Facebook's "Paid Censorship"
Distorting reality to line its pockets? Check. Censoring good information for same? Check.
With the 2020 US Presidential election coming, Facebook is once again facilitating an attack on society, and the calls are coming from inside the house — aka, the Trump campaign and dark money associated with shadowy Ukrainian and Russian pro-Trump (i.e., pro-authoritarian) actors.
Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, continues to philosophize about “free speech” while American culture burns. He remains ridiculously obtuse in this regard. It appears that greed, ambition, and avarice are his main character traits.
Zuckerberg’s platform amplifies extremism and sidelines normality. There’s money in trumpeting extremism because it makes people mad. They call it “engagement,” but it’s really “enragement.”
What this all leads to for entities pushing good information is what I’ll call “paid censorship,” the result of limiting the spread of information that doesn’t serve Facebook’s bottom line while boosting extreme information that does.
For all of Zuckerberg’s talk of “free speech,” his platform favors speech that earns him money and disfavors speech that does not. He touts “free speech,” but practices “paid censorship.”
Judd Legum, whose “Popular Information” site is worth a subscription, has been tracking all this for years. This weekend, he tweeted the following, which illustrates exactly how Facebook’s “paid censorship” works:
This is the clearest example of constrained distribution I’ve seen yet. The “black boxes” of Facebook, Google, and Twitter make it difficult to see how your distribution is diverted, suppressed, or delayed. Here, Facebook throttled Legum’s post by 93.7% at a minimum because its advertising algorithm didn’t see it as serving Facebook’s bottomline in a sufficiently robust fashion.
Meanwhile, posts that are more inflammatory and outrageous are amplified because they do serve Facebook’s ad business. And bad actors know this is true. Already, Russian accounts have been caught meddling in our society again with divisive messages aimed a Presidential candidates they want to sideline and supporting the President they helped install the first time.
Yesterday, it was announced that 46 state attorneys general are joining forces to investigate Facebook. As the Attorney General of Virginia, Mark Herring, put it:
Given Facebook’s nearly unprecedented influence in so many sectors of the economy and political process, this bipartisan coalition of attorneys general is committed to ensuring that Facebook is complying with the law and meeting its obligations.
For publishers, the message here is the same one I’ve been banging on for a few years — OA does little to ensure access when intermediaries like Facebook, Google, and Twitter effectively hide reliable information from users and substitute unreliable, inflammatory information in its place. This also means that more far-out claims and papers may be getting boosted, something preprint server operators should think about.
We need a reliable information distribution substrate if we’re going to get back on track as a scientific culture, as a nation, and as a planet. Now years after screwing up the UK and the US in 2015-16, Facebook is still a danger.
In the language of PsyOps, Zuckerberg is perhaps the most “useful idiot” in history. But until his form of censorship stops paying off, we can expect Zuckerberg’s “paid censorship” will continue.