The Continuing Folly of Facebook

Facebook’s most recent debacle is actually two:  the first is the uproar its employees have created over the presence of Vice-President for Global Public Policy, Joel Kaplan, at Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings, and the second is management’s sympathetic response to what amounts to more as a noisy thunderstorm than as the dramatic firestorm used by so many commentators. Facebook employees apparently believe any undesirable political expression—even when nothing is ostensibly being expressed—should be codified into some sort of Draconian policy that concludes with termination. Perhaps even with public censure. Maybe the oracle known as Zuckerberg could further satisfy his labor pool by stockading the unruly and flogging them until morale improves. Such lengths would at least befit management’s decision to waste an inordinate amount of productivity aimed at addressing and even possibly legislating matters that are both personal and non-pursuant to the job—matters that ought to be out of its jurisdiction, in other words.

It is embarrassing to see adults, allegedly mature ones, instantly regress into children upon hearing something mean or witnessing something offensive and then demanding the nearest authority, now assuming the role in loco parentis, swiftly punish the ne’er-do-wells into oblivion. And here many of us believed that such noise infected only college campuses, not industrial ones.

Because unless I missed it, I did not catch Kaplan’s own public testimony before Congress as to why he was sitting a few rows behind his friend during a critical moment in his life and in the nation’s own. I did not hear Kaplan defending his political viewpoints on any matters, much less those in direct orbit of Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation because he did not express any, even tacitly. And for the liberal elite to presume otherwise is both repugnant and gravely ironic since such tactics are what its minions so breathlessly rail against otherwise, and often with the most suspect reasoning. But Facebook employees have graciously invented such a reality since one’s quiet presence during another’s testimony is valid grounds for presuming the former’s political and personal beliefs match the latter’s own as well. It is always a treat to see how alive and well guilt-by-association is well among a generation of workers whom Zuckerberg contends “are just smarter” than their older counterparts on virtually all matters. (When irony of this thickest sort abounds in matter like these, it is most assuredly a genuine treat for older folk such as myself.)

I wonder how much productivity has been and continues to be lost because of yet another self-inflicted black eye caused internally, not this time not by management, but instead by its underlings. I ponder how much more stock value Facebook will continue to lose simply because it continuously bungles internal matters to such a bewildering degree that I cannot help but see Facebook simply as a dysfunctional enterprise that has passed its prime and is not floundering for purpose and direction. If this were to follow a literary narrative, Facebook would be its denouement—and a most precarious one—whose finish will seal this social media titan’s fate as either a shameful caricature or as a distinguished conglomerate. Once Facebook asserts and follows it core beliefs as a business and not as a parent, legislator, or commander, perhaps it can dignifiedly prolong its final chapters. But it is more likely the public will witness before twilight even more tragedy befall its brightest-of-them-all workforce.

But as smart as these kids supposedly are, they—and their slightly more grown up superiors— are in desperate need of a mature adult.

But I admit that that may be just my age showing, to which I am guilty as charged.

Disfigured Speech

Earlier this week, Twitter unleashed its new user policy agreement, targeting users who post “content that dehumanizes others based on their membership in an identifiable group, even when the material does not include a direct target.” Helping codify its corporate version of protected speech, Twitter is directly soliciting its users’ feedback on its posted draft, amounting to a rather shrewd public relations move that presumably caused the uptick in the company’s stock as well.

CEO Del Harvey supports this shortsighted approach despite her bungling the alleged Alex Jones crisis, because the collective infuriation of Twits whose fill-in-the-blank sensitivities tilt easily from trigger-words matters far more. (And I do not recognize this contrivance called “hate speech”; it is simply speech someone feels especially offended by, meaning it is just hated speech. This arbitrary designation has only produced failed curtailments in all levels of court, resulting in more shame than dignity.)

If an idea’s substance ought to reign over its semantics, I wonder how an unpopular political belief phrased diplomatically would fare. And I am curious as to how long it would escape human or algorithmic scrutiny. But Twitter is a business, not a government enterprise subject to the scrutiny established by our judicial system. And it ought to remain this way, unfettered from federal jurisdiction, subject only to the private operators’—and stakeholders’—discretion.

But I will rightfully criticize the most embarrassing length a service has ever gone to satiate its customers’ demands:  severely impairing the very speech that functions to affirm its oppositions and differences. Put more simply, banishing unfavorable ideas—disgusting, insidious, perverted ideas—discounts the weight and significance of whatever selective ideas remain. More overreach will result in many contexts being diluted to a singular and severely reductive ideal. Means for comparison will go extinct. Baselines will blur away. Thresholds will disappear. And so will a people’s integrity when they complicity legislate language to an Orwellian degree, by which every communique—every tweet—will be imbued with an oppression most offensive.

And I will remain offended, but also intrigued by the inevitable overreach resulting from the haste of other platforms freely shucking protected speech in favor of shoddy populist policy-making, and with the careless oversight by a public largely ignorant of civics and Constitutional protections, to boot. I imagine these platforms will engage in a competitive one-upping of both policy content and its delivery, the winner’s purse going to whomever first successfully scorches every nuance of valid political discourse, notably those running aground to whatever sanitized musings and recycled misinformation are funneling down Twitter’s rabbit hole to oblivion.

And emotional sensitives be damned. If anything ought to feel offended by Twitter’s approach, it is one’s intellect. Mine is appalled. But pandering to the whims of one’s clientele is indeed a brutal edge to any service-based industry, especially a social media platform. Yet establishing such a precedent will only further embalm the linguistic monstrosity that is more akin to protective speech, piecemealed in roughshod Frankenstein fashion.

The cure for undesirable speech is more speech, not less. Exposing to light others’ philosophical defects ironically permits us to become more compassionate than tyrannical. And to clarify, shouting down invited speakers to a public college campus to speak does not qualify. It legally does not. Google it. But please make sure to use a credible civics or Constitution website.