“It’s only too typical for the “content” of any medium to blind us to the character of the medium. “So says the incredibly gonzo communication theorist Marshall mcluhan about 57 years ago.
What McLuhan meant was that, in a discourse dominated by electronic media, we worry too much about individual utterances, while ignoring the communication systems in which those utterances live.
This week, McLuhan’s famous sighting came out of the mothballs and found extremely practical application when the Facebook Supervisory Board, the panel of experts appointed by Facebook, Inc., decided to extend restrictions on Donald Trump’s use of Facebook and Instagram, giving Facebook six months to find the platform’s “proportionate and rule-compliant response”.
At this point, who really cares? The former president’s wrong is done, and even with him on the bench, Facebook is filled with insidious disinformation, cover-up and masquerade of all kinds, hate speech, defamation and harassment amounting to a range of crimes. .
But Facebook’s board was tasked with evaluating just two posts on Instagram and Facebook, regardless of the dynamics of the social media they were posted on. He did both of those readings closely, and credibly. But that success, and the decision about Donald Trump, was neither here nor there. Ultimately, the result of the exercise was to distract from Facebook’s own guilt by damaging democracy much more. First, the committee cited two “pieces of content,” what McLuhan would have called “messages”, as key to its decision-making. The first was a video of Trump giving the camera an address that began, “I know your pain.” It was posted on Facebook and Instagram and time stamped at 4:21 p.m. EST on January 6, 2021, when the U.S. Capitol was the target of fierce attacks by Trump supporters.
The second was a 42-word paragraph on Facebook under Trump’s name, time stamped just under two hours later. “These are the things and events that occur when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously viciously stripped of the great patriots who have been treated unfairly for so long. Come home with love in peace. Remember this day forever!
The statement by the Facebook watchdog focused on the language, timing and origin of the two posts. He didn’t mention the dynamics, business model, or tools of social media, Instagram and Facebook, even once.
According to the council’s statement, “We love you. You are very special ‘in the first post and’ great patriots’ and ‘remember this day forever’ in the second post violated Facebook rules prohibiting praise or support from those involved in violence. “
Regarding the timestamps, the statement said: “At the time of Mr. Trump’s posting, there was a clear and immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions. . “
Regarding the US president as the author of the messages, the statement read: “As president, Mr. Trump had a high level of influence. The reach of his posts was significant, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram. The council continued, “It is not always helpful to make a firm distinction between political leaders and other influential users, recognizing that other users with large audiences may also contribute to serious risks of harm. “
Although presented in a down-to-earth manner, this point was the only surprise – if not shock – in the oversight committee’s statement. For Facebook, the US president is clearly not an official or even a commander-in-chief. He’s an influencer. And it draws its power not from people but from Facebook and its business model of influencers and followers.
The power established on Facebook is not “legitimate” in sociological terms; it is not power, like that of a teacher or an elected official, that is considered just and appropriate by those on whom it is exercised. Far from there. “Influence” on Facebook is based on nothing but a points system (cheat) in Facebook’s highly styled massively multiplayer role-playing game. But it is not mentioned by anyone on this committee, who has been blinded, in McLuhan’s sense, to the tricks of the game. Influence on Facebook is closer to influence in World of Warcraft than to legitimate power. But instead of calling Facebook for creating a system that bestows unregulated and dangerous “influence” on people, they are talking about the abuse of this system by a designated wrong actor.