I am considering leaving Facebook. I have wrestled with the decision for a few months now. Some of my issues are values-based and some are political. Overall, I am unhappy that Facebook allows extremist groups to post hate speech and lies to promote racism and divisiveness. Worse, Facebook allowed its platform to be used to manipulate our last presidential election. We’ve heard frequent news reports that Russia has a strategy to manipulate our upcoming election as they reportedly did in 2016. Is Facebook allowing this to happen again? Interference in the most significant right in our democratic process, to vote, is a real threat to our democracy.
I fear that the hatred and divisiveness promoted on a platform followed by millions of followers, leads to the political stalemate. We see Congress and our elected leaders are unable to reach across the aisle, find common ground to compromise, and to govern. Plus, the New York Times reports the rise of right-wing extremist QAnon, a conspiracy group which has attracted hundreds of thousands, some say millions, of followers on Facebook. This group “believes in, among other things, a ring of Satan-worshiping, child-trafficking criminals led by prominent Democrats.”
QAnon followers hack into organizations’ legitimate campaigns on Facebook, such as “Save the Children.” Thus, they blur the lines between real concerns about human trafficking and conspiracy mongering. Followers then “shift the conversation to baseless theories about who they believe is doing the trafficking: a cabal of nefarious elites that includes Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Pope Francis.” Shockingly, many people accept such baseless theories. So much so, that a QAnon supporter will likely win election to Congress from Georgia this year. Why is Facebook allowing such lies and misinformation?
Note: Some QAnon presence has finally been removed from Facebook https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53692545.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Yet, there are benefits to being on Facebook. For example, I have many friends with whom I communicate solely on Facebook. I often post photos of my vacations, family events or other life milestones. With my author’s Facebook Page, I promote my book, send out blogs and book reviews, and promote writing. If I leave Facebook, I lose all these benefits. Leaving Facebook is a big decision.
But, I wonder, do I need those benefits? If I leave Facebook, I will miss the news shared by friends and the opportunity to share news with them. If I ever travel again, I will miss the opportunity to share my photos. I ask myself, how important are these benefits? In fact, given the pandemic, I am doing fewer celebrations with friends and family or marking the milestones in my life. I have retired and do not expect to write another book, nor blog as often. So, I am not putting energy into book promotion. I still have my website to post blogs and reviews. Do I really need a Facebook Author Page?
Several times in my life, I’ve boycotted a product or a company because of its unethical, immoral or illegal action. The actions of Facebook seem to fall in that category as Zuckerberg has refused to prevent messages of outright lies. Lies abound on the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, the Presidential election or the baseless allegations of QAnon. He claims that Facebook is not an “arbiter of truth.” Further, it is in the interest of the public to see what political leaders are saying. That might explain why Facebook allows President Trump to post lies and misinformation.
But many others who are not political leaders use Facebook to spread lies, groundless accusations, and distorted data. It seems Facebook disingenuously hides behind its facade of neutrality. Our advanced economy still uses the tools of research and science. An educated population, for decades, has depended on the results of science and research for substantiated facts and data. Facebook can also use those results to prevent messages of disinformation, outright lies, hate and bias. Why does it not do so?
This kind of distortion characterizes authoritarian societies that use lies and misinformation to install dictators. I want to live a democracy. Don’t you?
Others also believe Facebook has not done enough to restrict extremists and conspiracists who spread lies, bias and hate. In addition, Facebook has not done enough to prevent harassment on line. A Pew Research Center survey in 2017 reported in the New York Times, that 40% of Americans experienced on-line harassment. Three-fourths of it occurred on Facebook. Facebook has been criticized by advertisers, civil rights leaders and even its own employees. And, the New York Times reports that State Attorneys General from 20 states have demanded Facebook do a better job.
Will Facebook continue to allow these uses of its platform? Will it allow other countries, such as Russia, to manipulate the upcoming election in November?
Note: Bowing to pressure, FB has released a set of Community Standards. I am skeptical. Will it make any difference?https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards/introduction
Bottom line about leaving Facebook: do I want to continue to be involved and participate with it? Are the benefits I receive worth it? Does it make any difference? What is your position?