Facebook has 2.45 billion monthly users. Given that reach, it’s hard to classify Facebook as anything other than a mass media outlet. Compare Facebook’s reach to some of the most-viewed television broadcasts:
- 600-650 million people worldwide watched the Apollo 11 moon landing live on TV (about 20% of the world’s population in 1969)
- 750 million watched Prince Charles and Lady Diana marry in 1981
- 2 billion-plus people watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing (about one-third of the world’s population in 2008)
In 2017, Mark Zuckerberg told the first Facebook Community Summit, “Our full mission statement is: Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. That reflects that we can’t do this ourselves, but only by empowering people to build communities and bring people together.”
How’s that working out for us?
Sasha Baron Cohen took Facebook to task last week with his speech at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calling Facebook “the greatest propaganda machine in history.” Published in full by The Guardian, the speech was shared on the social media platform, to mixed reviews.
“Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others — they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged — stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear … On the Internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.”
My Facebook comment about the speech: “Why shouldn’t social media platforms be held to the same standards as other content publishers?”
“But they’re not content publishers … they’re conduits for publishers. On FB, you and I and Joe and all kinds of media are the publishers. Think of the phone companies. They can’t be held responsible for what people say over their systems.”
“I guess that depends on whether you put the emphasis on social or media.”
And of course, most phone conversations are private (at least for now) while most Facebook posts are not.
I sent The Guardian’s publication of Cohen’s speech to my children, two of whom have given up their Facebook accounts. My daughter replied,
“Did you learn about this on Facebook? If so, irony is dead.”
Actually, I did. RIP Irony.