William B. Turner
Oh, look! A passing bandwagon! Let’s all go jump onto it, like lemmings! What fun!
The bandwagon du jour (do they even last a day?) is outrage, outrage, I tell you! over the role, still undetermined, never to be determined with any precision, that Facebook may have played in helping the so called president win the 2016 election. That alone should make anyone look askance at Facebook.
Except that Facebook is a corporation. Hint: corporation exist to make money. That is the sole reason why humans ever invented corporations. They have never served any purpose except to make money. Okay, there are non profit corporations, but that is just the choice of the persons who create them. Any organization that wants to exist as a legal entity in the United States will adopt a corporate form because doing so is relatively easy and efficient.
But Facebook exists to make money. Ten years ago, when Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg was still just a pimply college boy, he likely could never have predicted just how much money he would make from Facebook, but he did not create it just to entertain himself and his friends. Or, that might have been his initial motivation, but he quickly realized the profit potential and began to exploit it by selling a service and a product.
The service is an advertising platform. Nowhere else in the world can one reach over one billion people with a single ad.
The product is you, or information about you. No one reads contracts. Even lawyers don’t read contracts. When you created your Facebook account, you entered into a contract with Facebook. If you actually read it, you might be horrified about what you agreed to. Anything you put onto Facebook is fair game.
Blaming Facebook is rank nonsense.
Lots of people comment on how Facebook targets advertisements to them. Sometimes its inaccuracies are quite funny. If you pay attention you may notice that, if you visit a specific web site, especially for a major corporation, suddenly you will start to see ads on Facebook for that corporation and/or comparable products and services. Facebook cooperates with Google to keep track of the web sites you visit to feed you yet more ads.
This is a relatively benign use of information about you. The more pernicious use is what a second company, Cambridge Analytica, did with Facebook data. They used it to target potential voters with ads and fake news to try to increase support for Donald Trump in 2016.
These people are tactically very smart and strategically very stupid. There is little information about why they wanted to see Trump as president of the United States, but if they did wish such a result, they obviously are not very smart people. The Donald is a disaster as president. Cambridge Analytica is now under scrutiny by the governments of both the United States and England for possible unlawful activity in all of this. We cannot be sure, but had they devoted their efforts to helping Hillary win, they might well have escaped notice entirely because this all came to light as the result of investigations into the influence the Russians exercised to help the Donald win.
Be careful what you wish for.
But to blame Facebook for all of this is complete nonsense. If you want to offer a moral and political critique of profit motive and the nasty effects it has on our society, you can say much that is reasonable and intelligent.
But given profit motive, Facebook just did what corporations do. One woman has posted on Twitter that her husband has become a right wing lunatic from a steady diet of right wing lunacy and she wants to sue Facebook. She obviously has a very poor grasp of how the U.S. legal system works. She has no case.
Facebook ads only helped the Donald because people were dumb enough to consider the possibility of voting for him to begin with. Hillary still won the popular vote because most American voters were smart enough to see that the Donald would make a horrible president, as he has, and no amount of Facebook advertising could change their minds.
Simple solution: make your choices in things that matter on the basis of better information than you will ever get from any advertisement. Ignore advertising as much as possible.
In short, think for yourself. You’ll love it.