Do you know why Facebook is called Facebook? The name dates back to founder Mark Zuckerberg’s “FaceMash” project at Harvard, designed to display photos of students’ faces (without their explicit permissions) to be compared in terms of physical attractiveness. Essentially, a way he and his friends could avoid dating “ugly” people by his definition. Zuck even toyed with the idea of comparing those student photos with shots of farm animals.
Immature. Exploitative. Verging on pre-echos of evils to come.
Fast forward to Facebook of today. As we’ve watched Zuckerberg’s baby expand over the years like a mutant virus from science fiction, we’ve had plenty of warnings that the at best amoral attitudes of Zuck and his hand-picked cronies have permeated the Facebook ecosystem.
It’s long been a given that Facebook ruthlessly controls, limits, and manipulates the data that users are shown — to its own financial advantage.
But long before we learned of Facebook’s deep embeds in right-wing politics, and the Russians’ own deep manipulative embeds in Facebook, there were other clues that Facebook’s ethical compass was virtually nonexistent.
Remember when it was discovered that Facebook was manipulating information shown to specific sets of users to see if their emotional states could be altered by such machinations without their knowledge?
Over and over again, Facebook has been caught in misstatements, in subterfuge, in outright lies — including the recent revelations of their paying an outside PR hit firm to fabricate attack pieces on other firms to divert attention from Facebook’s own spreading problems, even to the extent of the firm reportedly spreading false antisemitic conspiracy theories.
Zuck and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg found an outgoing employee to fall on his sword to take official responsibility for this, and initially both Zuck and Sheryl publicly disclaimed any knowledge of that outside firm’s actions. But now Sheryl has apparently reversed herself, admitting that information about the firm did reach her desk. And do you really believe that control freaks like Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg weren’t being kept informed about this in some manner all along? C’mon!
Facebook of course is not the only large Internet firm with ethical challenges. Recently in “The Death of Google” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/10/08/the-death-of-google), and “After the Walkout, Google’s Moment of Truth” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/11/03/after-the-walkout-googles-moment-of-truth), I noted Google’s own ethical failings of late, and my suggestions for making Google a better Google. Importantly, those posts were not predicting Google’s demise, but rather were proposing means to help Google avoid drifting further from the admirable principles of its founding (“organizing and making available the world’s information” — in sharp contrast to Facebook’s seminal “avoid dating ugly people” design goal). So both of those posts regarding Google were in the manner of Dickens’ “Ghost of Christmas Future” — a discussion of bad outcomes that might be, not that must be.
Saving Google is a righteous and worthy goal.
Not so Facebook. Facebook’s business model is and has always been fundamentally rotten to its core, and the more that this core has been exposed to the public, the more foul the stench of rotten decay that Facebook emits.
“Saving” Facebook would mean helping to perpetuate the sordid, manipulative mess of Facebook today, that reaches back to its very beginnings — a creation that no longer deserves to exist.
In theory, Facebook could change its ways in positive directions, but not without abandoning virtually everything that has characterized Facebook since its earliest days.
And there is no indication — zero, none, nil — that Zuckerberg has any intention of letting that happen to his self-made monster.
So in the final analysis — from an ethical standpoint at least — there is no point to trying to “save” Facebook — not from regulators, not from politicians, and certainly not from itself.
The likely end of Facebook as we know it today will not come tomorrow, or next month, or even perhaps over a short span of years.
But the die has been cast, and nothing short of a miracle will save Facebook in the long run. And whether or not you believe in miracles, Facebook doesn’t deserve one.