Is Facebook evil?

All those wows might not be so harmless


We all have Facebook. But Facebook’s dominance may be damaging you and society in more ways than one. In the early days of Facebook we all rushed to join. We’re distracted by all those opportunities to stalk people’s photos, check your crush’s relationship status, and play FarmVille. We fear losing the admittedly rather good Facebook Messenger, or missing out on the event invites that seem to be the only way more than about four of our generation arrange any kind of gathering.

But we’ve barely noticed that Facebook has quickly become in many respects as rich and powerful as many states.

Has Facebook gone over to the dark side? Has it gone full evil?

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 16.15.22

Is the laughter button actually a villainous cackle?

We’re addicts

An obvious problem, but one worth emphasising. We spent far too much time on this site. The worst thing about the addiction is it’s actually quite dull.

How many of the people you have on Facebook are you actually closely interested in? Hours are frittered away mindlessly scrolling through inanity. Research from California State University suggests that scrolling like this affects our brains in a similar manner to Cocaine. The good news? It’s easier to quit than Bolivian marching powder. But there’s still plenty of research showing that our constant screen addiction, fed by Facebook, and especially our need to check it just before going to sleep, is damaging our sight, our sleep and our health. Such problems afflicted more than 50 per cent of people in one study.

Tax

Admittedly not the only technology company to have exploited globalisation to minimise its tax bill, as the EU’s recent order that Apple pay Ireland €13 Billion in back taxes shows, but Facebook is another company that exploits differences in tax laws between states. Facebook also has large parts of its operations based in Ireland and is under investigation by the US’s IRS for its movement of assets to Ireland. In 2014 Facebook paid just £4,327 in tax in the UK, and just a few days ago Austria’s Chancellor said that every sausage stand in Vienna ‘pays more tax in Austria than a multinational corporation’.

Privacy

Data is big in the Facebook world, and while security settings have definitely improved in recent years, every so often there is a news story about Facebook’s data use that chills you slightly. Whether it is suggestions that Facebook tracks posts and messages you don’t end up publishing/sending and the fact that if you do delete your account they make no promises about actually deleting your data, Facebook don’t exactly behave like a company anxious to avoid the overhyped Orwellian comparisons that spring to mind. As you may or may not know, Facebook bought WhatsApp two years ago, WhatsApp recently announced it is to begin sharing the data of its 1 billion users with its parent company.

There's more to privacy than this

There’s more to privacy than this.

So what right? WhatsApp and Facebook may themselves have fairly secure data protection procedures, but many of the apps you link up with on Facebook do not. When you play a game on Facebook or use a website’s Facebook Comment or Share button that company automatically gains access to your public profile, age range, and full list of friends, among other things. Meanwhile, Facebook and WhatsApp will be scurrying away your data to make you an ever more complex advertising profile.

Facebook could be damaging democracy

Anyone notice how few Leave voters seemed to be on Facebook? And if you’re a young, liberal American it can often seem like Trump voters come from snake holes in the ground. There’s a reason for that. Facebook’s algorithm sees what sort of articles and news you click on and pushes more stuff like that towards you. This is more than just a ‘social media bubble’ that means you see political posts from friends who odds are mostly share many of your values and points of view.

Worse, there’s no quality control on these posts. Facebook professes not to be in the news business, so makes no distinction between news sites or their reliability. When Facebook changed their algorithm recently, a fake news story about a Fox News presenter made it to the top of the Trending Topics section.

This is in marked contrast to the pre-Facebook age where, even if people read different newspapers and watched different television news, there were generally accepted facts around which political debate was constructed. Now 62% of people or more get a large portion of their news from social media.

Take a look at this handy graphic showing how Liberal and Conservative Facebook users receive their news through the Facebook newsfeed in America. This isn’t good for the standard of political debate, if there are fewer generally accepted facts around which the discussion is centred then the quality of the debate doesn’t just decline, but it can actively contribute to more extreme.

Finally, there is some really disturbing shit on Facebook 

ReturnOfKings pic

I thought this was satire. It isn’t.

We took a quick browse to see if we could find some weird stuff. Took about thirty seconds to find the above post. Whatever isn’t inane can range from the weird (there’s a Japanese Facebook group for people to meet up to clean public toilets as a hobby) to the plain disturbing. In July Facebook finally shut down a group with more than 200,000 members where men posted their ex-girlfriends’ numbers and encouraged strangers to text dick pics to them. A replacement, private, group still exists.

No thanks.

No thanks.

You could argue that these groups provide an outlet for people with bizarre hobbies or beliefs, and are part of the empowering nature of the internet. But really, who on earth wants to encourage the inexpert cleaning of public lavatories?

Is Facebook evil? Quite possibly. Moot point, though as I’m not giving it up anytime soon, and I doubt you will either.