Facebook is bad and democracy is not safe

Continuing my series of cutting-edge exposes of Big Social, a couple of new articles that paint a worrying picture of how Facebook is contributing to the decline of democracy in Cambodia, the Philippines, Myanmar, and elsewhere.

Autocratic governments have learned how easy it is to hijack the platform, flooding it with click-farmed likes while identifying and crushing dissent. Facebook’s response has been at best apathetic and at worst actively complicit.


Bhante, I appreciate what you are trying to do but don’t you think you are fighting a losing battle?
You remind me the story of the squirrel who threaten to drain the ocean. ( I learnt this story when I was young)
I know that you have done some impossible things like translating Sutta but I think this is beyond your pay scale.

Lol losing battles…we are each mortal “beings” passing through samsara, confronting existential loneliness with nothing up our sleeves but Dhamma.

=D And some have renunciated sleeves.

Big Social experiments with manipulation of societies, persons, laws, goverance, cultivation of attractions and repulsions, diverting attention and energy. It has allowed itself to be used for diverse motives, some expressing lovingkindness, some expressing fears hates greeds.

As a Buddhist, it causes concern. Wishing peace and liberation for all beings, its amplification, distortion, suppressions concern us all.

The change described in the second article is a change for the better, in my opinion. When I go on Facebook, I don’t want to see a bunch of “promoted” journalistic content. In fact, I don’t want to see any promoted anything. I only want to see the things posted by my friends (or by my Twitter follows if I’m on Twitter.)

It’s not surprising that a professional journalist would see things differently, or that they would try to encourage people to equate the success of their own commercial enterprise with “democracy.”

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Interesting articles. I tend to agree. For the sake of completeness, I thought I’d add a contrasting view by Ray Dalio, who is an interesting person since he’s the only hedge fund manager I know of who’s really keen on meditation (at least one version of it - TM) and who sometimes says things I find sensible.
Here’s his opinion from piece he wrote on Linkedn and on Facebook (I confess I haven’t deleted my Fb account yet…though to be honest I hardly ever log on to it):

Facebook’s Move Will Be an Important Contribution to Greater Truthfulness in the Media
As you know I believe that knowing what’s true is essential for good decision making, which is why I’m so keen on radical truthfulness and radical transparency. And as you probably know I also believe that the media is our largest source of information and it has truthfulness problems. It is for those reasons that I really like Facebook’s initiative to have its users rate the accuracy of media sources.
It is a reality that those who produce media have an unbalanced incentive to produce what excites people and sells, or they have their own agendas that they want to move forward. Because of the lack of regulation, they weren’t held accountable for accuracy. And, we don’t want regulation because we want a free media. So, the question is how to get more truthfulness in the media without regulating it.
Facebook’s move is an important step in the right direction. The mere act of asking people to think about the accuracy of what they are getting and to produce these Facebook ratings/metrics will make media accuracy a priority that will come without government intrusion in the media, which scares us all. More importantly, these metrics will affect behavior and will evolve to become better and broader. Others will come up with their own measures of the accuracy of each medium. Of course they will be imperfect and probably politicized (e.g. those of the left will consider media from the right to be more inaccurate and visa versa) but that will nonetheless produce progress as the debate of how to measure and produce accuracy will be more top of mind and more and better metrics will exist, whereas now none of this exists and no meaningful assessments can be made. Well done Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook!

Interesting he thinks polling will increase “truthfulness”. Not once is the word “factual” used. I would prefer news to be very factual, rather than truthful. And understanding the malleability of opinion, I do not think polling will improve news.

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Yes I tend to agree that polling might not improve the quality of news; I imagine that in the UK there are more readers of the Sun than of the Guardian, so perhaps the news in the Sun would be rated more trustworthy than those in the Guardian based on number of votes… On the other hand there are things like Wikipedia that seem to work well and are solely based on the free and collective effort of partecipants…I really know too little about these things to have a definite opinion; I certainly think that some of what Facebook does is very scary.

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The problem is far, far deeper and spans the whole internet really. I live in the SF Bay area, hub of the tech sector, half my friends here work in tech. Many of these companies are involved internationally in providing technical services to dictatorial governments and things like that often under the rubric of providing infrastructure. From what I have heard casually, FB is not even a significant issue compared to what some other companies are doing. You have to sign up for social media for anybody to use your information, but some of the stuff being done is on things you don’t sign up for. That’s where this stuff gets more scary.


Indeed, I am sure there are so many more things than just FB. But that won’t stop me from niggling away at this one issue for a while!

At last, FB has started to admit it has a problem:

To me it’s just a dereliction of duty. Traditional media deals with this the old-fashioned way: take responsibility. You have an editorial policy, an editor and staff to implement it, and you stand by what you publish or correct it if need be.

FB has none of this, yet it wants to replace traditional news media. Responsibility is outsourced to users and to opaque algorithms. With the new changes, they get the users to not only create their content for them, but to assess it as well.


