Facebook: The Harder They Fall
I first heard about Facebook’s system-wide crash from my son who lives in New York. “Facebook’s crashed! Site’s down!” he texted me. I replied, “Couldn’t happen to a better [sic] company,” as I thought about the Jimmy Cliff song that lent me the title of this blog.
Then, like the ronin in Kurusawa’s “Yojimbo,” Frances Haugen rides in to cear the Bad Guys out of the Good Town.
My first thought after learning about these two events– the crash and the whistleblower’s testimony before Congress, so close to one another — was to ask myself if one was inspired by the other. Perhaps Facebook had gone offline on purpose, to purge itself of incriminating evidence, the equivalent of shredding documents. Well, of course we learned that the proverbial cat was already out of the bag, but who knows what other evil deeds lurked in the hearts of Facebook management? Or, to quote Ms. Haugen, ““I cannot see into the hearts of other men.”
I found it interesting, in these times of yin-yang polarity in virtually everything, that she would say “other men.” I could hardly think it was a misspeak or an un-thoughtful remark; she is too astute for either. So she was likely using “men” to refer to each and all of us humans, without the suggestion of gender. An old-fashioned way of describing people or mankind. What made it truly meaningful was its being so inclusive and honest and lacking in judgmental-ness. I know I cannot see into the hearts of other men either, and like Ms. Haugen, do not wish to judge them except by the measure of their behavior and righteousness.
I stopped using Facebook years and years ago, pretty much after viewing posts that sounded a bit too personal and of little, if any, significance. I didn’t care that someone had just fed their cat or just couldn’t ever get to work on time. But my snobbism didn’t extend to proclaiming Facebook as without purpose or value. It just didn’t have those two characteristics to me. Buyt still, I hopped into a FB writing group doing NoMoWriMo a few years ago. It was kind of fun to “compete” with other writers, all of us trying to get our first-draft novels finished by the end of the month. I was doing something with a purpose, and that made all the difference to me.
There is certainly nothing wrong with people wanting to interact and share with other people. As the great English writer E.M. Forster ended his novel, Howards End, with two words that live on: “Only connect.” It’s not even wrong for a company to need to earn money to support a social media platform where people can connect. What is wrong is when that company puts profits as the sole goal ahead of everything else. There are antecedents of some import behind the acquisition of filthy lucre. And what we have learned from Ms. Haugen is that using that designation when discussing FB’s intent is spot on.
Moreover, she summarized Facebook’s crimes against humanity succinctly in her opening remarks before Congress:
“I’m here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy. The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes.”
Then she went on to prove it, often with the help of well informed US senators. I was mesmerized by this day of testimony, so much so that I watched/listened to it twice, then the “60 Minutes” interview, followed today by articles from The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The end result was positive and gratifying: these senators resolved to do something to counter Facebook’s reckless and endangering influence with our children, in our rent-wide-open American society, and with the foreign countries where it fosters extraordinary division and, indeed, internecine warfare. I saw in those senators’ faces and heard in their words, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it.”
What the hell kind of social media is this? Who, including Zuckerberg, could have imagined these turns of events from something so seemingly benign in the beginning? Or was that his intent; after all, he ripped his ownership out of the hands of the Brothers Winklevoss.
But without letting “Zuck” off the hook, one has to wonder how much money is enough for Facebook, its C-suite and its minions. Apparently never, ever, enough. This is despicable-me, the cry-of-youth, the “I want it all and I want it now” crowd.
This is but one of the fundamental problems plaguing people. There are, and ought to be, limits to growth. Excess is one of the fundamental characteristics we need to pay more attention to, because it’s killing us and our societies and our relationships to others. We humans ought to be further up the food chain by now.
We need to change our mantra from “I want it all and I want it now” to “enough is enough.”