Angelo Carusone: Despite name change, “Facebook is a threat to our democracy and our public health”

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Citation From the October 30, 2021, edition of MSNBC's Yasmin Vossoughian Reports

YASMIN VOSSOUGHIAN (ANCHOR): So this week, Facebook took a giant and unmistakable step towards a complete overhaul, de-emphasizing its name and rebranding itself as Meta, complete with a new logo and a new mission. And that's about it. So the social media giant's leadership under Mark Zuckerberg remains the same. Its troubled relationship with the Biden administration remains the same, and the controversies it's facing over the spread of hate speech and misinformation have not gone anywhere. So what is this rebrand hoping to accomplish as groups creating and spreading disinformation continue to run rampant across its platforms? Want to bring in Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters. Angelo, thanks for joining us on this Saturday afternoon. As always, we appreciate seeing you. Give me first. Sure, your reaction to this name change, this rebrand, right? But that's kind of it. Full stop. Nothing else really changed, right?


VOSSOUGHIAN: Is this kind of really a distraction from what's been going on internally and what we have now realized as to what's Facebook's been doing.

CARUSONE: Certainly, I mean, that's one of the objectives, right, is you – it's going to be harder to report, it kind of muddies the waters a little bit. But my initial reaction is there are two things about this that really stuck out to me. One is that Zuckerberg is the face of it. It's not even like they went – they went through the process of changing their name, right? But they still had the spokesperson as being Mark Zuckerberg. He was the one that introduced it. He presented it. And ultimately, he's the decision-maker. All the harms, all the problems, all the reporting with Facebook begin and end with him. And as long as – and this is a signal that he's not going to change and that whatever is in store in the future isn't going to be different. The second takeaway, though, I think was more disturbing. It's that, embedded within this announcement was actually a business plan. And what they said was that they're going to be taking this more to young people, that they're going to be redoubling their efforts on targeting younger audiences and moving them into the larger Facebook universe. And that means that not only are we facing a future where all of the harms that we are now – that has been now been well-established remain. But they actually start to intensify the more that Facebook uses its market dominance and its resources to pull more and more young people into the pool.

VOSSOUGHIAN: I mean, as a parent, I can't help but think, why would I trust my child to get on a platform like Facebook knowing what's going on there? I don't want my kid opening up Facebook and being driven to sites that promote eating disorders, whether it be a girl or a boy. You know, things like that where, I mean, it's just not necessarily comforting to know they're not making the changes and putting things in place to make sure this misinformation isn't spread. I actually want you to expand a little bit on your reporting from Media Matters because I think it's fascinating. Media Matters identifying over a thousand active Facebook groups dedicated to promoting COVID 19 or election misinformation, with over 2.2 million combined members. They're doing still nothing at this point to stop this.

CARUSONE: Right. I mean, some of the reporting that came out was about Stop the Steal and how that became part of the Facebook group ecosystem and that ended to deal with it. And what we were trying to point out was that it goes way beyond that, that there are 918 groups that we found that are just dedicated to pushing COVID and vaccine misinformation right now – so ivermectin, all of sorts of vaccine disinformation, anti-public health policies, and then on top of that, there's an additional 203 groups that are pushing election misinformation. Some of them are to basically Stop the Steal groups that are still alive and well, and a lot of them are pushing bogus voter fraud. And to compound that, what we found was that Facebook is spending millions of dollars running ads on platforms disproportionately targeting young people to move them into the Facebook group ecosystem. So they're running ads on Twitch and YouTube and elsewhere directly saying this is where you can do all this amazing stuff and directly putting those ads in front of people. So we have the problems there, they have the receipts, and now they're trying to spread it.

VOSSOUGHIAN: So here's the larger conversation, which is leadership change, right? That is what we've been naturally talking about. If they're not going to make the changes that need to happen, then will Facebook go through a massive leadership change. I'm talking to top-down – Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, so on and so forth. The likelihood, though, of that happening. What is it? But is that what needs to happen to see real change?

CARUSONE: Yes. Either they needed to change, which they haven't, and I think this rebrand and the way that they've dealt with it demonstrates that they have no intention of making any meaningful adjustments there. I don't see that there being any impetus for a leadership change that he really inoculated himself from the types of market pressures and shareholder powers that would force that. So the third option and this is what we're left with and we know what this environment is like is that it's going to require a regulatory process, that it's going to require actual government intervention to put in place the protections and the countermeasures for all the harms that have now been well-established. We are still a democracy and Facebook is a threat to our democracy and our public health.

VOSSOUGHIAN: Our bipartisan regulatory process, which actually has the ability to get through because it seems like this is probably the one area in which both Republicans and Democrats can agree on something. So while we're watching Build Back Better take a heck of a long time to get over the finish line, it seems like likely regulatory process when it comes to Facebook could be sooner. Thanks so much.