In response to a flurry of negative press over the last several months — from being found a purveyor of fake news, to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, to stock prices plummeting — Facebook engaged in a damage-control campaign which culminated with this 60-second commercial:
I don’t know what it is exactly that makes this ad so sickening — it could be that it’s Facebook, it could be the narrator’s feigned sincerity or the bland, focus group-tested music selection, or it could be that almost everything that’s said is true only in reverse — but it was one of those things I just knew the first time I saw it. (The thumbs up/thumbs down ratio on YouTube is currently at a phenomenal 607/2,500+.)
Starting from the top: We came here for the friends, and we got to know the friends of our friends. No, that is not why I came to Facebook, and those are not the people I got to know (or wanted to get to know). Then our old friends from middle school, our mom, our ex, and our boss joined forces to wish us happy birthday. Old friends from middle school, my mom, my ex, and my boss. Pretty sure they just described all the people I don’t want to see on Facebook.
Then we discovered our uncle used to play in a band, and realized he was young once, too. Huh? And we found others just like us. And just like that, we felt a little less alone. Again, this just isn’t true. Facebook turns people into online avatars, and rather than seeing each other for who they really are, users are reduced to their fringy ideas and conspiracy videos. It turns people off to one another, and makes them recede further and further from realizing all the ways they are in the same boat. Facebook wants to convey the message that it makes the “we” feel a little less alone. Indeed the opposite is what’s actually true: the network is part of the reason why people have never felt more alone.
But then something happened. Uh-oh. We had to deal with spam, click bait, fake news, and data misuse. Oh. That’s going to change. This part is perhaps the most disingenuous and disgusting. Facebook attempts to be part of the We (the users) — which married a narrator using a serious tone to music that can’t offend anyone to deliberately showing every race and ethnicity, and so on — even though Facebook isn’t the victim of the spam, click bait, or fake news. In fact, Facebook profited from it. It was users, 87 million of them, who were the victims.
From now on Facebook will do more to keep you safe and protect your privacy, so we can all get back to what made Facebook good in the first place: Friends. ‘Cause when this place does what it was built for, then we’d all get a little closer. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.
If you buy for a second that Facebook was built for “friends,” rather than to fill the pockets of likely-sociopath Mark Zuckerberg, then I have several new and exciting investment opportunities for you. Facebook is not for you, it’s for him. And this commercial is not for you, either. It is only about Zuckerberg, and ensuring his company’s stock prices don’t suffer any more than they (briefly) did.
I’ve kept a Facebook profile since 2008, which was around the time Myspace faded away into the ether and Zuckerberg’s empire transcended the east coast and spread to California. There was a time I used it as a thread to both keep in touch with my friends from back home (when I was living in Virginia), and then to keep in touch with my friends from Virginia (when I was back living in Southern California). This was, at its peak usefulness, the extent of Facebook’s value to my life.
Nowadays the experience is different, though I figure it has more to do with me than Facebook itself (or my “friends” on Facebook). It would be easy to blame my disenchantment on the users, because there are so many familiar archetypes to pick at. There are those on Facebook that inform you of every single thought they have; there are those who share false flag stories from crackpot websites after every mass shooting; there are those who constantly show off material items when in reality they have no money in the bank; there are those who consistently post pictures of their children to keep everyone abreast of their weekly growth; there are those who complain about their jobs, or bills, or that “adulting is hard.” These people, as in the workplace, as in life, will always be there.
But why would I attack them, the powerless, when a billionaire like Mark Zuckerberg gladly exploits those same individuals? It’s kind of like all the misinformed people who blame the poor, and the unemployed, for sucking up all the benefits. This blame is misguided. The real contempt should be reserved for and directed at those at the very top, because if the billionaires paid their fair share of taxes then there would be more money to go around for those in the middle and at the bottom.
I’m not upset at the people Zuckerberg regularly exploits. I’m upset that this commercial is so egregiously phony and completely transparent. In no way should Facebook be comfortably taking credit for the good times — the user-generated content — while insinuating that, by being part of that same We, they are somehow victims of the spam, click bait, and fake news. They were responsible for all that stuff; they were not victims of it.
A more worthwhile approach, which would at least make me feel like they gave a shit, would have been a forthright apology. Sorry, 87 million users, we let you down. We fucked up. We hope you can understand: we were just trying to make some money. We had no idea that Hillary Clinton was going to lose the election and blame it on Russian collusion, and then Russian meddling, and then Russian interference, and tangentially blame Facebook. We we just trying to conduct business as usual.
That would have been the proper usage of We. If Facebook wants to rain down on its users the hundreds of millions of dollars it earns in profits, then by all means they can join in the We and use it however they see fit. Until that day comes, whenever Zuckerberg funds a PR stunt as ridiculous as this one the only We he can be a part of is himself.