We live in a time where contradictions have become the norm. This was clearly manifested when most social media tools were disrupted for a couple of hours, and then those criticizers of Facebook and despisers of Instagram who call for a return to the former normal life flow (whatever that means) felt bored after a short while of not being able to post an image or a statement on their pages.
This contradiction is fully understood, as it stems from human nature that often seeks to exhibit superiority over other fellow human beings through boasting claims of utter virtue and an ideal ethical code. Meanwhile, indulging into the mundane pleasures of daily life is also inevitable, and most of those haters of Facebook express their hatred via Facebook itself, giving Mark Zuckerberg an excuse to cancel their accounts.
This is a deep-rooted and persistent Human trait. However, the new and exciting thing in the world of social media was not the outage that happened, but the backlashes these social media tools have recently received. Some people think that the agonizing blow directed by Facebook’s former content manager Francis Haugen to the company was the first one, which it wasn’t. Facebook and other social media tools have directed a self-inflicted blow when they decided to permanently suspend the accounts of former US President Donald Trump, thereby losing some 80 million followers instantly.
This was a crucial moment that made even President Trump’s adamant rival, democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, express his astonishment and blame the social media giants for their decision. It is true that President Trump used these tools in a vulgar and demagogic manner (expelling high-ranking personalities in his administration through abusive tweets where he called them “jerks” while bragging about “my generals”). However, this was not the reason behind the decision of the social media companies, especially as President Trump is not the only bully on these platforms.
One should not forget the numerous accounts of officials who accused him of being affiliated with Russia without any conclusive evidence. There are even some Taliban leaders who are tweeting freely while their subordinates are whipping women and hanging accused people on construction cranes. The real motivation behind the social media giants’ decision to suspend President Trump’s accounts was clear; they attempted to make it difficult for him to rewin the elections – which is quite hard without these highly-influential platforms. The former president was well-aware of the extent of influence these companies possess. As he was banned, he tried to play it down, and his call for establishing entirely new electronic tools led to an utter failure. Recently he filed a lawsuit against Twitter Company to reactivate his account, knowing that this seems to be the only way to regain is popularity that shrank.
The step taken by these social media companies against Trump was a sly partisan and political move, but it was also void of ethical credibility and seemed entirely biased. At any rate, Trump’s story with them is not the sole one, as their policy also applies for a number of controversial issues such as climate change, or family values, where the administrations of these companies make it hard for people with diverse opinions to express themselves.
For instance, California candidate Larry Elder has been subjected to an extensive smear and harassment campaign for holding an opinion that differs from the usual discourse of these platforms, as he is harshly criticizing the notion that there is an institutionalized racism which prevents blacks from achieving their ambitions, adding that the root of the problem is family-related, as in the absence of a father. Elder is also a staunch opponent of the public concept that US police targets the blacks in particular, providing statistics that debunk such a common belief which, he thinks, harms the black community itself. He points out that in 2018 some 7,400 blacks were killed by their own kinsmen, and not by the police. Although he himself is a black man, Elder has been the target of a continuous campaign that aims at entirely expelling him out of the arena.
Two other examples are the economic thinker Thomas Sowell and the writer Shibli Steel, both prominent intellectual figures who are entirely marginalized due to the prevalence of one single trend on these electronic platforms that do not accept opposite opinions.
These platforms used to be tools where one could post some nice photos of happy moments with the family, then they became an arena for a various and contradictory set of ideas. However, due to political pressure they turned into strained one-sided politicized spheres, especially with the prevalence of the omission trend. Whistleblower Haugen said that Facebook is more interested in reactions and revenues than in social peace. She added that the social media giant intentionally creates algorithms that work on harming the society through promoting mechanisms that incite more violence and division. Haugen voiced serious accusations on videos of terrorist operations and promotion for human trafficking that were circulated by Facebook on a large scale among its users, through algorithms that were created to push the most-watched videos upwards on the “Timeline” in response to the users clicks.
There is no doubt that Facebook does not promote such videos per se, but its internal design, and the colossal number of its followers are decision-makers in their own right that act independently and are hard to control. When Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by a Congress panel he was overwhelmed by similar queries, and he asked the panel members to help him find solutions – which they failed to deliver.
In the same vein, Haugen accused Instagram of posting pictures of modified ideally attractive bodies of girls, noting that this causes depression among the girls who watch such pictures.
Although Facebook made promises to implement further reforms, it is hard to imagine it abandoning some mechanisms (as some rival companies did) that increase the interaction of users with particular contents, because this is the main reason behind its success. According to a New Your Times report, some inside the company have been voicing their concern that all these events are utter exaggerations that target their workplace, adding that the lenient approach adopted by Zuckerberg encouraged the critics and haters of the company even inside it - causing a surge in the number of defecting employees compared to other companies. Hence, Facebook is going to launch a defensive campaign that promotes its special advantages and the importance of its media platform, especially after it noticed that no side is going to support or defend it.
Meanwhile, amid this tumultuous uproar it is highly unlikely that people will deactivate their Facebook and Instagram accounts, and this is the lesson which we have all learned from the boredom that affected billions of people globally during the sudden outage of these platforms.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.