6 Underreported Reasons Why Facebook Is Just The Worst
Facebook is under attack from all sides, for things like supposedly censoring conservative content, definitely not censoring racist content, selling user data, and the fact that Mark Zuckerberg is about as effective a crisis manager as Courage the Cowardly Dog. We don't want to sound like we're piling on, but we're absolutely going to pile on. Or did you forget how ...
Facebook Has Always Been A Fan Of Data Crimes
It's a garbage fire now, sure, but Facebook wasn't that bad when it first started, right? There was no fake news, hate groups weren't emboldened to meet anywhere outside of their leader's basement, and your asshole relatives weren't constantly asking you to sign up for their multi-level marketing sch- actually, that one's a universal constant.
But the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and Facebook originally started out as the fruit of a very poisonous tree: Facemash.
Created in 2003 by Zuckerberg, Facemash was a website that allowed users to compare how hot two randomly selected Harvard students were ... using photos that he hacked from the student database in a drunken rage against all womanhood. The thing is, this wasn't even his first idea for what to do with the site. He originally wanted students to be compared against farm animals, but only stopped because (as he wrote on his blog), "you can't really ever be sure with farm animals." That's a rather cryptic statement, left mostly up to interpretation, so we choose to interpret it as Zuckerberg admitting to bestiality.
Zuckerberg was disciplined for violating student privacy and downloading school property in the harshest manner possible: a verbal warning. He returned to the dorm with a new reputation as a bad boy and some insight into the human psyche, saying, "People are more voyeuristic than what I would have thought."
This is what's known in the industry as "foreshadowing."
Facebook Basically Bugged Android Users
Dylan Mackay decided to take a look at what sort of data Facebook was collecting on him, and downloaded his profile archive. When he perused the data, he found something disturbing: Amongst a recording of all his status likes and meme posts, Facebook had also recorded the details of every phone call and text he'd made for two years -- names, telephone numbers, call lengths. The only thing that was missing was a blow-by-blow account of each conversation.
So is Facebook planning to get into the blackmail game? Not yet. Probably. The data was recorded by an old version of their app which required users to give the platform access to call and text data, which many accepted, still thinking that Facebook was some dumb ol' website and not the harbinger of the end times. When asked about why the old version of the app recorded this stuff, Facebook did the public relations equivalent of shrugging their shoulders and wandering away to look at puppies.
But it's all good: Facebook would never tap your phones, because that would be a gross invasion of privacy. If you're a journalist speaking to a member of their staff, however ... that's a different story.
They Ignore Holocaust Denial Laws Whenever Possible
Thanks to a leaked training manual, we now know that of the 14 countries that outlaw Holocaust denial, Facebook will remove offending posts in only four of them: France, Germany, Israel, and Austria. It's not because those countries have more stringent standards, but because they'd be more willing to go the mat over this issue, legally speaking. In the other ten countries, they don't "welcome local laws that stand as an obstacle to an open and connected world." After all, if racists don't get to incite hatred via stupid memes, what even is the point of this internet thing?
Says Facebook on the matter: "Some 14 countries have legislation on their books prohibiting the expression of claims that the volume of death and severity of the Holocaust is overestimated. Less than half the countries with these laws actually pursue it. We block on report only in those countries that actively pursue the issue with us." The site's commitment to free speech and the marketplace of ideas is almost admirable, except for the part where they wuss out if those ideas run the risk of getting them into real trouble.
Their System Encourages Racist Advertisers
In 2017, ProPublica rumbled Facebook for allowing companies that advertised housing to discriminate against people of color and other minority groups -- something which is illegal under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 because, and this is a direct quote from the law itself, "that's a real asshole thing to do." The penalty for contravening this law can run up to tens of thousands of dollars -- or in Facebook terms, a tiny rounding error on their daily accounts.
After they were they caught, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development opened an inquiry into Facebook's practices ... but later closed it without incident after the site reassured them that they'd fixed their systems so this would never happen again. Can you guess what happened again?
Facebook also used to allow advertisers to target that most lucrative demographic: hardcore racists. Journalists were able to buy advertisements targeted at categories such as "jew hater" -- useful if you wanna, say, start up a 'zine, advertise a rally, or just promote Roseanne reruns.
