(October 23, 2020) Like an arsonist who arrives with a bucket of water to help put out the fire he started, Facebook chairman Mark Zuckerberg announced last week that he and his wife Priscilla Chan were donating $100 million “ to local governments to pay for polling place rentals, poll workers, personal protective equipment and other election administration costs over the coming weeks,” according to Michael Scherer of the Washington Post.
The $100 million follows a previous gift of $300 million for similar purposes made in June after a Stop Hate for Profitcampaign was created to encourage Facebook to deal with the false information being amplified on its platform.
“Facebook’s failure to update the policies and processes that have allowed for hate, conspiracy theories and racist and antisemitic content to proliferate on its platform continues to be a source of pain for entire communities,” says the Stop Hate for Profit campaign originated by the NAACP and Color for Change in the US during the spring and summer.
“In a historic election year, Facebook’s slow response to voter suppression, vitriolic and divisive content, and misinformation can have grave consequences for BIPOC voters and key democratic structures.”
Hundreds of companies including Honda, Verizon, Hershey and Unilever signed on to Stop the Hate for Profit.
In response, Facebook said it would “attach labels to all posts across its network that discuss the subject of voting, in a move intended to hamper any disenfranchisement of voters in the November election,” according to New Yorker Times’ reporters Mike Isaac and Sheera Frenkel.
Some involved in covering the tech industry were not impressed.
“You get zero claps for doing a tiny right thing after doing the wrong thing for far too long,” responded Kara Swisher, co-founder of Recode and contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, addressing Mark Zuckerberg directly. “Last week, you announced that you are finally labeling the most egregious dreck that is broadcast on Facebook by President Trump, after years of his escalating behavior. But it’s too little, too late.”
Facebook had been under scrutiny for its role in amplifying false information since the 2016 U.S. election.
In 2017, Alexis C. Madrigal wrote an extensive piece for The Atlantic on the role that misinformation and disinformation played in his election, and Facebook’s part in that. An excerpt,
“Add everything up. The chaos of a billion-person platform that competitively dominated media distribution. The known electoral efficacy of Facebook. The wild fake news and misinformation rampaging across the internet generally and Facebook specifically. The Russian info operations. All of these things were known.
“And yet no one could quite put it all together: The dominant social network had altered the information and persuasion environment of the election beyond recognition while taking a very big chunk of the estimated $1.4 billion worth of digital advertising purchased during the election. There were hundreds of millions of dollars of dark ads doing their work. Fake news all over the place. Macedonian teens campaigning for Trump. Ragingly partisan media infospheres serving up only the news you wanted to hear. Who could believe anything? What room was there for policy positions when all this stuff was eating up News Feed space? Who the hell knew what was going on?”
The donation comes amidst rising concerns, especially among conservative groups, of the private donations being directly involved in the electoral process.
For its part, “Facebook announced this month that it was removing all affiliated groups and pages involving QAnon conspiracy theories … [and has] started to remove posts by Trump that are false, including a recent post that inaccurately said covid-19 is less deadly than the seasonal flu,” according to the Washington Post.
In his 2018 book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, Anand Giridharadas writes about the role of the “global elite” in creating and exacerbating the problems, then arriving on the scene like ‘Robin Hoods’ with the money and the answers on how to solve the problem.
“I have very little hope for a moral redemption or epiphany at Facebook,” Giridharadas said in a piece covered by Rudy Takala at Medialite in early October. “But if you are a decent person at Facebook, somehow, you have to realize you are the new Fox News. You are the Fox News of 2020, except you’re wired into people’s brains and … reaching them in their pockets at all hours of the day. You need to think about the fact that your platform, which Mark Zuckerberg invented, I think, just because he wanted to meet girls, is now becoming one of the most important sources of muddying the water and spreading disinformation and hate.”
Hate speech aimed at public figures: Who’s targeted?, October 23, 2020
The Reality Game: Truth on the block for 2020 January 14, 2020