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Facebook thrives off 'hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories,' says early investor Roger McNamee

Suzanne Smalley
·Reporter
·3 min read
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Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg reportedly failed to convince critics that he has a plan for getting rid of hate speech on the social network; a Monday meeting between Facebook executives and civil rights leaders who have organized a boycott of the company ended without a resolution.

Early Facebook investor Roger McNamee said Tuesday that the impasse isn’t surprising, because “hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories” are the “lubricant” to the social media giant’s business model.

“They need your attention in order to succeed,” McNamee said in an interview on the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.” Discussing how social media companies use data to target and engage individuals, McNamee said Facebook can easily use this understanding of its audience to manipulate our attention and behaviors.

“If you think about a system where you’re trying to get engagement, the best way to do that is to scare people or to make them outraged,” McNamee said. “And what does that? Hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories.”

McNamee is an adviser to the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which has so far convinced several Facebook advertisers, including Unilever and other Fortune 500 companies, to boycott the social network by withholding ad dollars.

Stop Hate for Profit was created in part to address what McNamee sees as a major flaw in the Facebook culture: that it “gives small numbers of really extreme people a disproportionate voice in our politics.”

“The First Amendment is there to allow people to say things that are awful,” McNamee said. “That’s not what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about here is the fact that these guys take these voices and then amplify them because that’s good for their bottom line. And so what we want advertisers to do is to recognize that they are complicit, that their dollars support this.”

Mark Zuckerberg (Tobias Hase/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Mark Zuckerberg. (Tobias Hase/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

McNamee said the boycott grew in part from the recognition that Facebook had not been called to account for its mistakes.

“Facebook has been on a 16-year apology tour,” McNamee said. “Things go wrong at Facebook all the time. First they deny it, then they deflect it, then they try to diffuse it and, finally, when they’re forced to, they apologize. They promise to do better, and then they literally go right back to doing whatever it is that they were doing before. And that has worked. It worked through the 2016 presidential election, it worked through the U.K. Brexit election, it worked after a genocide in Myanmar that the U.N. said Facebook was uniquely responsible for enabling, it worked for the Christchurch terrorism. They’ve gotten away with everything by just apologizing.”

The path ahead won’t be easy for anyone involved, according to McNamee. He says advertisers want to get back on Facebook. But he worries that it will be hard for Facebook to be the advertising powerhouse that it has been while also guarding against hate speech.

“Facebook has created what I think is legitimately the greatest advertising platform in the history of media, and so every advertiser would like to get back on there,” McNamee said. “They’d like the hate speech to go away, but they don’t want the other characteristics of Facebook to go away — and the problem is I don’t think you can have one without the other.”

Download or subscribe on iTunes: ‘Skullduggery’ from Yahoo News

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