Why Facebook is so dangerous

This argument is often repeated in conventional media, and I think is influenced by the fact that the internet is destroying the business models of newspapers and television stations.
The weakness of these arguments is that they contrast the ‘filter bubbles’ of the internet with an entirely imagined public sphere of discussions between fairly represented different views. But in fact that public sphere does not and has never existed.

The linked article sort-of acknowledges this - that television channels like Fox News are also filter bubbles - but maintains that the internet is worse. But just look at the weakness of the argument at this point! And it’s misconceived: the really dangerous filter bubbles in conventional media are not the particular political slants of individual newspapers or channels, but around the fact that almost all of it is either owned or financed by wealthy individuals and corporations, either directly of through advertising, or by governments run by parties also reliant on and subservient to wealthy individuals and corporations. Conventional media is, to a significant extent, one big filter bubble! - but one just as invisible to people who don’t think ‘outside the box’ as the internet’s algorithms.

But the internet - even Facebook - at least opens up the possibility of following genuinely alternative voices like Novara Media, Jonathan Cook, New Economics Foundation - that would simply have no presence at all in the days of the press barons.


The reason that I think FB is more dangerous Geof is because it is interactive. Fox News is “only” in broadcast mode but FB has a nice little positive feedback loop for nutcases, “likes”, groups, likeminded feeds from fellow FB nutters, etc. Plus nutcases are more engaged than normal people which drive FB’s metrics which drives their advertising revenue.


Click bate nutcases make too much money for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc, they are badly policed, can say what they like and almost protected at times, but then it’s almost a way of life nowadays.
People make an obscene amount of money from click bait nowadays.

The interactivity is both strength and weakness. We are engaged in interaction now - enjoying it, and learning together. Isn’t this better than being passively fed the absurd and truly dangerous ideas of Murdoch, Dacre or the Barclay brothers? Or the bland conformity of the BBC?

The thing about Facebook is that all human life is there - of course there are groups of nutters - but also groups with consistently high levels of discussion. I see it as more like a packed pub in an English village than as anything very sinister - there’s always some loud chauvinist standing at the bar, sounding off to anyone unlucky enough to catch his tipsy eye - but you can generally also find a welcoming like-minded table and some good craic.
Or you could spend your evening at the conventional mass media lecture - no questioning the lecturer, of course, and certainly no discussion!


I’m a bit surprised by this Geof. It’s not really comparable to a case of a lone annoying nutter at the bar when Facebook has enabled a genocide. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2018/10/15/technology/myanmar-facebook-genocide.amp.html

Then there is Cambridge analytica…

In addition to that the tendancy of online discussion to be combative doesn’t really tend towards conviviality.

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The idea that FB along with other forms of popular social media are ‘harmless’ spaces where people with differing viewpoints can have convivial discussions on any subject is so far from reality.


The Myanmar link is paywalled Marijkeh - but I’ve worked in Myanmar, and have many friends there - my Facebook feed has actually been full of their posts opposing the coup for months - they regard it as a vital way of getting information out of cities, regions, the country, etc (when possible) - also as a matter of fact the roots of the coup go back long before Facebook actually existed - indeed to British colonialism - and in part to the way conventional mass media was previously controlled.

In a way this illustrates my point pretty well - which isn’t that social media is ‘harmless’, but that its both good and bad, whereas conventional mass media is more generally bad. I actually get the real news about Myanmar direct from people I know and trust who really are out on the streets there - not filtered through some American journalist’s prejudices - but equally, of course, the generals are trying to use it (or moreover control access to it) for their own nefarious purposes, but they absolutely control almost all the conventional media.

The real problem with social media is in fact identical to that with conventional media: mega-corporations have been allowed to get control of much of it, either directly or indirectly (through the power of their advertising spend or political influence). They are the loud boor at the bar - but there are still many quiet corners (like Survive France) where in fact people do have convivial discussions - whereas in conventional media you’re generally stuck with the loud boors!

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I don’t agree, if it is a pub then it has managed to close down hundreds of thousands of awesome, open, searchable other pubs in an attempt to take over the internet. The fact that everything is hidden in groups AND non-searchable I think is dangerous.


Yes - that’s the problem of mega-corporations being allowed to get control of much of the internet - the same situation as in conventional media (or in pubs - that’s precisely what Wetherspoons actually do!).

Why? You yourself contribute to the hidden ‘Lounge’ group here Tory.
But isn’t this actually just the same mega-corporation problem? The pub boor would be dangerous if he had a big enough platform. In fact he already does - his name is Rupert Murdoch, Tim Wetherspoon, etc!

Yes but all her posts on here are not hidden and cannot be searched :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

But you miss the point: the conversations between power-brokers in conventional media boardrooms and backrooms are also hidden and unsearchable. The question we were discussing (if you go back to my and John’s original exchange) has never been whether every aspect of social media is wholly good or bad, but whether it’s better or worse than conventional media.

