Venture capitalist and technology consultant McNamee (The New Normal: Great Opportunities in a Time of Great Risk, 2014, etc.) turns a hard eye on Facebook, a company in which he invested early.
Not long before the 2016 election, writes the author, he got the sense that something wasn’t quite right with Facebook’s general run of posts. He saw “a surge…of disturbing images, shared by friends, that originated on Facebook Groups ostensibly associated with the Bernie Sanders campaign,” all of them containing “deeply misogynistic depictions of Hillary Clinton.” This flew in the face of Sanders’ conduct, as did Facebook’s allowing a slew of “inorganic” propaganda promoting such things as Brexit. All of this led McNamee to the conclusion that social media is a more effective tool for spreading messages of discord, hatred, and fear than harmony—or, as he writes, “Facebook has managed to connect 2.2 billion people and drive them apart at the same time.” His warnings to Facebook’s executives, including the fellow he calls Zuck, have gone largely ignored, while Facebook has promoted algorithms favoring big-money advertisers that rely on exploiting the private data of its users. Even given this, and even given Facebook’s “monopoly power,” few users seem quick to shed the service or to acknowledge their addiction to it. More, such internet platforms “pollute the public square by empowering negative voices at the expense of positive ones," turning the free-speech mandate of the internet’s pioneers into a forum for bullying and bullhorns. Against all this, McNamee prescribes a diet that includes not buying into the vitriol as well as erasing one’s Facebook history and not using Google because of its exploitative data-collection policies, instead using neutral search engines that do not collect data—as well as limiting one’s social media time to a few minutes a day, recognizing that these platforms are fine examples of the law of diminishing returns.
A well-reasoned and well-argued case against extractive technology.