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Zuckerberg’s cover-up campaign is working

Leaks are already being swathed, and news reports aren’t covering the biggest breaks

By Aidan Bridgeman

Image courtesy of Anthony Quintano via Wikipedia Commons

It’s only been a few weeks and the appalling findings from the Facebook Files are already being glossed over. Hundreds of allegations are going unanswered, unread or simply given the spinmeister treatment. The volume of leaks alone hurt my head (tens of thousands of internal company documents and reports). But already—distressingly, I should add—the news cycle goes on. The very same happened with Cambridge Analytica.

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, first opted to remain anonymous with the Wall Street Journal reports but decided to reveal her identity on the American CBS program 60 Minutes. The pebbles have been falling for years, now comes the full landslide. From The Atlantic, to The Financial Times, Politico, The Washington Post, Reuters, and The Associated Press, there are endless findings. The real redacted versions of the files have been provided to the US Congress, where Haugen herself testified as to the allegations. Similar work has been done in the UK with a Parliamentary Committee, complete with evidence.

It’s barely November and the cover-up campaign is in full swing. The infuriating, almost insulting move to change the parent company’s name from Facebook to Meta is the loudhailer in all this. The actions of Facebook here are so transparent—unlike their platform and internal company culture and business model. It’s… too obvious. Zuckerberg is showing us his cards; he wants us to be distracted by his ‘genuine’ conspicuousness, and even perhaps his idiocy. Nigh undoubtedly there will be internal documents detailing this strategy, too. How can you really expect a company to sincerely believe they’re leaving their negative past behind, rebranding to save face, yet keep Zuckerberg as the face of it all? Wouldn’t the best idea be to get some random PR higher-up with a bit of media training and a normal haircut to be the brand ambassador? Not only is the rebrand a distraction, the insanely simplistic and insultingly deceptive, yet blatant name change strategy is an even bigger one. Quite a meta one, at that.

And another thing. The Metaverse? What’s that? Some science fiction phrase or something? I’m not sure if Facebook even knows. If tech heads are being confused, imagine what the out of touch journalists and lawmakers are going to think when poring over the new Meta announcements. Is it just a vision? Is it a tangible thing? It’s a sort of virtual reality (VR) workspace and virtual world, I presume. A place you can relax. And work. And consume. A lot of consuming, actually. Adverts almost inside of your eyeballs; a data-mining centre almost inside of your brain. The legal, moral, social, even political ramifications of this are massive, and as of yet totally misunderstood. Perhaps another ‘daze and confuse’ tactic.

What else? Competition watchdog drama, weird Ray-Bans collaborations that seem like a Snapchat Spectacles rip-off, horribly tone-deaf and slightly creepy Instagram Kids app, translation troubles with the Meta rebrand. Seems endless. Facebook is too big to never not be in the news. In fact, that’s part of the problem.

The leaks are horrendous. Internal memos have revealed that the website is ‘hardwired’ for misinformation and hate. They will put profit over everything. The Capitol riots on January 6th, rampant fake news in India, inaction to human trafficking reports, a company desperate to reach preteens despite their knowledge of its damaging mental health impacts, negligence towards radicalisation rabbit holes, all topped off with internally expressed anger towards the company from staff and shareholders alike. But it’s the enormous global size of Zuckerberg’s business that makes tackling these issues so hard. Legislation is needed. Distressingly, however, this is where lawmakers and the media fall short.

Facebook has asked in the past to be regulated (in fact, they’ve asked for regulation of the entire internet). Whether they were simply saying one thing while thinking another, I’m not sure. It has an Oversight Board, it has some checks and balances, but it’s not enough. Regulating Facebook requires multilateral, and importantly, unanimous action. The world we live in right now is not one like that. In fact, global politics right now is often at the mercy of multinational conglomerates.

The most overlooked part of the Facebook Papers concerns the company’s lobbying power, which keeps with the theme of exempting elites: ‘XCheck’ is an internal program which allows the rich and powerful to sidestep the website’s usage and content policies. It’s not unlike Facebook to bow down to those at the top. Similarly, it’s not unlike those at the top to bow down to Facebook. As one of the biggest companies in the world, Facebook is, understandably, a lobbying powerhouse. Internal leaks from staff have acknowledged the problem. On the flip side, it’s down to unaccountable lawmakers existing in a governance system which virtually encourages under the table contract deals that has let us down; Facebook spend millions on lobbying every year because it works. In 2020, they spent more than any other big tech company—in the US especially and narrowly behind in Europe—on ensuring they avoid scrutinous investigations, disparaging media narratives and government legislation that would break up their ever-growing monopoly and huge profits year by year.

Amid this whistleblowing scandal, their lobbying efforts have jumped once again. Make it now $5.1 million that has been spent fighting antitrust bills, misinformation content moderation efforts and even Joe Biden’s personal infrastructure plans straight from the US President himself during the quarter ending September 30th.

Frankly, it’s no surprise. For the elites, Facebook is a tool to keep them in power. Changing the status quo is a dangerous game. Much in the same way the UK government has been embroiled with scandal after scandal about dodgy contracts, or in the same vein in which a former First Secretary of State can directly control the media narrative by becoming the editor-in-chief of, say, The Evening Standard, Facebook can have insider deals too. In Australia, ministerial staff close to Scott Morrison had direct ties to suppress legislation and negative news cycles. Those at the very top of the Facebook company hierarchy include previous legislatures, not much dissimilar to the ones today promising they’ll vote through effective legislation right now. The Vice-President for Global Affairs and Communications is our very own Nick Clegg.

Back in 2018, the US Congress embarrassed itself when hosting Mark Zuckerberg. After some data misuse controversy (not much has changed there then) he was invited to testify in front of Senators. When it’s our data on the table and our democracy at stake, out of date and out of touch lawmakers aren’t going to save us. Facebook has fuelled the declining democracy problem around the world, but they find themselves being nothing but enabled by incompetent legislatures.

Social media regulators are all good and well, but we require that governments are on our side. Thankfully, corruption in the European Union is nothing compared to that in the States. Big tech regulation is much more common over here. Much like with the climate crisis, and most other social crises for that matter, blaming personal responsibility is the lazy way out. It’s the market way of doing things, and it’s the Nick Clegg economically liberal market that got us into this mess. The leaks are terrible, legislation must be passed, users must take a stand, but if lobbying efforts continue to encourage and fund our unaccountable and aging ‘governments for sale,’ we’ll be left with this mess.


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