The politics of Facebook and what to do about it

While the data firm Cambridge Analytica and questions of data privacy propelled Facebook into the headlines in recent months, Facebook has been under the critical eye of media scholars for years.

“The sad conclusion to my book is that the problem with Facebook is Facebook,” declared Siva Vaidhyanathan, the Robertson Professor of Media Studies and director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia, during his opening remarks at the first of this semester’s Berkman Klein Center Luncheon Series, which was co-sponsored with the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

The event, moderated by Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center, revolved around Vaidhyanathan’s latest book, “Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy.” Vaidhyanathan cited the sheer scale of Facebook, with over 2 billion people, along with its underlying engagement and promotion algorithms and its precise, targeted advertising system, as central to Facebook’s problems with disinformation, surveillance, and data sharing that have been associated with the platform.

According to Vaidhyanathan, the crux of Facebook’s issues stem from the idea that Facebook is a political tool, although, he said, those at Facebook would likely disagree. Facebook has been criticized for its role in the 2016 United States presidential election, in large part due to its targeted advertising system to both encourage and discourage voters, which Vaidhyanathan further explains in “Antisocial Media.” Further, beyond the United States, Facebook also has much broader political impact in countries…

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