Facebook is the darnedest place. We assume you know what we mean. Approximately 170 million people just in the U.S. will use it this year.
That’s more than half the country’s population.
It’s considerably more than the number of people who voted in the last presidential election for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined.
The election analogy may be apt for conveying what is peculiar about Facebook. Many Clinton voters would not have dreamed of ever voting for Trump, and vice-versa – yet there we are, all together on Facebook. Sort of. It is a medium of communication and it is social to a degree, yet who has not seen a user post a Keep Out sign? You know, such as, “If you’re a Trump supporter I will unfriend and block you, I don’t care who you are”? And for good measure, salt your fields.
We tend to behave worse on Facebook than we do in the real world, although some days they feel neck-and-neck. But what is still worse is that we also, at the same time, suspect we are all part of an experiment and a hustle, trapped under the dome of CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a combination of John D. Rockefeller and Big Brother.
We are not paranoid: Facebook is a monopoly in some ways. You will see people on Facebook discuss its less savory aspects, such as taking ads from Russian trolls, Boris and Natasha, the president or Cruella de Vil.
Periodically, someone will suggest everyone leave Facebook, in protest or self-defense, and go to a social media startup: But no one knows who will be there and no one moves. It is like “Waiting for Godot,” a parable of loneliness and consumerism for our times.
You may not believe it, but Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic presidential candidate and possible frontrunner for the 2020 nomination, has a plan for that.
While Warren is ducking questions on raising taxes and staging clapbacks, she also is vowing to take another fight to Facebook. She thinks it is uncompetitive. There she is probably right. She thinks a president like herself could break it up. There she is overreaching, but it is the season for overreaching.
Warren did what so many politicians are doing. She raised a heap of money using Facebook ads her campaign bought, and then used some of it to buy more Facebook ads – you begin to see the Facebook business model – but this time, the ads make false claims about Facebook in order to make the case that Facebook should not allow people to make false claims in political ads they purchase.
Facebook, Warren tweeted in explanation, is a “disinformation-for-profit machine.”
We could say the same thing about cable television, commercial radio, Hollywood and Twitter, but it would be spitting into the wind.
And expecting Zuckerberg, who has grown fabulously wealthy by selling ads to anyone, now to be the arbiter of political truth makes less sense than if politicians raised money and then burned it and charged admission.
Facebook’s position seems to be that “Statements by politicians add to important discourse and are newsworthy, even if they are false.”
Warren’s position is that Facebook has repeatedly fumbled its “responsibility to protect our democracy.”
We did not know that was Facebook’s responsibility. It seems to be a hot potato at the moment. Warren, for example, could refuse to buy any ads on Facebook with donors’ money, in order to protect our democracy – but she won’t, because then she might not be competitive.