Getting answers is, in part, what journalism is about, so it gives me no pleasure to state upfront that I have none where Facebook hardware czar and resident loudmouth Andrew “Boz” Bosworth’s recent staff memo is concerned.
The needlessly long, meandering note—first obtained by the New York Times and later posted by Boz himself to his news feed, a Facebook product he helmed the production of much earlier in his tenure at the social network—touches on election security, misinformation, the press being wrong and unfair to Facebook, filter bubbles, polarization, the goddamn unfair press, corporate responsibility, and the probably-well-meaning-but-definitely-wrong-and-bad members of the press. Boz makes a number of the spurious, hagiographic, claims consistent with the company’s usual public-facing messaging. It also contains, within musings about his desire to crush President Donald Trump’s re-election chances while praising his 2016 campaign for running “single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser,” what we’ll generously call an analogy to J.R.R. Tolkien’s stultifying Lord of the Rings. Observe:
It occurs to me that [maintaining the same ad policies as during the 2016 election] very well may lead to the same result. As a committed liberal I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result. So what stays my hand?
I find myself thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment. Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to Galadrial [sic] and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her. As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.
Regrettably, the tide of Content has washed this wretched bauble ashore and we’re tasked with beholding its many-splendored dumbness.
Here are the three major actors of this scenario:
The One Ring: an infernal artifact containing much of the essence of Sauron, a bad guy usually portrayed as an enormous flaming eyeball. In most instances wearing it confers invisibility but usage is highly psychologically addictive and physically deleterious over time. Can only be destroyed by hurling it into a volcano called, and I can’t stress enough how stupid this is, Mount Doom.
Frodo: a hobbit—basically a small human, but with absolutely none of the hardiness associated with a dwarf or magic of other diminutive fantasy races—tasked with destroying this immensely powerful artifact for reasons unexplainable. Sort of a pure-of-heart thing but not really.
Galadriel: the “mightiest and fairest” of the elves still alive at the time the Lord of the Rings takes place.
Can you tell me which of these three is supposed to represent Facebook? I truly don’t know. Nor can I identify what, exactly, Facebook has foregone by way of limiting its temptation toward overreach. Had I been living under a rock for several years, my assumption would be that Facebook had divested its ads business, or at the very least banned political advertising as so many of its Silicon Valley peers have ahead of 2020. And crucially, who the fuck is Frodo here?!
Is he the American government? The FEC? The individual voter? The Facebook user? The wholly imagined constituency Boz believes would gladly submit to an autocratic state run by Facebook itself?
Do you think he knows Frodo gets poisoned and effectively dies two years after running a big important errand that can and should have been farmed out to literally anyone more capable?
Many things are amiss in Boz’s note. His notion that Facebook’s image problem only began as a result of the 2016 election (to an almost unquantifiable degree, this is absolutely untrue); the readiness with which he hand-waves the problem of misinformation; his inability to reconcile the addictive nature of social media with its impact on polarization.
It’s not unusual for Facebook’s representatives to lie, shirk responsibility, or otherwise do the work of defending the company image at any cost to the social fabric or their own conscience. They’re weasels! We’ve come to expect this. For our own sanity, let’s also remind ourselves that they’re weasels incapable of weaving a basic metaphor sent to a captive audience of roughly 45,000 people.