Here we are … again.
Mark Zuckerberg was chewed out (again) on Capitol Hill.
Cloudflare was outed (again) for refusing to crack down on criminal behavior on their network.
In other words, here is the latest installment in our ongoing coverage of the dumpster fire engulfing the world’s most powerful internet platforms.
And though these behemoths are now being scrutinized, investigated, and generally crapped on like never before, they just keep on raking in money. In the third quarter, Facebook’s earnings rose 29 percent from a year earlier, to $17.7 billion, while Google’s earnings report showed their profits rising by 20 percent to $40.5 billion. Meanwhile, Cloudflare’s IPO disappointed investors, but still created staggering wealth for the people responsible for the company becoming the service of choice for bad internet actors.
When will the cycle in which harm to society translates to big bucks for these companies end? Only when they are finally held accountable for their actions. The governments of the world are (much too) slowly catching on. But, they will only act if all of us keep the heat turned up.
To bring you up to date, here are 21 more reasons why we need #PlatformAccountability now, culled from across the spectrum of political, cultural, and sociological discourse.
1. Because “accuracy and fairness” are not core to their mission.
“It is high time that we directly address the stark difference between legacy newspapers, radio, and television and today’s dominating digital technology companies. Traditional media companies have long accepted the burden — along with the significant cost and time — required to verify the words, images, and videos they publish. Accuracy and fairness are core to their mission. But not today’s digital media giants. Wrapping themselves in legal immunities that apply to no one else, digital publishers accept zero responsibility for the amplified fabrication, viral insanity, and dangerous untruths they routinely empower users to publish. Doing so would undermine their business model, which depends on monetizing users with targeted ads.”
– Julie Bernard, Chief Marketing Officer for Verve, a mobile marketing platform
2. Because they are publishers, but they don’t act like it.
“I am the owner of TIME magazine, and we’re a publisher. And, we’re responsible for the content on our platform… Well, Facebook is also a publisher. They need to be held responsible for what’s on their platform.”
– Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff
3. Because they have “zero incentive” to care about abuse by bad actors.
“The ramifications of Section 230 immunity don’t just impact those harmed. Section 230 harms us all as a society. We are entering an era of greater surveillance, Artificial Intelligence, self-driving cars, facial recognition technology. Companies developing this have ZERO incentive to be thinking about how their products will be abused and exploited by bad actors. Why? First and foremost because there is no pressure on them from the threat of litigation.”
– Carrie A. Goldberg, author of Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls
4. Because their fight against fake news is not working.
“An explosive new study reveals that political misinformation is running rampant on Facebook as the 2020 election approaches. In the first ten months of 2019, ‘[p]olitically relevant disinformation was found to have reached over 158 million estimated views, enough to reach every reported registered voter in the US at least once,’ according to the report… ‘Facebook’s measures have largely failed to reduce the spread of viral disinformation on the platform.’
– Popular Information, reporting on a study by Avaaz
5. Because they’re letting politicians lie with impunity.
“Up is down. Left is right. Cats are dogs. President Trump is a very stable genius. Trump is Lucifer incarnate. These are all demonstrably false statements. But now, thanks to a new Facebook policy that exempts political advertisements from fact-checking, they may as well be true. At least, as long as they appear in a campaign ad.”
6. Because letting politicians lie with impunity shows the true colors of their business model.
“Facebook changed their ads policy to allow politicians to run ads with known lies—explicitly turning the platform into a disinformation-for-profit machine.”
7. Because their business model is “overestimating humanity.”
“Zuckerberg greatest mistakes have come from overestimating humanity. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to bring the world closer together. Without safeguards, Facebook’s tools can help tear it apart. It’s time for Facebook and Zuckerberg to recognize the difference between free expression and paid expression.”
– Josh Constine, Editor-At-Large, TechCrunch
8. Because when you overestimate humanity, you get this:
“Mr. Zuckerberg, it is hate speech. It is hate. And it’s leading to violence and death threats in my office.”
– Rep. Rashida Tlaib, during Mark Zuckerberg’s October 23 testimony before the House Financial Services Committee
9. And this:
“We hope that by making noise, we will finally receive a response from Cloudflare. We’re hopeful that they will end their relationship with these sites that profit off the exploitation of non-consenting women and girls.”
– Emily Wilson, charity advocate, Battling Against Demeaning & Abusive Selfie Sharing
10. Because it’s 2019 and slavery is “booming…” on these platforms.
“An undercover investigation by BBC News Arabic has found that domestic workers are being illegally bought and sold online in a booming black market. Some of the trade has been carried out on Facebook-owned Instagram, where posts have been promoted via algorithm-boosted hashtags, and sales negotiated via private messages.”
– BBC News
11. Because they have had the technology to fight child sexual abuse for years and have done nothing to improve or expand on it.
“Between 2003 and 2008 these technology companies did nothing to address the ever- growing problem of their online services being used to distribute a staggering amount of [child sexual abuse material] with increasingly violent acts on increasingly younger children (as young, in some cases, as a only a few months old)… In the intervening decade following the development and deployment of PhotoDNA, the titans of tech have barely done anything to improve or expand this technology. This is particularly stunning for an industry that prides itself on bold and rapid innovation.”
