In the movie Fight Club, there is a scene where Brad Pitt utters words which suits Facebook better than Fight Club. He says, “The first rule of fight club is, you do not talk about fight club. Second rule of fight club is, you do not talk about fight club… and the eighth and final rule, if this is your first night at fight club, you have to fight.” The first 2 rules are for the employees of Facebook and the 8th is for users like us.
Facebook seems to be in the business of two devilish things: the spread of fake news and manufacturing mentally ill people everywhere. The US presidential elections of 2016 saw Facebook as the platform used by Putin to spread the massive propaganda campaign, which successfully resulted in electing Trump and most disturbingly creating a vivid schism inside America. Mark Zuckerberg donated 720,000 masks to help healthcare workers during the height of the pandemic. At the same time, however, it was spreading a more dangerous pandemic: disinformation.
Facebook and WhatsApp, which the former owns, are home to the most mind boggling coronavirus conspiracy theories. Terrorist attacks such as the Christchurch attack in New Zealand were broadcast live on Facebook. Who could have known what would become of the internet truism that when online you could be anyone?
Besides helping liars spread lies, Facebook now seems to be venturing into creating an enormous demand for psychiatrists. The whistleblowers Frances Haugen and Sophie Zhang have come forward with their revelations shedding light on a social media giant run amok. Facebook’s own research had found that Instagram, which Facebook owns, was toxic for teenage girls’ mental health. Young girls developed jealousy and low self-esteem issues. They started seeing psychiatrists. The extreme focus on body image issues caused many young girls to develop eating disorders. Many girls complained about this. Again, Facebook knew about these effects before rolling out their algorithms. And Zuckerberg would love nothing more than shouting at his employees at the top of his lungs, saying, “First rule of Facebook is you do not talk about Facebook.”
And that is not Facebook’s biggest worry. What takes away Zuckerberg’s sleep at night is the declining users and subscribers. Let’s admit it; Facebook isn’t cool anymore and thank God is not addictive as before either. To fight against that problem, Facebook wants us to fight. The final rule of Facebook is, if you are on Facebook, you have to fight. Facebook has designed its algorithm to arouse our emotions. It tries to make us angry with what content we will see because Facebook knows that people engage the most on Facebook when they are angry.
Our raw emotions are where Facebook thrives and we dwell on Facebook when we have raw emotions. For Facebook, we as users are the product when our data is sold to corporations and political campaigns for targeted marketing as was confirmed by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And when we are the spectators in this show, we get a free ticket except we pay with raw emotions. So much for a cash free world.
Now Instagram is coming for young children with plans to create a specialised app for children aged 13 or younger. While it would be touted and marketed as a platform where children can see and interact about benign aged restricted things, it leaves no doubt in my mind that it would lead to life-long mental health issues in children. And it is not difficult to see their other evil motives: kids get into a fight easily. And that is what would keep them engaged with the app. The result would be more money for Facebook and potentially more crimes in the society where there is an uncountable number of young people with mental health issues.
Profits over people is the model here because this is capitalism. People used to fight on Facebook. Now, they must fight for Facebook.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2021.
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