Is Facebook growing too close to Trump?
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An "alliance of convenience" has been forged between the White House and the world's largest social network, said Sarah Frier and Kurt Wagner at Bloomberg Businessweek. "Facebook executives often point out that the company was seen as overly friendly to Democrats during the Obama years," and the Right continues to levy accusations of "anti-conservative bias." But employees have grown increasingly outspoken about a pattern of ignoring misinformation spread on the platform by President Trump and his supporters. Facebook made "rules against giving incorrect information about how to vote, but then froze when Trump actually put it to the test" in May. Facebook's head of policy, Joel Kaplan, vetoed a tweak of the news-feed algorithm after traffic began to drop for right-wing news outlets such as Fox and Breitbart. More recently, Facebook "seemed to back off" its voter registration efforts this summer after Republicans complained, reducing a two-day July 4 promotion across all its platforms to "a one-day push on Facebook alone."
Facebook's closeness with governments isn't confined to the U.S., said Craig Silverman at BuzzFeed News. Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook data scientist, wrote a 6,600-word memo "filled with concrete examples" of government officials manipulating the platform to sway political opinion. Zhang, who turned down a $64,000 severance to avoid signing a nondisparagement agreement, described a "lack of desire from senior leadership to protect democratic processes." How much longer will we put up with this? asked Jamelle Bouie at The New York Times. Though "lucrative for its founder," Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook has been "a disaster for the world itself." Like industrial-age steel companies that dumped waste into waterways, "Facebook pumps paranoia and disinformation into the body politic, the toxic byproduct of its relentless drive for profit."
What really bothers the Left about Facebook isn't an attack on democracy, said Michael Brendan Dougherty at National Review. Liberals adored Facebook a decade ago when they believed it would "create progressive revolutions across the globe." They are angry now because while most news outlets "tilt toward the center-Left or Left," Facebook is "a place where conservatives can talk, and share ideas." The Left's real hope is that Facebook can be forced to censor these conservative views. Facebook is in an "unwinnable position" here: If it appeases progressives with censorship, angry Republicans will have a case for repealing Section 230, the legislation that protects Facebook from lawsuits and liability.
Facebook's business model is the real problem, said Pat Garofalo at NBC News. "Sensationalized content is how Facebook makes money." The longer you stay on Facebook, the more ads you see and "the more money it pockets." The most effective way to get you to stay on the site is to "hook you on addictive content," such as conspiracy theories and partisan rage. So Facebook has little incentive to curb extremist groups. "As with many of the problems Facebook causes, potential solutions run up against its profit motive."
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.