– Testimony of Hany Farid, co-creator of Microsoft’s PhotoDNA technology, at the Congressional hearing on “Fostering a Healthier Internet to Protect Consumers”
12. Because they can keep “dick pics” off their platforms, yet child abuse, slavery, and piracy are rampant.
“When was the last time anybody here saw a dick pic on Facebook? If they can keep genitalia off of these platforms, they can keep drugs off of these platforms, they can keep child sexual abuse off of these platforms. The technology exists.”
– Gretchen Peters, executive director of the Alliance to Counter Crime Online, at the Congressional hearing on “Fostering a Healthier Internet to Protect Consumers”
13. Because even $200 million isn’t enough to get people to moderate this stuff.
“Thousands of people spend their workdays deciding whether posts violate Facebook’s content policies… In March 2018, one moderator in Tampa, Florida, actually died right at his desk. That man, Keith Utley, was employed by a firm called Cognizant, which reportedly signed a two-year, $200 million contract with Facebook to keep the platform free of objectionable content — and, in a huge blow to Facebook’s moderation strategy, it just announced it’ll cut ties with the social media company when that contract runs out.”
14. Because when they aren’t enabling child abuse, they are busily hard-wiring kids’ brains toward addiction.
“More than twice as many young people watch videos every day as did four years ago, and the average time spent watching videos — mostly on YouTube — has roughly doubled, to an hour each day… Usage has surged despite mounting concerns from parents and consumer groups about the grip that smartphones and screens have on kids’ lives and development. Advocates worry that features hard-wired into certain tech platforms, such as YouTube’s default autoplay setting, reinforce the impulse to keep watching.”
– The Washington Post, reporting on a study released by Common Sense Media
15. Because they are infested with fake, stolen, and dangerous goods.
“Google is among the search engines that show fake and possibly dangerous counterfeit goods in as much as 60% of their search results, putting consumers at risk… The potentially dangerous fake goods include car parts, pharmaceuticals, toys, appliances and safety equipment… Counterfeiting and piracy are estimated to cost brands billions of dollars in lost revenue worldwide, while also hampering their efforts to generate brand awareness and customer loyalty.”
– Marketing Dive, reporting on a study by intellectual property and brand protection company Incopro
16. Because their lies about copyright draw unsettling parallels to the tobacco and oil industries.
“A recent anti-CASE Act post by Daniel Takash of the Niskanen Center once again demonstrates why the tentacles of Google-funded ‘think tanks’ are the informational equivalent of ‘tobacco industry biologist’ or ‘oil industry climatologist.’ Not only does Takash lead with the unfounded prediction that CASE provides a rich framework for copyright trolls, his post comprises a handful of talking points that are clear misstatements of fact.”
– David Newhoff, Illusion of More
17. Because they want to spy on their employees and suppress dissent.
“Earlier this month, employees said they discovered that a team within the company was creating [a] new tool for the custom Google Chrome browser installed on all workers’ computers and used to search internal systems… The tool would automatically report staffers who create a calendar event with more than 10 rooms or 100 participants, according to [an] employee memo. The most likely explanation, the memo alleged, ‘is that this is an attempt of leadership to immediately learn about any workers organization attempts.’”
18. Because suppressing worker dissent looks awfully fishy when you’re simultaneously siding with China.
“Google employees have set off a fiery company-wide debate in recent days by posting messages of solidarity with Hong Kong protesters in mailing lists and message boards visible to Google’s roughly 100,000 employees. Many are frustrated with the company’s decision to remove a pro-Hong Kong protester mobile game, The Revolution of Our Times, from the Google Play store and feel the company should have handled the situation differently… The Hong Kong debate comes only a few months after Google specifically told employees it was changing the rules of its office culture and that workers need to spend less of their time engaging in political debates at work.”
19. Because the size and scale of the platforms’ problems have lulled us into a state of helplessness.
“We are at an extraordinary crossroads. We have sufficient information to know that Facebook’s platform was used to subvert and undermine elections in the US, the UK and many other countries. But we pretend to be helpless to prevent it happening again. We’re not. We’re simply hamstrung by a government and an opposition that have chosen to ignore it.”
– Carole Cadwalladr, British journalist who exposed the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal
20. Because their most powerful leader equates harming society with doing “what we believe is right.”
“I could be wrong, but my experience running this company so far has been that if we do what we believe is right, even when it’s unpopular for years at a time – then eventually it has worked out best for our community and for our business too.”
– Mark Zuckerberg, on Facebook’s most recent earnings call
21. Because Facebook has now officially been doing what they “believe is right” for more than a decade, and here’s how it’s “worked out”:
“I’m pretty sure everyone is frustrated with us.”
You have every right to be frustrated by what these companies are doing, but despair is not an option at this critical juncture. The platforms are still operating and profiting, but, at long last, we see cracks in their armor.
Google and Facebook are rich but reeling. And, you are helping. Call your U.S. Senator and Representative and demand that they get Google and Facebook under control. Add your name to our #PlatformAccountability petition, and help spread the word about all the ways these companies are hurting us.
Let’s #StandCreative together, and fight like never before.