This week, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testifed before Congress that Facebook harms children, stokes division, and is actively damaging our democracy. Worse, Haugen said, they know it, and have chosen to pursue profits over the mental and in some cases physical health of its users. It remains to be seen what Congress may do about this — have you been friended on social media by a Senator lately? — but now the problem has a human face, and Haugen’s testimony, combined with the recent publication of The Facebook Files from the Wall Street Journal, have put the problem squarely in view of the American public.
A cynic might believe that ultimately, her testimony will change nothing. I would submit that her interview on 60 Minutes was actually an important step in the changing of hearts and minds. After all, the circle of people who already believe that Facebook is a pressing problem, and the circle of people who watch 60 Minutes, may not overlap all that much, and this may have awakened a whole new cohort of Americans to an issue they had heretofore been untroubled by. Still, there remains a gap — a yawning chasm, even — between believing there is a problem, and doing something about it.
Here is that gap, in the form of two questions:
- Do you think Facebook is a problem?
If you do not agree that there is “a problem” with Facebook, that’s OK — the rest of this article may not be for you. But if you do, then you are ready to tackle the second question:
2. Do you have a problem with Facebook?
Surely you do not, right? You are smart, capable, and good, as my wife Tamsen always says, and far too mentally strong to be sucked into the seething vortex of Facebook’s malignant algorithm. No, the problem is that other people are succumbing to Facebook’s wiles, and we need to stop them from further slipping into the slough of despond.
It is this belief, that Facebook is a problem, but not my problem, that is the real gap that has to close before change can occur. It’s a variant of the empathy gap that the differential response to COVID-19 vaccination has exposed. No one has a problem with COVID — until they do. But the damage done by COVID is visible, clear, and revealed by a simple diagnosis. The damage done by Facebook is not so…