Last week we wrote about Facebook co-founder Chris Huges’ long, but remarkably uncompelling argument for why Facebook should be broken up. The post itself was quite long, but could be summed up in that Hughes listed out a variety of problems he attributed to Facebook, and then suggested breaking the company up and regulating speech on the internet in response. However, some of the problems he attributed to Facebook are not, in fact, because of Facebook, and he made no effort to show how his proposed solutions would actually solve any of those problems (indeed, there are arguments it might make some of them worse).
Dare Obasanjo tweeted a quite insightful tweet in response to Hughes’ piece, noting that a lot of Hughes’ (and others’) concerns about Facebook can be traced back to the fact that Donald Trump won the election, and a lot of people believe that Facebook helped create that result:
It’s quite wild to me that we’re likely to see Facebook punished for the “crime” of getting Trump elected while he Teflon Don’s his way through every scandal.
And then, he noted, that it’s useful to put Hughes’ comments into context, in that a decade ago, Hughes was being celebrated for using Facebook and social media to help elect President Obama. Hughes, famously, left Facebook to go work on the Obama campaign, and built up MyBO, the online platform to organize supporters of Obama’s campaign.
His key tool was My.BarackObama.com, or MyBO for short, a surprisingly intuitive and fun-to-use networking Web site that allowed Obama supporters to create groups, plan events, raise funds, download tools, and connect with one another — not unlike a more focused, activist Facebook. MyBO also let the campaign reach its most passionate supporters cheaply and effectively. By the time the campaign was over, volunteers had created more than 2 million profiles on the site, planned 200,000 offline events, formed 35,000 groups, posted 400,000 blogs, and raised $30 million on 70,000 personal fund-raising pages.
It’s not quite the same thing, obviously. However, it does seem notable that Hughes used social media effectively to help elect one President, and now seems to be quite disturbed and upset by the fact that it helped elect a different President. You can, perhaps reasonably, argue that the tactics, the scale, and the overall context are quite different today (organizing excited Millennials is pretty different than Russian trolls sowing discord), but it certainly does seem like valuable context in thinking about this.
Social media is — like many technologies — a tool. It can be used for things people like, and for things they dislike. We should be wary of assuming all the good comes solely from the technology at the same time we should be wary of assuming all the bad does as well.