In late October of this year, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, appeared at a House Financial Services Committee hearing to discuss Facebook’s new Libra cryptocurrency project. The hearing became popularized on social media after an exchange between Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Zuckerberg over the topic of false political advertising, an issue that has tarnished the popular social media platform’s name.
Facebook has faced scrutiny after being involved in a number of scandals, including Russian agents using Facebook to spread false information that interfered in U.S. elections and strengthened populist ideologies that led to violent outbreaks. The company has also received backlash for failing to monitor the spread of pictures and videos of child sexual abuse.
This damaged reputation has resulted in mistrust among many users. In March of 2018, the New York Times shared that Facebook handed over the private information of 87 million users to British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica without users’ permission. Most recently, Facebook fixed a bug that previously granted the company permission to access users’ cameras, again without their knowledge. The controversies have pushed for the government to take action by intensifying privacy laws and even potentially instating a multibillion-dollar fine.
We often forget Facebook started out as a site to rate Harvard students’ attractiveness. It has now long shed that misogynistic association, but Facebook has yet to truly correct its problematic behavior.
Despite the company’s evident role in circumventing democracy, it is nowhere near approaching its “demise.” Facebook, who is also the parent company of Whatsapp and Instagram, has a monstrous global reach. Hootsuite reported that in 2019, Facebook had 2.41 billion active monthly users, an 8 percent increase from 2018, and was the third-most-visited site in the world.
These numbers still do not justify Facebook’s questionable actions. As the U.S. approaches the new election cycle, now is the time to hold the site accountable and push for better practices. Pressure results in action, as seen with Twitter announcing earlier this month that they will not be running political ads. There is no excuse for why Facebook is still able to profit at the expense of users’ privacy, choice and knowledge.
In response to AOC’s inquiry, if Facebook would remove political ads with clear lies, Zuckerberg responded, “In most cases, in a democracy, I believe that people should be able to see for themselves what politicians that they may or may not vote for are saying and judge their character for themselves.”
In our democracy we have recognized that Facebook has tarnished its character. Now it’s time we demand that company leaders fix it.
Shruti Mishra is a senior majoring in political science and Spanish.