Society's Facebook dilemma: Desperately seeking Zuckerberg as savior

PBS Frontline presents an in-depth investigation into Facebook and criticizes founder Mark Zuckerberg for a serious lack of foresight.

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Frontline, the PBS news program, this week released a two-part investigation into the early days of Facebook and to ask if it has made changes ahead of the midterm US elections.

Titled "The Facebook Dilemma," the lengthy video report.contains little new information. It makes very heavy use of Kara Swisher from Recode -- who does a great job, and Roger McNamee from Silverlake Partners, playing the role of a Mark Zuckerberg insider.

One question at the end of Part 1 was: What exactly is Facebook's dilemma? It's never discussed or explained.

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I'd like to know why Frontline expected a 34 year-old software engineer to come up with solutions to really tough societal problems such as fake news and political manipulation of consumers.

Zuckerberg knows Javascript -- why does Frontline (and society) expect him to have special abilities to solve these problems?


The dilemma lies squarely with our legislators -- allow Zuckerberg to continue with an unmanageable media platform -- or demand that he control these issues.

After all, the old media -- newspapers, magazines, radio and TV -- managed to control fake news and hate speech and keep it out of daily view. Why is Zuckerberg allowed to reject this social responsibility that the old media handled so successfully? We already have a solution -- it is called editors.

Yet Zuckerberg doesn't even realize that Facebook is a media company so how can he even begin to effectively address such issues?

Frontline's deep voiced narration asks serious questions and takes Zuckerberg to task -- time and again on the many mistakes he has made along the way.

But he's a software engineer -- he's not supposed to have the solutions! At times this Frontline report sounds like a ponderous parody of itself.

Zuckerberg doesn't share...

There was nothing said about the fact that Zuckerberg doesn't share power. He is is the majority shareholder and controls the most votes and he doesn't have to answer to shareholders. He could single-handedly pivot Facebook in a completely new direction. He could decide to change the business model without requiring any official approval from anyone.

So far, Facebook has sided with advertisers -- an adversarial position towards its users in that requires it to collect ever more personal data. But it doesn't have to be that way.

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Zuckerberg is a young man and he wants to be seen as doing something good on a global scale -- which requires a different kind of Facebook than the one we see today that sells out its users to third parties at every opportunity.

But it's clear that Zuckerberg needs help and guidance on what to do.

Frontline had an opportunity to take the Facebook discussion further than the familiar and at times tedious roundup of what's wrong with the social media platform.

The viewer's dilemma is deciding if their time is better spent watching something else. I can recommend Frontline's excellent The House of Saud.

Previous and related coverage:

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