The New Yorker: Facebook and the Age of Manipulation

Read on The New Yorker

From the outset, Facebook pitched itself as something new and good—a revolutionary force for transparency and accountability. In early interviews with David Kirkpatrick, the author of “The Facebook Effect,” Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s co-founder and C.E.O., envisioned a challenge to the tools of corporate and political camouflage. “When there’s more openness, with everyone being able to express their opinion very quickly,” he said, “it puts the onus on companies and organizations to be more good, and more trustworthy.”

As the company grew, it sought to maintain its outsider ethos. In a letter to potential investors, in 2012, Zuckerberg proclaimed, “We have cultivated a unique culture and management approach that we call the Hacker Way.” It reached beyond the hacker ethos of ingenious engineering, he explained, to shape the company’s internal culture. “Hacker culture is also extremely open and meritocratic. Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win—not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.” In recent years, the company has sought to stay true to its hacker DNA. At weekly all-hands meetings, Zuckerberg has highlighted a “fix of the week,” celebrating the in-house esoteric technical interventions that the rest of the company may have overlooked.

Yet during the past two years the image of a nimble, idealistic upstart has steadily eroded, as the company has strained to make changes that would protect user privacy and prevent the spread of disinformation. On Wednesday, the idea of a company dedicated to “openness” took another blow. Times investigation by a team of reporters found that Facebook has engaged in a multi-pronged campaign to “delay, deny and deflect” efforts to hold the company accountable. (In a statement issued on Thursday, Facebook said that the piece contains “a number of inaccuracies” about the timing and the motives behind its actions.)

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