Quitting Facebook Isn’t Enough
Today, Facebook’s self-created Oversight Board released a decision and guidance about whether or not the social network made the right call in banning the former President of the United States from its platform after a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
I have a confession though. It’s all my fault. None of this would’ve happened if I had just quit Facebook.
I could’ve stopped it.
It’s hard to talk about the problems with Facebook without being told that the solution is to “Just quit Facebook.” You’re annoyed by the flood of unnecessary notifications from the app? Quit Facebook. Your data got scooped up by a quiz app your friend used and was sold off for political purposes? Quit Facebook. Concerned that the platform might be aiding or even facilitating a foreign genocide? Quit Facebook!
The Facebook Oversight Board Is Making the Most of Its Limited Power
The Facebook Oversight Board is moving beyond its initial remit. Now things get interesting.
At first glance, the logic makes some sense. After all, Facebook gets its power from its users, right? You keep scrolling through the news feed, occasionally ignoring an ad, and that gives Facebook money and power. So, really, every time you like a meme, or use Messenger instead of emailing your friend, you’re helping make the world worse.
Fortunately, some people are trying. Facebook lost daily active users in the US & Canada for the second quarter in a row, to the tune of around three million fewer users. Three million is a lot! Of course, just as many people in Europe started using it, and around 45 million new daily active users picked up the habit in the Asia-Pacific region. To say nothing of the extra 15 million users Facebook picked up in “Rest of World.”
The number of new daily active users Facebook picked up in those two quarters is roughly the same as the number of votes Donald Trump received in 2016. It’s greater than the population of New York and California combined. If you could have convinced every single one of the 81 million Joe Biden voters to also quit Facebook on election day, Facebook would only be down 21 million users (roughly the population of Florida) over the previous six month period, and still end 2020 with more users than it started the year with.
Convincing millions of people to all agree to the same thing is a gargantuan task–it took a year and a half long presidential campaign just to get Joe Biden those 81 million votes–and Facebook is deeply embedded in the culture. For some who quit, it’s no problem. For others, it might be how they conduct their business or the only way they’re able to communicate with their family. Others still don’t have the tech knowledge to switch to using some combination of Telegram, Dropbox, and Pocket.
Holding each of those individuals responsible for the downfall of democracy, however, seems like an inappropriate shift in responsibility. It targets the people who indirectly allow the company to be profitable because there is no way to hold accountable the people who intentionally run the company in a way that causes harm.
Facebook tried to remove some Stop the Steal groups in November, shortly after the election. It took mere days for more to spawn and grow. Those failures would continue all the way through January 6th which, to be clear, is Facebook’s stance, not mine. An internal report described Facebook’s approach as “piecemeal,” and promising to build better tools for next time.
When Facebook banned the former President from using its platform, the company announced its decision would be “indefinite” and asked the Oversight Board that the company itself created to advise on what to do. The board kicked the decision back to Facebook, telling it to come up with a firm plan in the next six months. Facebook scolds Facebook and, having told itself that it did a bad thing, goes back to doing the same thing.
Every once in a while, Congress calls Mark Zuckerberg in to receive a scolding that’s not self-inflicted. But the CEO has repeatedly taken the opportunity to advocate for legislation that, rather than punishing Facebook for the real-life harm it lets users organize on its platform, would simply pull the ladder up behind him, making it harder for any other company to compete at Facebook’s level.
It’s a soul-crushing feeling to believe that one guy, or even a board of a few people, simply get to make decisions that hurt the rest of us with no accountability. Virtually every major platform banned former President Trump after the January 6th insurrection, and, in doing so, revealed that they could have done so at any time. But they didn’t.
So, it makes sense to go after someone else. To try to find some comfort in the notion that if we all band together, sing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and close our accounts in unison, that Facebook will bow its head and return to the shadows.
The reality is a lot more complicated than that. Facebook is now simply too big. The entire United States could quit Facebook and it would lose only a fraction of its power base. Millions of individual users can quit en masse, and it will barely register on the company’s quarterly reports. And, perhaps worst of all, the people who want to use Facebook to do the most damage have every reason not to abandon the platform. Because if Facebook is so ineffective at stopping them, why would they leave?
I haven’t deleted my Facebook account yet, but I probably could. You probably could, too. But millions of people have already tried to leave, and so far the only effect is that Facebook is LARPing as the Supreme Court. So maybe the problems that Facebook causes aren’t our fault.
Maybe they’re Mark Zuckerberg’s fault.