After this came to light, Facebook removed the offending categories and explained that this wasn't their fault. It was simply their ad system building up categories using people's interests, hobbies, and fields of study, hence why there were also categories like "how to burn jews," and "history of 'why jews ruin the world.'" We don't know if that was an off-the-cuff explanation or what, but it's a helluva gamble to blame the ad-buying software for incorrectly taking information from your other system that allows racists and white supremacists to gather.
Facebook's Monopoly On News Is Making Disease Outbreaks Harder To Track
Changes to Facebook's platform (alongside other, more AdBlock-shaped reasons) have resulted in a shitload of websites either closing their doors or enacting massive layoffs -- places like Funny Or Die, Gothamist, Vice, The Onion...and those are the only ones we can think of. The great internet publishing apocalypse isn't only destroying the hot-take-based economy; it's also killing local newspapers. And as it turns out, those are pretty important when it comes to tracking the spread of infectious diseases and outbreaks. It's nice to hear that Facebook is helping something go viral, though.
Local outlets (newspapers, gazettes, even blogs) are extremely useful to epidemiologists, not only for identifying when an outbreak emerges, but also for tracking how the outbreak spreads. When the H1N1 virus (i.e. "swine flu") was first identified in California in 2009, scientists had no idea of its extent, so they scoured local news reports in nearby regions and found reports that a similar virus was afflicting people in Mexico, which was an upper for science and a downer for Mexicans.
By reading local news, epidemiologists -- who often work with a national focus -- can also gleam contextual information that they might otherwise miss or overlook. In the case of the mumps outbreak that occurred in Northwest Arkansas between 2016 and 2017, scientists were at a loss as to why the virus was so badly affecting this one area -- that is, until they found a local news story which reported that the area had one of the lowest mumps vaccinations rates in the state.
This is exactly the sort of valuable information that epidemiologists are going to be missing out on, particularly with the advent of the "news desert" -- large areas of the country with no local outlets, only statewide conglomerates. On the plus side, it's not like Facebook is also spreading the kind of conspiracy theories and bunk science that'll make these outbreaks more and more likely as time goes on ...
They're Helping Facilitate A Genocide In Myanmar
If you want to see a demonstration of how badly Facebook can ruin people's lives, you don't need to reopen your account. All you need to do is look to Myanmar, where Facebook is abetting an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya, an ethnic group numbering over a million people.
Despite inhabiting Myanmar since the 12th century, the Rohingya are routinely persecuted by the government. They don't have citizenship, they're regularly harassed, and they're forced to live in areas that are more ghetto than home. In recent years, however, Myanmar has gotten more direct (read: genocidal) in their approach, giving rise to a situation in which rape, murder, torture, and mass graves are now commonplace. And the country's other residents seem fine with it, because the government has a slick propaganda campaign that places the blame for all of the country's ills at the feet of the Rohingya.
Guess who helps with that?
Facebook allows every radical preacher, every hatemonger, and every government official to spew hatred directly into people's brains. For instance, there's Ashin Wirathu, an ultra-nationalist monk who (among other things) posts pictures of decaying, rotting, dismembered corpses ... and blames the Rohingya for these acts. Zaw Htay, a government spokesperson, enjoys a large following for his "fake genocide news" posts -- he insists it's really the Rohingya burning down their own homes and killing their own people. For fun, we guess? Not to mention the more average, run-of-the-mill government accounts that regularly remind the citizenry that the Rohingya aren't real people and no one would care if you wanted to do something bad to them.
Just like Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines did for the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, Facebook enabled all of this. In 2016, they partnered with the state-run telecoms company to provide its subscribers (then, most of the country) with free, unlimited access to a suite of internet services, chief among them their own. The way that this suite was built, however, means that you can't access outside sources, such as Google, which might allow people to debunk the propaganda -- at least, not without paying. How many angry people do you think bother paying for more information before acting on what they see?
To make matters worse, Facebook keeps deleting photographs and footage shot by anti-genocide activists for violating the platform's content policy, something which they also do with footage shot by citizens in Syria documenting the war crimes. That's irreplaceable material that could one day serve as evidence in trials. But it doesn't keep Zuckerberg in sweatbands and presidential campaign exploratory committees, so away it goes.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook! He also has a newsletter about depressing history, but that's only for the coolest kids.
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