On January 9th, on the precipice of a possible catastrophic war with Iran and facing another cycle of twisted electoral politics, it was time to make some noise about online disinformation and propaganda.

Manufactured consent has been around for a long time, but now there is an arsenal of new tools the tech industry has provided to automate, micro-target, manipulate, and feed us at hyper-speed, using mass online platforms under 100% corporate control. And none bigger than Facebook with 2.7 billion users.

Photo shows "Fake News Real Hate" projected onto the Facebook logo at 1 Hacker Way.
“Fake News Real Hate” projected onto the Facebook logo at 1 Hacker Way.

Spurred by fed-up users, and yet another weak performance by Facebook in front of Congress, MediaJustice Network anchor Media Alliance joined with Global Exchange, Indivisible, Vigil for Democracy, Sum of Us, Credo Action, Code Pink, Raging Grannies Action League, Courage Campaign, Free Press Action, and Peninsula Peace and Justice Center to call for action.

What do we want? We want the social media infrastructure which has created untold wealth in Silicon Valley to work for us, not against us. This might include:

  • Eliminating ad micro-targeting at specific demographic groups for politicized and racist ad content
  • Open source ad blocker support for users who don’t want to see unsolicited targeted materials
  • Algorithmic transparency about who sees what content and why
  • Improved complaint responsiveness for online harassment, especially based on race gender, orientation, appearance, religion or group affiliation.   
  • Bot detection and elimination
  • Standards for paid ads from political candidates
  • Structural separation from one corporation owning too many platforms at the same time

We started by deciding it was time to pay Facebook a visit. Users may not pay to use Facebook, but those big headquarters are paid for with our content and the sale of our attention. So dozens of activists rented a bus and went down to the foot of the Dumbarton Bridge, where we rallied, sang, chanted, showed Facebook workers a box of 25,000 petition signatures collected in one sole day, and projected messages on the infamous thumbs up sign.

A montage of photos from the January 9th protest (via Media Alliance)
A montage of photos from the January 9th protest (via Media Alliance)

What’s next? Stay tuned. We may visit Facebook again, do an online webinar to bring yet more frustrated users together for action, and will talk to some big Facebook advertisers about online safety and racist micro-targeting and how to use their economic clout  to get those policies changed.

We’re not waiting for Congress to save us. Social media in general, and Facebook in particular doesn’t need to do business this way;  profiting off hatred and racism, shielding intentional disinformation, targeting the vulnerable, and evading common-sense regulation. We can make them stop … and we will.

Tracy Rosenberg is the Executive Director of Media Alliance

Press coverage of the January 9th protest:


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