Why Zuck is Betting on Social Collapse

Why Facebook Helps Authoritarians Steal Elections and Sow Hatred
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In case you haven’t noticed, Facebook appears to give zero effs about preserving the integrity of the next election. And that’s a very bad sign, because one of they key ways Trump is going to steal the next election is with a little help from his friend Zuck, spreading every kind of toxic, malign, idiotic bullshit to his Army of Idiots on Facebook, with a little more help from his friends in the Kremlin, who kindly helped him do the job last time around.
It shouldn’t be controversial to say, by the way, that “Zuck doesn’t care about democracy.” Facebook’s been accused of everything from fueling genocide to aiding authoritarianism. Fuelling genocide. Think about that for a second.
The Nazis owned the platforms they used to spread propaganda. They had to drop leaflets from planes. Facebook, on the other hand, is a willing enabler owned with an iron fist by this weirdly sociopathic dude in a hoodie, the kind who might conceivably have been an incel if destiny had barely twisted another slight way. The last few years have seen a wave of brutal, vicious hard-right authoritariansim spreading globally, from India to Brazil to of course America — and without Facebook to be the platform of gleeful choice of authoritarian political parties and demagogues the world over that wave world have been much, much smaller.
So. Why doesn’t Zuck care about democracy? What the hell is wrong with him? After all, every sane and decent person does and should. Nobody should have the repellent values of a Zuck.
The answer’s very simple, you probably already know it, and it’s every bit as distressing as you think it is. Check out this article by John Naughton, which notes that Facebook “embedded” teams with hard-right authoritarian campaigns, teams which effectively ran their messaging. Now, you might say, it offered that to the left as well. Wait — don’t make the mistake of equivalence. Helping craft political ads that demonize and dehumanize and spread brutality and violence is not the same as fighting against it — or even saying, “Sorry, no, we won’t and don’t do that.” When you do things like help authoritarian-fascists spread hate, you are actively complicit.
So what’s the deal? Why is Facebook so complicit in this global wave of authoritarian meltdown that it’s become a punchline at this point? There’s a person who works at Facebook that I see regularly. I won’t say where, so they don’t face internal consequences. I say: “How’s life at the evil empire?” They chuckle ruefully. It stings — because it’s so true that it’s undeniable. Facebook is up there with Big Oil for most evil corporations in the world. Big Oil killed the planet — Facebook is killing democracy.
And it’s about to do so again. There’s no indication whatsoever that Facebook is going to ensure the integrity of the next American election — by, say, cracking down on disinformation, vetting hate speech, blocking bad actors, and so forth. In fact, it’s said it will do as little as possible. What the? Why doesn’t Zuck care about democracy?
The answer is exactly what you think it is. Money. Money and power. What else has it ever been, when it comes to dudes like Zuck, and the sad, pathetic betas who do their bidding?
Let me explain all that, because there are a few things you should know.
The upcoming US election is going to see a massive, massive tidal wave of money being thrown at Facebook. Not just from political parties — oh, no. From, among others, shady “Political Action Committees.” Weirdo thinktanks. Thinly disguised groups of crackpots of every kind, from theocrats to supremacists. How much money does all that add up to? A lot, actually, and nobody can figure out how much, because most of it’s dark money.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Then there’s…the Kremlin. Like last time, they’re going to spread as much disinformation as they can, as hard as they can. How about China? When you’ve got state actors buying ads on your platform…trying to hurt their enemies…it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Money. A huge, huge jackpot of it.
Now multiply that by all the election in the world being contested by authoritarians, not just the upcoming American election. That’s a massive, gigantic, towering Mount Everest of money. Dark money. Nobody knows where it comes from, and nobody cares in the end, because by the time it’s in your hands…it’s already been used to destroy the very institutions of democracy capable of accounting for it. Now you’ve got power and money.
Let’s connect a few dots now.
Did you see all those corporate advertisers walk away from Facebook recently, disgusted? Did you see Facebook grin and say LOL IDGAF? That’s Zuck making a Big Bet. A bet that staid corporate advertising isn’t the future of Facebook, and that state-sponsored propaganda used to collapse societies is.
