How to speak up for those online who won't consider what it means to operate with integrity.
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Facebook's recent stand on political advertising and free speech have placed it in the cross hairs of the media. Not to mention their decade-plus-long drumbeat of:
apologizing without really meaning it
lifting product user interfaces from competitors instead of innovating
playing fast and loose with user data
gradually and almost entirely removing organic reach for brands
poor judgement in selecting News partners
insisting it's the responsibility of journalists to police lies in political ads
giving itself a special, unregulated power over elections
All of which have given me second (and third and seventeenth) thoughts about remaining on the platform.
The challenges are multiple: being a solo practitioner, Facebook provides a connection to others — it is my water cooler; I also belong to and administer a number of groups that provide services to me and others, whether professionally or personally; it's where my extended family spends most of their time online.
Facebook has become the de facto destination of so much of society: seven in ten Americans are on the platform. So to ask people to simply up and leave without a viable alternative is difficult: no one is going to leave until others have left and shown them the alternative. It's the chicken and the egg conundrum.
I was having this conversation with someone on Twitter recently, about how someone has to make the first move. Then I remembered how Dr. Seuss expressed it in his book The Lorax:
The Lorax was an allegory about the importance of taking care of our environment.
Last week, I referred to St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment. He sought to understand rather than to be understood.
In stark contrast, Mark Zuckerberg seeks to be understood rather than liked, and is a digital arsonist of the online environment who answers to no one.
And it got me thinking...
What if someone rewrote The Lorax as an allegory about Facebook?
So I did. It's called The Ethix.
[Note: in case you're interested, I previously did a Seussian parody called Marissa A. Mayer Will You Please Go Now!]
At the far end of town
where the Internet accretes
and the former social network competes
and no birds ever sing excepting old tweets…
is the street of the lifted Ethix.
And deep in the Internet, some people say,
if you look deep enough you can still see, today,
where the Ethix once stood just as long as it could
before somebody lifted the Ethix away.
What was the Ethix?
And why was it there?
And why was it lifted and taken somewhere
from the far end of town where the Internet grows?
The old Zuck-ler lives there.
Ask him. He knows.
You won’t see the Zuck-ler.
Don’t knock at his door.
He stays in his Portal on top of his store.
He sticks to his Portal, stuck under the tape,
where all his gray t-shirts
are in pretty good shape.
And on special dank midnights in August,
out of the Portal
and sometimes he speaks
and tells how the Ethix was lifted away.
He’ll tell you, perhaps…
If you’re willing to pay.
From your Messenger wallet
pay with crypto, indeed — huh —
and you have to submit fifteen cents
and GIF or a meme of a
prison pony / zebra.
Then he opens the note,
makes a most careful count
to see if you’ve paid him
the proper amount.
Then he grunts, “I will call you by Oculus Rift,
for the secrets I tell can't be given short shrift.”
Down thunks the Oculus Rift through the night,
and the old Zuck-ler’s apologies are less than forthright,
since they have to come down
through a process where each,
makes it sound
as if he had
lawyers write up his speech.
“Now I’ll tell you," he says, with his shirt looking gray,
“how the Ethix got lifted and taken away…
It all started way back…
Such a long, long time back…
Way back in the days when the Web was still new
and the users were trusting
and the ads were still few,
and updates from Corporate Brands had wide reach…
one morning, I invented a new kind of speech.
And first I saw the trust!
The Long-standing Trust!
The naivety and hope of the Long-standing Trust!
Mile after mile in the Internet dust.
And as part of the trust, I saw Harvard co-eds
frisking about in their Crimson spirit-wear
as they played in the shade and toured Harvard Square.
From the tired news sites
came the regular flop
of the Online News struggling,
and trying to pop.
But the trust! That trust!
That Long-standing Trust!
All my life I’ve been searching
for trust I could bust.
I can get them to part
with the data I need
and it will take years
to be exposed, I concede.
I knew the potential
of what I discovered.
I knew just what I'd do!
I had to leave Harvard.
In no time at all, I had built a small firm.
From the Long-standing Trust I destroyed in one term.
And with great skillful skill and with great speedy speed,
I took all the data. I created the Feed!
The instant I had finished, I heard a “For Shame!!”
I saw something pop out of the frame
of the ad I whipped up. It was sort of a man.
Describe him?… That’s hard. I don’t know if I can.
He was shortish. And brownish.
And oldish. And nice.
And he spoke with a voice
that was sharp and concise.
“Mister!” He said with a voice full of dust,
“I am the Ethix. I speak for the trust.
I speak for the trust, for trust can be broke.
And I’m asking you, Sir, if you want to be woke” –
he was very upset as he shouted and cussed –
“What’s that thing that you’ve made out of Long-standing Trust?”
“Look, Ethix,” I said. “There is no cause for alarm.
I tricked a few folks. I am doing no harm.
I am being quite useful. This thing is a Feed.
A Feed's a fine something that all people need!
It’s a friend. It’s a brand. It’s a like. It’s a share.
But it has other uses you can't find elsewhere.
You can use it for GIFs. For memes! Or a prize!
For sharing the news! Or political lies!”
The Ethix said,
“Sir! You are crazy with greed.