My point is this: had mega-corporations not been allowed to gain control of either social or conventional media - even if the actually existing US antitrust legislation had been properly applied - both would have been much better. But even as things stand, there’s still more room for freedom of speech and differing perspectives on the internet than in conventional media.
What’s really dangerous is not Facebook or social media as such - but mega-corporation control and marketisation of all aspects of our lives.

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@Geof_Cox But the title of the thread is ‘Why is Facebook so dangerous’ EDITED- Wrote this as you were also replying

I still think that holds true. Yes it is a mega-corporation and the idea of the village pub analogy just doesn’t hold in my view. Well maybe it is true if by village you mean a kind of mean-spirited parochial place given to witch-hunts.

You have been decrying mainstream media but (and this isn’t just Facebook’s fault-even if they have been more successful than many others) the demise of print media and the rise of click-bait reporting has resulted in a great loss especially of local investigative journalism and the holding to account of vested interests.

An apathetic, demotivated electorate are made more cynical and mistrusting precisely because of all the fake news that abounds on Facebook.

*Clearly I am in a very cheerful mood today :laughing:


All social media should come with a health warning IMO, the problems encountered by ‘ptf’ highlight why it can be dangerous.


I was thinking more of the interaction with FB itself, or at least that AI behind it Geof. Taking your country pub anaology. Everyone in the pub is under surveillance, every interaction is recorded and analysed. Every drink you order is fed back to the drink manufacturer and different types of drinks are pushed at you and you reaction logged and added to your profile and the profiles of those you are chatting to. Your attitudes and opinions are logged. You’re open to undisclosed experiments on how you (and different groups) react to different types of “news”. This has happened. Comparisons are made between everyone in the pub and logged. Worst of all, when you leave the pub it’s already been decided who you will bump into on the way home. Plus the surveillance will continue everywhere you go even though you’ve left the pub.

Imaging Lukashenko, Orban, Erdoğan or even Trump with that sort of data.

I think it’s difficult to grasp and impossible to overstate just how dangerous FB is.


I think we’re at a number of cross-purposes in this discussion.

The internet in general (rather than Facebook in particular) is undermining conventional print and broadcast media business models. This has meant the loss of some investigative journalism capacity - but I doubt whether there has been a net loss - indeed, I’m sure there has been a net gain of genuinely independent research and comment. I’ve mentioned some I use, like the excellent Novara Media, but the internet is in fact replete with all kinds of good stuff - the Byline Times is often linked here for it’s excellent brexit coverage - The Ferret is a good more local example - but there are literally thousands of a much higher quality than the old local rags, which were generally owned by big business anyway. And apart from these there are millions of ordinary people on the streets of Yangon - or in any other news situation or crisis point - reporting the unfiltered truth directly.

John’s points about ‘surveillance capitalism’ also relate to the internet in general rather than Facebook in particular - though I agree Facebook is among the worst offenders. But I still feel I have more choice about this than I do with conventional media. There’s always the option of not using either - but with conventional media this is pretty much your only option - at least with the internet, including Facebook to a large extent, you can control whether they track you, put adverts in your feed, etc.

Yes the internet giants or malicious people can find out a lot about some people online - but isn’t this largely a function of the fact that we now have a voice? Conventional media knew comparatively little about individuals precisely because it gave them no say.

What concerns me is misdiagnosing the problem: it’s not social media - not even any one large provider - but the fact that there are such over-sized providers in any industry that is the real problem.
All natural monopolies are a disaster in private hands - all companies that grow too large and powerful are dangerous - the problem lies in the unregulated form of capitalism that enables them, whether they are internet giants or press barons or monolithic pub chains.

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Interesting footnote…
I discovered in Peston’s book on brexit - WTF - that Cummings indeed had the capacity to target particular voters very precisely on Facebook, but actually largely eschewed this in favour of blanket ads on Facebook and elsewhere that simply lied. He didn’t use the ‘surveillance capitalism’ data because it would actually have been less effective than just using the bad old press and politicians’ strategy of… barefaced lying! I thought that put the moral panic over data collection in a whole new light. (And revealed Cummings as no cleverer than anybody else - just more ruthless.)

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The ‘seniors’ thing is of course a bit out of date - it’s actually more seniors that actually use Facebook now - my kids in the their teens and 20s don’t use it at all - they’re all on social networks I’ve hardly heard of.

I do have a soft spot for TikTok mind you - since it’s users booked most of the seats in a Trump rally then didn’t turn up, leaving Trump speaking to an empty stadium.

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I must say I found Peston’s book such a disappointment I don’t watch him anymore.

If Cummings didn’t use targeted ads then IMO it either means he realised a scatter gun was good enough or he lacked the insight to realise how cost effective targeted ads are or the FB tools/data weren’t yet available.

FB now have tools that allow advertisers to target their existing customers AND/OR people with attitudes/traits/preferences/etc./etc. LIKE their existing customers. In a close run referendum or election you don’t need to tip many over to your side or discourage too many on the other side to not vote to swing the election. Yoy don’t need to tell 50M people about “taking back control” or £350m a week for the NHS. You just need to very clinically target the gullible and swing voters.

For example, someone who is a member of one or more conspiracy theory groups. It’s a fair bet that they are open to manipulation.