Zuck’s betting on social collapse. Why? The economist in me can put it to you very simply. A healthy society doesn’t have much need for a Facebook. It has strong and abundant social bonds — that’s one facet of what a healthy society is. Real social bonds, not the impoverished digital version of them. The more collapsed a society is, the fewer and weaker social bonds it has — and so the more it has to turn to something like Facebook. Maybe you need to beg for pennies to pay for that operation, maybe you need to find a place to school your kids, maybe you just need to vent.
Facebook creates social collapse, but it also thrives on it. Zuck is betting that this vicious circle of implosion is the best way to…keep raking it in. Guess what? He’s right — at least for societies dumb enough to give this engine of ruin free reign to pollute its culture and public sphere with garbage, hate, and ignorance.
Facebook’s future, Zuck is telling us, isn’t so much selling advertising so much as selling propaganda. That makes eminent sense, too, in simple business terms. Propaganda is by far and away Facebook’s most successful product. Advertising? It requires onerous, costly things, like a sales force, checks, compliance, tools, and so forth. Propaganda? That’s much, much better, because it’s margins are way higher. On the one side, you don’t need to sell it, it sells itself. Want to brainwash half a country into believing the other half are commies, libtards, cucks? Facebook’s the place. Want to build a mass wave of support for a demagogue — and turn him into a proper dictator? Come on down to Facebook, friend.
Once the propaganda’s sold — you don’t need to check up on it. What’s the ROI? Did it break any rules or norms or laws? In fact, you don’t want to check on it — and neither does the buyer. Everyone wants to walk away, and pretend like nobody made this happen. See the beauty of a business like that? It’s kind of like dealing drugs, and knowing your customers won’t snitch to the cops.
That project of corroding democracy, by the way, isn’t really about “convincing” or “persuading” people. It’s just about confusing them, befuddling them, overwhelming them.…drowning them in bullshit, so that their minds simply stop working. That is what Facebook’s really selling now: shit, or, to put it more technically, an option to make a society’s mind go numb with garbage and nonsense. It’s a superprofitable business, especially in an age when things — from economics to climate change — are already going badly wrong.
All that has an origin. The RAND Corporation — which is probably America’s last good thinktank left — calls the Russian model of propaganda the “Firehose,” meaning its object is to turn reality into a contested and contestable affair, by bombarding you with fake news and alternate facts, all of which sensible people just call propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation. The point of new form of techno-propaganda isn’t to persuade: it’s to sow doubt, to create uncertainty, to terrorize and intimidate, to render empirical reality irrelevant. Once you’ve done that, then democracy has little chance to flourish, because first, we must all agree on basic facts. If we can’t — if I think that Covid is a hoax, and that Donald Trump is bravely fighting for my right to expose it, and you know that all this is bunkum — then there’s nothing we can agree on politically.
So. Propaganda in the internet age works according to Russia’s “Firehose” Model. But it’s hardly just Russia who employs this model. Why does Trump tweet a hundred times a day — while the country’s burning? You got it — the firehose. Why does the GOP bombard people with all kinds of insane, baffling nonsense, a thousand times a day? Bingo — the firehose. Why do all these conservative politicians constantly seem to be trolling everyone? That’s the firehose, too. The world’s authoritarians have been quick to learn from the Russian Firehose — the idea that using social media allows you to bombard people with misinformation and disinformation and hate and lies faster and harder than ever before.
That’s what Facebook’s really selling, betting on democracy collapsing — the Firehose model of propaganda.
Think about the beauty of all this for a moment — at least if you’re Zuck. On the one side, there’s the Firehose: social media allows you to sow hate and spread lies, at a rate unprecedented in human history. It allows you to target it ever more finely, too, meaning that you can press some poor schlub’s buttons — trigger his xenophobia, racism, bigotry — over and over and over again, a hundred times a day. What’s the result? You drive him into a mania, a frenzy. His rational mind, his cognitive brain, stops working. All that’s left is the animal brain — the self preservation impulse, fight or flight. At that point, the bond between demagogue and flock is sealed with the psychological equivalent of iron — it’s unbreakable. You can’t speak rationally to a Trumpist because their rational minds have stopped working. Their rational minds have stopped working because they’re being triggered, over and over again, a thousand times a day, by a Firehose of hateful bullshit. All that puts them in a perpetual fight-or-flight state, and usually, they’re wont to fight. Which is why you see them, for example, flouting wearing swastika face masks at Walmart, which is about the most surreal phrase I think I’ve ever written.
