Why Joe Public has more power than Jacinda Ardern when it comes to getting Mark Zuckerberg to change 

Why Joe Public has more power than Jacinda Ardern when it comes to getting Mark Zuckerberg to change 

By Jenée Tibshraeny

The most powerful people in New Zealand are taking a stand against social media companies.

The Prime Minister, fund managers and CEOs of some of the country’s largest companies are urging the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google to do more to prevent users from posting abhorrent material that incites violence.

The problem is, we are seeing more lobbying than boycotting.

More talk than the closing of wallets, or firm commitment to withdrawing advertising beyond the days or even weeks following the mosque terrorist attacks, when both the honourable and commercially wise thing for a company to do is to reduce its advertising. An ad featuring a happy customer alongside a harrowing story online or in a newspaper doesn’t bode well.

While I am interested to see how much corporate and government advertising on social media remains suspended in say six weeks’ time, I will also be eyeing investors, including the NZ Super Fund, to see if they actually sell their shares in the social media companies they’re campaigning against.

I’m not holding my breath.

As strong as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Spark's Simon Moutter are, they aren’t strong enough to twist Mark Zuckerberg’s arm.

But we – the users of social media – are.

And as long as we are on social media, the corporates trying to reach their customers, and politicians trying to reach their voters, will be there; as will the investors.

Zuckerberg hasn’t made Facebook powerful. We have, through the data we’ve given it.

Every click, every like, every check-in, provides a more honest depiction of who we are than we consciously recognise, or feel comfortable knowing.

This data is gold.

What’s more, advertisers don’t need to fuss around with expensive focus groups to figure out what their customers want and where they can find them. They can essentially get this information from a social media site at a very low cost. They can pay virtually nothing to post an ad targeting an audience Facebook’s algorithms have curated for them.

As long as we keep living in a capitalist democracy, corporates and politicians won’t walk away from this that easily… Unless we make them.

But will we make them?

The irony of the week that’s been is that we have congregated on the very platforms used by the alleged terrorist to promote hate, to promote peace.

We have all flocked online to get information, experience a sense of community and grieve. My guess is social media activity has sky-rocketed over the last week.

News media companies have continued to use social media to promote their stories including critiques of social media.

Even the Prime Minister has used Facebook live streams to broadcast her angst over Facebook’s lack of oversight over what its users live stream.

If we are there, the advertisers and investors will be there.

The other irony is that in being there, we have discussed the attack in the echo chambers we have created for ourselves. It is these echo chambers that are culpable for facilitating the creation and mobilisation of extremism.

In the same way the alleged terrorist may have been radicalised by an online community, or was at least part of an online community that provided him with an audience for his heinous attack, we continue to partake in online communities we create for ourselves.

I have read the tweets of the people I choose to follow on Twitter because I either like them, find them interesting, or am paid to be aware of what they say. Likewise, I have had my views validated, as only people who like me, find me interesting or are paid to pay attention to what journalists say, follow me on Twitter.

I have engaged in the articles my friends have posted on Facebook, not the articles shared by those I have little in common with.

I have essentially told Zuckerberg what my values and political views are. He has given me more of what he knows I like, and I’ve rolled with it.

Have I sought to broaden my mind by proactively scouting out different viewpoints or switching up Twitter for talkback radio? No.

I am part of the problem.

Until I decide to take a stand against social media platforms so they stop the spread of hateful content or change their algorithms so I don’t view the world through such a narrow lens, they will continue to give me the sugar that's bad for me.

Social media platforms don’t discriminate. A click is a click, a dollar is a dollar, no matter whether it comes from you, me or the Prime Minister.  

A boycott, not a protest, will spark change.

The question is, are we willing to partake in that boycott? Perhaps this is another thing to consider as we look at ourselves in the mirror post-March 15.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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30 Comments

“A click is a click, a dollar is a dollar, no matter whether it comes from you, me or the Prime Minister.” So true. So sad. The power of the masses in terms of $ X volume. For all the very serious and profound and compassionate words, expressed wonderfully well, by our Prime Minister I wager a greater audience electronically, would prefer to digest the utterances and/or revelations of one of the Kardashians. Thank god the world was not like this when Winston Churchill needed to get the message across.

Glad to see an article that questions the utility of social media. Twitter, facebook, instagram, etc., they tend to provide an echo chamber to the user as that positive response (other people agree with me!) results in the user being more likely to return. Having the user return and interact more on the site is how they make money, via selling the users information (as well as selling targeted advertisement).

It is rather amusing as to how quickly the concept of talking about something specific near ones device and then seeing a targeted advertisement about the topic of discussion, went from the idea of SciFi, to not possible, to general acceptance...

I'm a bit unusual in that I tend to visit some sites that have views strongly divergent to my personal views. To me, this is a good sanity check, a challenge to the provenance of my world view. Sadly, sometimes I see the result of some that live in an echo chamber without appropriate reflection.

