Clean Up Your Act, Facebook, or We’re Leavingjuin 30, 2020
“I put the dishes in the dishwasher,” my son said to me recently, as if it was a favor rather than something he should do just because.
This prompted me to write to you, Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, with all the irritation of a mother whose last nerves were worked a long time ago when it comes to the abuses that thrive on your platform. I’d like to let you know: You get zero claps for doing a tiny right thing after doing the wrong thing for far too long.
Last week, you announced that you are finally labeling the most egregious dreck that is broadcast on Facebook by President Trump, after years of his escalating behavior. But it’s too little, too late.
And it’s too calculating. You and other Facebook executives keep hauling out the tired line, “We know we have more work to do.” It’s irksome. And you won’t like me when I am irked.
You seem to be shifting toward labeling — after insisting recently to your employees that you would not budge on this — in reaction to a campaign to persuade advertisers to boycott your company, a movement known as Stop the Hate for Profit. After years of other forms of pressure that apparently failed, those who are seeking to force you to change are finally getting traction by focusing on your wallet, knocking billions off your net worth in recent days, as your stock price goes down.
This fast-moving campaign — organized by the N.A.A.C.P., the ADL, Color of Change and others — is aimed directly at Facebook and has been joined by companies like Patagonia, REI and, most significantly, the consumer goods giant Unilever.
Still, other companies, like Starbucks and Coca-Cola, are not joining Stop the Hate, but instead are declaring that they will cut off marketing on all of social media. As if all social media companies are equal. They are not.
Allowing Facebook to get cover in a group will only end up hurting smaller companies like Snap and Twitter, both of which have tried to deal with this problem more actively. It’s not fair to lump them in with you; they have fewer resources to withstand a marketing drought. Since Facebook and Google are the overwhelmingly dominant players in the game of digital advertising, the problem of hate and misinformation flowing on social media is yours to own.
Your stranglehold on the ad business is undeniably the source of your power. I talked recently with some people running businesses that rely on Facebook, all of whom are scared to speak out publicly against your platform. Many compared your service to a bad relationship.
“I really cannot stand them at all,” said a leader of a medium-size company that gets a lot of its leads on Facebook. But while he worries about the damage Facebook is doing to society, he added, “I am going to keep marketing there because I have no choice.”
No choice — that’s certainly why Starbucks did not get rid of its page on Facebook, where it posts content to close to 36 million followers. (Today, for example, you can “start off your day with Cold Brew!”) I don’t blame Starbucks or Coca-Cola or anyone with a business to run for not bailing on Facebook totally; all marketers need Facebook (and its Instagram unit) to operate in today’s media environment.
But I don’t need you, since I am pretty sure that being on Facebook has never helped me at all.
So, it is time to go. After years of inertia, and not much use of Facebook, this week I finally took the first big steps toward leaving, deactivating my personal page and unpublishing my brand page. This was a many-click process in which my decision was questioned by Facebook’s pop-ups a lot more than I wanted my decision to be questioned (ARE YOU SURE? ARE YOU REALLY SURE?). I’m likely soon enough to delete the pages altogether, along with my Instagram account, once I figure out what to do with the material living there like boxes in a digital attic.
As I deactivated, I was asked by Facebook why I was doing it, and I picked “other” from a long menu of reasons, many of which I would have clicked if I could have chosen more than one, including: I have a privacy concern; I don’t feel safe on Facebook; I don’t find Facebook useful.
This column — and the deactivation of my account — is my way of cleaning up my world. But to say I am confident that you, Mark Zuckerberg, will do your part to clean up the rest of the world would be something of an overstatement. Facebook’s still high stock price and your complete control over the company means you can and will continue to do as you please.
And since you are not my kid — yes, I know, lucky you! — there is little I can do about it. Yet I do hope for progress, however painful it is for Facebook, its advertisers and the rest of us.
Already this week, other big platforms have started to make long overdue changes in content policy, including banning an out-of-control Trump community (Reddit) and temporarily suspending Mr. Trump’s account due to “hateful content” (Twitch).
One of the hallmarks of adulthood is the ability to evolve. My son is about to turn 16 (as Facebook did this year), and he’s also learning how to do that, which has put me in the mind of something James Baldwin said: “People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. They pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.”
By which I mean to say, Mark, you need to put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher without my asking, just because.