The wonderful thing about the Firehose Model — if you’re a Facebook, that is — is that it requires buying propaganda in volumes never before seen in human history. You’re trying to flood that poor schlub’s mind with crap, put him in the red zone where thinking stops, by sending a tsunami of terrifying, hateful garbage his way. It’s easy enough to do — but to do it, and here’s the wonderful part for a Facebook, you have to buy a billion bite-sized chunks of bullshit, over and over and over again, to drown a society in.
For authoritarians, all this is like crack. There’s nothing an authoritarian loves, wants, craves, needs more than the power to stop people’s rational minds working, and replace them with outsized, mindless fears — which the authoritarian controls. Again, the amazing part about all this — if you’re Facebook — is that you’re selling a tiny little rock of all that at a time. And it takes a billion to really destroy a society the way authoritarians want. See the economics of that? You’re going to get very, very rich. Let me put that another way.
If you’re holding a Firehose of Crap, and your goal is to drown a society with it, then you going to need a gigantic amount of shit, because that Firehose is spewing it a mile a minute. Facebook will happily sell you the shit, by the ounce, or the pound. It’ll even point the cannon for you, and then hold it. What better business is there?
The Firehose Model of propaganda that the world’s authoritarians are now employing is a massive, massive jackpot for companies like Facebook. The authoritarians need to bombard their Armies of Idiots, like Trumpists, with misinfo and disinfo and hate on a scale never before seen in human history, over and over again, day after day. It’s not like buying a few ads for a TV campaign — it’s more like buying a million ads a day, forever, and the more a society collapses, the better all this works. For Facebook? It’s the Promised Land.
There’s never really been anything like the thermonuclear chain reaction of bullshit Facebook’s created in human history yet: this devil’s bargain between authoritarians who need to drown nations in bullshit to rise, and companies like Facebook, who can sell them the ability to do just that, one tiny, tiny piece of horrendous crap at a time. Imagine if you ran a business like that, too: there’s a Trump, a Putin, a Bolsonaro, who wants to literally bury his country in bullshit. Lucky you! You can help him do it — you can even tell him what precise living rooms and cars to aim the most ridiculous bullshit at first. But every ounce is going to cost. By the time the job is done, of burying a country in bullshit? You’ll be one of the richest men in the country. In the world.
Which is exactly what Zuck is. Sure, he stinks a little, having sold all that bullshit, and decent people walk away from him, holding their noses. So what? He’s laughing all the way to the bank.
That’s why Facebook doesn’t care about the end of American democracy. The simple way to say it is: Money. The subtler way to say it is: Facebook’s betting on collapse — and not just America’s.
There’s far too much money to be made from destroying democracy now. When the Firehose Model of drowning entire countries in bullshit met authoritarians who loved doing it — the amounts to be made became staggering. There’s way, way more money to be made from destroying democracy than there is from preserving it. That’s always been true, to an extent, but the Firehose Model has made that imbalance something like the difference between Jupiter and the Earth. Too big to resist, ignore, or challenge, really. That is why even inside Facebook, the reformers, the good guys, always lose. There’s way, way, way more money to be made by helping authoritarians drown nations in digital bullshit than stopping them from doing it — if there’s any in that at all — and so Facebook is ending up what it was always going to be: an arms broker, a weapons dealer, in the propaganda wars of the 21st century. Facebook doesn’t care about destroying democracy because money. So, so much money.
You know it, you always knew it, but maybe your rational side ruled out you really thinking out. “Come on, it can’t just be about money, can it?” Let me assure you, my friend, it is only about and has only ever been about money. Even if — or maybe especially when — the effect is collapsing society, because people who crave money are also usually the kinds of people who hate civilization and decency and kindness.
If you could get that rich by selling bullshit, too, would you? I’d bet most of us would at least be tempted. I certainly would be. After all, you can also tell yourself all you’re doing by drowning society in bullshit until it dies is spreading fertilizer in which to plant tomorrow’s gardens. And as foolish a lie as that is, self-deceit is bittersweet: we don’t usually wake up until it’s way, way too late.