In summary, Facebook is evil, as well as most of the other social media corporations. There is also the aspect as to how these social media companies will filter content as based on their desired viewpoints, which is yet another rant...

Interesting. I find watching the Brexit drama fascinating. The only two British papers worth anything at all are The Guardian and the Telegraph. Both employ journalists who understand the issues are able to present their views in a clear and well reasoned manner. By contrast the other papers, and especially the BBC, are all click bait and noise, there is no signal, just trivial repetition of fashionable ideas; or else a repeat of the press releases of their advertisers in disguise.

Can’t agree more. BBC is a disgrace, really lightweight, and I think has an underlying agenda. The other two you mentioned are superb, bastions of quality journalism.

In my list of most disfunctional organisations at the top was a dead heat between Yorkshire cricket club and Pakistan cricket association but now both are second to that mother of all parliaments the UK house of commons. What a shambles; even the Auckland council is superior..

Simple conflict of interests? Politicians' career prospects are greatly enhanced by EU membership. Ordinary people have figured out it is a big con, favouring the few at their expense.

Sovereignty is important, both at the individual level and the societal level (is it a fractal quality, perhaps?).

Yes it would only require say 10% of account holders to boycott.

But that's waaaay more people than there are in NZ. So unless people outside our country come to the party, we can't really have much impact.

Great analysis.
Will I or won't I close my FB account?
Are there ethical values that need to be applied or at least tried first?
It's a can of worms. Whose ethics/values?
On the other hand is this evidence of the negative, destructive rapaciousness of the western capitalist system?
I haven't got answers, just questions.

Well, I'm staying on FB, but determined to ensure I use it as a force for good.

Boycott all you like, the tech companies consider themselves to be sovereign states of their own devising. They are full of tech and coding geeks with imbalanced psyches living their incel lifes one slurp of a oversized soda at a time. The companies are a reflection of the people who create and sustain them which is why grotesque and socially inappropriate things like livestreaming exist on fb...
The only way to deal with any of those things is to regulate.

The problem with facebook is that its so damn useful...what is the alternative? Do we not click any facebook d we see...there must be other ways to deprive them of revenue/ make an impac t?

I use Facebook for its Market Place and Housing Groups. It's free and way more effective than TradeMe. Facebook messenger is very convenient too.

All the people asking for a boycott are stuck in another century. If you don't like it, create your own social network .. oh right, you can't code, have no tech background and still haven't comprehended you can't control the internet.

Your call for boycott is equivalent to demanding the Earth stop spinning because you think it'll help with your headache.

Jacinda Ardern certainly took advantage of Facebook's live-streaming-service in the lead up to the last general election.

I think the phrase that you are looking for is "virtue signalling" - a nod to your base without much meaning or cost. I think that's the the PM's usual MO. It's what prefects and head girls do the best and the PM has not out grown this cringy stage. FB is not the problem it's people dividing humans into classes and denying their humanity. The reason I'm not a liberal is because I think it's fixed and tends to evil - if it wasn't FB living streaming the attack it would be something else.

Perhaps the lesson NoFax is to attempt to think outside the binary. You say you are not a "liberal" but then you decry the fact that people divide humans into classes - isn't that exactly what you have done in labelling yourself as not one of those classes?

Thing is the world is not a binary place (i.e., liberal vs conservative) and "virtue signalling" is a public-relations type linguistic phrase which seeks to deny someone else's (normally someone whom you perceive to be your binary opposite) legitimate views, or their way of expressing their morals/ethics.

Also in those public-relations type linguistic phrases (the essence of what an advertising slogan was), we have been introduced to "axis of evil", "the 99%", the "coalition of the willing", the "war on terror" and the "war on drugs" - amongst thousands of other phrases, such as "not my president", "not my NZ", "make America great again" and so on and so forth.

To call all of these phrases "virtue signalling" and to suggest they are cringe-worthy, is simply a way to dismiss and/or avoid thinking about/discussing the meaning intended behind them. It is to undermine, deny or attempt to negate someone else's ethics/perspective. It is to try and say those persons uttering such phrases or views have no real moral commitment to the points they are trying to convey.

I think the last thing one could say about Jacinda Ardern in the face of this tragedy is that her MO has been "virtue signalling". It looks to me as your attempt to deny her the virtues (in the Aristotelian Virtue Ethics sense, e.g., compassion, acceptance, inclusion, decisiveness, etc.) that she has clearly displayed.

Thanks Kate ,once again. Yes, what is the benefit of trying to over complicate a simple sincere message. There is an irony at play here. Our present Prime Minister is the only Prime Minister since, and I think mostly before, David Lange that could have carried the stage so completely. And I think that is because, whether you like or disagree with her political attachment, the underlying truth is that she is a good soul, and because of that she is not hard edged,and as well , she still evinces an air of quite some vulnerability. Therefore in such a crisis, she is naturally convincing. Churchill , in a different time, purpose and obviously style, was the same product, for a whole host of alternative reasons. In contrast, Clark would have, in my opinion, displayed all the gravitas of of an efficient commondant. And Key? Well, it would just have been a bit of unhelpful business, like the EQs. There it is.