There is no one on earth
who would buy that News Feed!”
But the very next minute I proved he was wrong.
For, just at that minute, a chap came along,
and he thought that the Feed I constructed was great.
He happily bought it for three ninety-eight.
I laughed at the Ethix, “You poor stupid guy!
You never can tell what some people will buy.”
“I repeat,” cried the Ethix,
“I speak for the trust!”
“I’m busy,” I told him.
“Shut up, you just must.”
I rushed 'cross the room, and in no time at all,
built a Beacon. I put in a quick call.
I called all my uncles and Sheryls and aunts
and I said “Listen here! Here’s a wonderful chance
for the whole Zuck-ler Family to start a big rally!
Get over here fast! Take the road to the alley.
Turn left at San Jose. Right to Silicon Valley.”
And, in no time at all,
in the network I built,
the whole Zuck-ler Family
was working full tilt.
We were all making Feeds
as fast as we must,
all while we violated
Oh! Baby! Oh!
How my business did grow!
Now, losing the trust
of one guy
was too slow.
So I quickly invented my Super-Ad-Trackers,
collecting more data, giving access to hackers.
We were filling Feeds
ten times as fast as before!
And that Ethix?…
He didn’t show up anymore.
But the next week
on my new office door.
He snapped, “I am the Ethix who speaks for the trust
which you seem to be losing as fast as you must.
But I’m also in charge of the whole User Base
who connected your network to many a place
and happily scroll through organic updates.
“NOW… Thanks to your hacking their trust to the ground
there’s not enough organic posts to go 'round.
And my poor User Base is getting displeased
because they have ads and fake news in their feeds!
“They loved being here. But I can’t let them stay.
They’ll have to find friends. And I hope that they may.
Good luck boys,” he cried. And he sent them away.
I, the Zuck-ler, felt sad
as I watched them all go.
Business is business!
And business must grow
regardless of displeased users, you know.
I meant no harm. I must truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my network. I biggered my fads.
I biggered videos. I biggered the ads
in the Feeds I shipped out. I was shipping them all
to Instagram! To WhatsApp! To Messenger! To the Wall!
I went right on biggering… Selling more ads.
And I biggered my money, which made investors glad.
Then again he came back! I was fixing some pipes
when that old nuisance Ethix came back with more gripes.
“I am the Ethix,” he coughed and he whiffed.
He sneezed and he choked. He wheezed and he sniffed.
“Zuck-ler!” He grumbled from his cloggity head.
“Zuck-ler! You are killing organic reach dead!
My poor Corporate Brands...why, they don't have free speech!
(It's not really free when you're paying for reach.)
“And so,” said the Ethix,
“– please pardon my cough –
they cannot live here.
So I’m sending them off.
Where will they go?…
I don’t hopefully know.
Google Plus is now gone; there's nothing else near…
That will mirror the reach you’ve clogged up around here.
“What’s more,” snapped the Ethix. (He really was mad.)
“Let me say a few words about political ads.
You take money for lies, while claiming 'free speech.'
But your algorithm assures targeted reach.
And what does it mean for this toxic place?
You define deviance down for your User Base.
“You're poisoning the place where the Online News flourished!
But they can't combat ads; they're too undernourished
To fact-check your lies, they need more resources.
Without prime support, I don't know what the recourse is.
I fear that we'll only be left with remorses.”
And then I got mad.
I got terribly mad.
I yelled at the Ethix, “Now listen here, Dad!
All you do is complain and say, 'The Zuck-ler is bad!'
Well, I have my rights, sir, and I'm telling you
I intend to go on doing just what I do!
And, for your information, you Ethix, I'm figgering
putting MORE political ads in the Feeds
which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs!”
And at that very moment, we heard a loud sound!
From outside on the Web came a sickening round
of foreign involvement. Then we heard the trust fall.
The very last bit of trust of them all.
No more trust. No more Feeds. No more work to be done.
So, in no time, my Sheryl and aunts, every one,
all waved me good-bye. They jumped into a Lyft
and left me alone, all bereft and bedrift.
Now all that was left 'neath the wide-trustless sky
was my big empty network…
The Ethix said nothing. Just gave me a glance…
just gave me a very sad, sad, backward glance…
as he lifted himself by the seat of his pants.
And I'll never forget the grim look on his face
when he heisted himself and took leave of this place,
through a hole in the ads, without leaving a trace.
And all that the Ethix left here in this mess
was a small pile of rocks, with the one word…
Whatever that meant, well, I just couldn't guess.
That was long, long ago.
But each day since that day
I've sat here and worried
and worried away.
Though the years, while my monopoly
has fallen apart,
I've worried about it
with all of my heart.
“But now,” says the Zuck-ler,
“Now that you're here,
the word of the Ethix seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
Catch!” calls the Zuck-ler.
He lets something fall.
“It's a Trustworthy Seed.
It's the last one of all!
You're in charge of the last of the Trustworthy Seeds.
And Long-standing Trust is what everyone needs.
Establish some Trust. Be careful – pay heed.
Give it attention, through words and through deeds.
Grow a forest of Trust. Make it easy to earn.
Then the Ethix