We know that misinformation via social media runs rampant around the world and has been the vehicle for creating massive amounts of conflict among various groups. But up to now, the havoc created worldwide has been localized, such as in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia, where it has fueled murderous conflicts between different ethnic, religious, and language groups in those countries. But the pandemic has more clearly revealed the global scale of the problem as lies and distortions about the virus and vaccines and masks have spread around the globe, hampering efforts to suppress the spread of the pandemic.
Jill Lepore writes in The New Yorker about the the biggest source of misinformation: Facebook.
In the U.S., about a third of the population routinely get their news from Facebook. In other parts of the world, as many as two-thirds do.
By , more than half of all Americans were getting their news from social media. During the 2016 Presidential election, many were wildly misinformed.
The company is, in important respects, larger than any country. Facebook possesses the personal data of more than a quarter of the world’s people, 2.8 billion out of 7.9 billion, and governs the flow of information among them. The number of Facebook users is about the size of the populations of China and India combined. In some corners of the globe, including more than half of African nations, Facebook provides free basic data services, positioning itself as a privately owned utility.
Lepore says that all the high-minded rhetoric coming out of the company about its mission and efforts to combat misinformation is, like the mission statements of most companies, utter bullshit. She traces the origins of companies feeling the need to created mission statements.
After 1973, and at the urging of the management guru Peter Drucker, businesses started writing mission statements as part of the process of “strategic planning,” another expression Drucker borrowed from the military. Before long, as higher education was becoming corporatized, mission statements crept into university life. “We are on the verge of mission madness,” the Chronicle of Higher Education reported in 1979. A decade later, a management journal announced, “Developing a mission statement is an important first step in the strategic planning process.” But by the nineteen-nineties corporate mission statements had moved from the realm of strategic planning to public relations. That’s a big part of why they’re bullshit. One study from 2002 reported that most managers don’t believe their own companies’ mission statements. Research surveys suggest a rule of thumb: the more ethically dubious the business, the more grandiose and sanctimonious its mission statement.
[B]y the nineteen-nineties corporate mission statements had moved from the realm of strategic planning to public relations. That’s a big part of why they’re bullshit. One study from 2002 reported that most managers don’t believe their own companies’ mission statements. Research surveys suggest a rule of thumb: the more ethically dubious the business, the more grandiose and sanctimonious its mission statement.
Facebook’s stated mission amounts to the salvation of humanity. In truth, the purpose of Facebook, a multinational corporation with headquarters in California, is to make money for its investors. Facebook is an advertising agency: it collects data and sells ads.
On January 27, 2021, three weeks after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Zuckerberg, having suspended Trump’s account, renewed Facebook’s commitments: “We’re going to continue to focus on helping millions more people participate in healthy communities, and we’re going to focus even more on being a force for bringing people closer together.” Neither a record-setting five-billion-dollar penalty for privacy violations nor the latest antitrust efforts have managed to check one of the world’s most dangerous monopolies. Billions of people remain, instead, in the tightfisted, mechanical grip of its soul-saving mission.
Over my life, I have been part of many new organizations. Initially the people in these groups would come together because they shared a sense of common purpose and the group would be dynamic and actually do useful things. But after a while, as the groups evolved, at some point it would be decided that it was necessary to create a mission statement, usually because someone at the top thought that it was a good idea. This was usually a sign to me that the organization was doomed because the people involved no longer implicitly shared that sense of common purpose but now had to be told what they should care about.