BOB GARFIELD This is On the Media, I'm Bob Garfield. Even if the Federal Trade Commission and most of the state's attorneys general succeed in breaking up Facebook, other questions remain about the ongoing damage from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Harms unaddressed by even the most modern interpretations of antitrust law. The invasion of privacy on a global scale, the manipulation of politics, the manipulation of emotions and behavior, the proliferation of toxic content. No matter how creative our legal interpretations, none of that is the stuff of antitrust law, nor have we any reason to expect action from Facebook itself. Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly professed concern, promised to be better and gestured toward self-regulation. But the structural hazards within Facebook's algorithm and very business model have not been addressed, merely window dressing. Its oversight board, for example, first floated two and a half years ago as a guarantor of independent governance, has only now this month revealed its first so-called cases for consideration.
CAROLE CADWALLADR At present, the only thing that Facebook is allowing this board to adjudicate on is take down decisions later. All of these other cases, which just do not qualify them, Facebook says, cannot be heard by the board, including the issue of what actually stays up on Facebook.
BOB GARFIELD Carol Cadwallader is a journalist for The Guardian and The Observer, who became a Pulitzer finalist last year for her reporting on the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Late this year, she became a co-founder of the self-proclaimed real Facebook Oversight Board, a shadow court organized by academics and advocates to actually address the harms I've mentioned. A few weeks back, they announced their first three cases. Number one, former Trump campaign manager and former Cambridge Analytica board vice president Steve Bannon.
CAROLE CADWALLADR A month ago, Steve Bannon on Facebook Live, called for the beheading of Dr. Fauci. He said that he wanted to see his head on a spike. You know, a lot of people by any reasonable standard would say that that is in breach of Facebook's own terms and conditions and he should have been struck off the site. That didn't happen. And Mark Zuckerberg has very much resisted that.
BOB GARFIELD You can argue that head on a pike is more colloquialism than threat, but there is no arguing that Facebook at its worst isn't an incitement machine. We can look at the pogrom against Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar ginned up by the nation's military on Facebook and carried out by Buddhist nationalists who were given free basic Internet access by Facebook in its attempt to corner the Internet market there. Or consider, for another example, the deadly shooting this summer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
NEWS REPORT The key question here is how did people like Kyle Rittenhouse know to go to Kenosha on the night of August the 25th? The loved ones of those who died in Kenosha say Facebook is partly to blame for allowing posts that were mobilizing militias and activating white supremacists. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT Specifically, this event posted by the militia group Kenosha Guard asking for patriots to take up arms and defend Kenosha from evil thugs. Some users responded with open threats of violence, one writing, I fully plan to kill looters and rioters tonight. Concerned users reported the page, but Facebook did not take it down.
ZUCKERBERG It was largely an operational mistake. The contractors know the reviewers who the initial complaints were funneled to, didn't basically didn't pick this up. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD If Zuckerberg mistakes were made excuse sounds familiar. That's what Nixon spokesman said too. Still, Facebook is among the defendants in a federal lawsuit from four people who protested that night, including the surviving partner of the late Anthony Huber, Hannah Gittings.
CAROLE CADWALLADR When Kyle Rittenhouse started shooting people, her partner incredibly bravely he was unarmed, went to try and tackle him, and he was shot dead. Hannah feels that Facebook is complicit in this white supremacist violence, is the equivalent of the meeting house where the white supremacist met up and swapped notes and announced where they'd be converging and advertised for new recruits. And to talk about the fact that her partner died as a result of an operational mistake. It's just so dehumanizing.
BOB GARFIELD The plaintiffs will have to settle for a federal court of law because Facebook's Supreme Court will give them no hearing. Nor will the censored critics of authoritarian regimes have their day in Facebook court, and so theirs is the real oversight board's second case.
