Zucked

The title of this post is the first part of a title of an important book by Roger McNamee. The remainder of the title is “Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Roger McNamee is a longtime tech investor and tech evangelist. He was an early advisor to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. To his friends Zuckerberg is known as “Zuck.” McNamee was an early investor in Facebook and he still owns shares.

The prologue begins with a statement made by Roger to Dan Rose, the head of media partnerships at Facebook on November 9, 2016, “The Russians used Facebook to tip the election!” One day early in 2016 he started to see things happening on Facebook that did not look right. He started pulling on that thread and uncovered a catastrophe. In the beginning, he assumed that Facebook was a victim and he just wanted to warn friends. What he learned in the months that followed shocked and disappointed him. He learned that his faith in Facebook had been misplaced.

This book is about how Roger became convinced that even though Facebook provided a compelling experience for most of its users, it was terrible for America and needed to change or be changed, and what Roger tried to do about it. This book will cover what Roger knows about the technology that enables internet platforms like Facebook to manipulate attention. He explains how bad actors exploit the design of Facebook and other platforms to harm and even kill innocent people. He explains how democracy has been undermined because of the design choices and business decisions by controllers of internet platforms that deny responsibility for the consequences of their actions. He explains how the culture of these companies cause employees to be indifferent to the negative side effects of their success. At the time the book was written, there was nothing to prevent more of the same.

Roger writes that this is a story about trust. Facebook and Google as well as other technology platforms are the beneficiaries of trust and goodwill accumulated over fifty years of earlier generations of technology companies. But they have taken advantage of this trust, using sophisticated techniques to prey on the weakest aspects of human psychology, to gather and exploit private data, and to craft business models that do not protect users from harm. Now users must learn to be skeptical about the products they love, to change their online behavior, insist that platforms accept responsibility for the impact of their choices, and push policy makers to regulate the platforms to protect the public interest.

Roger writes, “It is possible that the worst damage from Facebook and the other internet platforms is behind us, but that is not where the smart money will place its bet. The most likely case is that technology and the business model of Facebook and others will continue to undermine democracy, public health, privacy, and innovations until a countervailing power, in the form of government intervention or user protest, forces change.

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