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Griffin on Tech: Zuckerberg still doesn’t get it

Peter Griffin, Editor. 26 August 2022, 1:39 pm

Joe Rogan meets Mark Zuckerberg, on a podcast, talking for nearly three hours. Can you think of anything worse?

Well, I listened to it, or at least skipped through it, so you don’t have to. Here we had comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan, a notorious peddler of misinformation, interviewing Zuckerberg, the man who has been responsible for the spread of misinformation on an industrial scale.

And the key takeaway from it all is that Mark Zuckerberg, aged 38 and with a current net worth of US$61 billion, can’t really be bothered with the task of weeding out misinformation, hate speech and harmful content in his vast empire of social media platforms. - Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp.

“Part of what I’ve struggled with around this is, I didn’t get into this to basically judge those things. I got into this to design technology that helps people connect,” he told Rogan.

“This whole thing of like arbitrating what is okay and what is not, I obviously have to be involved in that because at some level… I run the company and I can’t just abdicate that,” he said with a hint of weary resignation.

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Zuckerberg just wants to play with his toys.

But, you can tell, he would rather do exactly that, abdicate his responsibility and focus on the cool, shiny aspects of technology, like the metaverse, which Zuckerberg spent over an hour explaining to Rogan.

What Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to understand is that the challenges of content moderation are only going to be amplified in his metaverse when content and other virtual inhabitants are literally in our faces via the mediums of virtual and augmented reality. The way Zuckerberg talks about the metaverse is as though it's some sort of digital utopia where the toxicity created through profiting from the polarization of people and their manipulation will somehow be left at the door.

Avoiding a digital hellhole

Sorry Mark, you are dreaming. If, as he told Rogan, Meta is spending US$5 billion a year on content moderation, he’ll have to increase his investment three or fourfold in the metaverse. That’s the price he will have to pay to avoid the metaverse becoming a digital hellhole.

But such matters just seem like an annoyance to Zuckerberg.

He believes the company’s “independent” oversight board is the answer to his problems. Funding with a US$130 million endowment, it was established as a sort of supreme court, with 20 academics, human rights activists and journalists hearing appeals from people who have had their content removed from Meta’s platforms.

The board has been given the power to overturn content moderation decisions at Meta. That, at least is something. But the oversight board is only quasi-independent. After all, the board is appointed by Meta. It could be shut down by Meta too. But in Zuckerberg’s view, it at least allows him to offload the tedium of dealing with tricky and controversial line calls in the content moderation space.

“You wake up in the morning, look at my phone, get like a million messages…it’s usually not good,” Zuckerberg complained.

“It’s almost like every day you wake up and you’re punched in the stomach.”

Zuck would rather play around with new Oculus VR headset prototypes. Who can blame him?

So maybe its time for Zuckerberg to step aside as chief executive of the company and move into a chief technology role, as Bill Gates did in the early 2000s at Microsoft. Put someone in charge of Meta who sees the complicated business of content moderation as central to the success of the company and the area of the business most worthy of investment in innovation. After all people's lives and the health of democracy is at stake.

Of course, Zuckerberg runs Meta with an iron fist, with his shareholding structured to maintain his grip on power, so nothing will change from within. External forces in the form of regulation and consumer behaviour are the only things that will force Meta’s founder to change.

As Zuckerberg bets the future of the company on the metaverse, those twin forces need to be applied in equal measure to ensure his vision of our digital future isn't a three-dimensional repeat of the one he saddled us with in the last decade.


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