Zuck, it’s time to rip apart society by dopamine driven feedback loops
In a daring move, one of the software engineers of Facebook Ashok Chandwaney, while quitting wrote a scathing 1300 word missive, elaborating on how “Facebook is choosing to be on the wrong side of history”. It took a massive hit on Facebook’s self branding as amiable, communicative social network. From the nascent stage of development where you could “friend” known people to the fully fledged monster thug of social media world, Facebook has had an absurdly transformative journey.
Ashok Chandwaney called out the shortcomings of Facebook’s in fighting hate speech, misrepresentation, and misinformation and inciting violence. “It is clear to me that despite the best efforts of many of us who work here, and outside advocates like Color Of Change, Facebook is choosing to be on the wrong side of history,” wrote Chandwaney in a letter on the Facebook’s internal message board, which The Washington Post has published later.
Chandwaney who worked at Facebook for more than five years wrote, “ I am quitting because I cannot stomach contributing to an organization that is profiting off hate in the U.S. and globally.”
In the letter, they (Chandwaney identifies as non-binary and prefers they/them pronoun) cited numerous examples of Facebook allowing posts that include hate speech and calls to participate in organized violence to remain on the platform in violation of their own policies. Chandwaney pointed to the genocide of Rohingya in Myanmar and a militia group’s post calling for armed civilians to enter Kenosha, Wisconsin, during the Jacob Blake protests last week to show how “our work has life and death consequences.”
Following a shooting that left two people dead, Facebook eventually took the Kenosha militia post down. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said leaving it up was an “operational mistake.”
“Violent hate groups and far-right militias are out there, and they’re using Facebook to recruit and radicalize people who will go on to commit violent hate crimes,” Chandwaney wrote, “So where is the metric about this?”
Chandwaney alleged Facebook put out a response to hate crimes using a hashtag ‘stop hate for profit’ but did not address this question. “Feedback is supposed to be a gift, yet despite the enormous feedback [and multiple lawsuits, for discriminatory ads] very little action has been taken,” Chandwaney claimed.
Facebook denied the allegations and said that it has framed policies and was taking measures to counter hate speech and misinformation, according to The Washington Post. “We don’t benefit from hate,” Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois said. “We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and are in deep partnership with outside experts to review and update our policies. This summer we launched an industry leading policy to go after QAnon, grew our fact-checking programme, and removed millions of posts tied to hate organizations – over 96% of which we found before anyone reported them to us.”
Facebook’s policies on hate speech and misinformation has faced flak and many of its employees have protested against them, demanding that company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, who holds majority of the share, change his stance. The mood within Facebook soured nearly four years ago as it became clear that the company played a key role in the 2016 election of Trump, by amplifying false news reports and Russian disinformation while allowing his campaign to deliver targeted messages to swing voters. Unrest has only grown since then among the company’s more than 52,000 employees.
Facebook has a userbase of nearly 2 billion people. In case it doesn’t register on your shock wavelength, there are nine zeroes after 2. This essentially translates to shaping the world and programming people on a very atomic level. After so much noise about the criticisms of Facebook, the company still has a lackdiasical approach towards its policies and attentions to the unintended behaviors arising from lax implementations of it.
In the zoomed out perspective of social media, the recently released Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, offers a scathing critique about social media as an agent of chaos. The thoughtful commentary lends substance to the existing discourse because it comes from some of the key growth figures such as Tristan Harris (former design ethicist at Google), Justin Rosenstein (Facebook’s like button co-creator), Shoshana Zboff (Harvard University professor) and some other very powerful figures in those companies. They themselves recount the numerous shocking ways in which an indiviual’s privacy is invaded, their perceptions being molded, their autonomy eroded over time.
This discourse seems weary and oft repeated with a whole sub culture carving a niche of its own, communicating the tentacled evils of social media ripping out society’s foundations in real time, but it’s imperative that people fully realize the consequences of it.
The objective is to reform and improve the existing social media since advocating for complete banishment would be foolish, if not entirely impossible. To meaningfully transform social media would be advocating for a change in their advertiser driven business models since removing that incentive will align people’s best interests with companies’ larger goals. World is essentially run by money incentives so even if social media giants do act on the awareness, they would replace it with another profit driven model. Since none of that is happening any time soon; a civil, rational discourse about the policies (or glaring lack there of) adopted by Facebook and other major companies assumes importance.
There seems to be a mental threshold which when broken, people voice out concerns for the larger good as evidenced in the case of Ashok Chandwaney’s resignation. Meanwhile that mental threshold might be subjective, we have to wait for powerful figures (with a conscience) to get disillusioned enough to affect real changes. Things will get really bad before they get any good.
We really live in a society. But we must not conform to its superficiality.
Feature Image Credit: Bloomberg
19. I like books, punk rock, philosophy and panicking over the crushing weight of existence. Student of Journalism, teller of stories.