Over at The Atlantic, Executive Editor Adrienne LaFrance has a fantastical and fantastically harrowing new essay about hypothetical doomsday machines and the not-so-hypothetical horrors of Facebook. She considers the theoretical concept of a doomsday device—a failsafe machine hooked up to an infinite number of sensors that, if it notices enough radiation, will automatically trigger an onslaught of nuclear warheads, thus ushering in our mutually-assured destruction.
This, she posits, is precisely how Facebook works:
Facebook is not a media company. It's a Doomsday Machine. Facebook does not exist to seek truth and report it, or to improve civic health, or to hold the powerful to account, or to represent the interests of its users, though these phenomena may be occasional by-products of its existence. The company's early mission was to "give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." Instead, it took the concept of "community" and sapped it of all moral meaning. The rise of QAnon, for example, is one of the social web's logical conclusions. That's because Facebook—along with Google and YouTube—is perfect for amplifying and spreading disinformation at lightning speed to global audiences. Facebook is an agent of government propaganda, targeted harassment, terrorist recruitment, emotional manipulation, and genocide—a world-historic weapon that lives not underground, but in a Disneyland-inspired campus in Menlo Park, California.
From there, she expands this to its next logical cyberpunk dystopian conclusion—that Facebook is essentially a borderless nation, armed with its own doomsday device, and it has colonized the whole damn world:
Facebook's stated mission—to make the world more open and connected—has always seemed, to me, phony at best, and imperialist at worst. After all, today's empires are born on the web. Facebook is a borderless nation-state, with a population of users nearly as big as China and India combined, and it is governed largely by secret algorithms. Hillary Clinton told me earlier this year that talking to Zuckerberg feels like negotiating with the authoritarian head of a foreign state. "This is a global company that has huge influence in ways that we're only beginning to understand," she said.
It's about a 10-15 minute read, but holy hell, is it worth it. Because looking at the way that Facebook has destroyed languages and cultures and forced people to compete in violent wars of assimilation to appease their new masters of the likes—well, LaFrance may very well be right.
Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine [Adrienne LaFrance / The Atlantic]
Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons