Two reporters expose Facebook's quest for power in 'An Ugly Truth'

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(This conversation originally aired on September 13, 2021)

Welcome to an archive edition of Midday.

Nearly 70% of Americans have a Facebook account, and Facebook’s unrelenting mission is to add even more people to its huge list of subscribers, and to keep all of us glued to those accounts for as long as possible, every day.

Executing that mission has made Facebook insanely profitable. The company is also unquestionably problematic and unapologetically purposeful in its manipulation and marketing of our personal data, most of which we disclose quite freely.

The Federal Trade Commission has updated its antitrust lawsuit against the tech giant, arguing that it should be broken up into smaller companies, separating, for example, Facebook from Instagram and What’s App.

Tom's guests are two award-winning reporters for The New York Times, Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang. In a disquieting book published in June, they examine Facebook in the period between the 2016 and the 2020 elections.

Forty-four percent of Americans say they got their information about political candidates from the behemoth social network. And a lot of the time, that information is spurious, generated by foreign states like Russia, and sometimes, the candidates themselves. The deleterious effect on basic democratic institutions is immeasurable, and as Kang and Frenkel document, Facebook’s efforts to curb it are ineffective, and contrary to Facebook’s business model.

Facebook’s reach into the global community is unmatched and its unchecked power presents a conundrum to those who would break it up or attempt to regulate it. The book is called An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination.

In recent months, a whistleblower named Frances Haugen testified before Congress and released internal documents which show that the harmful effects of Instagram on young girls were known to the company, and other damning revelations. Today’s show was recorded before that testimony, and before the company announced that it was creating a new umbrella company, called Meta.

Cecilia Kang joined us on Zoom. Sheera Frankel joined us on our digital line. Because our conversation was recorded earlier, we’re not able to take calls and comments today.

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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