Social media giant Facebook continues to collect public relations troubles, as the company’s handling of Russian election hacking and cavalier attitude toward people’s private information continues to spiral.
Most recently, a New York Times investigation went into detail about the company’s effort to combat bad news, including its hiring of a Republican opposition research shop that tried to tie Facebook critics to billionaire George Soros. Initially, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg denied knowledge of Facebook’s work with that company, Definers. But she has since acknowledged that she did know of the firm.
That latest development has led to intense criticism of Sandberg, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Timothy Lee of Ars Technica argues that Facebook is far from the positive force Zuckerberg says it is. Lee writes:
One defense of Facebook is that the company is just giving users what they want. And that’s true—but only in the sense that casinos give heavy gamblers what they want. Facebook peddles the information equivalent of junk food, relying on people’s addictive tendencies to maximize consumption. It’s a perfectly legal business strategy, but it’s not a particularly noble one.
Zuckerberg argues that Facebook is a positive force in the world because it “gives more people a voice.” But I’m old enough to remember what the Internet was like before Facebook came along gold rush slots. In 2003, there were lots of ways for people to express themselves online. Facebook didn’t invent online discussion. It wasn’t the first site for photo or video sharing. If Facebook disappeared from the Internet tomorrow, people would still have plenty of ways to make their voices heard.
And things are likely to get worse. Last week, the British Parliament moved to seize company papers related to its turning over of private user data to Cambridge Analytica. According to The Guardian:
The cache of documents is alleged to contain significant revelations about Facebook decisions on data and privacy controls that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It is claimed they include confidential emails between senior executives, and correspondence with Zuckerberg.
Damian Collins, the chair of the culture, media and sport select committee, invoked a rare parliamentary mechanism to compel the founder of a US software company, Six4Three, to hand over the documents during a business trip to London. In another exceptional move, parliament sent a serjeant at arms to his hotel with a final warning and a two-hour deadline to comply with its order. When the software firm founder failed to do so, it’s understood he was escorted to parliament. He was told he risked fines and even imprisonment if he didn’t hand over the documents.
“We are in uncharted territory,” said Collins, who also chairs an inquiry into fake news. “This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation. We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest.”