Facebook is one of the most important new developments in human history, providing an efficient mechanism for people to connect with other people and find other people.
Facebook makes it possible for a Santorinian ex-pat like myself to connect with his fellow Santorinians on a regular basis.
I love the platform, I am a devoted consumer of Facebook’s. And I want them to succeed.
However, Facebook’s business model has a problem.
In many ways, their model reminds me of the story of the horse and the scorpion. The scorpion asks the horse to cross the river. The horse says: You will kill me. The scorpion says: If I do we will both die. The horse takes the scorpion on his back, and then halfway across the river, the scorpion poisons the horse. The horse says: But now we will both die. And the scorpion says: It could not be helped, it is in my nature.
The scorpion is people full of hate who want to destroy the people creating Facebook.
There are some who argue that that would be a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. And as someone who comes from the Balkans, I know a lot of people with no nose.
But enough with analogies.
Facebook makes money from selling ads to companies that want to find specific people.
And there are two kinds of ads: political and commercial.
Political ads come in two flavors, products that are bought, and stories that are designed to go viral and spread a message.
Facebook’s mission is to connect the world. And the business is to profit from that connection by selling those connections.
To be a universal platform, Facebook must allow anyone to connect to anyone.
And here’s where things get messy.
The bad actors use those connections to push their bad product.
Facebook’s default response is that the consumer must protect himself. The danger is that this kind of thinking created The Third Reich. The consumer can be manipulated and exploited.
The consumer can be manipulated and exploited.
And there is a staggering amount of science that enables bad-actors to do that predictably. At Zynga I met a firm that specialized in exactly that.
And so Facebook must choose to either control the content when it comes in or after the fact.
At Zynga, I watched how I could exploit Facebook channels to get consumers to do whatever I wanted.
Facebook, finally realized that algorithmic approaches to dealing with our exploitation of their channels was impractical and just forcibly shut down our channels.
The problem with shutting down Zynga for Facebook was that it may have alienated some users who only used Facebook to play games. Facebook did a cost-benefit analysis and came to the correct conclusion that the number of people playing games was less than the number of people who would use Facebook and moved on.
Right now they have a similar problem with the Russian Spies.
There is a large audience for hate and lies. And that large audience wants to consume hate and lies. And that hate is being directed to political objectives.
If Facebook were to shut down that content, they may lose users. They would enable the creation of another platform for people who want hate and lies. And their value as a business would decline.
Even if they didn’t lose users, they would lose ad revenue as the spies would use other media to reach people: mail, phone, etc.
On Facebook, I have met an anti-semite who wants all Jews killed. I have seen vile anti-Muslim hate. I have seen comments about Obama and people of color that are appalling.
I will never forget the white female executive unfollowing friend after friend on Facebook because she said: I am not those people.
And the question for Facebook and their team is:
Is growth of the platform worth providing a platform for hate?
And the broader question for the coastal elites creating growth-at-any costs social media platforms:
Are we creating the platform that will destroy us?
And how accountable are we?
In the big media era, I met press barons who said that they would rather have fewer readers and a paper that they could read from cover to cover to their children than have more readers and not be able to read their paper to their children.
I wonder if a universal social media platform is desirable?
And finally, I wonder if this matters at all?
Haters will hate.
People who want to exploit their hate will exist.
And Facebook cannot change that.