Thanks to you too Foxglove! Very insightful and thoughtful analysis of those different political leaders.

Disagree Jenee. Our government is very powerful in this matter. We ain't the world but we do decide what happens in New Zealand.
An RNZ commentator on Monday listed a heap of instances where threats of fines (huge) or total block worked. The internet giants strangely have found ways to do it, whereas every where else it's impossible. Funny that.
Example. You don't find Nazi hate speech on social media in Germany.
New Zealand government? Tell these companies to shape up - or - they are blocked on NZ internet. or NZ companies are not allowed to send them money.
These companies will see wisdom.
(yes yadda yadda, some folk will now describe ways to work around the edges. But they will have only a marginal effect.)

All blocking and censoring things on the internet does is enlighten people to things like VPN’s and other methods to get around any censorship.
That’s a good thing in my opinion as well. I’m so sick of the gov treating us like children who should be wrapped in cotton wool and try to curate our life’s experiences. Our ability to learn and grow is very much restricted without introductions to things that are adverse and different.
As pointed out above, the internet that isn’t censored is already pushing people into echo chambers, we don’t need our gov doing it too.

Jenée, I think we need to use their own platform to get at them. Have sent David my idea.

Thanks Kate. For everyone else, Kate's view is that users should stand up to Facebook, on Facebook. So she's designed this for people to use as their profile pictures:

... introduce a Facebook tax ... that'll get their attention ...

Lord knows this government is taxing , or proposing to tax every other thing we like and use ...

Interesting read here on the way children are being marketed to / influenced on social media (among other places): https://medium.com/@richardnfreed/the-tech-industrys-psychological-war-o...

Thanks. A scary reality we all have to think deeply about when raising children. A bit like smoking, my thought is if you never start, you never get addicted... but having teen age grandchildren who do not own a phone, it does make one feel somewhat guilty (as the kids have to borrow their friends devices in order to get in touch with us and/or their parents). Their grandparents on the other side of the family bought them these devices and they got sent back (which caused a lot of resentment by the gifters).

I somehow think the next big money maker will be devices that exclude access to and/or automatically turn off certain functionality after a set number of hours in a day. In other words, the device does the discipline that parents find themselves unable to do without a whole lot of angst from the kids.

Gary Kasparov makes a good observation about devices and education in his book Deep Thinking too:

That our classrooms still mostly look like they did a hundred years ago isn’t quaint; it’s absurd. How can a teacher or even a stack of books be the sole source of information for kids who can access the sum of all human knowledge in seconds from a device in their pockets, and do so far more quickly than their teachers or parents? The world is changing too quickly to teach kids everything they need to know; they must be given the methods and means to teach themselves. This means creative problem-solving, dynamic collaboration online and off, real-time research, and the ability to modify and make their own digital tools.

This is especially pertinent given social media companies aggressively work against critical thinking through their very algorithms, which seek to create echo chambers to have people immerse themselves further and spend more time seeing the adds platforms pedal. And given that news platforms are incentivised to sensationalise and distort in search of ever more clicks and impressions.

Never had Facebook, I thought it was bad news from the start. I just saw it as a sickness and a result of a Narcissistic generation.

Me neither. Just don't like crowds and the herding-into-behaviours that crowds can engender. So I stay away from 'em.

Why would the government or general public consider doing anything meaningful against social media sites that helped enable this tragedy when they already have their fall guy...NZ's quarter of a million licensed firearms owners? It's much easier pursuing changes that won't affect them personally rather than deleting their precious social media accounts.

Well Carlos, how right you are. Sympomatic of what the world is coming to.

We worry about FB! The biggest problem we have is not FB, it is religion. Ban religion for the young until the mind has matured.

But we continue to allow parents to have the pure minds of their young indoctrinated, bent and twisted.

Perhaps then we might develop a country of thinkers, scientists and rationally minded citizens, not a society that keeps reinforcing the prejudice, hang-ups, 'gods' and the promise of a better life next time around.

FB is a sideshow...no need to fix it, just turn it off.

I doubt the mass murderer had any religious upbringing or affiliation. His affliction was the sick echo-chamber that social media provided and the ease with which he obtained his weapons of mass destruction.

We no more need to ban religion, than we need to ban social media, or ban guns. As virtue ethics would teach us there is a moral ideal, which Aristolte referred to as the 'golden mean'; that being the mid-point between excess and deficiency. The formal discipline of ethics/moral philosophy is agnostic in its teaching of notions of morality. I think we just need to catch the young ones early on in life with a civics education which includes moral philosophy - as this also teaches critical thinking.

Then perhaps they can make better decisions about (what they chose to do with religion, social media and guns. All have legitimate, morally good uses and purposes.