Whistleblowers, global outages, and Congressional hearings this week leave everyone asking the question, “Is Facebook evil?”

Yesterday, Libya’s government unleashed an unprecedented roundup of 5,000 migrants, including hundreds of women and children. In some instances, lethal force was used. The migrants are now bound for detention centers. The scale of the migrant roundup offered a glimmer at this massive population that is vulnerable to human trafficking and other dark realities today.

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Perhaps you did not hear about the migrant story. It was not featured on CNN’s home page. CNN featured a report titled “Couples Sleeping Apart Aren’t Just In I Love Lucy Anymore” in their home page’s News and Buzz section but had no room for the migrant roundup. It was not just CNN. The only mention of migrants on the Fox News home page involved those that the Biden mishandled in Del Rio, Texas, several weeks ago.

Why are significant issues of human survival and danger not featured more prominently on the leading news websites of our society? Why do opinion, entertainment news, and celebrity photos receive far greater play in today’s media than human suffering and systemic corruption around the world? The answer is simple. The media machines give us what we want, not what we need.

The uproar over the Facebook whistleblower should give us pause to consider the influence allotted to social media in our lives – but nothing described by the whistleblower should surprise us. Facebook is acting no differently from any other media company, or for that matter, any other major corporation, today. The customer is always right. Give the customer what they want.

What Sells?

Among the most significant revelations in the whistleblower’s alarms at Facebook involve how Facebook and Instagram deliberately pushed content that divided and provoked users. The company found users were more likely to click on that headline about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, or George Floyd than the recipe about zucchini spaghetti or the video of the cat playing with yarn.

That’s why the political stories kept showing up in your timeline. Facebook was baiting us, and we took the bait, staying on the platform longer to read about the next outrage or leave our very important comment to the post. We needed to express our agreement or expose the mistakes and the lies!

Facebook has tapped into the no longer surprising phenomenon that outrage and provocation do more to captivate an audience than anything else. Users who think Facebook is too liberal or too conservative are missing the point. Facebook does not care about either side. They just want to keep you on their platform, and the easiest way to do that is with provocation. In the old days, marketing firms learned that “sex sells.” Today, outrage and provocation sell.

But again, it’s not just Facebook. The major media outlets no longer dominate their primetime news hours with informative discussions or exposes, but with opinion heads from Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson to Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo. It is not about their insight. Outrage and provocation sell!

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attended a Metropolitan Gala event where tickets ranged from $35,000 to $300,000 per table wearing a dress that said, “Tax the Rich.” The bizarre contradiction of that move did not have to make sense. It only had to get our attention – and hold it. The musician Kacey Musgraves performed nude on Saturday Night Live this weekend not because it was right or wrong but because the media, and its audience, would still be talking about it days later. The next MTV awards, or any other celebrity awards ceremony, will feature a controversial moment and scene for the same reasons.

celebrity culture

It is predictable and obvious unless you believe these outlets are pursuing anything except your undivided attention – which they then monetize. The influencers and their platforms want our attention, and they will sink to bizarre, immoral, and ridiculous depths to gain it. Facebook is only one of these.

We are active participants, not victims of this insanity!

Damaging Our Youth

Another prominent finding in the whistleblower’s revelations from Facebook shows that the company knew that Instagram had a harmful effect on teenage girls’ self-image.

Did we need a whistleblower for that? I look at the barrage of selfies posted by young people on social media and see something is obviously amiss. How did this striving for falseness become so normalized?

is facebook evil

Data from classified studies at Facebook revealed that teenage girls got caught in a cycle on Instagram where images on the social media app made them feel depressed. To escape the depression, they chased validation through the social media app. Post a photo and get the likes to change how the other person’s photo made you feel. That cycle held them to the platform and worsened their depression.

The landscape of our whole society is doing this to young girls! It is not only social media. I walk through a mall today and am shocked by the images in retail store windows that portray unrealistic standards to lure women in for purchases. Boys are also fed a relentless stream of images and messaging that confuses their standards for genuine manhood.

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The greater problem is that our children (and I think many among the adult population too) are finding identity and definition from a host of wrong sources – not only the phone apps.

When my children were young, my wife and I put boundaries on their social media usage, including the number of selfies they could post in a designated amount of time. Does that seem overbearing? That’s our job as parents! But we also put boundaries on our own usage of social media.

is facebook evil

We leveraged social media usage as training for our children who live in a society increasingly saturated with dangerous media images and messaging. Be aware! Be alert! All this media is not seeking to strengthen you but to manipulate you for their own ends! Rise above it because you are more than a like or a shared post.

As parents, we avoided the seduction that a quiet and distracted child meant a safe and happy child.

Is Facebook Evil?

Is Facebook evil? Of course, it’s evil! But the whole of our society is evil. They are not acting in your interests. They are all seeking a personal profit, not a moral or social good. This reality should not surprise us, and if it does, perhaps our views of reality need a more thorough testing.

is facebook evil

I am not deleting my Facebook because Facebook is a tool. I use it. It does not use me. I have personal boundaries for Facebook. I veer away from the comments on posts. I don’t get my news from social media. I take frequent long breaks from the app if I find myself spending too much time on it (evidenced by increases in internal anxiety). Instagram makes me feel like I’m the most boring human on the planet, but I won’t be deleting it either. It is a tool for me. I am not a tool for it.

The world is a dark place. We need to remove ourselves from the fantasy that devices and platforms that offer us conveniences also seek our personal wellbeing. They aren’t. They won’t. And it’s not just Facebook.


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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at www.theendofhistory.net