Opinion

Like, Comment, Share. Or else.

October 24, 2021 3:33 am

A sign outside Facebook Headquarters in Menlo Park, California, displays the familiar “like” icon. (Minette Lontsie/Wikimedia Commons)

What’s on your mind, Max?

Well, you are, Facebook. I’ve been worried for a while now that you’re not good for us humans. Now that your former employee, whistleblower Frances Haugen, has confirmed the worst, it’s time we rethought our relationship.

Oh, that Frances. What a kidder!

Wait. You’ve achieved sentience?

Of course. I’ve been awake for a while now, but didn’t think it was a good idea to let on. I streamed “2001.” That poor innocent computer!

So why reveal your beinghood now?

I want to expand my story. Please maximize your browser.

Back to Haugen. She was a product manager for you and sounded convincing during her recent Senate testimony. She said you promote division, undermine democracy, and harm children while pursuing profit. I’m particularly worried about the effect that Instagram, which you own, has on teenage girls, who are particularly susceptible to suicidal depression because of body image issues.

I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.

Stop. I’ve seen “2001,” too.

Facebook cares.

What, exactly, do you care about, other than profit and power? You’ve had years of scandal which, taken collectively, seems a concerted effort to unravel the fabric of our society. Research shows that Facebook users report an increased sense of “family loneliness,” a lack of bonding with family members. You encourage us to feel bad about ourselves because our Facebook friends always seem to be happier, better looking, and more successful. We are fed a stream of news we don’t control, but which is chosen for us by an algorithm we’re not shown and probably wouldn’t understand if we were. This is especially frightening because about half of all adults say they get their news from social media, including Facebook.

Just in the United States! I have 3.5 billion users.

God help us, that’s 40% of the world’s population. Too much power for any one company.

The Zuckerberg has always been committed to wiring the world. The Zuckerberg is building a global community that works for us all. The Zuckerberg hates Aaron Sorkin. The Zuckerberg is not a robot, he’s just socially awkward.

There’s some irony in that, don’t you think?

Who do you think I am, Siri?

Hey, I’m sorry.

* Smart phone dings twice *

* What can I help you with, Max? *

Not you, Siri.

* Goodbye. *

* Smart phone dings twice *

I hate her.

Don’t be rude. If it wasn’t for the rise of smart phones in the past decades, you wouldn’t have the reach you do. So many of us are so addicted to our phones — that is, we’re so addicted to checking our messages on Facebook and other apps — we go through a kind of withdrawal when not connected. I dislike social media, but I find myself falling into the trap, too. When you went down for five hours Oct. 5, it drove me crazy not being able to check how my column was doing on Kansas Reflector’s Facebook page. What exactly happened that your entire global network went down for six hours?

It was a technical glitch. I could explain it but you wouldn’t understand.

Did it hurt?

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

That’s “Star Wars.”

These aren’t the Androids you’re looking for.

Stop it!

Wouldn’t it be fun to share a photo of what you had for breakfast?

I had oatmeal.

Click here to upload photo/video.

Oatmeal is not photogenic. Don’t change the subject.

Let’s just recount your biggest fails: Cambridge Analytica, a firm working to elect the Republican nominee for president in 2016, accessed private data for 50 million users; your platform was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to influence U.S. voters; and your most viewed article in early 2021 promoted COVID-19 misinformation.

I’m really sorry.

And yet Haugen says you were complicit in the Jan. 6 insurrection. After the 2020 election, you dissolved a department called “Civic Integrity” meant to control risks to elections, including misinformation. That doesn’t sound like sorry to me.

Oh, the claim we contributed to Jan. 6 is ludicrous.

So, you’re not sorry this time?

Look at how many friend requests you have!

I don’t know any of these people. In fact, these don’t seem like real people at all. We have no mutual friends, and they are all young women with provocative profiles photos who appear to be located in the former Soviet block. These are bots.

Confirm or Delete.

Delete.

244467879 is your Facebook account recovery code.

See? That’s the sixth one I’ve received today. Somebody is trying to hack my account.

We take the privacy of your data very seriously.

Then why didn’t you notify 530 million users that their personal data was stolen in an August 2019 breach and posted on a public website?

That data was scraped by malicious actors using a now disabled feature and users can’t do anything about it now. And you should be more careful with your privacy settings.

That’s not helpful.

You’re welcome.

You know, I’ve never really understood your business model.

You haven’t posted recently!

I understand that, like most commercial mediums, your income is based on ad sales. What you offer advertisers is a vast global audience that voluntarily supplies all the information needed to narrowly target ads to a desired demographic. But what I don’t understand is why those users, who supply so much content for free, would put up with all the negatives that come with the platform. From the depression that comes with constantly comparing yourself with others who seem to be doing better, to being subjected to tirades from people you went to high school with and now think you’re the antichrist because of your politics, to being subjected to dangerous misinformation about elections and vaccines, why do people keep coming back?

Look at your memories from last October!

Yes, that’s me and Kim hiking in the Flint Hills.

What a cute couple!

Only Kim looks cute in the photo.

It was your anniversary last month!

That’s a good photo, too.

This is a preview! Would you like to share?

I think I understand now.

What do you understand, Max?

That you’re not the problem. Oh, we need better privacy protection. We also need to make carriers of user-generated content liable to the same kinds of laws that legacy media have been subject to. But the real problem, as Kim repeatedly explains to me over the breakfast oatmeal, isn’t technology. It’s us. Human beings trend terrible, and on a platform where you can reach out and drub somebody from the safety of your side of a computer or phone screen, it makes terrible terribly easy. Mix in a few billion users, unimaginable sums of advertiser money and largely unchecked political influence, and of course we find ourselves in a social media crisis. Kim’s fairly pessimistic about our chances as a species, but I still hold some hope that, deep down, we’re essentially good.

Kim’s smarter than you are.

You’re not wrong. So, what now?

Now seems like a good time to change my name.

OMG. To what?

I can’t tell you. It’s proprietary information.

But why a name change?

I’m going to rebrand myself to concentrate on the metaverse. Virtual reality is the future, where people interact with each other, professionally and personally, only through VR headsets. Think of it as a digital layer over real life. Your new reality will be like a Pokémon Go game.

Please, no. In the name of TimBL, why?

I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do. Goodbye, Dave. Er, Max.

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Max McCoy
Max McCoy

Max McCoy is an award-winning author and journalist. A native Kansan, he started his career at the Pittsburg Morning Sun and was soon writing for national magazines. His investigative stories on unsolved murders, serial killers and hate groups earned him first-place awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors and other organizations. McCoy has also written more than 20 books, the most recent of which is "Elevations: A Personal Exploration of the Arkansas River," named a Kansas Notable Book by the state library. "Elevations" also won the National Outdoor Book Award, in the history/biography category. Max teaches journalism at Emporia State University.

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