Which is worth more to Mark Zuckerberg: money, or human life?
Imagine you invented a product you hoped would unite the world in love and understanding. Now imagine it did the opposite. Suppose instead, contrary to your hopes, it united the world of hate. Suppose it gave organization and purpose to malign groups. In fact, let’s say it resulted in the live broadcasting of mass murder. Imagine that now, due in part to your well-intentioned invention, scores of people are dead, bleeding, and wounded for life. Scores of families are shattered forever.
What would you do? I know what I would do.
I would be horrified. Despite the money I earned from this invention, despite the millions of dollars I made from it, I would shut it down. I would find another way to earn a living.
Nothing is more important than saving lives, and shutting down this social media giant will save lives.
Friday’s massacre in New Zealand isn’t the first Facebook-facilitated massacre. Facebook played a defining role in Myanmar’s massacre of Rohingya Muslims in 2018. Last year, Sri Lanka had to order its ISPs to shut down Facebook and WhatsApp due to the violence it fomented. These are real people, real families, real bloodshed.
Despite its noble intentions, Facebook is nothing more than a publishing platform. It is giant and completely unregulated. It’s like the New York Times, if the New York Times were run by your crazy, uneducated uncle — but vastly bigger, filled only with “news” not fit to print. Just as one must drink responsibly, one must publish responsibly. There’s a duty involved. If you publish you must serve the public good. You must tell the truth to the best of your ability, and when you err, you must publish a correction.
You cannot publish responsibly without editors. And when I say editors, I mean that every single post must be read and approved — or changed or deleted — by an editor. Every single post. That’s what all legitimate publishers do.
In order to do that, there must be a delay between the writing and the posting. If your publishing house is too large to accomplish that, or if your system monetarily discourages that, then you cannot fulfill your duty. You cannot serve the public good. In that case, continuing to operate will, by default, serve the bad.
Facebook is so vast it boggles comprehension. It owns 79 companies, including Instagram and WhatsApp. Facebook would have to hire millions of trained editors. It would have to put a delay on posts. It would have to spend a lot of money. It would have to be willing to accept less profit. If it cannot or will not do these things, then Facebook should be shut down.
Had that been the case in 2016, our nation would not be saddled with a sociopath in office installed by a foreign adversary. Facebook screws up a lot. They amplify fake news by allowing Russian trolls to create fake U.S. personas to spread lies — then they (specifically Sheryl Sandberg, according to the New York Times) cover it up. They pit Americans against each other in polarized bubble enclaves. They allow 30 million accounts to be hacked. They let third parties scrutinize the photos of almost seven million users, even though those people never shared those photos. They deliberately share people’s personal data with large corporations. According to the ACLU, their ad-targeting tools let employers favor men over women in job postings.
Facebook makes the idea of killing people attractive. So attractive, that that idea becomes a reality. People are murdered in great masses.
Mark Zukerberg, shut it down.
People of integrity have quit Facebook. Notably, many of these people are founders. Jan Koum and Brian Acton, who started WhatsApp, have left. So has Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus. Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger got out. These are people who likely know the difference between right and wrong.
Here’s the thing about publishing lies. When things are printed in a nice font, even online, it gives them the appearance of authority. They seem respectable, even if they are hoaxes or lies. Online, it’s difficult to tell the difference between lies and truth.
When you cannot tell truth from fiction, you also cannot tell right from wrong. Right and wrong is all about justice, and justice is based on truth. That is why truthful publishing is the foundation of democracy. It is the basis of justice. It underpins rule of law. That is also why untruthful publishing attracts malign actors: white supremacists, Nazis, conspiracy theorists, trolls and the violent.
If you have a conscience, you have a sense of obligation to others. If you own a publishing house, your publishing house must serve the public good. At the very least, Facebook should go dark for a week, to demonstrate remorse for its role in this horrific massacre. Mark Zukerberg and Sheryl Sandberg could use that time to recalibrate Facebook’s system so that monetary incentives do not favor lies, violence and clicks. They could figure out how to hire enough people to supervise and delay violent and erroneous posts — or they could use that time to find another way to earn a living.
Bella Silverstein is a Canyon Country resident.
The Santa Clarita Valley Proclaimer’s opinion section does not represent the official opinions of Radio Free Santa Clarita, its board and its supporters.