Facebook is on its way to hiring 20,000 people to identify the hate and bile that we, the people, leave there because laws — Germany’s NetzDG, among others — and media demand it. Let me repeat that: 20,000 employees.
Now consider that the total number of daily newspaper journalists in America was 32,900 in 2015 and is probably below 30,000 today.
20,000 shit-pickers vs. 30,000 journalists.
What does that say about our priorities as a society? Yes, I know, I’m mixing a worldwide number (the 20,000 conversational janitors) with a U.S. number (journalists) but the scale is telling — not so much about Facebook or technology or business models but about us.
By these numbers, it is clear that we as a society are more concerned about policing playground twits who thereby get just what they want — attention — than about policing the truly powerful. How screwed up is that?
Now there are plenty of people who wish that Facebook would pay for journalists. Though I have argued that Facebook should hire journalists to bring a sense of public responsibility to the company, I do not believe Facebook, Google, or Twitter should build newsrooms to compete with news organizations. And, like many, I hope we find more ways for all the platforms to share more revenue and value with news companies to help pay for more journalism. If Facebook et al were not wasting so much money on the garbage crew, could it afford to be more generous to news? That depends on the value news brings to their users.
What can we do about this? Well, start here: Stop blaming everything we do on the platforms and expecting them to clean up our every mess. Maybe we, the users, should stop giving the trolls, twits, assholes, and Russians attention to rob them of their reasons to belch. Maybe we, the users, should ignore their crap (I have very little of it in my feed and I’ll bet that’s true for you, too) so we can see more resources devoted to watching the powerful. Maybe we, the users, should take more responsibility for reporting bad behavior — which will work only if the platforms, in turn, take the responsibility to listen to and act on what we say. Maybe media can recognize their role in polarizing society and valuing arguments over enlightenment. And, yes, the platforms should worry about the quality of conversation and information on their platforms. But can we also get them to pay attention to quality over crap? That is the real question I raise here.
Think of the problem this way: Every time some shithead spews hate, bigotry, lies, and idiocy, he (yes, I’m sure most are men) divert societal resources from positive impact to cleaning the sewers. Being too optimistic about the behavior of our fellow citizens is what got us — platforms, society, citizens — in this mess. But expecting and devoting resources to the worst behavior is little better.
We can all do better.