During a recent panel discussion, The Exponential View’s Azeem Azhar and a couple of invited expert guests talked about democracy’s vulnerability in the age of information technology and social media (you can listen to the recording here). As probably surprises no one, Facebook’s role in the weakening of democracy and its institutions came up several times. And, as also should surprise no one, there was little optimism among the participants about that dubious characters will suddenly stop leveraging Facebook through bots, micro-targeting, fake news and the creation of alternate realities to undermine democratic values and essential shared minimum consensus.
But there is something everyone who is worried about the damage of social-media-enabled manipulation to the public discourse, can do: quitting Facebook.
I am specifically not referring to the company’s other services such as Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp — just to facebook.com and its app. This is not an ideological rant against the company. There is neither a need for a ceremonially deletion of your Facebook account. Just stopping to use facebook.com (and its app) is enough. By doing that, you’ll help weakening its business model, which is the most impactful power you have.
Facebook (the service) exists because it makes a lot of money from every single user. It doesn’t exist because Facebook (the company) wants to harm democracy. It exists because it got evident that billions of people will spend large amounts of time on Facebook, and that their attention can be used to sell ads, which generates Facebook billions of Dollars in yearly profit.
And so, the math is actually quite simple: If Facebook (the service) in its current state stops making the company money, it’ll go away. Facebook will then focus on its other highly successful apps and on other products.
If you don’t conclude that Facebook in its current state is a problem for democracy, you are ignoring a lot of the evidence that emerged over the past 2 years and that clearly suggests a causation, but you don’t need to continue reading then.
But if you are among those who worry about Facebook’s role, then you should stop using it. Otherwise, you give the company one more reason to keep offering the very service which you think is contributing negatively to the current state of uncertainty in politics and society. It doesn’t matter whether you are using it in a highly ethical manner and only share properly vetted news articles. What matters is that you are part of it, and that you sustain its business model.
You quitting Facebook won’t change anything right way. Many people quitting Facebook will.
If you agree with the premise of this post, but disagree with that individually quitting Facebook will change anything, then you probably also are a person who doesn’t vote, because in the grand scheme of things, your single vote doesn’t matter.
And if you agree with the premise of this post, but don’t want to give up on Facebook, fine. But then you should be honest with yourself: You might claim to worry about democracy, but you are not willing to make sacrifices to protect it.
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