Toronto Star

Facebook stokes hatred to make money

- Heather Mallick Twitter: @HeatherMal­lick

“Great God! this is an awful place,” wrote Robert Falcon Scott when he reached the South Pole on Jan. 17, 1912. He wrote it in his diary. It’s not a bad descriptio­n of Facebook. Imagine if he’d posted it there.

Facebook is an awful place for humans, but 3.5 billion humans don’t see it that way. Facebook foments hatred and lies, its technology collapses without warning, it has vapourized privacy and destroyed self-esteem while becoming a prime vehicle for global misogyny, it sends out lies about politics and vaccinatio­n and destabiliz­es nations, it has nearly destroyed journalism, and it hauls in massive profits massively undertaxed.

Everything about Facebook, including its more specialist miseries, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, is malign. It makes you into the kind of person you never dreamed you’d be.

Most Canadians believe Facebook harms their mental health, a recent survey revealed. They’re right.

It turns them into simple people who see things in black or white. You’re with me or against me. If the latter, I hate you.

If Scott had actually posted the “awful” remark on Facebook, immediate offence would have been taken by Mark Zuckerberg, increasing­ly remote as his tight reddish curls move ever backward on his Easter Island statue head with Roman emperor hair that makes him appear ever more deranged.

How would Zuckerberg’s customers wriggling on the Facebook fish hook have reacted?

They’d have seized on Scott’s “God” reference as an offence to Gaia or Islam and deplored Scott’s ineffable upper-classness. If the explorers had been anything other than white, some dreary Facebooker would have posted, no one would have cared about their lonely deaths. Alarums would ensue. Result: hate.

The animal rights people would have posted about the ponies and dogs that died on the trek. Were their lives worth less? No, everyone died, animals and men alike. Does that plate you? Result: hate.

Marxist Facebooker­s would have said Scott’s men were alienated from the product of their labour — the Pole — and didn’t own the means of production, the quest.

But people on Facebook do own the means of production and that’s the problem. Before it arrived, people couldn’t publish minor disputes bred of an airy word. Now they won’t stop. Result: hate.

People once seemed complicate­d and your reactions were mixed. But Facebook goads people and cleaves them.

A perfect example: in 2015 a Facebook quarrel erupted in a small Boston amateur writers’ group. One writer, Dawn Dorland, already a fragile person, donated her kidney to a stranger and took offence when her Facebook “friends” didn’t praise her sufficient­ly. One of them, Sonya Larson, in fact wrote a short story mocking her.

Writers’ workshops are generally pointless, bald-menfightin­g-over-a-comb sessions. But the upshot was self-harm, threats, lawsuits, and sadistic Facebook comments revealed in court.

The plodding New York Times hired a good journalist, Robert Kolker, to write a long, delicate story about this. It was followed by a vicious whore/ madonna social media storm over which of the two women was the worse.

This missed the point. The story was about group psychosis, of fiction-writing as a doomed side-gig in the era of precarity, of status anxiety and cruelty.

It was not about who was right or wrong, as Facebook lures you into deciding. It was complex. As Atlantic columnist Helen Lewis wrote, the story was a Rorschach test in which everyone saw something different. There was no one answer.

Facebook’s special recipe says otherwise. It was the enabler, its subgroups encouragin­g the planting of a poison tree that the “writers” kept feeding.

Facebook life has grown so advanced in its acidity that it can now fairly be said that the enabler actively causes human misery.

Take “The Closer,” the latest Netflix standup show by the immensely popular American comic Dave Chapelle. As promised, Chapelle offers jokes to offend everyone. British comic Ricky Gervais does this, too, but gets away with it by being foreign. Americans aren’t used to this.

Chapelle is Black. When people complain that he’s “punching down” with jokes about LGBTQ people, Chapelle responds that he’s shocked to see a Black man accused of something that requires a social power that Black people can’t muster.

Netflix is standing by him. I watched the show, which is so offensive — including to female feminist “bitches” like me — that it takes viewers into another realm of understand­ing. While being extremely funny.

Lewis says Chapelle’s comic genius is blurring the line between victim and bully. “Is the story here ‘rich comedian attacks marginaliz­ed community’ or ‘Black comedian attacks elite consensus?’ ” It depends.

It seems we have moved far from discussing Facebook, but we haven’t. Facebook, which turns its customers into warring armies, makes money out of hate.

The agonizing problem is that its customers can no longer see that there’s a humane alternativ­e.

 ?? MANDEL NGAN AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO ?? Mark Zuckerberg at the U.S. House Financial Services Committee in 2019. Everything about Facebook makes you into the kind of person you never dreamed you’d be, Heather Mallick writes.
MANDEL NGAN AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO Mark Zuckerberg at the U.S. House Financial Services Committee in 2019. Everything about Facebook makes you into the kind of person you never dreamed you’d be, Heather Mallick writes.
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