"Fuck Zuck": How Facebook became the social media home of the right
Not too long after Donald J. Trump was elected president, a pattern started to emerge on Facebook that had not taken place in the company’s history. Millions of young people started to abandon the social network, either quitting Facebook entirely or deleting it from their phones and other devices.
At the time the theory floating around tech circles was that Facebook was full of old people and boring posts, and other platforms, like Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, were more youthful and fun. But in recent weeks it’s become clear that the exodus was likely a result of something larger. Facebook has become the home of right-wing America, while Twitter and Snap have become the home of the left.
This become clearly apparent in the past week, when Jack Dorsey finally decided to start labeling Trump’s most dangerous posts as “glorifying violence” and even fact-checking other posts where Trump lied about mail-in ballots contributing to voter fraud (they don’t).
At the same time Mark Zuckerberg chose to go in the completely opposite direction, ceding that he is not the arbiter of free speech, and even going as far as to have a call with Trump himself to vociferate Facebook’s stance. Conversely, Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snap, announced that he will no longer promote any of Trump’s posts on the platform. “We simply cannot promote accounts in America that are linked to people who incite racial violence, whether they do so on or off our platform,” Spiegel said in a memo to employees.
In reality, by ceding, and even groveling, to the conservatives in the way that Zuckerberg has, he has already created a divide not within Facebook itself, but within the entire internet. Facebook has become the home of the conservative right, and as a result, the most shared content on Facebook is almost always conservative in nature.
For example, Kevin Roose, a reporter with the New York Times, often posts (on Twitter) a list of the top 10 posts shared on Facebook in the past 24 hours, which almost always come predominantly from conservative voices, including Fox News, Ben Shapiro, ForAmerica, and the right-wing conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza.
On the other hand, Twitter has largely become the voice of the left, where the most shared stories, content, videos, and opinions are often much more latitudinarian in nature. Think about almost every video that has gone viral in recent years showing something dumb Trump has done or said, a moment of police brutality, or someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez berating a Republican senator or CEO banker. They all found their vitality on Twitter. Or go and look at the trending topics of the day, which are almost always topics of the left.
On Thursday the number one post on Facebook was a video shared by the conservative commentator and political activist Candace Owens, where Owens said that George Floyd was a “horrible human being” and that “racially motivated police brutality is a myth.” The video was viewed on Facebook 24 million times in less than a day.
Internally at these companies, employees have responded accordingly. At Twitter, current and former employees have voiced pride in the fact that Twitter has finally taken a stance against the most divisive user on its platform. “It’s about time!” a former employee told me. “I’m proud of Twitter.”
In comparison, at Facebook, hundreds of employees staged a virtual walkout, while some even quit working for the company, publicly denouncing Zuckerberg’s views. The New York Times reported that internally at Facebook, employees have called out Zuckerberg’s decision as “weak leadership” showing a “lack of backbone.” In and around Silicon Valley, anyone who has worked with Zuckerberg at one point or another has called him every name in the book for his actions around allowing Trump to act this way on his platform. “Fuck Zuck” has been texted frequently.
The turmoil unfurling within Facebook, and the decisions by Dorsey and Spiegel, are in many ways a reflection of what’s happening in society today. There’s strife when the people on the platform don’t get their way, and celebration and pride when they do.
In the same way that some employees quit at Facebook when Zuckerberg sucked up to Trump, you’re seeing the same thing happen in society, where people have abandoned one platform in lieu of another, largely because one agrees with your viewpoint and the other does not. If this is the case, it leads back to the age-old question of whether social media is a net positive or a net negative for society.
For example, in the same week that Trump accused a media commentator of murder, lied about voting, and incited violence against Americans, the video of George Floyd being killed largely might not have been seen had it not been for people on social media sharing it. The images and videos of protests in large cities led to more protests across America, until, in a matter of days, every single state, and even other countries, saw their streets filled with millions marching in protest against police brutality and racism.
Social networks are neither a net negative nor a net positive for society. Rather, they magnify our most visceral feelings and beliefs, at a blazingly fast speed. We yell at one another and point fingers, until we eventually abandon the platform that does not align with our views, and instead go to the one that does.
And it appears, that after Facebook and Twitter both took two completely different stances on Trump, that one has finally cemented itself as the home of the right, the other, the left. And in the same way that there is only left and right in America, on social media, there is nothing in the middle.
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