📑 Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine

Bookmarked Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine by Adrienne LaFrance (The Atlantic)

Andrew Bosworth, one of Facebook’s longtime executives, has compared Facebook to sugar—in that it is “delicious” but best enjoyed in moderation. In a memo originally posted to Facebook’s internal network last year, he argued for a philosophy of personal responsibility. “My grandfather took such a stance towards bacon and I admired him for it,” Bosworth wrote. “And social media is likely much less fatal than bacon.” But viewing Facebook merely as a vehicle for individual consumption ignores the fact of what it is—a network. Facebook is also a business, and a place where people spend time with one another. Put it this way: If you owned a store and someone walked in and started shouting Nazi propaganda or recruiting terrorists near the cash register, would you, as the shop owner, tell all of the other customers you couldn’t possibly intervene?

Adrienne LaFrance makes the comparison between the nuclear threat of the doomsday machine in the 70’s and the position served by Facebook today to connect so many people.

Limitations to the Doomsday Machine comparison are obvious: Facebook cannot in an instant reduce a city to ruins the way a nuclear bomb can. And whereas the Doomsday Machine was conceived of as a world-ending device so as to forestall the end of the world, Facebook started because a semi-inebriated Harvard undergrad was bored one night. But the stakes are still life-and-death. Megascale is nearly the existential threat that megadeath is. No single machine should be able to control the fate of the world’s population—and that’s what both the Doomsday Machine and Facebook are built to do.

In his own commentary on this piece, John Gruber highlights how the blackboxed nature of Facebook is far worse than 8kun:

We instinctively think that 8kun is “worse” than Facebook because its users are free to post the worst content imaginable, and because they are terribly imaginative, do. It feels like 8kun must be “worse” because its content is worse — what is permitted, and what actually is posted. But Facebook is in fact far worse, because by its nature we, as a whole, can’t even see what “Facebook” is because everyone’s feed is unique. 8kun, at least, is a knowable product. You could print it out and say, “Here is what 8kun was on December 29, 2020.” How could you ever say what Facebook is at any given moment, let alone for a given day, let alone as an omnipresent daily presence in billions of people’s lives?

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