If there is one thing that has become obvious after the series of revelations that Facebook took millions of dollars from Russia for propaganda spots in its ubiquitous software, it is that it is time to stop thinking of Facebook as a technology company and instead label it as a broadcaster. After all, what does Facebook do but broadcast news and the personal information of its subscribers to anyone in the globe interested in tuning in? Isn’t that what CNN and NBC does? It is like reality TV 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Well, except for the political tampering by the Russian government, working to turn Facebook into another virtual outlet for its Russia Today cable network, and perhaps Isvestia and Pravda for good measure.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg went on the offensive this week to try to deflect attention from Facebook in its iniquities and point to the glowing standard of the First Amendment to protect ISIS, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda’s rights to communicate its vitriol and hate across the globe through Facebook’s platform. And heck, if those groups are ok, certainly Russian advertising designed to promote political divisiveness in the US must be a good idea. Oh sure, Facebook is going to try really really hard to keep bad things from appearing on its software. But we should all remember how important is free speech!
That Sandberg was left to articulate Facebook CEO Zuckerberg’s position on this issue was hardly surprising, although not because of Sandberg’s legendary complexion. Zuckerberg’s inability to communicate with anyone other than the Facebook board of directors and his inner circle of engineers was amply on display during the artificial intelligence debate between him and Elon Musk. Still, it was evident that Sandberg fell somewhat short of expectations, spouting self-serving homilies rather than venting real outrage at being manipulated by a foreign government and being made a party to an attack on institutions necessary for Facebook’s continued existence. Fortunately it is inevitable, like with Standard Oil and AT&T, that regulation or trust-breaking will become necessary when a monopoly stays tone-deaf to the needs of citizens.