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How Facebook Became the Opium of the Masses

Around the world, Facebook has been used to sow distrust in democratic institutions, and its algorithms have facilitated real-world violence, even genocide. Regulating the use of algorithms that micro-target users would be a first step toward ending the barrage of disinformation the company has unleashed.

PRAGUE – In the war on disinformation, the enemy can be hard to determine. Journalists, politicians, governments, and even grandparents have been accused of enabling the spread of online falsehoods.

While none of these groups is entirely innocent, the real adversary is more mundane. As Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified late last year, social media’s own algorithms are what makes disinformation accessible.

Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has grown from a students’ social networking site into a surveillance monster that destroys social cohesion and democracy worldwide. Facebook collects troves of user data – including intimate facts, like body weight and pregnancy status – to map the social DNA of its users. The company then sells this information to anyone – from shampoo manufacturers to Russian and Chinese intelligence services – who wants to “micro-target” its 2.9 billion users. In this way, Facebook allows third parties to manipulate minds and trade in “human futures”: predictive models of the choices individuals’ likely will make.