The product Facebook sells is you
Congress and tech companies are eager for an easy PR victory, but requiring advertiser disclosures won’t solve what’s wrong.
If you’ve ever felt like you’re not in control of your brain anymore, the reason is that you’re not. Your memory, executive functions, reward system and consciousness itself have been deliberately altered by a group of young men who live in California. You sleep less. You remember better (all those posts help commit moments to memory). You’re addicted. And you now have several layers of consciousness, some of which are entirely external to you, like the brain inside Netflix that knows you like political thrillers.
Facebook, and by extension Silicon Valley, is in damage control. “Tech Giants, Once Seen as Saviors, Are Now Viewed as Threats,” The New York Times reports. Among their transgressions: selling Facebook ads to Kremlin trolls, stifling criticism at a Google-funded think tank and allowing racist fringe groups to infiltrate and reframe mainstream political discourse.
As Max Read noted in New York magazine, Facebook has assigned itself the duty to monitor national elections in foreign governments. “We have been working to ensure the integrity of the German elections this weekend,” Mark Zuckerberg said ahead of last month’s vote.
Read, responding incredulously: “A private company, working unilaterally to ensure election integrity in a country it’s not even based in? The only two I could think of that might feel obligated to make the same assurances are Diebold, the widely hated former manufacturer of electronic-voting systems, and Academi, the private military contractor whose founder keeps begging for a chance to run Afghanistan. This is not good company.”
Smelling blood, Congress sees a way to score an easy political victory. “Who wouldn’t want to know if the ad that’s appearing next to your story was actually paid for by a foreign power?” said U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, announcing a bill to force companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter to disclose the source of funding for political ads. Facebook, in fact, has already begun to release a new policy along those lines, which would require ads on its network to link to the page that paid for them.