Everyone hates Facebook. Indeed, it’s extraordinarily rare to find a company that provokes such animus among the masses (and even part of the elite), from Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders, Alex Jones to Noam Chomsky, the Proud Boys to DSA.
In fact, Mark Zuckerberg’s major contribution to human civilization may be uniting the country in a fashion that mirrors the Orwellian Two Minutes of Hate from 1984.
I’ve been quietly planning a legal intervention for the past several years that (in my apocalyptic dreams) would implode Facebook’s advertising racket.
Facebook shamelessly (and annoyingly) hustles you on a regular basis to pay for advertising on the platform. Over the entire span of this website’s existence, we’ve spent the princely — for Washington Babylon — sum of more than $100 on advertising for our dispatches as well as merchandise from our web store.
There’s a lot of talk today about the need to regulate social media giants, if not prosecute them for antitrust violations or, even better, nationalize these corporations into some form of public utilities. I frankly remain a little skeptical how the latter might work out because of a very complicated set of arrangements involving technology and matters like server farms, but it’s worth dreaming.
But when it comes to advertising, Facebook should already be subject to a highly-regulated legal code at the state and federal level. There’s a very robust set of laws on this issue that date back to the first Roosevelt administration (by which I mean Teddy). These laws — approved during the Gilded Age and the 19th century Progressive assault on trusts, false advertising and quack medicine — are absolutely applicable to Facebook as an advertising agency.
If we had even a half-way competent regulatory administration in Washington or a state or two, Zuckerberg and his crew of miscreants would have been hit with mammoth fines years ago for enabling the absolute worst people and companies to engage in blatantly illegal business practices. And just to be clear, the Gilded Age era regulations were meticulously designed to protect First Amendment free speech and press rights, while simultaneously preventing, say, a “doctor” from teaching children that drinking turpentine cures homosexuality.
All this is prefatory to the recent intervention Facebook made in our business affairs, which I believe clearly break state and federal advertising laws, not to mention the Constitution’s Commerce Clause and the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887.
A few days ago, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that the Ku Klux Klan is putting up stickers around a suburb of Providence called Warren. I shared these photos to raise a red flag, which stimulated a small conversation about these noxious developments.
Facebook in turn penalized me for violating their rather opaque “Community Standards” and then barred me from using its advertising service for 30 days. (On April 15, Facebook banned me for 24 hours due to posts about the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol it construed as “threatening,” but that is besides the point when it comes to this current conversation.)
I suspect this is clearly illegal and have sent the following Cease and Desist letter to Facebook’s offices, and to elected officials in my home state of Rhode Island. Incidentally, Representative David Cicilline has been one of the few members of congress who has pursued an antitrust angle against social media corporations, so I imagine he might appreciate this idea.
Could I be onto something? Washington Babylon will be consulting with an attorney to find out. Either way, I’m sick of Facebook and Zuckerberg censorial actions, especially after BuzzFeed recently revealed how Zuckerberg personally intervened to effectively promote Alex Jones and other right wing cranks over the past 5 years. So who knows, maybe this modest effort will help spur debate that leads to a serious regulatory regime? In any case, I prefer to dream big than do nothing.
So please have a look. Feedback would be greatly appreciated.