It's been a bad year for Facebook. That's no surprise to Brian Wieser.
Wieser, a Portland media and advertising analyst with the Pivotal Research Group, was one of the earliest and loudest critics of the social media platform. The core of his critique: Facebook is sloppy with your data, and you probably aren't paying close enough attention.
This week—as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg face scrutiny for allowing the spread of misinformation by Russian trolls in the 2016 U.S. election—WW talked with Wieser.
Why have you been so critical of Facebook?
Facebook has more problems because they are badly run. Almost all of the issues Facebook has, Google has too. They're just better-run. And they're not doing ridiculous, silly things like actively lying to a parliamentary committee in the U.K. and threatening to sue journalists for writing something that is factually true.
Zuckerberg says it's a pretty crazy idea that the U.S. election could have been influenced by Facebook. I was like, "Really?" They're just ignoring so many things. The folks in Palo Alto are really removed from reality. They are typically very full of themselves, or they believe their own bullshit.
What good things do you have to say about Facebook?
Almost everything that Zuckerberg or Sandberg says publicly has truth—bringing people together, making it possible for people to communicate, for groups to share information and ideas, small advertisers to find narrow targets that would be otherwise hard to find. Those are all positive things. But almost all have downsides. Fostering easy communication also happens to be a great way to incite mass violence. Bringing groups together may allow your local knitting circle to arrange its weekly meetings, and it's also a great way for the previously hidden chapter of the Ku Klux Klan to come together. It's just not all roses and sunshine, and that's the problem.
What do you think of Facebook's economic prospects?
You don't want to presuppose that whatever the evils of Facebook are mean advertisers will abandon the platform. There are more advertisers now who are aware of these downsides, and they do their tsk-tsking in private meetings. Individually they may very well have deleted their Facebook apps, but moralizing on good and bad isn't really what most brands do.
When did you delete your Facebook account?
I haven't. I just never really use it much. Being able to assess the platform isn't really dependent on being a user of the platform. For example, I'm the one who found that Facebook claims more people are on the platform in the U.S. ages 13 to 34 than exist. The reason I know where bodies are buried is because I've dug a few graves, raised zombie armies.