Claire Lehmann: Facebook has made a bad miscalculation

February 19, 2021
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Earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a difficult decision to make. Incoming legislation in Australia meant that social media platforms like his were going to be forced to pay news providers to new content. How was he going to respond? Quite aggressively, it would seem. Not only did he instantly pull all news content from Facebook Australia, but he did so overnight — without any warning — before the law even came into effect.

So where does this leave news providers and online sites Down Under? Earlier today, Freddie Sayers spoke to Quillette’s founding editor Claire Lehmann, who joined us from Sydney, to give us a clearer understanding of what this means for publications like hers.

On Mark Zuckerberg:

I It’s pretty clear that there’s no regard for the platform — it’s a communications platform — there’s no regard for how community pages are set up and what impact this might have on local communities. Essential health services were impacted. Even mental health helplines had their pages wiped, and domestic violence hotlines had their pages removed because they share a lot of news content. It’s a big F-you to the Australian user of Facebook. And my perception is that only a company with monopoly power would treat its users in this way. I can’t think of another company that would just give the finger to its users in an entire country, and expect there to be no serious consequences.
- Claire Lehmann, LockdownTV

On bipartisan distrust of Facebook:

It used to be that after the election of Trump, you know, the Left hated Facebook for allowing Trump to become elected, and for mining people’s data out to Cambridge Analytica, and so on and so forth. But now, the distrust of the platform is definitely bipartisan. Conservatives dislike and distrust Facebook. And in Australia after this shock tactic of this instant ban, we had politicians from the Greens Party, the Labour Party, Liberal Party, all of our politicians were lining up and saying that this is outrageous behaviour. So he’s united the polity here in Australia. And I think he’s definitely miscalculated this move.
- Claire Lehmann, LockdownTV

On Mark Zuckerberg:

It’s a sign of an immature leader, to be honest…Zuckerberg is interesting, because he’s an outlier in the tech industry, in that he’s both CEO of Facebook and the Chairman of the board. So he really has no accountability to anyone, not even the board members or not even his shareholders, so he basically can do what he likes. And I think that’s one reason why Facebook hasn’t navigated through various controversies very well. And its brand is tarnished.
- Claire Lehmann, LockdownTV

On algorithms as a censorship tool:

What I notice as a user of Facebook is that censorship is done in an extremely blunt fashion. Their censorship is done first and foremost, by algorithms. And the algorithms do not know how to differentiate between a literary essay, and a violent screed. Having robotic moderators might be cheap but ultimately, it just leads to a dumbed down kind of information ecosystem, which I think Facebook is. And I think it’s really unfortunate that so much of their service is just automated algorithms. I imagine that it’s completely unrealistic for them to employ more people to do content moderation. But, I think it’s another indication that they don’t really take public interest that seriously when everything is automated, and they make something like $37 billion in profit a year. It’s a $500 billion company, and they can’t invest a little bit more in having humans moderate content to make sure that censorship is not such a blunt tool.
- Claire Lehmann, LockdownTV

On reforming Big Tech:

In an ideal world there would be more competition in the market. We could pick up our identity, our social media page that we’ve built on Facebook, we could pick up all that data and we would own it, because we would have digital property rights. And then we could take that data over to a new platform that we could enter into without much friction, and have a new social media experience. But because of the nature of network effects, and because Facebook is a monopoly power it is the predominant social media platform. I think the only real way forward is the antitrust action in the United States to break up WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook — there’s that avenue. And then the other avenue is building open source decentralised social media platforms where users own their own digital identity much like Bitcoin, but for social media, or an encrypted social media platform.
- Claire Lehmann, LockdownTV


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