A young multi-billionaire’s unfettered right to get even richer vs. sensible protections for a fair and honest election.
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stated, unequivocally, that political campaigns have an absolute right to lie on Facebook, as much and as long as their budgets allow. Facebook will continue to deliver personally targeted ads that are completely false. These ads, after a spin through the through Facebook customer profile algorithms, are targeted to influence the demographic most vulnerable. In the case of political ads, this demographic is older white men and they are often vulnerable to provocative lies that stoke their feelings of fear, anger and resentment — “low information voters”, guys like Joe Sixpack who get their news primarily from places like Facebook. There is no law against politicians lying and Facebook claims no responsibility for the damage its massive opinion machine has already done to our democracy. Its policy will continue on into 2020, come what may.
It’s true, of course, that there is no general law against lying, unless you lie under oath before a body that can punish you for perjury. Under limited circumstances a lie that damages someone’s reputation is punishable as libel. There are regulations on the advertising industry that prevent outright lying — the wiggle room in these regulations providing a fertile field for creative geniuses of the advertiser’s art to do interpretative dance in. As a general rule, though, Mr. Trump and Mr. Zuckerberg are absolutely correct, there is no law against simple lying.
Mark Zuckerberg allows incendiary “political” lies to take wing on his supremely influential opinion-sharing web platform, as a way of expanding freedom of speech. He clumsily presents his true aims as lofty ones. Facebook, he says, is dedicated to advancing democracy and “freedom of speech” in the proud tradition of men like Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass. He has one aim, though, being the richest and most powerful man in the world.
If he was a more truthful person, the thirty-five year-old wunderkind might concede that the reason he kisses up to the darkest powers that be is strictly business, all about the bottom line. Zuckerberg is most concerned with increasing his already seventy billion dollar wealth. He knows that his right to unlimited additional billions of dollars depends on nobody regulating his massively lucrative and influential, worldwide business.
Lies are indispensable to ambitious people with shady things to hide. For this reason transparency — sunlight, Justice Brandeis’s best disinfectant for harmful speech– is the most abhorrent thing to the beneficiaries of lies. The most successful spreaders of public lies are also most adept at blotting out sunlight.
Our current president is a reflexively untruthful man. He claims to know more about military strategy than the generals, disputes the findings of American intelligence services, refutes the veracity of reporting that shows statements he made on live TV, brags about his unlimited powers under Article Two of a constitution he has certainly never read and professes expertise in many other things things he knows nothing about.
One thing he does know, probably better than anybody in public life — if you have powerful forces and a ton of money behind you and you lie continually, audaciously and forcefully, you can get away with almost anything — as he has so far. Key to making the lies stick is making people dismiss all news of evidence as “fake”, unfair, biased reporting by corrupt, partisan, dangerous “enemies of the People” who are fucking liars. Liars also try to convince people not to believe what they see with their own eyes.
People with shameful secrets hate leakers, whistleblowers, rats. A disloyal, leaking rat secretly recorded Mark Zuckerberg recently as he candidly addressed his troops at Facebook and the CEO’s comments were made public. Part of the transcript was his response to what would happen to the company if someone like Elizabeth Warren, who expressly seeks to regulate gigantic, unaccountable super-companies like Facebook, becomes the Democratic presidential candidate and wins in 2020. Zuck said they’d bring a lawsuit against the government to prevent any regulation of Facebook’s incredibly lucrative operation:
“Does that still suck for us? Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. That’s not like the position you want to be in. We care about our country and want to work with our government to do good things, but look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.”
What is the thing that is “that existential”? Facebook’s CEO’s absolute God-given American right to make maximum profit by any means necessary. There is no shame in America about a man with thousands of times more money than he could ever spend if he lived a thousand years doing everything in his power to get more wealth. It’s as American as, well, owning other humans to increase your wealth and wiping out people living on valuable land you want for your own.
Like slavery and ‘ethnic cleansing’, the cult of American oligarchs’ (even canny, self-made ones like young Mark Zuckerberg) entitlement to unlimited, unlimitable wealth has to become a relic of a more bestial time — or just stick a fork in any notion of truth, justice and the American way, let alone an inhabitable planet for hundreds of millions of climate refugees.
Trump’s election was largely achieved through his mastery of “Social Media” His innovative, intuitive weaponization of Twitter, aided by his billionaire-backed campaign’s brilliant coup in securing 78,000 surgically targeted votes (gathered from every key district needed for their Electoral College victory), made him the president. Trump in 2020 is, literally, the end of any further illusion of majoritarian democracy in our divided experiment in republican self-rule.
Where does Facebook’s insistence on remaining entirely self-regulated come into Mark Zuckerberg’s drive to become the worlds single richest man? Why not allow a board of some kind to review political ads for easily finable falsehoods? Especially after we learn that political advertising accounts for only a tiny fraction of Facebook’s robust profits. Come on, Zuck.
The potentially lost political ad revenue is clearly not the reason Zuckberg won’t limit unscrupulous politicians’ right to pay to lie their asses off on his platform. That type of corrupt, lying politician is least likely to want to regulate Facebook, they love Facebook as much as Trump claimed to love Wikileaks back in 2016 when he was a candidate, as much as Trump loves America.
The choice between a long, expensive court fight with a president who wants to limit the ability of lying demagogues to use an unregulated, hugely influential public platform to come to power or a lying demagogue president to ensure mutually beneficial business as usual? You decide which of those outcomes sucks less for Free Speech Mark and the rest of us.