COMMENT:

One of the world's most prominent critics of advertising and online media has called for the resignation of Mark Zuckerberg for mismanaging Facebook's business.

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Former adman turned industry provocateur Bob Hoffman told the Herald that real change at Facebook will only come when the company gets rid of its founder.

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"They need to change everything," says the US-based Hoffman.

"They need to get rid of Zuckerberg and put a grown-up in charge of the company. They need to acknowledge that they are a 'medium' and are responsible for what they publish. And they need to stop bullshitting about AI (artificial intelligence) solving all their problems and sacrifice some of their enormous profits by hiring enough people to monitor what they are publishing."

A long-time sceptic regarding the lofty promises made about using AI to solve tech issues, Hoffman recently recommended to readers of his newsletter that if they want to translate "Zuckerberg's bullshit into English", they simply need to substitute every reference to "AI" with the word "magic".

Beyond freeing itself of Zuckerberg's tight grip, Hoffman says it is also essential for Facebook "to be forbidden from continuing their practice of spying on the public".

"Until these things happen Facebook will lurch from crisis to crisis."

Hoffman says neither the killing of 50 people in Christchurch nor an exodus of advertising dollars will do much to push Facebook towards introducing the changes necessary to ensure that it responsibly and competently manages its media channel.

"Facebook will once again make empty promises, and when the glare of the spotlight is off this horrifying story, marketers will drift back."

A dirty restaurant

Another well-known marketing and advertising critic, Mark Ritson, also doesn't hold back in expressing his views on the business.

"Facebook is like a restaurant making money from the food it sells but, when there is an outbreak of salmonella, points to the chef and says 'it was him'."

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Ritson, an adjunct professor in marketing at Melbourne Business School, told the Herald there is no point in discussing media regulation for Facebook because the company denies outright that it is a medium.

"Platform status garners the company total exemption," he says.

This principle, as the Financial Times recently pointed out, remains enshrined in the Communications Decency Act passed by the US Congress in 1996. "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider," the law says.

These are the 26 words sometimes said to have created the internet, and they have long allowed the tech giants to pass any blame onto the numerous online chefs who churn out hate like the finest fast-food operators.

Of course, every nation has its own legislation, but the impact of this basic tenet has reverberated across the world, including New Zealand.

Responding to recent Herald questions on the classification rules for content for online streaming services, a spokeswoman from New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs notes that international players don't play by the same rules as New Zealand broadcasters.

"As the content is created outside of New Zealand, they are not covered by the current legislation," the spokeswoman says.

"We are aware of this gap and in the early stages of considering solutions."

In the meantime, the big international players have been self-regulating – but Ritson is quick to argue that Facebook, in particular, has made a hash of its efforts.

"There are structural problems with any media that allows a mass murderer to broadcast his crimes to millions that should be addressed," says Ritson.

"They won't be addressed because Facebook and its duopolistic mate [Google parent] Alphabet have made it abundantly clear that they are too big and too powerful to be censured by any foreign government. It is pointless.

"We will wait a long time for the broken, lobby-oriented machine that is the US Government to intervene. So to be blunt, nothing is going to change. Nothing."

Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson's view on Facebook. Image/File.
Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson's view on Facebook. Image/File.

Ritson also pours cold water on the notion that withholding advertising dollars could somehow pressure Facebook into substantial changes.

"We've seen this before from brands," he says. "The knee-jerk, popular withdrawal from a platform and then the slow, silent return once the storm dies down."

Having already streamed murders, suicides, schoolground beatings and range of other objectionable content, Facebook has a history of waiting out controversy.

Don't get too excited

This week, Facebook announced that it would ban white nationalist and white separatist content from the platform as these concepts couldn't be distinguished from white supremacy ideology.

It's important not to read in too much into this. Civil rights groups have been calling for it for much longer than the three months it took Facebook to finally make the move – and many see it as a bare minimum, which still leaves room for smart racists to slip their views past community standards and monitoring algorithms.

As well, Facebook has not budged in the face of major concerns regarding live streaming, beyond saying it is reviewing its policies. This despite calls from the New Zealand Government and business community to do something promptly.

For a company that built its business on "moving fast and breaking things", Facebook is certainly moving slowly when it comes to responding to the slaughter of 50 people.

Perhaps, this tardiness comes down to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's own admission back in 2017 that live-streaming wasn't made to be tamed.

"We built this big technology platform so we can go and support whatever the most personal and emotional and raw and visceral ways people want to communicate are as time goes on," Zuckerberg said in an interview with Buzzfeed news at the time.

"Because it's live, there is no way it can be curated. And because of that it frees people up to be themselves. It's live; it can't possibly be perfectly planned out ahead of time."

"Raw and visceral" are certainly apt words to describe the horrors that continue to haunt the Kiwis who saw the live-stream.