I want to be clear: Facebook cannot be trusted. They are a for-profit company, and in the end, will won’t hesitate to undercut anyone on their platform to ensure profitability.
In the end, why should this matter to you? Well, because you ought to know who is shaping your reality and why. You need to be aware that your church’s use of Facebook as a platform for ministry is likely a temporary set-up. You’re better off—long-term, that is—setting up a website and carving our your own digital foothold.
Yes, the company that hosts your website is essentially a digital landlord who could still evict if they wanted, but at least there you would have some recourse. Facebook, conversely, has full control over its platform, leaving you with no recourse except to join Instagram. Oh, wait. Facebook owns that, too.
Well, there’s always Twitter.
The point I want to leave you with is not to be afraid but to be cautious of Facebook. Is Facebook our enemy? Who can say? There’s no oversight. Is Facebook worthy of our trust? Doubtful. Keep an eye on them. Keep a hold of your content and be wary of how your reality is being shaped by digital media. Facebook is going to look out for it’s own interests, so you just keep your eye on what’s best for you, your church, and the Kingdom.
Would love your thoughts on what the un-neutrality of Facebook (and others similar) means for you, personally and your church / organization.