PBS Summer Showcase 2018: Frontline: ‘The Facebook Dilemma’

Frontline: ‘The Facebook Dilemma’

If you watched the 2010 biographical drama “The Social Network,” which was adapted from Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal,” you already had some idea that Mark Zuckerberg might not have your best interests at heart considering the $65 million settlement Zuckerberg made with Tyler and Cameron Winkelvoss who alleged he stole their idea. Facebook investor and venture capitalist Roger McNamee noted that he worked very closely with Zuckerberg in the early years of Facebook.

In October of 2016, McNamee began to notice problems. Facebook’s algorithm was “being manipulated by bad actors” and was “being victimized.” While Facebook’s goals was to “connect the world,” there were no safeguards because they convinced themselves that “literally anything” was okay. “They were willfully blind during 2016.” Even thought they “knew they had this massive surveillance engine” they looked at the problem as “it’s not going to effect the outcome.” McNamee emphasized, “It literally never occurred to them that it was wrong.”

Producer James Jacoby said that Facebook’s administration wasn’t the only people at fault. Up until 2016, if you look at the coverage of Facebook was “all positive” and “the company was given pretty much a free pass.”

Yet there were warnings of the “potential for this kind of technology to separate us, for people to live in filtered buffers.” Researchers said, very early on, talking t people at Facebook that they basically needed a paranoia department to think through potential problems. They really didn’t do that.”

McNamee said, “I went to Zuck and Sheryl (Sandberg, COO of Facebook) and said, ‘I’m seeing something and it looks really bad.'” Their reaction was, underwhelming.

Washington Post journalist Dana Priest noted that the U.S. wasn’t the only country that was targeted and it wasn’t the first. What other governments did in response, “to me, that’s one of the most interesting parts” of the story.

Series executive producer Raney Aronson-Rath noted, that Facebook has “all the advantages of being a media company without any of the regulatory responsibilities.”

McNamee added that while Facebook “makes editorial decisions a billion times a second” what catches our attention isn’t the thing that makes you smile. “Happiness is not viral” but fear and hate are. That gives “disproportionate power to the angriest voices.”

Because this is an on-going story, Jacoby said, “We’re kind of keeping a chunk of the film open for what’s happening right now, and also for Facebook’s participation” until the release date (TBA).


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