What to make of the Facebook whistleblower?

Andy Prutsok Miles City Star Publisher
Friday, October 8, 2021
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Facebook’s been in the news the past couple weeks with the series in the Wall Street Journal based on leaked documents, culminating Sunday and Monday with the whistleblower dramatically revealing herself on 60 minutes and appearing before a congressional hearing.

Also on Monday there was an even bigger Facebook story, with the platform, along with its siblings Instagram and What’s App, going dark for about five hours.

The best joke I read about the outage was that poor Instagram influencers were forced to go door-to-door for five hours to make young girls feel bad about their bodies.

I didn’t miss Facebook when it was gone. I got off of it in 2016 — I remember the exact date, like an alcoholic celebrating his sobriety anniversary. What compelled me to head for the exit was a Twitter exchange I had with an old friend. I was his Facebook friend and noticed he hadn’t posted in a few days which was unusual for him. He said he had to take a break from it because he didn’t want to start hating the people he’s supposed to love.

I felt that way, too. But it was more than that. I’m not meant to know the intimate details of the lives of people I barely know, or were briefly acquainted with in high school. It feels wrong. I can’t count the number of real-time nervous breakdowns I witnessed on the platform. It’s a form of emotional pornography that people become addicted to, just like they do to actual pornography. Facebook made me feel dirty.

Also, in the year or so before I abandoned it, I began to notice bizarre “news” items entering my feed because someone I was friends with was passing it along. Ugly stories from sources I had never heard of about gangs of violent immigrants going on rampages, raping and murdering young white girls, secret pedophile rings run by certain political elites, that kind of thing. Stuff so obviously fake you couldn’t help but laugh at it. But as they began to proliferate, it was equally obvious, based on their comments, that people I knew believed them, and it was filling them with ugly rage.

It didn’t feel like a healthy environment.

For good or ill — and it’s looking more like ill all the time — Facebook has totally upended the way we do business. By leveraging its access to the most intimate details of its users’ lives, the company has built an advertising behemoth. Facebook, together with Google, gobbles up about 90% of any increases in digital advertising spending and have done so for years. If that’s not a monopoly then the term has no meaning.

What I’m getting at with all this is — just in case I’ve failed to make my feelings clear — is that I’m not a fan of Facebook and I have no trouble whatsoever believing everything whistleblower Frances Haugen has said about it. Monopolies, by their very nature, are evil and need to be broken up.

In fact, I didn’t need a whistleblower to tell me Facebook places profits over platform safety. Anyone can figure that out inside an hour on the platform.

Be all that as it may, there’s something about this entire whistleblower affair that doesn’t pass the smell test.

Our country detests whistleblowers. In almost all cases — Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, Barrett Brown, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, John Kiriakou and Reality Winner come immediately to mind — whistleblowers are hounded, spied on, persecuted, prosecuted, exiled, imprisoned and even apparently have their abductions and murders planned at top levels of our government. What they don’t get is the red carpet treatment with the dramatic rollout provided by the Wall Street Journal and CBS; they aren’t invited to testify before Congress where they are hailed as brave heroes; they don’t have press agents; and they don’t have Twitter automatically bestow them on their first day on the platform with a blue checkmark and become a Twitter-endorsed follow to millions of users.

So what’s going on?

Some say the entire affair is a ruse perpetrated by Facebook to try to force the government’s hand in revising Section 230 (the section of the United States Code that provides immunity for websites and platforms with respect to third party content), which Facebook has been publicly advocating. The thinking is that regulations will become so cumbersome and expensive to comply with that nobody but Google and Facebook will be able to, effectively crushing their competitors.

There’s also those who believe it could all be orchestrated by authoritarian political elites to clamp down on free speech on the Internet, thereby shutting down all thought and speech that deviates from what those elites consider to be acceptable (See Ivermectin, opposition to endless wars).

Neither, or some combination of both, would surprise me. On the other hand, maybe everything is just as it appears. Who knows what to believe anymore? Which is largely Facebook’s fault as well.

(Andy Prutsok is the publisher of the Miles City Star.)

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