Our conflicted relationship with Facebook
“With great power comes great responsibility”. This is hands down my favorite line from the 2002 film Spider-man starring Tobey Maguire, James Franco, Kirsten Dunst, and Willem Dafoe. This line is by Ben Parker (portrayed by the late Cliff Robertson) – as he senses a dramatic change in the behavior of his nephew Peter Parker (whose alternate persona is that of Spider-man). This statement could not be any truer than it is at this moment in time – as Facebook (the proverbial hero of social media) is well on its way to morphing into society’s villain.
Facebook was by no means the first entrant into the social media realm but the halo of their initial exclusivity was impossible to resist and as they expanded geographically outward, millions across the globe flocked to their platform and in essence gave Facebook a privileged position of ubiquity in our lives. As participants on their platform, users generously spilled their personal details and lives with an almost reckless abandon thus making their personal data Facebook’s most valuable asset. Self-declared data at scale is the dream combination of any platform looking to monetize their users via online advertising. Facebook realized this dream years ago and a significant portion of global online advertising spend now flows through them on an annual basis. This has made Facebook an incredibly valuable company and its founder Mark Zuckerberg insanely wealthy. Content creation on their website and app is easy as their content is our lives and the content we choose to share on their platform.
Given that Facebook’s primary revenue stream is online advertising, it is worth considering that a substantial slice of their competition from a business/revenue perspective is a slew of online news publishers that are held to strict editorial standards. News (that is accurate) is a key pillar of democracy. Hence, the penalties associated with misinformation can be debilitating to an online news media organization. It is safe to say that there is no comparison between cost to publish timely and accurate news versus the cost to ingest and publish what users share on Facebook. Yet, Facebook is NOT held to any editorial standards since they are considered a platform as opposed to a publisher. As Indian-American comedian Hasan Minhaj stated on his Netflix show Patriot Act, “Facebook gets to be a platform in the streets and a publisher in the sheets”. There is no consequence to Facebook becoming an avenue of propagation for misinformation despite just how de-stabilizing misinformation at scale is to a democratic society. Facebook’s vision was never to be the enabler of evil but their immense global scale gives them great power – and hence great responsibility (as the line from the movie Spider-man emphasizes). Their failure to take on that responsibility can have disastrous consequences.
Sadly, Facebook has become an avenue for destructive organizations such as QAnon that seek to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories in an effort to divide and hence destabilize society. So far, Facebook’s measures to counteract misinformation (that surfaces via organic posts and misleading ads) have been deemed as being woefully inadequate. The Facebook Advertiser Boycott in the summer of 2020 was ineffective in getting Facebook to change its stance on being the “arbiter of truth”. This should not be a surprise since Facebook’s primary stream of advertising revenue is from small business advertisers that do not have large enough budgets to tap into other advertising avenues. Most other advertising avenues require a high minimum spend. On Facebook, small businesses can spend as little as $10 a day for an advertising campaign. The low barrier to entry in combination with the precision of targeting that Facebook’s large troves of declared data offer to advertisers makes Facebook irresistible to small business advertisers.
Radio Crème Brulee – our radio station (and blog) has a page on Facebook and a vibrant fan community that spans the globe. We interact with our listeners via Facebook. We also post fairly regularly on our page and occasionally leverage Facebook’s advertising manager to promote blog posts as well as to create ad campaigns to drive traffic to our site. Facebook’s advertising manager is incredibly powerful as it allows us to target users based on their affinity to specific artists and bands. We know that fans of specific artists and bands are more likely to appreciate what we have to offer musically and hence gravitate to our 24/7 online global radio broadcast. Facebook is particularly powerful in promoting an in-person event. Back in March of 2019, Radio Crème Brulee ran its first in-person event at “The Lobby Bar” at Wynn resorts in Las Vegas. This event was a pre-concert drinks get-together right before one of British pop star Robbie Williams’ concerts at the Encore Theater in Las Vegas. Every attendee of the fan meetup had heard of the meetup only via our Facebook ad campaign. This ability to target with such impeccable precision for our purposes is not something we are able to replicate via any other platform in a cost-effective manner. Spotify offers something similar but with a FAR higher spend threshold – one that the makes the economics of promotional endeavors questionable at best.
We cannot help but wonder if our presence on Facebook actively enables the company’s callous abdication of responsibility as it applies to our broader society. It takes years to build a community on any platform. Transitioning a community from one online platform to another is a herculean task which more often than not leads to failure. The consequences of essentially destroying an online community can be quite crippling for an online brand looking to grow its presence. Radio Crème Brulee is not a vanity project. It is a radio station with a mission. We launched this radio station to combat American terrestrial radio’s dysfunctional music radio programming dynamic – one that is underscored by ageism, a geo-centric bias, and a long history of the illegal practice of “pay for play” (a phenomenon popularly referred to as Payola). This unfortunate dynamic dates back to the mid-90s – right after the passing of the Telecommunications Deregulation Act. It involved a few conglomerates taking over most of the station’s radio stations and removing the playlist programming functions from DJs in favor of “centralized programming” (this might explain why people hear almost the same songs for a given format on every station that shares that format). There is power in numbers and our online communities are our greatest asset. Hence, the disappearance of even one of these communities can be incredibly detrimental to our broader mission.
Simultaneously, our presence on Facebook gives the company a stamp of validation in the face of their willful negligence as it applies to dealing with misinformation on their platforms. By remaining on their platform, we continue to give them our blessing despite not endorsing their actions (or lack thereof). If we leave the platform altogether, we may never regain contact with a vast majority of the members of our Facebook page, and will undoubtedly lose the ability to amplify our mission. It is possible that our departure will be even more insignificant to Facebook than the advertiser boycott during the summer of 2020 was. At the same time, if every single person believed that his or her actions are unlikely to be a catalyst for change, and the status quo becomes the stance of choice, real and positive change becomes a distant dream. For those of you that engage with us via our Facebook page or tune in to our online radio broadcast, what would you do in our position? We have no clue how to reconcile our competing goals and values but are hoping that you will help guide our decision one way or the other. Regardless of the choice we make, we believe this is a conversation of consequence that absolutely needs to be had.
In case you did not pick up on this earlier, the blog you are reading is affiliated with Radio Creme Brulee – an online radio station that features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. Alongside newer artists, we also play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s and the 90s. Noteworthy examples include Simply Red, Wet Wet Wet, Tears For Fears, Duran Duran, Camouflage, Spandau Ballet, INXS, Depeche Mode, Suede, The Corrs, Jamiroquai,Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Culture Club.
Give us a spin when you get a chance.
We just might become your alternative of choice!