Some folks cried "Death to Facebook" while others turned to Twitter during the Facebook blackout earlier this week. Entertaining tweets welcomed newcomers and entertained us longtime Twitter-ists. "Is that (outage) before or after injecting bleach into the CPUs and shining a UV light in all the network ports?" Others referred to ads aimed at young women, "... if Instagram is down, who's gonna constantly try to convince me that my life would be better with lip injections?" I laughed at the tweet suggesting we rename it "social NOTwork," but sighed at hopes that we'd return to a pre-2000 culture. Not gonna happen!
We are addicted to social networks, and they're here to stay despite the odor of corruption. Marketing is the new normal, and piles of money push Facebook and the like into every corner of our lives. The outage was a "follow the money" moment, demonstrating how much businesses depend on Facebook. Facebook downplayed the "networking issue," probably to keep nervous, and maybe enraged, advertisers on board.
In what must be the worst timing for Facebook ever imagined, one of its former product managers, Frances Haugen, testified to federal lawmakers about how profit had been put before any other consideration, including safety. Facebook has countered that Haugen was never part of the Facebook inner circle and is nothing more than a disgruntled employee seeking revenge. But the documents Haugen came loaded with told their own story.
Lawmakers are more sophisticated today than years ago when they didn't know how the company made its money. They were focused on whether certain ideas or individuals should be banned from the platform. Now they're hearing about hidden research about the harmful effects of the platform on our youth. They're astounded by the algorithms that regularly deliver nasty content, firing up users so that advertisers can make more money for themselves and Facebook. Plus, they must have had a fit when Haugen said she was speaking to a congressional committee on Facebook's understaffed security teams. They're supposed to monitor countries using the platform to spy on each other and run disinformation campaigns. And Facebook is apparently doing a lousy job of protecting against threats emerging from China, Iran, and Russia.
There appears to be an unusual consensus among lawmakers that social networks require closer attention and regulation. Even Facebook agrees. But as the consumers of social networks, we all need to better understand the impact of these online platforms. I've written in the past about networks that put forth violent and racist ideas, recruiting the vulnerable and creating a dangerous divide among us. And while regulation may affect them and the most egregious of processes on social networks like Facebook, it is up to all of us to protect ourselves.
Try to imagine what social networks like Facebook are going to look like in five years, and your head will spin off into space. So if we're to make sure our future isn't hijacked by a "profits first" philosophy, we need to not only educate ourselves but also upcoming generations. Let's take a lesson from advertising majors who not only learn how the media influences consumers, they also study ethics.
Majors in arts, engineering and political science should also know how ethics combine with the marketing world. They'll be its leaders. And today's influencers must model the best possible outcome, not one that stinks.
Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at firstname.lastname@example.org.