Reduce Facebook to save the world

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns . Facebook apps are popular almost all over the w...


This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.

Facebook apps are popular almost all over the world. But we might all be better off if they weren’t.

The company’s most shameful human toll – its contribution to violence, human trafficking, and abuse by authoritarian governments – has mostly occurred in countries outside of North America and North America. Western Europe like India, Honduras, Myanmar, Ethiopia and the Philippines.

What if Facebook withdrawn from many countries where its social network and its Instagram and WhatsApp applications have done deep harm, even if they have given a voice to the voiceless?

Years of horrific headlines haven’t led Facebook to make steady strides in solving its problems. Perhaps it is time for the company to simply leave countries like Myanmar and Azerbaijan until they devote the same level of money, attention and cultural competence to their presence in these places. that she devotes to her presence in the United States and France. (And Facebook is far from perfect in rich countries.)

I don’t blame those of you who think an American like me is elitist for suggesting that after “Facebook broke democracy in many countries of the world,” like Filipino journalist Maria Ressa said, the people in those places would be better off without the site.

But maybe we should all be asking ourselves some drastic questions about the horrors of Facebook: Is a better Facebook a realistic option, or is the solution a smaller Facebook? What if no one can or should harness an extremely influential and lightning-fast communication mechanism for billions of people in almost every country?

There is a deep irony in my suggestion that a less global Facebook might be better. The power of people to use the network to express themselves, collaborate and challenge authority runs deeper in places where institutions are weak or corrupt and where citizens have had no voice. It’s also in the places where Facebook has done the most harm, and where the business and the world have paid the least attention.

I felt a grim familiarity reading the Wall Street Journal series of articles about Facebook – especially the one that detailed how its employees have grappled with persistent abuse in developing countries, including how drug cartels use Facebook apps to recruit contract killers and governments use the network to incite ethnic violence.

Three years after the United Nations concluded that the Myanmar military turned the social network into a propaganda tool for the genocide, The Journal’s report suggested that Facebook repeated some of the same mistakes and allowed this to happen again in Ethiopia.

The Journal wrote that, as in Myanmar, Facebook’s staff and computer systems were not able to understand the dialects of most posts that encouraged violence against a persecuted ethnic group, that the US government noted was the target of ethnic cleansing. Ethiopians and Facebook employees warned the company of the risk.

How many times do we have to read similar stories of Sri Lanka, Honduras Where The Philippines before concluding that Facebook may not be able to operate effectively in the places where people are most vulnerable to online abuse?

Facebook tends to say that it spends considerable resources outside its home country to identify and remove accounts that spread dangerous propaganda or are otherwise used to mislead or hurt people.

It’s hard to imagine Facebook opting out of the world by choice, but it wouldn’t be a catastrophic financial blow to the business. While it is true that a large majority of Facebook users are based outside of the United States, Canada and Europe, two-thirds of Facebook’s revenue comes from these regions.

Likewise, Amazon generates around 90% of its revenue in just four countries – the United States, Germany, Britain and Japan – and few believe the company’s global concentration is holding it back.

Running a global internet business isn’t easy. But it’s also difficult to see Facebook being used as a tool for ethnic violence and authoritarian abuse and accept that this is a defensible downside to connecting the world.


  • The new iPhones are OK: Brian X. Chen says the iPhone 13 “possibly the most incremental update ever to the iPhone. (You can check out the photos he took of his dogs with the latest models.) That’s okay with new phones. Brian writes that you can keep the phone you have for years without worrying about running out. something major.

  • We cannot look away. Is it helpful or hurtful? My colleague Katie Rosman Explain why the media and swarms of online detectives on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter are obsessed with the disappearance of 22-year-old Gabrielle Petito.

  • Wow everyone’s crazy about this new timeshare company: Residents of largely wealthy areas like Malibu and Sonoma, Calif., Fear that their neighborhoods are in ruins by a start-up called Pacaso, which allows people to buy second homes with strangers, Vice News reports. Homeowners of multi-million dollar homes fear that the wrong people will buy more multi-million dollar homes.

A group of young New Zealand naturalists discovered a fossil that turned out to be contain the skeleton of a previously unknown species of an ancient giant penguin. What did you find while taking a walk today?


We want to hear from you. Let us know what you think of this newsletter and what else you would like us to explore. You can reach us at ontech@nytimes.com.

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