In his latest manifesto, Zuckerberg uses parenting groups as an example of something his company does right. But recent research shows that some new mothers use Facebook to obtain validation of their self-perception as good parents, and failing to get enough such validation causes depressive symptoms.
As for the “rewired” information infrastructure, it has helped to chase people into ideological silos and feed them content that reinforces confirmation biases. Facebook actively created the silos by fine-tuning the algorithm that lies at its center — the one that forms a user’s news feed. The algorithm prioritizes what it shows a user based, in large measure, on how many times the user has recently interacted with the poster and on the number of “likes” and comments the post has garnered. In other words, it stresses the most emotionally engaging posts from the people to whom you are drawn — during an election campaign, a recipe for a filter bubble and, what’s more, for amplifying emotional rather than rational arguments.
Bragging in his new manifesto, Zuckerberg writes: “In recent campaigns around the world — from India and Indonesia across Europe to the United States — we’ve seen the candidate with the largest and most engaged following on Facebook usually wins.” In the Netherlands today, liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s page has 17,527 likes; that of fiery nationalist Geert Wilders, 174,188. In France, rationalist Emmanuel Macron has 165,850 likes, while far-right Marine Le Pen boasts 1.2 million. Helping them win is hardly something that would make Zuckerberg, a liberal, proud — but, with his algorithmic interference in what people can see on his network, he has created a powerful tool for populists.