“Facebook is finally admitting that Russian fake accounts were shunting political messaging into the U.S. election for months.”—Rachel Maddow

[ this post has updates where noted ]

Taking a stand comes in many forms.

Some folks work to rally the vote. Others throw fundraisers and help raise money for worthy causes. Some volunteer in their local communities. Some dedicate their Twitter feeds and lend their celebrity to defeating bad ideas and even worse candidates for office—while lifting up good ones.

Despite how connected we are all today through social media, why am I feeling less close my friends?

When I went to the funeral of a college friend some years back (I’m connected on FB to the majority those friends and classmates) none of them had any clue I had written a book, started this blog or what I had been up to. I was also basically in the dark about what they had been up to as well. The point of the visit was to celebrate our friend who died way too young, but it got me contemplating the usefulness of this medium.

Why is it that the more connected we are through social media, the less close to people I feel?

FB makes it very difficult to make one’s newsfeed an organic experience. Your FB feed is “curated” by scripts and code; even though you might change it back to the organic setting of “most recent,” FB will always default it back to “top stories.” FB basically decides what piques your interest, and that science is not only inexact but it has the opposite effect of what social media should do be doing for people. We have people decide things for us when we’re 3 years old—but as grown fucking adults? Really?

By plugging in to FB we’re checking out of our own choices. So I’m logging off… for now. For this reason and for another more nefarious reason we’ll get to in a minute.


From Russia with Angst

As someone who manages six Facebook pages as well as my personal one with nearly 1,600 friends, I don’t make this decision lightly. As a self-employed writer and author, I rely on friends and friends of friends to help with promotion—so this decision will affect that greatly. But I’m ready to take the hit, and will sign out of FB and not log back on for about six weeks.

There not be enough guardrails in the world to prevent bad outcomes on Facebook, whose scale is nearly inconceivable.  (NYTimes)

Why? I feel betrayed as a FB “customer” because it’s so freakin’ vast and skewed toward user growth and ad revenue. (The only way I can get my posts *actually* seen is to promote them, which I will no longer do. I refuse to give FB another dime.) Beyond that, there’s a bigger issue being adjudicated right now: FB, in my view, needs to be investigated for its systemic failure in policing its own platform against foreign influence during our election last year.

Let’s review some of the low-lights:

⏩ Facebook founder Zuckerberg said earlier this year that it was “crazy” to think Russia had interfered in the ’16 elections, except…

⏩ Facebook knew about Russian interference “well before the election” in 2016

⏩ Facebook’s “human content gatekeepers” are third-party contractors and aren’t tasked with policing irregular foreign activity

The bottom line is that Facebook was not prepared for the threat. (The Atlantic)

⏩ Suspicious Russia-linked FB accounts were discovered as far back as June 2016; in July 2017 FB told CNN that there was “no evidence that Russian actors bought ads”

⏩ Some of the FB ads were purchased in Rubles as early as 2015

⏩ News stories vanish from FB like political dissidents in Russia

⏩ We learn more about FB’s misdeeds from previous executives than we do from the company itself. “They’re destroying how society works”—Chamath Palihapitiya

⏩ According to co-founder Sean Parker, FB is designed to “exploit vulnerabilities in human psychology”

⏩ Former FB product manager Antonio Garcia-Martinez says the company has targeted vulnerable teens: “If the intention of Facebook’s public relations spin is to give the impression that such targeting is not even possible on their platform, I’m here to tell you I believe they’re lying through their teeth.”

⏩ FB is causing a row across the pond with how it’s responding to Brexit allegations


Making new choices

I’m extremely discerning in my news choices and I’m not one to fall victim to manipulative, planted, phony news. When ABC ran “The Path to 9/11,” a dramatized and laughable account of that fateful day, I boycotted World News Tonight. When Morning Joe got too obviously cozy with its sources, I stopped watching them. There are many other examples. The only recourse we have as consumers—unless and until congress does something—is to make new choices.

FB and Twitter have promised to ban all nefarious traffic from Russia. But as ThinkProgress reports, it hasn’t actually happened. “It remains unclear why Facebook has allowed these pages to remain live,” the piece reads. “But their continued existence points either to the company’s distinct lack of transparency, or its continued inability to snuff out these fraudulent accounts — or both.”

Let’s go with “both.”

I really love the organic feeling of Twitter, and I adore my tweeps to pieces. But both Twitter and Facebook have accepted significant investment capital from Russia via Yuri Milner, a close confidant of Putin. How did Obama’s justice department not act upon this? How have we allowed Russian investment in American companies knowing that 99% of Russian money is dirty?

If Twitter doesn’t start taking sweeping action against its Russian-bot problem I very well could take the same action there, too.

What might’ve happened if FB had sounded the alarm way back in 2016? We’ll never know, but if this company is to be the world’s social-media leader it should damn well act like it.

I plan on returning to FB on 1 February 2018—taking more than a month off. I won’t miss the site itself, but what I will miss are the people who move me every day.

The enthusiasm and support of Sandra Kolka; wisdom and inspiration from June Gable; the photography of and collaboration with Leesa Brown; cheerleading the cancer journey of and uplifting Jennifer “JRoze” Rozenbaum; marveling at Kert Elkins’ Spartan badassery; keeping the conversation about masculinity in America on my Emotional Intelligence in Men book page; the outrageous fabulousness that is Greg Scarnici; hero worship of Catte Adams, Nancy Giles, Scott Grimes, Bob Cesca, Dean Obeidallah and many others; incisive Resistance tweets from Chris McArdle; political commentary from Bruce Bartlett; pics and videos of my nieces and nephews; and so many more. You know who you are.

What might’ve happened if FB had sounded the alarm way back in 2016? We’ll never know, but if this company is to be the social-media leader it should damn well act like it. If FB had spoken up, we’d have immediately heard from Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and all the rest of them.

While off Facebook, I’ll be looking for a cross-platform agent and/or publicist to help me amplify my message and get my projects seen and heard. I’ll take a small hit for not promoting on FB—but taking this stand means more to me than selling a few books or getting a few clicks.

Have some ideas? Wanna collaborate on something zesty and yummy? Have an idea for a guest post? Hit me up off-FB via e-mail and let’s get started.

Facebook can reverse its denials about Russian election meddling, but it can’t undo the damage they did through negligence. That toothpaste is forever out of the tube. And a platform that is supposed to bring us together is doing the exact opposite. 🔵

UPDATE: Online media watchdog Media Matters has named Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg as “Misinformer of the Year” for 2017. From the post: “Nineteen months after Facebook’s CEO sat down with conservative leaders and responded to their concerns with steps that inadvertently strengthened the fake news infrastructure, his company remains more interested in bowing to conservative criticisms than stopping misinformation.” While I don’t agree with Media Matters’ normalizing Trump’s go-to phrase of “fake news,” the message is still clear. Zuck is more concerned with fixing the company’s image that actually addressing systemic deficiencies. The post is a devastating and comprehensive round-up of why and how the company is dividing us.

Rob “Reenage” O’Connor contributed to this post. 

 


 

Will Pollocksideways is an Atlanta-based freelance multimedia journalist focusing on pop-culture, politics, journalism & media, retail, real estate, travel, politics, and human interest. 

He is the author of two books (Pizza for Good & Leaving Triscuit), with more on the way. Sign up for the mailing list, follow on TwitterFacebook and Instagram–and check out the book links below.

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