It's Not Facebook That's Having A Rough Time

Published in Online Spin, October 26th, 2018

Facebook is facing a few challenges at the moment.

Steve Rousseau summed it up: “Just within the past month: 30 million Facebook users had their personal information stolen, Instagram is more than happy to prioritize growth over the mental health of their users, Facebook faked video view metrics by up to 900%, which defrauded advertisers and ushered in waves of layoffs in the media industry and the New York Times Editorial Board recently scolded Facebook and Twitter for relying on the media industry to moderate their platforms for them.”

Pile all of that onto the Cambridge Analytica scandal (for which the social media giant was fined £500,000 this week) and the fact that its filter bubbles are directly linked to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar… Facebook is having a rough time.

Sorry -- did I say Facebook is having a rough time?

I meant Facebook’s users are having a rough time.

The 14 million people who had a significant volume of data stolen, including their names, contact details, gender, religion, birth date, education, work, and more.

The teenage girl who received threatening phone calls for days because she posted a pro-LGBT hashtag on Instagram.

The citizens who are questioning the validity of their democracy in the face of evidence that it is being manipulated.

The two people who were killed in Mandalay after a false report on Facebook about Muslim men raping a Buddhist woman caused riots.

These are the people having a rough time.

Also, Facebook’s ecosystem is having a rough time.

When Facebook “pivoted to video,” according to Fast Company, “media executives overhauled entire budgets to embrace the new trend and hired new teams to make quick, consumable videos that would theoretically get them more ad revenue. Writer and editor positions were cut, and layoffs ensued.”

Only problem was that the pivot to video was, according to the lawsuit, predicated on a lie. As Chris Conroy put it, “Facebook massively & knowingly inflated its video-view statistics, which had the DIRECT consequence of 90% of media orgs firing writers in favor of expensive video producers, who also got fired when it turned out video was worthless.”

The publishers are having a rough time. The fired editors are having a rough time. The fired video producers are having a rough time. People who care about the news are having a rough time.

Even Facebook shareholders are having a rough time, with the stock down 29% since its last earnings report and currently sitting at its lowest point in 18 months (although who knows what will happen after the earnings call next week).

This is what the headlines about Facebook fail to convey. Every time you hear about a scandal the company is involved in, it’s because thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of people have been affected by it—real people, in the real world, really affected.

And this is why the idea that Facebook should only be regulated if it is actually a monopoly is ridiculous.

If your actions affect 2.2 billion active users, it doesn’t matter whether those users sometimes use other apps. It doesn’t even matter if there are 5 billion people who don’t use your apps at all.

There is a scale at which your power needs to be tempered regardless of whether you are a monopoly. There is a scale at which the rules of the game need to change, at which you become de facto accountable for your contribution to, or detraction from, the public good.

Facebook is at that scale—and millions of real people are paying the price.

Kaila Colbin