Dear Mr. Zuckerberg: the problem is not the Internet, it is Facebook


Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

I read with great interest your message Monday on Facebook and celebrates 15 years to help people connect with others through a series of frames on a blue background.

Let me add my name to the list of those who are impressed by what you have built. Driven by a series of ideals and a number of smart codes, you have steadily built a money machine that has also built up remarkable influence all over the world.

I urge people to think about the power of Facebook: 2.3 billion users write in more than 100 languages; nearly $ 17 billion in revenues in just the fourth quarter of 2018; nearly $ 59 billion in revenue for the whole of 2018; a market capitalization of $ 484 billion in January 2019. You've built all this in just 15 years. These are amazing figures and they appeal to the talents of you and your employees.

That is why I am struck by your Facebook message. You do not seem to recognize how much power you have built up, nor the extent to which you represent a club of billionaires and companies that have steadily concentrated their power over the past fifty years, with a steady acceleration of that concentration over the past 15 years.

Your message not only ignores your power, it also denies it. You repeat a myth that blended in 2003 as truth and wisdom when you came from Harvard to pursue your dream. At the time you had no reason to believe that networks of powerless people could forge bonds through social media and threaten established authorities. By 2019 you should know better than still to believe this nonsense.

"Many of the experiences of people in the past were defined by large hierarchical institutions – governments, mass media, universities, religious organizations – that provided stability but were often remote and inaccessible," you write. "If you wanted to make progress, you would slowly work up, if you wanted to start something new or spread a new idea, it would be more difficult without the blessing of these institutions." Our current century is more defined by networks of people who have the freedom to to communicate with whom they want and the opportunity to easily share ideas and experiences. "

You realize that you run one of those colossal institutions, right? Your company hosts "networks of people", but they work on your terms, managed by your rules and algorithms. Your company also employs powerful lobbyists, retired politicians and former journalists to carry out your will in Washington, Brussels, New Delhi, Brasilia, Canberra, Ottawa, Dublin and London. Your employees actively helped nationalist leaders such as Donald Trump, Narendra Modi and Rodrigo Duterte to take power.

Perhaps the most confusing of your claims is this: "As people's networks replace traditional hierarchies and reform many institutions in our society – from government to business, media to communities and more – there is a tendency for some people to regret this change, to overly emphasize the negative, and in some cases go so far as the shift to empowering people in the ways in which the Internet and these networks do, is usually harmful to society and democracy. "

This is an unfair and ahistorical statement. "People's networks" have not replaced "traditional hierarchies". Ask Osama bin Laden how diffuse networks do against entrenched power centers. Oh yeah. You can not. Instead, ask the networks of people who flee West Myanmar to refugee camps in Bangladesh because "traditional hierarchies" – Myanmar's Buddhist clergy and the military junta – have declared a campaign of genocide against them using the functions of Facebook of which you claim that they have liberated the world.

What we regret are the demonstrated anti-democratic, inhumane, hateful and violent forces that hijack your service and cause great damage to the world. The problem is Facebook, not "the internet".

By turning the focus away from Facebook to & # 39; the internet & # 39; you try to fool us by mixing the two. The fact is that the structure and function of Facebook is at odds with the ideology of the internet. The internet is open, configurable, distributed and based on open code. Facebook is nothing of the kind. No one who, like me, was in favor of the values ​​of the internet before Facebook ruined everything, can be fooled by your rhetorical trick.

So once again congratulations on being rich and powerful. To do that, yet be so clueless about how the world works is an astonishing achievement. If Facebook really strives to make humanity more informed and more aware of itself, then there may be some work left. Can I introduce some books? They do not have targeted ads. But they provide a lot of knowledge in an efficient and resilient technological system.

Siva Vaidhyanathan is a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and the author of antisocial media: how Facebook decouples us and undermines democracy (Oxford University Press, 2018).