Opinion: Facebook outage offers brief reprieve from a necessary evil

In Plain View by Lachlan Labere

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners were announced Friday, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t among them.

Briefly, I thought the social media magnate might have a chance on Oct. 4, when Facebook and its apps, Instagram and WhatsApp, were down for a large chunk of the day.

I know the outage prompted plenty of rejoicing, evident through amusing memes and other moments, such as when Facebook users turned to Twitter for the day, with Twitter responding, “hello literally everyone.” Everyone included Facebook, which used Twitter to update users on the outage.

The celebration, however, felt tempered by an understanding that Facebook’s return, like Marvel’s “Mad Titan” Thanos, was inevitable. Kind of like how a New Year’s party might feel for people in 2019, if they knew what the following two years would bring.

I know the outage certainly provided a breather for folks working in newsrooms, for which Facebook has become something of a necessary evil. The social media platform has proven to be a great way for us to share our stories, discover your stories and make positive connections – especially through the pandemic, when such technologies offer safe ways to interact without putting people’s health and safety at risk. However, it can also be said that over the past four or five years, Facebook has helped further erode civil discourse, becoming a platform for the sharing of toxic opinions, misinformation and blatant racial hate.

As many learned the day before the Oct. 4 outage, courtesy of Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen, the social media platform’s algorithm exacerbates things by attempting to lump people together in online silos, while Facebook itself profits from spreading hateful and polarizing messages.

Read more: UPDATED: Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram suffer worldwide outage

Read more: Facebook back after lengthy global outage blamed on router issues

“Even those who don’t use Facebook are impacted by the radicalization of people who do,” Haugen said during an Oct. 4 hearing by a U.S. Senate committee. “A company with control over our deepest thoughts, feelings and behaviors needs real oversight.”

Facebook was already under fire over leaked internal documents acknowledging Instagram’s harmful effects on teenage girls.

Haugen accused Facebook of putting profit over public safety.

“Facebook consistently resolved those conflicts in favour of its own profits,” said Haugen. “The result has been a system that amplifies division, extremism and polarization — and undermining societies around the world.”

According to Facebook, the Oct. 4 outage had nothing to do with any of this. And users, myself included, were quick to reconnect.

Those Nobel Peace Prize winners, by the way, were journalists: Maria Ressa from the Philippines (founder of Rappler, an online magazine), and Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief with Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

Ressa has been critical of Facebook and its use by retiring Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to attack opponents and spread disinformation. Of Facebook, Ressa has said it, “manipulates the worst of human nature. It’s built for that.”

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