Maybe a few months worth of Facebook detox is in order. Having said that, first there is the attraction to FB/ all IT, then we start seeing it’s drawbacks and want to get away from it as far as possible! In both the above we still haven’t let go of the attachment to it (we love it or have aversion towards it). Having loved and hated, if we can make peace with it, this would be release from that object (nissarana). This requires staying with FB after the initial infatuation and the subsequent hate has faded away. Having seen the positives and negatives of it, we drop the rose-tinted glasses as well as stop looking daggers at it. We see it for what it really is, a collection of possibilities- we can look at the possitives when we feel negative about it or look at the negatives when we are getting attached to it. Seeing the mixed positive and negative nature we can let go of it in terms developing mundane samatha samadhi, or equanimity. If we can see its arising and passing away then the letting go (viraga) will happen to a much deeper degree. This is Vipassana samadhi. The next step is of course, cessation or nibbana.

With metta


I think a huge problem is that in developing countries, FB for all intents and purposes is the internet. People have the app on their phone, and that’s all they know how to use. So the very idea that the internet is a free and open platform is just not how they experience it at all.


I don’t think FB will shut out internet use entirely. They are too enmeshed in its platforms, sites and revenue streams to do that. This article possibly paints a different picture: https://qz.com/826079/how-many-people-on-the-internet-have-a-facebook-fb-account-more-than-half/. Helani is a friend who says, quite funnily, in this article that some don’t know the term ‘Internet’ but say they use Facebook!

If someone doesn’t know how to get on to the internet the way would be to link up posts on FB to internet sites.

With metta

I wouldn’t be so sure. It’s really a matter of degree; for many people, this is the de facto reality: FB is the internet. Sure, it still depends on the wider internet for content, but if everything is filtered through FB, the problem remains.

These things do tend to balance out to some extent, though. As their monopoly becomes more absolute, resistance will grow and alternatives will spring up.


The suggestion that Facebook should act like conventional media with an editorial team to approve or disapprove its content disturbs me. The whole point of social media is that these platforms provide tools for its users to communicate with one another. It is not supposed to be an independent journalistic source of information.

With 2 billion users, such an editorial task is impossible anyway, without the use of algorithms that will necessarily be very crude.

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I totally agree. Also, the fault for losing elections because your competitor managed to abuse facebook is not the fault of facebook but the fault of the losing oponent for not having a team able to abuse it in the same way.

In my country FB has been a great contributor to the good, anti-corruption forces. Probably the best thing it has done is providing the ability for people to mobilize in a big protest. And this has helped people all around the world. For example the recent Iran protests could be organized because of facebook and other similar platforms.

Asking for FB to chose what to censor or not because your side is losing the batter on it is an authoritarian mentality. Sure, we might want our side to win and use any means necessary, but when those means cross into authoritarianism, we have crossed a red line that will open the door to all kinds of abuses. The point of having educated, democratic citizen is precisely to stop such things. No matter how bad they hate the other side, there will always be a big mass from both sides that will stop things from crossing the red line. The bigger this mass of democratic voters, the safer democracy is.

If we feel like our side should be using totalitarianism to win, we must ask ourselves why are we keeping sides with them in the first place. Is it not that we are keeping sides with them precisely because we feel the others are totalitarian, using all kinds of abuses and we want to have a democratic and fair state that is respecting the principles of liberalism and democracy ? I would never support totalitarian abuses against the bad forces from by country, despite them using such abuses on a regular basis. I’m not keeping sides with the other side for no reason, they are not my football team. I’m keeping sides with them in the first place precisely to oppose totalitarian abuses.

I can guarantee that people supporting the other side in Cambodgia think just like me and would never agree with using totalitarianism to win. Next thing they would need to do is back another force to defeat the guys that won, so that to revert totalitarianism again.

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… fight corruption and destruction of democracy with more of the same? …

I thought we were discussing how FB and social media affects society itself, skewing reality, increasing divisions and manipulation of people. Not how to beat the other guys.

At least you’re not fighting it with something much worse. There is one thing to fight your opponent using the same tactics, while you both abide to equal freedoms and laws. There is a whole different story if you give freedom and laws only to one guy and none to the other. That’s not an equal and fair battle anymore.

When it comes to fake news, you can never censor them. They are very interpretative, you can always make a case that something is not fake news or viceversa. Who is there to decide what is fake news and what is not fake news ? Plus, if you bring the Orwellian hammer down on people, you also need to bring it on TV channels.

This is a weakness of democracy, a weakness that Putin for example always knew how to exploit. We either accept this weakness and live with it or we drop democracy and revert to totalitarianism. And in that case you’re no better than Putin anymore.

Also note: Putin is assasinating journalist and putting people in jail like nobody business, yet he has 80% popular support. That is the power of controlling the media. If you give away freedom of press under the pretext of safety, next thing you know you’re living in Putin’s Russia. Soon you will figure out how important freedom of speech and freedom of press actually was and what happens where you destroy it under the pretext of safety.

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Interesting use of language.

I think there are other issues and tactics.

But I need to step back from this conversation for now.

… was never made.

What i said was that traditional media has a practice whereby they take responsibility in a meaningful way for what they print. Obviously FB can’t and shouldn’t try to be like traditional media, but they should take responsibility.

Traditional media are mature adults acting in an adult way, making adult mistakes. FB is like a teenager, it wants to have everything and get someone else to clean up its mess.

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I don’t understand what taking responsibility means in this context? What do you want them to do differently?