KINSELLA: We let Facebook get too powerful for our own good

The social media juggernaut’s antipathy to democracy is thinly disguised

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If you think things are bad in a hand basket, you’re right. They are.

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Or at least that’s what a lot of people think. Abacus Data, a polling firm with close ties to the government of sunny ways and lollipops of Justin Trudeau, even says so.

On Friday, Abacus said about half of Canadians think the country is on the wrong track (no surprise) — but most approve of the Trudeau government (ditto, it’s Abacus).

But you don’t need a sounder to figure that out. Just talk to someone you know. COVID-19, inflation, variants, winter: it all combined to produce a miasma of misery.

Now, we’ve all been through this stuff before – viruses and rising prices, falling temperatures and optimism. It’s not new. But something is making it worse, and I know what it is.

It’s social media. Which is neither social nor media.

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Having dabbled in politics and the media over the years, I can’t remember a time when democracy and civil society seemed as vulnerable as they do today. It is the excess of time.

The coup attempt on the United States Capitol a year ago this month was no exception – it was a logical extension of the reality that social media has wrought. It was Facebook made flesh, basically.

And make no mistake: Facebook is the leading cause of civil society incivility. It’s gasoline on fires that had only been smoldering. Twitter is internet punk rock (which is why I, a geriatric punk, love it). TikTok is Internet Tourette. Instagram (owned by Facebook, naturally) is designed to make you feel fat and buy things to make you slim.

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But Facebook — with three billion “users,” not “people,” as Mark Zuckerberg once memorably called us — is different. It’s significantly worse, because of its size: its population is greater than that of China and India combined. All led by an unelected, unblinking and irresponsible Odd Wizard, Zuckerberg.

You do not believe it ? Facebook has a bigger GDP than most of the biggest countries, folks: $54 billion in ad revenue – in the first half of 2021 alone.

There’s a reason why, early in his governance, Canada’s national yoga instructor — the aforementioned Trudeau — shifted most federal ad buying to social media, in general, and Facebook, in particular. It’s because that’s where most of us are. Every political party in every democracy has done the same.

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But make no mistake: Facebook’s antipathy toward these democracies is thinly disguised. Adrienne LaFrance, editor of The Atlantic magazine, excoriated Zuckerberg and Facebook in an essay late last year. And she was right on every count of her indictment.

“Facebook is not just a website, platform, publisher or social network,” she wrote. “It’s all of those things. But Facebook is also a hostile foreign power.

Why? Because, writes LaFrance, it undermines elections. Because of how he dumped a free press. Because he has no sense of civic obligation. Because, as noted, of its total indifference to democracy. Facebook is an “entity,” she says, engaged in a cold war with democracies around the world.

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Its algorithm is specially designed to draw your attention to the things that get the strongest reaction. The most extreme stuff. Which, according to LaFrance, means that Facebook regularly promotes “propaganda, terrorist recruitment and genocide.” And so that’s dismantling democracy.

LaFrance is not the only one to have noticed this. In a moment of improvidence, Hillary Clinton described her relationship with Zuckerberg: “Sometimes I feel like you’re negotiating with a foreign power. He is immensely powerful.

Because he is. And, inside Facebook, few have any illusions about it. In the book An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination, one of Zuckerberg’s earliest mission statements was “company over country.”

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This shows. And therein lies the danger – therein lies the reason why Facebook is undermining democracy itself. He was allowed to become too powerful, too rich, too irresponsible – and only true to himself.

And its greatest asset, dear reader, is what we all see in the bathroom mirror every morning: Us. We are just data points. Zuckerberg sells us to advertisers, and we follow.

Things do indeed feel worse because they are worse.

Click “like” if you agree.

— Warren Kinsella is the author of Fight the Right, a Random House book on the manipulation of words by extremists.

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