“Social media can be detrimental to mental health as well as democracy.” Photo: Firmbee.com/Unsplash

“Social media can be detrimental to mental health as well as democracy.” Photo: Firmbee.com/Unsplash

Facebook: what happens when a company has more power than countries do

Best way to limit Facebook’s power is choosing not to use it

I’ve always had a bad feeling about Facebook.

Maybe it’s because I listened to too much Rage Against the Machine and read 1984 in high school, but the idea of one company controlling so much of how we communicate and live our lives has never really seemed like a good idea to me.

Now with the Facebook Papers coming as the latest blow to the social media/advertising giant, more and more people are starting to come to that realization.

Briefly, the Facebook Papers are these internal documents that came out last week showing how people who worked at Facebook realized that their company was a major cause of the Jan. 6 coup attempt in Washington, D.C. The thousands of pages go much further than that, discussing human trafficking, not taking action even though Facebook was aware it was being used to incite violence around the world, and the addictive quality of it’s algorithm — which has also been shown to be bad for people’s mental health.

RELATED: Most Canadians believe Facebook harms their mental health: survey

Now CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to move forward with a new name and a new focus on what he is calling the “metaverse” — a shared virtual space for users to interact — or basically a way to have everybody logged in to a Facebook-branded (or whatever they end up calling it) experience full of advertisements all the time.

It seems to me that creating a video game-like “reality” full of ads and algorithms that force extreme and divisive content on people is not the right move at this point.

People use Facebook and Facebook properties (Instagram, Snapchat, Oculus and more) all over the world. Facebook claimed that 2.89 billion people used the platform as of September 2021 (roughly two Chinas worth of people) and has a market cap of over 1 trillion dollars (just lower than the GDP of Indonesia). However, this is not a country. This is a company. There is one person who owns this, and even though he says they want to act in the best interests of democracy, the only real accountability Facebook has is to its shareholders.

In democracies, governments are chosen by the people and have to represent those people who elect them. If they do a bad job and make enough people unhappy, they do not win the next election. Companies don’t act like that. Companies like Facebook act more like authoritarian empires. They get to make the decisions, and while they can listen to their people they don’t have to. The goal of a mega corporation is to make money, and Facebook is very good at that.

While these big issues may seem far away from Campbell River, Facebook’s bad influence can be found right here at home. The Campbell River Rant and Rave page, for example, is the biggest community discussion forum in the area. However, it has somehow turned into a slog of conspiracy theories, racism, climate change denial and the occasional review of a local service or business. This is because Facebook naturally wants to push the most divisive and inflammatory content because that is what people click on, and that is what keeps people on the site for longer, making Facebook more money.

The Facebook Papers came out as the US Congress is debating whether or not to break up the massive company before it gets too much power. Whistleblower Frances Haugen also spoke to UK officials earlier this week about the company. Ottawa has also been under pressure to do something about Facebook.

Facebook’s power comes from those 2.9 billion users — which almost all readers of this article doubtlessly are — and the thing is, you don’t have to log in (at least until they make the metaverse).

Marc Kitteringham is a Black Press reporter.