- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has pledged $10 million to fight racial injustice amid backlash against his company’s handling of President Trump’s violent rhetoric against people protesting the death of George Floyd.
- He can keep it.
- Instead, he should take concrete steps to fix Facebook, where an internal report found that 64% of people who join hate groups on the platform do so on the recommendation of Facebook’s algorithm.
- $10 million doesn’t begin to cover the damage Facebook is doing to race relations, let alone society at large. It is little in comparison not only to what Zuckerberg can donate, but also in comparison to what he can do.
- What Zuckerberg is buying here is the appearance of having values. But values aren’t purchased, they’re practiced.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has pledged $10 million to fighting racial injustice amid backlash against the company’s handling of President Trump’s violent remarks against people protesting the death of George Floyd.
Perhaps that suits you, but as far as I’m concerned Zuckerberg should keep his little donation. And he should do something to actually fix his platform instead.
$10 million, as much as it is, does not make up for the damage that Facebook has done to race relations. It does not even begin to account for the damage it has done society at large.
In a post announcing the donation, Zuckerberg added that the money was in addition to some $40 million a year that his foundation gives to “organizations working to overcome racial injustice” and said it’s “clear Facebook also has more work to do to keep people safe and ensure our systems don’t amplify bias.” But these are just words, and Americans have heard them from Facebook before. We have heard Facebook acknowledge that it has to do better after all kinds of outrages, like the time it was used at a staging platform for genocide in Myanmar.
Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that, for years, Facebook has known that its algorithm encourages anti-social behavior. For example, a 2018 internal report found that a stunning 64% of people who join online hate groups do so at the recommendation of Facebook’s algorithm. Internal reports also found that, in the United States, a larger volume of hate speech and misinformation spread on the platform came from extreme right-wing voices than extreme-left wing voices.
But, for fear of upsetting the Republican party and endangering its business, Facebook decided to let it spread largely unchecked. Recommendations to fix the platform went unimplemented and executives trying to solve the problems left the company.
The spread of disinformation — including on Facebook — and the ease with which people can join anti-social, racist groups is only making the protests and unrest follow George Floyd’s murder even worse. Social media is lousy with extremists stoking rage as we speak. Right-wing hate groups say that they see this chaos as an opportunity to add mayhem to misery and incite a “race war.” Facebook is a major place they congregate.
In a joint statement following a Monday call with Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, leaders from the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Color of Change said Zuckerberg “refuses to acknowledge how Facebook is facilitating Trump’s call for violence against protesters.” They clearly left the call unsatisfied with what they heard from Facebook’s chiefs.
We already know how easy it is for malicious actors to sew discord using Zuckerberg’s platform. Back in 2016 Russian security forces used it to coordinate dueling protests and support Donald Trump in service of Vladimir Putin. Facebook is a tool, and Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to care who uses it or for what. That indifference has cost society much more than what a $10 million could ever possibly provide.
So what is this $10 million “donation,” really?
It is not a signal that Zuckerberg sincerely wants to use his incredible power to improve race relations, because if that’s what it was he would simply do it. Or he would’ve done it already — according to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook largely watered down or ignored internal suggestions made to fix the problems that its internal investigations revealed.
So no, this donation isn’t about fixing anything.
This donation is meant to buy respectability, to buy the appearance of values where they are wanting. But values are practiced, not pretended. It is a purchase that is meant to say “sorry” but allows Facebook to continue as it is. This $10 million is a speeding ticket for Facebook’s reckless crashing through society leaving destruction in its wake. Mark Zuckerberg is merely paying a toll.
But what has been broken, what Facebook is still breaking, is worth much more than $10 million. It is worth more than Facebook itself. Zuckerberg’s money was earned by inciting division, and it is being used to continue to allow him to do so, not to stop it. This is a twisted charity that perpetuates the problem it is supposed to solve.
Zuckerberg’s donation is little compared to the problem of race relations in America, and for that we cannot fault him. But the donation is also little compared to Facebook’s responsibility for exacerbating hatred and violence, and for that we can fault him. Not only that, but it is little in comparison to Zuckerberg’s financial means. Worse, it is little, even negligible compared to the sum total of his power to actually help.
It is, as we say in Brooklyn, bupkis.
So you can keep your little donation, Mark. And you can do the real work we need from you, which is changing Facebook from an antisocial platform to a pro-social platform. You say you want to connect people, but what you’ve known for years is that you’re pulling them apart. Stop it.