NEWS REPORT Vietnam has threatened to shut down Facebook in the country if the social media giant refuses to bow to government pressure and censor more political content on its platform. The company complied with the government request in April to increase censorship of anti-state posts for some 60 million Vietnamese users. [END CLIP]
CAROLE CADWALLADR Facebook, faced with a billion pounds of lost revenue, complied with their wishes. And they've taken down the accounts of these journalists and dissidents. Again, in the terms and conditions of Facebook's oversight board that these people are not allowed to appeal to the oversight board. I think it raises a really interesting case about the relationship between authoritarian governments and Facebook and the compromises and backroom deals that are being made. I think a lot of other countries around the world are looking at what's happened in Vietnam and sort of seeing something that they might want to try in the future.
BOB GARFIELD Other countries. And as it turns out, Facebook itself. When Cadwalladr is real oversight board, was launching the company she says tried to stifle their free speech by bigfooting a nonprofit donor.
CAROLE CADWALLADR Facebook discovered that this project, the real Facebook oversight board, was in progress and a PR guy from using corporate communications rang our funders Aluminite and harangued them basically and asked why they were funding this and suggested that they shouldn't be. And they were quite shocked by that. We were quite shocked at that because remember, the oversight board is meant to be independent from Facebook. Here we had the kind of this heavying coming from Facebook trying to cut off the funding of a new journalistic enterprise. You know it was bizarre and sort of corporate bullying. And then it's gone on from there, actually. Our website got taken off the Internet as a result of a takedown notice from Facebook. They came back to us and told us that was an accident.
BOB GARFIELD So many accidents. And also for Cadwalader, a sort of heartbreak over the very existence of Facebook's oversight panel. The members, she says, are respectable scholars, yet they have signed on to an enterprise of limited scope, crisscrossed with red lines.
CAROLE CADWALLADR I really, really worry about institutional capture. I worry about tech money everywhere. I worry about the fact they won't even reveal how much the people on the oversight board are being paid. I worry about the fact that one of the most pre-eminent First Amendment scholars in America, Robert Post, is being paid two hundred thousand dollars a year to be one of its trustees. I worry about the fact that they got a head of the human rights school in Oxford University to be another of its trustees. All across America, there are academics at universities who, if they don't depend upon tech money, they depend upon access to data or access to be able to research this stuff. So there is a whole industry which is supporting big tech. There is a very smart column the other day by Emily Bell. On the oversight board, she said, what would happen if everybody just withdrew their labor from the platforms if all of these academics and journalists and NGOs just ignored them, put their tools down? All these fact checking organizations, you know, they all lend legitimacy to the platforms. We become part of this industry.
BOB GARFIELD It's a cliche at this point to call big social media the social experiment that it is. But still the human trials continue and human institutions totter all with Facebook's knowledge. In the aftermath of November's election, it seemed as if Facebook finally realized that its algorithm and the disinformation it feeds might be another accident waiting to happen and experiment about to spin out of control. According to The New York Times Kevin Roose, reliable news sources like the Times and NPR suddenly displaced incendiary nonsense in what momentarily relieved Facebook employees called Nicer News feeds. Yeah, that didn't last long.
CAROLE CADWALLADR It's one person like literally flicking a switch and then they flip the switch back on again. I mean, it's absurd when you think about it, but I think we just because this is all happening so so gradually we are the frog which is being boiled, we just sort of accept this stuff. But along the way, it has almost destroyed a number of our democracy's. Yours being arguably still in the firing line there.
BOB GARFIELD This is a reference to the 2016 presidential election in which Russian hackers and domestic political campaigns used Facebook behavioral data, some released by Facebook illegally to sow division and suppress the African-American vote. As we enter what may become an era of antitrust struggle between the marbled, flawed government offices and the Disneyland-esque campus at one hacker way, it helps to think about the adversaries. A few hundred lawyers and do gooder watchdogs versus not a wayward monopoly, but a dangerous, willful, obscenely wealthy rogue state: age 16, population 2.7 billion, body count unknown. The so-called real Facebook oversight board and the rest of us are taking on real power. Yes, David slew Goliath, but that's just a story, isn't it? Coming up, the threat is worse than you think. This is On the Media.
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