Shows of support from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube don’t address the way those platforms have been weaponized by racists and partisan provocateurs.
Several weeks ago, as protests erupted across the nation in response to the police killing of George Floyd, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a long and heartfelt post on his Facebook page, denouncing racial bias and proclaiming that “black lives matter.” Mr. Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, also announced that the company would donate $10 million to racial justice organizations.
A similar show of support unfolded at Twitter, where the company changed its official Twitter bio to a Black Lives Matter tribute, and Jack Dorsey, the chief executive, pledged $3 million to an anti-racism organization started by Colin Kaepernick, the former N.F.L. quarterback.
YouTube joined the protests, too. Susan Wojcicki, its chief executive, wrote in a blog post that “we believe Black lives matter and we all need to do more to dismantle systemic racism.” YouTube also announced it would start a $100 million fund for black creators.
Pretty good for a bunch of supposedly heartless tech executives, right?
Well, sort of. The problem is that, while these shows of support were well intentioned, they didn’t address the way that these companies’ own products — Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — have been successfully weaponized by racists and partisan provocateurs, and are being used to undermine Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements. It’s as if the heads of McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell all got together to fight obesity by donating to a vegan food co-op, rather than by lowering their calorie counts.
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Social Media as the New Wild West: How Can We Curb Lawlessness on Facebook?
With every new update, Facebook further encroaches into our world. Some regard Facebook as having qualities similar to a city or state, with a unique social infrastructure that can be seen as a replacement for traditional institutions. The social media giant is slowly gaining all the features of a society – it rolls out civil safety alerts, facilitates charity donations, connects us with politicians and public figures and even has its own marketplace where people can buy and sell. Facebook presents itself seductively as an image of natural and unrestrained human organisation to hide the fact that it is a profit-seeking corporation that relies on our data. Time and time again, Facebook positions itself as “neutral” and a protector of free speech to evade legal, social and economic responsibility. As Facebook becomes more powerful than many nations but lacks a moral code, how can we legislate for Facebook?
The origins of Facebook are the subject of countless biographies and a blockbuster movie, and are far from the values of “community” and “global connexity” the platform espouses today. In 2004, somewhere amongst the hallowed halls of Harvard University, a privately educated and slightly reclusive young computer programmer by the name of Mark Zuckerberg stole photos of his female classmates to set up a website where Harvard students could rank who was “hottest.” The campus newspaper was outraged. Zuckerberg was charged by Harvard administration with breach of security, violating copyright, and violating individual privacy – but the charges were dropped. It is unknown what was said between Zuckerberg and Harvard administration. Perhaps, like today, authorities simply had to give way to the website’s success and popularity. Within the first four hours of the website being online, people’s photos were viewed 22,000 times.