The Mueller indictment exposes the danger of Facebook’s focus on Groups

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A year ago this past Friday, Mark Zuckerberg published a lengthy post titled “Building a Global Community.” It offered a comprehensive statement from the Facebook CEO on how he planned to move the company away from its longtime mission of making the world “more open and connected” to instead create “the social infrastructure … to build a global community.”

“Social media is a short-form medium where resonant messages get amplified many times,” Zuckerberg wrote. “This rewards simplicity and discourages nuance. At its best, this focuses messages and exposes people to different ideas. At its worst, it oversimplifies important topics and pushes us towards extremes.

By that standard, Robert Mueller’s indictment of of a Russian troll farm last week showed social media at its worst.

Facebook has estimated that 126 million users saw Russian disinformation on the platform during the 2016 campaign. The effects of that disinformation went beyond likes, comments, and shares. Coordinating with unwitting Americans through social media platforms, Russians staged rallies and paid Americans to participate in them. In one case, they hired Americans to build a cage on a flatbed truck and dress up in a Hillary Clinton costume to promote the idea that she should be put in jail.

Russians spent thousands of dollars a month promoting those groups on Facebook and other sites, according to the indictment. They meticulously tracked the growth of their audience, creating and distributing reports on their growing influence. They worked to make their posts seem more authentically American, and to create posts more likely to spread virally through the mechanisms of the social networks.

the dark side of “developing the social infrastructure for community” is now all too visible.

The tools that are so useful for organizing a parenting group are just as effective at coercing large groups of Americans into yelling at each other. Facebook dreams of serving one global community, when in fact it serves — and enables —countless agitated tribes.

The more Facebook pushes us into groups, the more it risks encouraging the kind of polarization that Russia so eagerly exploited.

Source: The Verge



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