The two-part ‘Frontline’ special presents a chilling portrait of a social media behemoth that cares more about profits than its users’ privacy.
If you’re reading this article, you’ve presumably taken a break from logging on to Facebook to catch up with such important developments as your cousin’s recent trip to Disney World. But if you really want to end your addiction to the social media monolith, watch the two-part Frontline documentary The Facebook Dilemma, airing Monday and Tuesday night on PBS. If this deeply disturbing investigative report doesn’t scare you straight, nothing will.
Directed by James Jacoby, the film recounts how Facebook’s success at connecting the world has come at a very high cost. In the old days before the internet, people would get their information from reputable print and broadcast media that was actually curated and edited. Now the vast majority get the news from a website that takes almost no responsibility for what it spews into the world. Say what you will about The New York Times and CNN, but unless Dean Baquet and Jeff Zucker are Manchurian Candidates, Russia hasn’t managed to infiltrate, either.
“They took over the role of editing without the responsibility of editing,” says one journalist about the company, which showed far more interest in rapid growth and ballooning profits than the accuracy or veracity of what is put on the site. The interviews with five current Facebook executives who agreed to be contacted for the documentary don’t provide much reassurance. You won’t find an Edward R. Murrow or William Shawn among them. They instead project all the gravitas of college dorm hallway monitors.
The documentary chronicles the meteoric rise of the company, beginning with vintage footage of a baby-faced Zuckerberg proudly showing off its first office equipped with tables from IKEA. Cut to Facebook employees celebrating crossing the billion active-user mark. “I don’t think Mark is going to stop until he gets to everybody,” one former executive recalls thinking.
It was the company’s News Feed, generated by a proprietary algorithm and described by an interview subject as “the secret sauce,” that truly propelled its growth. The use of the “Like” button became crucial to its main source of income, which is to gather and exploit as much of its users’ data as possible.