If Facebook Didn’t Exist…

Here’s a crazy thought: if Facebook didn’t exist would the world be a more peaceful, empathetic place?

How much real-world violence would never have happened if Facebook didn’t exist? One of the people I’ve asked is Joshua Geltzer, a former White House counterterrorism official who is now teaching at Georgetown Law. In counterterrorism circles, he told me, people are fond of pointing out how good the United States has been at keeping terrorists out since 9/11. That’s wrong, he said. In fact, “terrorists are entering every single day, every single hour, every single minute” through Facebook.

Adrienne LaFrance, Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine

Imagine a world without Facebook, also WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok and every other popular social media platform. If these networks didn’t exist I wonder what the hell most of us would be doing on our phones all day. It’s possible things like distracted driving, continuous partial attention and digital echo-chambers wouldn’t be persistent problems.

Our phones used to be simple voice calling devices. No GPS, no high-definition cameras, and no constant connectivity to centralized social media platforms. This connectivity we now all have following us around in our pockets has exacerbated a range of anxiety disorders, particularly among our kids, who now must deal with cyber-bullying. Throughout the industrialized world we now see a crisis of social and political divisiveness with the United States of America perhaps leading the way.

Of course bullying and political divisiveness have been around long before the Internet, but social media coupled with widespread smartphone use have arguably made these things much worse.
Back in 2017 one of Facebook’s former VPs, Chamath Palihapitiya, spoke out and made stunning remarks about the platform he and his ‘user growth’ team of engineers helped create:

“I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works.” He added, “[There’s] no civil discourse, no cooperation; [only] misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem–this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

Indeed, social media has become a troubling conduit for misinformation.

Facebook’s original motto was Move fast and break things. Once a sort of inspirational hacker ethos built around the idea of using technology in disruptive and innovative ways. In software development this approach would focus on rapid prototyping and iteration of releases over more methodical planning, user testing and feedback.
Another of Zuckerberg’s mottos was the seminal Make the World More Open & Connected. Now, in the wake of rampant misinformation of widespread voter fraud leading to the Washington D.C. insurrection, these old mottos are cringe worthy.
Facebook (and Twitter) now wield incredible power to influence and divide people on a massive scale. Break things? Mission accomplished. Social media plays an undeniably significant role as much as we’d like to think it’s entirely Donald Trump’s fault.