Do you have a Facebook page? Of course you do. So do I. So does 60% of the world’s internet-enabled population, about 2.8 billion people.
So since we’re all so invested, perhaps we can talk about this very bad week for Facebook. It began last Sunday, with a 60 Minutes blowtorch report, and continued with a mid-week congressional hearing. The investigations revolved around the thousands of internal Facebook documents leaked by former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen.
The documents showed, basically, that when Facebook claimed last year that it was making “genuine progress in monitoring and eliminating electoral disinformation,” they were, themselves, spreading disinformation—which is a polite way of saying Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was lying.
After first touting the creation of its new division of “Civic Integrity” to stop the spread of disinformation, Facebook gutted the project shortly after the election. According to one of the leaked memos, the project successfully intercepted only “3-5% of hate speech,” and less than one percent of posts encouraging violence and incitement.
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Well, what did we expect? Facebook didn’t create its vast success by working against itself. In another private memo that was not intended for release, the company acknowledged that divisive hate speech benefits Facebook by leading you and me to spend more time on the site.
So, yeah, it’s been a lousy week for Facebook. But lost in the righteous ire of our lawmakers and news media is the fact that it’s also been a lousy week for you and me—the people who lap this stuff up.
Facebook remembers every day what we so conveniently forget—that we come to Facebook and similar sites to feel emotions. Sentimentality over cute kittens. Superiority over all the losers in those epic fail videos. Connection with friends and family. Anger over politics. Our emotions are stirred, boxes are clicked, and voila—another half-hour is down the drain.
For Facebook, this means only one thing: mission accomplished. Facebook readily admits that their entire financial model is built on getting us to linger longer, because the longer we stay the more ads we’ll click on. More clicks, more revenue. Game on.
In the process, you and I become nothing more to Facebook than data units built to consume goods, services and ideas that we have been carefully groomed to desire and support.
But though Facebook is justifiably on the hot seat this week, I think far too little attention is paid to the roll we play as Facebook’s enablers—we, who are so easily manipulated, yet take such pride in our self-perceived intellectual independence.
Yes, we have political beliefs, but more often than not we end up simply echoing in enthusiastic but rote recitation the scripts carefully crafted by others who have spent years studying how to get us to accept their ideas as our own.
Ditto in our consumer habits, where companies strive to convince us that Product X is exactly what we need, and that we risk alienation and irrelevancy in our social circles if it’s not in our closet, pantry or garage. So we spend our money as we’ve been directed, while complimenting ourselves on our own wisdom and vision.
You disagree with me, of course. You are, naturally, one of the unique few able to rise above the frothy rants of both the corporations and political parties who consider you to be nothing more than another interchangeable consumer unit.
However, your achievement only qualifies you to enter the crosshairs of the portion of the marketing world that acknowledges your independence, and then presses a few different buttons to get you to pull out your credit card, or cast your ballot out of a creeping fear that your party’s opponent is in league with the forces of darkness.
I read once that the purpose of advertising is to drive an idea into your brain like a spike into an overripe melon. I love the image, but cringe at the implication. Because we all need to be a hundred times more vigilant to ensure that our thoughts, actions, and spending habits are more than just the manipulative endgame of the Facebooks, political action committees and Madison Avenue marketers of the world.
Chris Huston is an author and award-winning columnist living in the Magic Valley. Connect with Chris on Facebook and Instagram at Chris Huston-Finding My Way and at chrishustonauthor.com.