Why I’m boycotting Facebook until they clean up their act

An employees works at a computer inside the offices of Facebook in Paris, France on Nov. 29, 2010. (Tomas van Houtryve / VII Network)

Why I’m boycotting Facebook until they clean up their act

Earlier this year, Facebook’s worldwide user base crested 1.7 billion people. That is equivalent to over 1 in 5 people on the planet. To put that in perspective, there are now more Facebook users than motor vehicles in use on Earth. If Facebook were a religion, it would have already passed Islam to become the world’s second largest. Stop and think about that for a moment. How much are world events influenced by religious communities or the impact of driving motor vehicles? Do you spend more time on Facebook than praying or driving?

With that in mind, you should also know that according to a 2016 report by the Pew Research Center, 62% of Americans now get their news from social media, mainly Facebook.

Facebook OfficeThe numbers in the report reveal that Facebook’s role in our lives has shifted. What was once primarily a platform for reconnecting with old friends and sharing vacation photos has become de facto the single leading filter and disseminator of news on Earth.

In the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it’s now clear that Facebook’s algorithms are an epic fail when it comes to sorting and filtering real news from sensationalism, propaganda and deliberate misinformation. Content that gets you riled up and glued to the platform floats to the top. A recent analysis by BuzzFeed revealed that the top fake election news stories had more engagement on Facebook than the top election stories from major news outlets.

Facebook’s overriding goal is to keep you on Facebook, not make sure you are well informed.

In addition to this failure to filter between news and lies, we should also remember the role that Facebook and other tech companies have played in decimating the business model that previously underwrote journalism in the United States. In Silicon Valley’s business community, it is seen as a virtue to “disrupt” entire sectors of the economy and society. Among Mark Zuckerberg’s most quoted lines is,

“Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.”

While many consumers were pleased to see the taxi business disrupted by Uber and the hotel industry by Airbnb, we should all take pause when the industry being disrupted is the Fourth Estate of democracy. Have tech companies moved too fast and broken something that was essential to our wellbeing? Right now, a lot of people are feeling like the U.S. election was “disrupted,” and that Facebook played a significant roll.
ad_revenue_newspapers_325As you probably know, newspapers have paid the highest price for the tech disruption of the news media industry. Newspaper advertising revenue dropped from $63.5 billion in the year 2000 to $19 billion in 2012. That means current levels are well below the level of revenue that newspapers had back in the 1950’s when the U.S. population was less than half of what it is now. The advertising money that funded a generation of journalism—from the reporting of the My Lai massacre to the Watergate scandal—moved from print to online, and it was captured mainly by Google and Facebook. As a result, many newspapers have gone bust or laid off most of their staffs.

The combined effects of defunding newspapers and creating a global distribution platform that favors propaganda, rumor and misinformation over fact-based reporting has created a perfect storm that leaves our society in thrall to gossip and conspiracy theories.

It’s time for us to demand Facebook to act far more responsibly with the immense power and influence that is has accumulated.

Below are actions that I recommend.


For Facebook:

  • Transparency – Make the algorithms which sort news on your platform open source, including the posting of any public media content and the contents of the trending bar. (If you want to keep the algorithms that sort private vacation photos and friend suggestions secret, that’s acceptable, but it is essential that the sharing of publicly relevant information becomes fully transparent.)
  • Labeling – Items that start to go viral should be flagged for immediate review by a (human) editorial team abiding by top-drawer journalistic ethics. Misinformation needs to be quickly labeled as such and paired with links that reveal and debunk falsehoods.
  • Funding – Commit major resources from the Chan Zuckerberg philanthropic project to funding investigative journalism, fact checking and local community reporting. (Due to the collapse of newspapers, journalists lost over $44 billion in funding since 2000, and the Chan Zuckerberg entity should feel a moral responsibility step in and help.)


For individuals:

  • Boycott – Consider completely unplugging from Facebook unit they clean up their act. (I’ve decided to stop adding my content to Facebook until they prove they can sort facts from misinformation. If the irresponsible management of news continues, I’ll extend my boycott to all Facebook products, including Instagram and WhatsApp.)
  • Verify before you post – If you decide to remain on Facebook, please take more responsibility for anything you share. For any posts that are political or that sound too good to be true, you need to do some of your own fact checking before you share. If you can’t take the time to do this, you are part of the problem.
  • Subscribe – Replenish the depleted ranks of journalists and editors by supporting your local and national newspapers.


PS. If you’ve kept up with my photographic activity in the past mainly through my Facebook profile, you’ll have to make the effort to find it elsewhere. You can visit my website or subscribe to my newsletter to keep tabs on my latest projects and events.