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The Facebook Dilemma on Frontline PBS might make you want to close your account

Zuckerberg's ascendancy into megawealth has cost millions of people in lost privacy according to filmmakers Pic credit: PBS/Frontline
Zuckerberg’s ascendancy into megawealth has cost millions of people in lost privacy according to filmmakers Pic credit: PBS/Frontline

Tonight is the second part of PBS Frontline’s The Facebook Dilemma, and it is so vexing in its reporting that you might even contemplate closing your social account for good.

The program alleges that Facebook has been cavalier at best about your information and, at the very worst, criminally negligent in guarding the platform from bad actors, manipulative fake news spreaders and wholesale privacy invasion.

Ever since the 2016 election, Facebook has been taken to task for egregious foreign invasion and manipulation of information that has affected the American elections.

Their stock endured the largest single-day drop in Wall Street history.  Facebook also had announced that they discovered a sophisticated disinformation operation aimed at spreading divisive messaging ahead of the looming November midterm elections.

Problems with safety and privacy of Facebook’s platforms are still there, and Frontline is tracing these problems through the history of Facebook as it evolved into a company with unprecedented power, not just the digital economy but the flow of information that actually supports a democracy.

It will also offer viewers some exact information as to how Facebook is trying to solve these problems.

What is The Facebook Dilemma about?

The Facebook Dilemma is a two-night documentary that began Monday and wraps up the second half tonight.

The documentary features true unfolding stories of real-world violence and alleged attackers who shared conspiracy theories and bigotry via social media.

Producers use interviews with former and present Facebook staffers, activists, and others who tried to raise red flags about the dangers of false information shared on the platform.

The film underscores exactly how unregulated social media has polarized citizens in the U.S. and around the world.

It began with Facebook’s early days, circa-2005, as Mark Zuckerberg bragged about Facebook and its motto, “Move fast and break things.”

Prioritizing growth was the unrelenting focus of Zuckerberg and Facebook, and those interviewed discuss how quickly it became clear that the optimism was wrong.

The documentary reveals exactly how Russia and other countries were using Facebook to create fake accounts and divide and conquer American politics with chaotic false news and meme garbage people construed as real news and factual information.

The 2016 presidential campaign went even further in inflaming divisions between voters, many of whom got their news from Facebook – even when the “news” consisted of outrageously made-up stories, many of them perpetuated by users in Macedonia and Russia.

What the filmmakers say.

At the Television Critics Association summer press tour, on the panel were the producer of the documentary, James Jacoby, Roger McNamee, who was an early investor in Facebook and a mentor to Mark Zuckerberg from 2006 to 2009. Also present was Dana Priest, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from the Washington Post.

According to McNamee, when asked if was ignorance or opportunism that drove Zuckerberg, replied:  “I’m here speaking as somebody who happens to be one of the people they interviewed in the show. And I spent many years, 35 years, as an investor in Silicon Valley, and I worked really closely with Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in the relatively early years of Facebook.”

“And I happened to see things going wrong in 2016 and went to them in October of 2016 with my concerns that the product was being manipulated by bad actors to harm innocent people.”

He added: ” I thought that the problem was that Facebook was being manipulated by bad actors and that the people running Facebook were the victims, along with their users. What I’ve discovered since then is the culture of the company took them to a place where they had a very fixed goal, which was to connect the world and to build the largest, most valuable network of history of humanity.”

“And they convinced themselves that literally everything was okay in the service of that goal and that anything that got in the way of that goal could be either ignored or eliminated.”

“I think that they were willfully blind during 2016 of what was going on. Yet, they obviously knew that they had this massive surveillance engine. They were helping the Russians, and for as far as I can tell, the evidence seems to suggest they knew they were dealing with Russians and that they approached it like any sales thing where their job was to get a hundred percent of the available budget.”

“I just think they looked at this as it’s not going to affect the outcome and it will be a way we can demonstrate how effective Facebook is in electoral context. And it never I think it literally never occurred to them that there was something wrong with what they were doing.”

Dana Priest was asked about Facebook admitting that they took down 32 pages or accounts which they said was a coordinated inauthentic behavior.

She said: “Well, this is why: Because the U.S. Government, for one thing, whether it be the Congress the Congress has not regulated Facebook one bit. The U.S. the agencies that you would think would protect us from an outside government that’s hostile to the United States Russia will not and has not done anything substantial to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Finishing her thought, she added: “So, honestly, the normal mechanisms that would have jumped in have not jumped in. The best so far that the U.S. Government’s done is to try to warn states to be more to look at their electoral systems more, and yet, because of our decentralized election mechanisms, the states are very worried about having the federal government in their systems.”

“So it’s a perfect weapon for the Russians to use because of the First Amendment, because of no regulation of Facebook, because of the laws that prohibit our government from actually doing anything in social media space so far.”

The Facebook Dilemma airs at 10 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29; part two airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30.


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