In Defense of Facebook

It’s popular these days to beat up on Facebook. The new bipartisanship in American politics is antipathy towards the social media giant. The company born in a Harvard dorm room now hosts over two and a half billion profiles: it is a mega continent, risen out of the digital sea like a virtual Pangea. If Apple reigns over what we hold and see and Google dictates what we know and Amazon dominates what we buy, then Facebook and its constellation of apps- Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and the eponymous platform- is the nexus of who we are. 카지노사이트

The problem is that one of the core propositions of the digital age is that who we are is what we post: if you don’t contribute, you don’t really exist. Speech and identity go hand in hand, much as they always have: freedom of speech seems to matter so intensely because the things we say overlap with the type of the person we are. Our opinions live somewhere near our souls. The words that we speak become brushstrokes towards our self-made self-portraits.

This is also true of our relation to the things other people say: if you devoutly watch MSNBC, read The New Yorker, and subscribe to the New York Times, I can make a pretty good bet on your politics, just as if you watched Fox News religiously and had your nose buried in The Wall Street Journal. The same is true, even more so, for those people whose politics gravitates towards the political edges: reading Jacobin or American Greatness means flying your flag with the zeal of a true believer. The same would have been true in Russia in the early twentieth century, or England in the early nineteenth.

In the wild early days of the internet, the siren song of the web was towards anonymity, the screen a mask that allowed anybody to be anyone. But as the virtual world has merged fully with the physical one, something like the opposite has become true: the dream 2.0 is to project yourself to the whole entire world. Of course, there are plenty of filters and artifice involved, as if we are all characters in an endlessly running reality television show. But if fame is the goal, then a face, your face, is required. What would be the point of being famous, if someone else got to reap the rewards?

The right sees big tech as a left wing censor, banning Trump, clamping down on free speech, and captured by an elite consensus that overlaps with the upper echelon of the Democratic Party. They point to the lab leak theory-the argument that Covid came from a lab, inching towards acceptance after early ridicule- as proof positive that Facebook’s fact checkers and oversight barons are not as all knowing as they think they are. It rhymes with the larger argument from conservative quarters that the pandemic was mismanaged, another instance of elite bungling. The continued exile of Donald Trump is just another strike against Zuckerberg’s behemoth.

When White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki talks about banning people from social media and a member of the Oversight Board wobbles on freedom of speech, reasonable people can worry that these concerns are not just for the MAGA true believers among us. No one who interacts with the press should be advocating for blanket bans, let alone someone speaking from a White House podium. 안전한카지노사이트

The left has its own case. They see Trump’s rise as inseparable from Facebook, and the conspiracy theories he has encouraged and fed as having metastasized on his platform. QAnon, the Big Lie, inanities large and small that have coarsened and divided us: all of these could not have achieved escape velocity without Facebook. For them, Trump’s ban was too little, too late, like putting a rickety padlock on Pandora’s Box after its vile contents had already spread to the furthest four corners of the globe.

The President that is now outdid the President that was then when he accused Facebook of ‘killing people.’ The issue is an urgent one, with vaccination rates stalling below 50% and the Delta variant surging. What once seemed poised to be a miraculous success story has stalled around something like an avoidable tragedy.

It might be true that Facebook is a unique blight on the Republic, undoing us rather than connecting us, dividing rather than soldering: I’m open to the argument. Soaring over 1 trillion $ in value, it deserves all of our scrutiny, and then more. Tech is our new addiction, and it should receive the scrutiny that all of our old ones did. I worry profoundly each time I see everyone in a subway car on their phone, and I don’t look at my screen time because I think I would be horrified by what I’d learn.

But I worry that blaming Facebook for everything is preventing us from understanding anything. The data shows that users of Facebook have in fact increased in vaccine acceptance over time. When we blame Facebook, are we really just struggling to understand irrationality? When we attack the accelerant, are we taking our eye off the cause?

The truth is that blaming social media-Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk-is easy. It’s a hot take with no stakes. It’s the insight of preachers, not deep thinkers. It’s a goal with no goalie in net. And it’s always the people who most benefit from it who level the critique. Nothing scores followers like self-flagellation. The more interesting question is why: to investigate the qualities of the mirror, rather than to ask why it exists, or rage against its replicative ability.

How easy to blame a platform, rather than a population. A start up, rather than a soul. Like Covid, Facebook doesn’t define who we are: it just brightens it into hi-def. Is there distortion involved? Of course. Can it enable tendencies we otherwise would wish to shutter? Absolutely. It is no mistake that our word for something coursing through the internet and a foreign body coursing through our blood is the same: viral. The tools we use shape us in turn. There are compelling arguments that these companies have become too large, too regnant in their digital kingdoms- that these behemoths are the new Standard Oil, just with better cafeterias and bean bags on the office floor. 카지노사이트 추천

But blaming it is a little like blaming a placeholder: fair enough, but it doesn’t get you closer to solving the problem. Facebook has become shorthand for all the maladies that afflict contemporary cultural and political life. We do not know when truth became not one thing but many things and their opposites. We are astounded that the oldest hatred has found new life. We do not know when the echo chambers around us became quite so well built and mighty. We do not understand how others can disagree with our politics, so we place blame on the medium, rather than the message. We do not know how the world can feel so closely knitted and so baffling at the same time. How balm and poison can swirl around the same digital cup.

The new chic is to Tweet constantly while bemoaning Twitter, or to throw Facebook under the bus even as you smile at your friend’s Instagram post or scroll through pictures of that girl you like from afar. There is nothing wrong with inconsistency, and everyone can understand hypocrisy. But even if all of social media were to be abolished tomorrow, we’d still be left with ourselves, in all our infuriating virality. Like Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History, we want to make whole what has been smashed. But we too are helpless twisting in the storm called progress.

The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that the first circle in the world was the human eye. It is also the human ‘I,’ for better and often for worse.

Leave a Reply