Social media critic Jaron Lanier: Zuckerberg should step aside

Computer scientist calls on Facebook CEO to resign saying ‘it would be good for the world’.

FB2 Inside Facebook - option 2
Criticism comes as Facebook grapples with challenges ranging from fake news to incitement to violence [File: Joerg Koch/AP]

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg should quit the social media giant because of its anti-democratic nature that is a danger to the world, a prominent critic of online activity says.  

One of the early pioneers of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, 58, has repeatedly warned of the destructive nature of the digital society.

“I think it would be good for the world if [Zuckerberg] stepped aside,” Lanier told UpFront host Mehdi Hasan. “But the point is that there’s no mechanism for him to do so.”

“That [Facebook] is a one-man shop… is really, really not okay,” Lanier added. “It’s not okay for the world. It’s not even in the spirit of capitalism. I think it’s really anti-market, anti-democratic.”

Lanier – the author of Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now – has heavily criticised what he calls the sophisticated manipulation of people by social media companies to boost profits.

A recent New York Times report on Facebook alleges the company knew about Russian meddling during the election cycle, but it failed to penalise Donald Trump’s Islamophobic content and tried to undermine critics with allegations of anti-Semitism, among other things.

THE LISTENING POST: Censored and Surveilled – The Digital Occupation of Palestinians

Facebook disputes some of these claims and says it has addressed some of the concerns.

“I’m not entirely surprised by the report, although some of the details are surprising and shocking,” said Lanier.

“From Zuckerberg’s point of view, he is always in what he perceives as a life or death struggle. Either Facebook controls the world, or it dies.”

Election interference?

Lanier was also asked to comment on whether he believes Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections using Facebook had an effect on votes.

“I would say there’s enough strong evidence … that we should finally just say what the American intelligence establishment have said … yes, Facebook did change the outcome of the American election,” he insisted.

Lanier was also asked if Trump would be president without the aid of Twitter. “I think Trump would be president without Twitter, but I don’t think Trump would be president without Facebook,” he said.

A Facebook report on Thursday on enforcing community standards said it’s making progress on detecting hate speech, graphic violence and other violations of its rules.

Facebook said during the April-to-September period it doubled the amount of hate speech it detected proactively compared with the previous six months.


Challenges worldwide

The report comes as Facebook grapples with challenges ranging from fake news to incitement to violence in the US, Myanmar, India and elsewhere.

The company also said it disabled more than 1.5 billion fake accounts in the latest six-month period, compared with 1.3 billion during the previous six months.

It said most of the fake accounts it found were financially motivated, rather than aimed at misinformation.

The company has nearly 2.3 billion users.

Clifford Lampe, a professor of information at the University of Michigan, said Facebook is making progress on rooting out hate, fake accounts and other objectionable content, but added it could be doing more.

“Some of this is tempered by [the fact that] they are a publicly traded company,” he said. “Their primary mission isn’t to be good for society. It’s to make money. There are business concerns.”

Follow UpFront on Twitter: @AJUpFront

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies