Is Facebook really ‘ripping apart’ society? | The Knife Media




(The Knife Media) Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya said Facebook and social media websites are “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” The media supported his perspective by focusing on it, but not including alternative opinions on the matter. With this type of coverage, we could be misled to perceive Facebook as the culprit — the one to blame — without acknowledging each user’s responsibility in how they interface with the platform.  


So how does the media we analyzed promote bias against Facebook? There’s a combination of factors, including:


1.  Ignoring the responsibility of users


2. Cherry-picking the most disparaging statements


3. Yet more blaming of Facebook


4. An absence of data-driven evidence


Let’s break these down:


1. Ignoring the responsibility of users


Facebook and social media companies have some responsibility for what happens on their platforms, but it isn’t only their responsibility. Palihapitiya blames these platforms for how people use them, and the media doesn’t question this. In doing so, they miss the bigger picture.


Social media is a tool. As users, we share responsibility for what is posted and how we respond to it. There may indeed be harmful effects of that activity, but if we ignore our role in it,we likely won’t be able to solve the problems. Take bullying or violence on Facebook as an example. The platform doesn’t cause this to happen; rather, users decide to post such content. If you shut down Facebook and other social media sites tomorrow, this bullying or violence in society wouldn’t go away.


How does media support the blame against Facebook?


2. Cherry-picking the most disparaging statements


Take a look at these headlines:

The Guardian: “Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart” The Washington Post: “Former Facebook VP says social media is destroying society with ‘dopamine-driven feedback loops’”


From these headlines, you might think Facebook was to blame for the downfall of society. Palihapitiya’s statements are taken from a 44-minute interview, in which he discussed a number of topics ranging from his upbringing, his business philosophy of earning as much money as possible, investing in social change, to concern with the prevalence of social media.


The outlets take his statements that most blame and disparage social media, and make that the story.


3. Yet more blame of Facebook


In addition to focusing on Palihapitiya’s most sensational critiques, the outlets cite more former employees’ criticism of Facebook.


For instance, Fox News writes, “Palihapitiya is just the latest former Facebook employee to come out and express concern” over the company, and cites Facebook’s former president Sean Parker saying, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” The Verge and the Post cite a former employee alleging Facebook “lies” about its influence on users, without citing the employee’s reasoning or evidence.


The outlets do not cite anyone — at the company or elsewhere — saying positive things about Facebook. (You can see this reflected in their slant ratings, which range from 62 to 77 percent slanted.) For instance, the Verge article only has one line that favors the company at all. But Facebook has about two billion monthly users; clearly people find some sort of value in it.


4. An absence of data-driven evidence


In his interview, with the exception of one case in which false information on WhatsApp led to vigilante killings, Palihapitiya does not provide specific evidence for his statements that social media is harming society.


While Palihapitiya himself speaks of the value of using systematic, data-driven evidence, rather than anecdotal-based reasoning (in portions of the interview that the outlets don’t mention), he doesn’t follow his own advice when he criticizes social media. He uses vague language, for example, saying social media is “ripping apart” our society, without saying what that means exactly or what evidence it’s based on. He says getting Facebook “likes” is like a hit of dopamine, but doesn’t mention scientific evidence to support the statement.


If a news outlet decides to make his statements the focus of a story, it might be more responsible to research on what he might be basing the statements, and whether or not there’s merit to his argument. In lieu of that, outlets could point to the fact that his argument is presented without evidence. By not doing so, outlets may encourage readers to assume his statements are true without evaluating them.


Written by Julia Berry López


Edited by Julia Berry López, Jens Erik Gould and Rosa Laura Junco


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