Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Facebook | Lefsetz Letter

Who is more powerful, Facebook or the people?

In the pre-cable era, networks were deathly afraid of advertisers. If only a few people complained, content was changed, no one could be alienated. Now the opposite is true.

Major and minor corporations have banded together to get Facebook to police content on its sites. What has Facebook done in responses? Given the middle finger.

Let’s start at the beginning. This is not an issue of free speech. Facebook is a corporation, the First Amendment does not apply. As for those rulings long ago that malls couldn’t ban protesters…in the pre-internet era, the mall took the place of the town square, it was the only place to reach people, and therefore it was adjudged that speech be allowed.

But if you’re not on Facebook, there are plenty of other places online to spout your nonsense. Hell, you can even start your own site. And one thing is for sure, the hatred and disinformation of today would never be tolerated at the malls of yesteryear, no way.

So, in the old top-down economy, it was all about corporations.

Now it’s about individuals. And those who used to wield power based on their bucks, their spending power, no longer have the same influence. To wit, Mark Zuckerberg said publicly that he does not care if major advertisers boycott Facebook, because most of its ad revenue comes from small entities. Like those Google ads you see. Targeted directly at specific customers. The big corporations play with broad strokes. The internet promised advertising could be targeted only to those who wanted to see it, or the likeliest customers, and that’s all you had to pay for, which is why Facebook and Google are so powerful, they control this advertising.

So, it’s only the public, the little people, who can fight Facebook. The big corporations can wail all they want, Zuckerberg is not budging. He’s just like Trump. He feels all powerful, beyond scrutiny, he can do what he wants with no penalty.

In other words, Facebook is more powerful than the TV networks of yore. Facebook is more powerful than any newspaper, as a matter of fact, Facebook is where many people get their news, which Facebook delivers via its own algorithmic secret sauce. Talk about too big to fail, Wall Street is a joke compared to Facebook.

You see Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp are now firmly entrenched in the lives of seemingly everybody worldwide. They’re how you communicate. With both important and unimportant messages. And since human beings are social creatures, these social media sites are empires.

So, if Zuckerberg can’t be swayed by the big money corporations, who are small money to him. If the government is in gridlock and can’t accomplish almost anything, good or bad, in addition being far from internet-savvy, who can put a spanner in the works in the Facebook juggernaut?

The people. You and me. We have to stop using Facebook and Instagram, bring them to their knees, that’s the only way they’ll change.

Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg met with the boycotting advertisers today, and what was accomplished, what did the Facebook twins concede…ESSENTIALLY NOTHING!

“Facebook Fails to Appease Organizers of Ad Boycott – Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s top executives, engaged in ‘spin’ during a meeting over hate speech, civil rights groups said.”

It’s funny, because Zuckerberg and Sandberg are Jews, as am I. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, there are still clubs Zuckerberg and Sandberg can’t get into, but they’re going to turn a blind eye to misinformation and hatred on their sites? Do they think they’re immune?

And speaking of immune, the media decided to trumpet Sheryl Sandberg and her precepts, believing by boosting a female tech exec they had done their duty to equality.

But Sandberg was not the right one to elevate. Irrelevant of her skills, she made it through Harvard and her connections, she didn’t even start in tech, but even worse, she’s been complicit in this nonsense just like Zuckerberg. And only after her husband tragically died did she understand and admit that many women could not have it all, couldn’t lean in, she’s just another cloistered member of the elite dictating to the hoi polloi whilst having no clue.

Yes, I want to shame Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg too. That doesn’t work with Trump, but it might with these two.

But the one thing they absolutely understand is money. And if we could make it so they take in less…they’d come to the table.

So, what do we want?

Some veracity, some facts. Every day reasonable people e-mail me conspiracy theories. Forget the insane nincompoops, even educated people see the posts and they’re swayed. As for the newspapers… That battle was lost years ago. Other than the biggies, the rest are owned by hedge funds who are cutting them to the bone, they have little news in them. And TV news does almost no reporting. And after being talked down to for decades, many average citizens don’t trust big media, it’s been a concerted right wing campaign to denigrate big news, especially since Sarah Palin. You trust the people you know, the ones they know, before you trust the established figure.

As a result, information, truth, is in chaos in America. There’s no there there. Everybody is operating from a different set of “facts,” and as a result of the algorithms, they may not even be exposed to contrary opinions.

This is a monster problem. The newspaper war was lost, by ignorant news entities who thought more about their margins than the future, cutting their newsholes to the point customers were no longer interested. But Facebook…we can still turn back the tide.

Facebook’s sites are the most influential distributors of news in the world. Digest that. And then factor in that news can be made up out of thin air. He who can talk most and spend for ads most can win the war of information. Even worse, the algorithm makes it so other viewpoints are squeezed out.

Facebook is not a neutral site. It’s a media company. And it’s built on the people’s content. It needs the people to post and surf to survive. Therefore, only the people can bring it to its knees.

This is not Trump complaining about bad press, this is reasonable people saying Facebook is a sewer that might make you sick without even realizing it, might make you racist, might make you anti-Semitic, might turn you into a member of the Taliban all the while believing you’re part of a major movement, even when you’re not.

And without facts, our democracy is doomed. If we can’t agree what’s going on, we can’t fix problems, we can’t move forward.

So, the corporations protesting Facebook’s policies must enlist the public in their effort. Start advertising for their cause, not on Facebook sites, maybe get other internet powers to cough up space and links for free. We’ve got to get the public on board, we’ve got to get them to stop using Facebook sites.

Can we do that?

To be honest, it’s hard. Facebook is like sex, but even more available and more addictive. But if we had a concerted effort for a limited period of time we could foment change.

Let’s be clear, Facebook knows what it is doing. If it focuses on honesty, the right wing will go ballistic, as will the rest of the bad actors, and they’re serious advertisers. We must teach Facebook truth is more important than money.

Because it is.

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