57 Billion Friendships

Keep the pressure on Facebook. It’s working. Finally.

Here’s how bad things are for Cambridge Analytica right now. Emails leaked showing that their suspended CEO Alexander Nix used racial slurs to refer to potential clients. That particular detail would be enough to get a person fired but it wasn’t even the lede of the story where it broke. Because of the sheer volume of terrible news about Cambridge Analytica, it got lost in the shuffle.

Cambridge Analytica’s troubles are nothing compared to the PR dumpster fire that Facebook has created for itself. It’s one thing to be a nefarious data firm that probably won’t exist anymore once the various criminal and government investigations they’re not under have ended. But Facebook is a publicly traded behemoth with billions of users around the globe. Facebook will survive but whether or not they can recover remains an open question. Given the public outrage I can see them going the way of MySpace, Yahoo, and AOL in the blink of an eye.

Just how bad is it?

  • #DeleteFacebook has entered the public consciousness. Several mediaoutlets have run stories instructing users how to delete their Facebook accounts. WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton, which Facebook purchased in 2014 tweeted “It is time. #deletefacebook” When asked to respond to #DeleteFacebook Mark Zuckerberg admitted “It’s not good.”
  • Wall Street is doing their own version of #DeleteFacebook. Facebook has lost nearly $50 billion in value since last week’s news broke and as of Fridaymorning Zuckerberg’s apology tour hadn’t stopped the bleeding.
  • Mozilla has stopped running paid ads on Facebook and there’s a growing call for other companies to follow suit.
  • Both Congress in the US and Parliament in the UK are calling on Zuckerberg to personally testify before them rather than sending other Facebook staff. Calls for Facebook to be regulated have also gone global and even Zuckerberg said that he’s “not sure [Facebook] shouldn’t be regulated.”

As I wrote earlier this week we have 50 million reasons to be angry at Facebook — 57 billion if you want to include the number of friendships Cambridge Analytica had data on. Facebook has continually failed to protect its users’ data and privacy, but failing to protect us from Cambridge Analytica, a firm whose leadership bragged to potential clients about their ability to trap politicians with bribes and prostitutes, and who may have broken multiple US election laws to help elect Donald Trump, is a huge breach of the public’s trust. I’m angry at Cambridge Analytica, their financial backers and their clients but what I keep coming back to is that this happened on Facebook’s watch.

Tech companies have allowed their platforms to be weaponized by companies like Cambridge Analytica, Russian trolls, the so-called alt-right and Donald Trump. They’re the recurring problem in many of our political and social ills. Hostile actors have use social media to recruit followers, target their enemies and fund their activities. I’m convinced that the key to stopping all of these anti-democratic political movements is by cutting off their ability to exploit the platforms.

Post-Charlottesville we’ve made a lot of inroads. In the immediate aftermath of the Unite the Right rally the public was able to pressure crowdfunding companies to kick alt-right figures off of their platforms, cutting off a funding stream. Discord, the preferred chat tool of the Frog Squad, has been purging alt-right servers from its platform for months, cutting off an organizing channel. YouTube and Medium have done the same, cutting off both an amplification network and revenue stream. Finally, Twitter has taken aggressive action to ban bots and trolls after alt-right figures used the platform to spread conspiracy theories about Parkland student survivors.

We need systemic solutions to systemic problems. Calling on tech companies to make those changes, and calling on governments to further regulate them is working. Facebook is on the defensive with no hope of a quick PR fix. We need to keep our foot on the gas pedal. Tech companies will only cooperate if pressured to do so by the public. This week we finally reached the societal tipping point.

Ctrl Alt-Right Delete is a newsletter devoted to understanding how the right operates online and developing strategies and tactics to fight back. It is edited by Melissa Ryan in partnership with HOPE not hate.

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Melissa Ryan

Politics + technology. Author of Ctrl Alt Right Delete newsletter. Subscribe here: https://goo.gl/c74Vva. Coffee drinker. Kentucky basketball fan.