The algorithmic gods in charge of Facebook broke down after the bad news.
The internet broke. Or more accurately, a large part of the internet wasn’t available to users for hours. The shutdown caused inconvenience and affected some businesses that use the platform. The world did not end and most folks were able to go about their business. That’s life without clicking the "like" button while endlessly scrolling through the postings of friends — what a concept.
So far, Facebook can’t explain the outage in detail. The company blames some sort of faulty configuration change. Indeed, initially Facebook minimized the extent of the outage. A tweet from the company said that “some people are having trouble accessing (the) Facebook app.” “Some” people turned out to be about 3.5 billion people.
Between the outage, the whistleblower and investigations by The Wall Street Journal, one thing is clear — Facebook can’t be relied upon to be straight up about much of anything, despite its protestations.
The company is expert at manipulation of the platform and information it provides, and much of it is not benign. The smartest and savviest of us can be manipulated.
Haugen alleges that Facebook turned off various filters designed to fight misinformation after the last presidential election. She also claims the company ignored its own research on the dangers caused by Instagram to the mental health of teenage girls. Of course, Facebook deserves to respond, but based on past revelations, the allegations have the ring of truth.
That’s where continued federal pressure, by Congress, the FTC and the Department of Justice comes in.
There’s another aspect to this, and not one to belittle.
The great outage offers some lessons of its own.
Ads fuel Facebook, which rakes in more than 98% of its revenue from more than 10 million active advertisers. In the three months ending in June 30, it pulled in an average of $78 million in ad sales every six hours.
Perhaps we’ve become too reliant on the social media giants. The emotional attachment, the compulsion, to be online and in constant contact dull the soul. Several studies have concluded that there’s likely a correlation between extensive social media use and depression.
We should all be truthful with ourselves. That means asking ourselves whether we’re becoming too focused on the computer screen and not enough on our friends and family. And ask if we seek out good sources of information, most of which is available online.
Knowing our own limitations and taking control of our social media usage cuts down the chances of being manipulated by the powerful social media companies. Each of us can accomplish that goal.
The rest is up to Congress and the courts.
This American Opinion editorial is the opinion of the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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