Today (10/23) Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of FaceBook, testified in front of The Financial Services Committee of the House of Representatives. Zuckerberg was there to testify both about Libra, the digital currency FaceBook has been getting involved in as well as a settlement Facebook entered with HUD (the department of Housing and Urban Development) over discriminatory ads being purchased and posted on their platform. On the whole, this sounds like an excellent thing for Zuckerberg to be testifying about. But as with the last time the Zuck testified, the questions quickly turned very partisan, and again seemed to want to remove every shred of personal responsibility and accountability that every American citizen should hold.
If you were listening the last time we covered Zuck testifying – I will link to it under the post – but he testified last time about the the role Facebook had in the 2016 election. Today, he was questioned many times about his recent “announcement” that FaceBook would not be fact checking political ads posted on their site, a decision that has drawn varying opinions around the country. Zuckerberg’s reason for this was that he felt American should know which politicians are credible and who is not. Something I agree with wholeheartedly. The flaw I see in his logic is that people don’t like to fact check information on their own, they would rather just believe what they read in one place or dismiss it entirely.
This was made apparent to me during his last testimony when he was grilled over allowing fake news and profiles to sway peoples’ opinions and make people “look stupid”. No mention of the individuals responsibility to check the validity of the information they are taking in before they share it (which everyone in this country very much has). But in the hearing today it was again asked why Zuckerberg and Facebook would allow false information to be posted on their site in the first place? Doesn’t Zuck believe he has some duty to police what people get to take in on Facebook? NO. For Mark Zuckerberg to pre screen what is posted on Facebook for anything other than what is exempt from the first amendment (and obviously terrorism, threats, etc.) would not only be violating our right to information and free speech, but also COMPLETELY removes any sense of personal responsibility that is held for what we CHOOSE to consume. No one is forced to be on Facebook.
No one is forced to friend, like, or follow anyone or anything on Facebook. You can even say you don’t like an ad and you likely won’t see it ever again. But for some reason, when politics and a large tech company are involved every man woman and child on the internet is turned into nothing but a victim to the informational assault of anyone with the money to place an ad. The Washington Post among MANY other news outlets make their living covering the lies of politicians and public officials. And in the world of rapid, almost instant, information that we live in it takes no more than a few clicks to check whether something is true. God forbid, you may have to read an entire article. But I’m pretty sure someone told me once that reading is good for you.
This absolution of personal responsibility and accountability doesn’t stop at political ads, it goes into corporate ads as well. In March of this year Facebook reached a settlement within HUD over slowing discriminatory ads to be purchased and take place on Facebook. These ads were for properties and were targeted at people for their age and location and in some cases ads were hidden from people who could have afforded and needed it. Since then, those options are no longer allowed when placing an ad for something that is covered under the Equal Opportunities Act AND a limited amount of options are available for the way those ads can be targeted. When questioned about this today, there was no mention of the companies who placed these ads or the fact that they had chosen to pay for discriminatory ads on Facebook, only that Zuckerberg and Facebook had allowed them to take place to begin with.
Please do not misunderstand me, certainly those discriminatory ads should not have been allowed to take place on Facebook, but if Facebook is expected to know that these ads were illegal, then so should the companies that placed them. Why does this not matter? Speaking as someone who has payed for ads on Facebook, there are literally hundreds of different options you can select to help tailor your ad, and until March EVERY ad used the same form. It is not by the choice of Facebook that these discriminatory ads were placed, but by the choice of the companies who paid for them.
It concerns me gravely that tech companies have begun to take the blame for situations that could have been avoided or mitigated had someone done what they should have from the beginning. Those are the people we should be blaming for this, not the tech companies who gave them the opportunity. In my opinion, I do not see racism or bias on the side of Zuckerberg simply because he (who also most likely had NOTHING to do with the design of the ad platform) runs a company that allowed people to take out discriminatory ads. I see racism and bias on the part of the companies who placed those ads in the first place. I do not blame Zuckerberg or Facebook for allowing people to post information that is not correct, I blame the people who choose to consume that content, not fact check it, and then share that false information anyway.
This dissolution of personal responsibility is how the general public always has someone else to blame for their problems. That very same dissolution? That’s how we got Trump. We have gone so far from being able to see what role we played in our own problems that we, as an electorate, let a horrible terrible person convince us that HE was the solution because THEY were the problem. Who are they? I don’t know. And neither does he. But in the end it doesn’t matter because “they” can never be “us”. At least until the other party holds the White House. Until we accept and understand our own responsibility for our lives and choices we will never escape this system of partisanship and denial. To improve this country, take responsibility for yourself and the choices you make. That is all that we can control. But once that is done, all else will fall into place.