Zuckerberg's Monsters

8:36-min read

Hello from 20 Minutes into the Future. In this edition we’re looking at the alleged role Facebook played in the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. And the confirmed role it played in far-right aggression in the George Floyd protests.

—Consider this your first and last trigger warning—

Facebook’s alleged role in the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery

In the words of the people that knew him best, Ahmaud Arbery was “humble, kind and well-mannered.” He was an athlete that favoured basketball and football. He was enrolled in South Georgia Technical College. His plan was to become an electrician like his uncles. “He always made sure he never departed from his loved ones without an ‘I Love You.’”

I hope he had a chance to say that one last time.

Ahmaud Arbery went jogging on the 23rd of February in Satilla Shores, a suburb of Brunswick, GA. He never made it back home. Instead, on this sunny Sunday afternoon, he was shot to death by Travis and Gregory McMichael.

Below is footage of the lynching of Ahmaud via the ongoing efforts by Shaun King and others still fighting for justice.

King later said participants of a Satilla Shores neighbourhood Facebook Group had been used to organise the lynching.

To the best of my knowledge those screenshots have yet to be shared with the public hence “alleged.” It’s not a giant leap to believe this however. Racial profiling is rife on platforms like Nextdoor. Lest we forget there are hundreds of active and former police officers that are part of extremist Facebook groups. Gregory McMichael is deeply racist ex-cop.

How The Boogaloo Movement used Facebook to infiltrate protests of the murder of George Floyd

The Boogaloo Movement is a decentralised network of pro-gun accelerationists hoping to bring about a second American Civl War. If you’re familiar with them then chances are it’s because of their role in recent events like the Richmond, VA pro-gun “Lobby Day” rally and the heavily astroturfed “re-open” protests. What you might not now is they’ve been involved in the George Floyd protests as well:

Robert Evans and Jason Wilson have thoroughly written about the Boogaloo Movement over at Bellingcat. The whole article is crucial to read and wrap your head around but the points I’d like to call to your attention are:

Research by the Tech Transparency Project shows that there were at least 125 Facebook groups devoted to the boogaloo by April 22nd, 2020. The real number has increased significantly since then, although determining an exact number is all but impossible due to the rapid evolution of the subculture.

In a United States made even more unstable by a contentious presidential election season, and the social and epidemiological effects of COVID-19, every protest or street battle and its aftermath will carry the potential for serious acts of violence. As protests over the death of George Floyd heated up in Minneapolis on May 26th, members of Boogaloo groups across Facebook considered it a call to arms. Memes were churned up that day, adding George to the movement’s list of martyrs

On May 1, 2020, Facebook and Instagram both updated their “violence and incitement” policy to ban the use of “boogaloo terms” when they occur alongside images or statements depicting or urging armed violence. Our research suggests that this policy has done virtually nothing to curb either the growth of this movement or reduce the violence of its rhetoric. Every new Boogaloo page and group we found led us to new related pages and “liked” pages, each either organizing people for direct armed action or agitating them to anticipate violence. 

Like many groups that emerged from 4chan, the boogaloo bois are keen users of the social platforms. They know how to work around automated systems. One key tactic is word play (boogaloo = big luau, big igloo, icehouse) to constantly evolve the coded language they use to communicate online.

Facebook’s infamous pivot to privacy makes things worse

After Facebook’s monumental failure to fight election interference in 2016 Zuckerberg decided to throw in the towel and change direction for the company. Instead of being a “town square”, Facebook decided it wanted to be a “living room” instead. In 2017 Zuckerberg wrote a lengthy blog post about “meaningful interactions.” And in 2019 he wrote and keynoted about how “the future is private.’

Obviously some private groups — like the ones run by the various Boogaloo factions — are breeding grounds for hate and misinformation. Zuckerberg has often touted improvements in Facebook’s AI moderation tools but as we see with the Boogaloo “crackdown” they’re ineffective without human community management and content moderation. Critics have long lamented all of this will only serve to make hate harder to find and fight.

“Many of the groups I study are now changing their privacy status to be closed and not visible, making it more difficult for content violations to be identified by outsiders,” he said. “I am very concerned this will further allow conspiracy communities and violent extremists to further obfuscate their activity.”

We know Facebook has buried efforts to fight extremism on its platform. We know that Zuckerberg will do nothing to stop stochastic terrorism. It’s now in the hands of its employees to fight back.

More than a dozen Facebook employees had published messages of dissent on Twitter by Monday morning, with some saying they were participating in a “virtual walkout”. The vast majority of Facebook employees are working from home because of the coronavirus outbreak. Dozens of employees requested the day off in order to support protests against police brutality, according to the New York Times.

Welcome to the fight against Facebook, Facebook staffers. We’ve been waiting for you. Your boss has used your labour to create a safe-haven for the most monstrous members of society. We desperately need your help to innovate away from hate. You need to take this fight all the way to the heart of the business model itself: outrage.

Dig deeper

You can read more about how big tech enables racism with these stories from the 20 Minutes into the Future archive:

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10 stories this week

  1. "Trump's outburst was a warning shot. If you attempt to enforce your rules, I will declare war on your company. He is attempting to intimidate these companies so he can fully exploit their platforms in advance of the 2020 election."
    Twitter tantrum (Popular Information)

  2. "Integrity" isn't something just one team in a company should give a damn about. And if you're at a company that has to have one, maybe it's because the CEO doesn't have any.
    Facebook and Its Secret Policies (The New York Times)

  3. Senator Ron Wyden remains the sharpest person in Congress on tech. And while I’m a proponent of revisiting Section 230 he’s not wrong about Trump and his threats of overhauling it.

    Donald Trump’s misinformation campaigns have left death and destruction in their wake. He’s clearly targeting Section 230 because it protects private businesses’ right not to have to play host to his lies. As the co-author of Section 230, let me make this clear – there is nothing in the law about political neutrality. It does not say companies like Twitter are forced to carry misinformation about voting, especially from the president.

    Donald Trump’s executive order is ‘plainly illegal,’ says co-author of Section 230 (The Verge)

  4. Spend an hour with kindred spirit Monika Bielskyte. Monika is always thought provoking. Well worth your time.
    Monika Bielskyte talks about plurality, injustices of COVID-19, and multiplicitous futures (Exponential Minds podcast).

  5. “Why are you hiring people if you’re shipping out nonessential goods?” Evan asked. “Someone’s life is not worth less than some person’s board game.”
    He was part of Amazon’s coronavirus hiring spree. Two weeks later he was dead (Los Angeles Times)

  6. Never forget the gig economy is a scam. It feeds on desperation and runs on pernicious rules.

    After 12 days, the test came back negative — either a fluke illness or a fluke test result — but Rachel was still in a hole for the two weeks she’d spent in quarantine. Instacart finally wrote her back, rejecting Rachel’s claim. She needed a quarantine order from a government agency, the company said, not just a note from her doctor. She tried other outlets — her doctor again, then the state department of health, then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, then the state department of labor — but none of them could satisfy Instacart or hold the company to account. She never got the money. Because of the nature of gig work, she didn’t even qualify for Nevada’s unemployment benefits.

    The human cost of Instacart's grocery delivery (The Verge)

  7. “Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.” The beneficiaries of this arrangement dubbed it “creative destruction” before rebranding it as “disruption.” 
    The Insecurity Machine (Logic Magazine ht to Corey)

  8. It only took a week for Plandemic to spread to 8 million views. Thanks largely to Facebook and YouTube.
    How the 'Plandemic' conspiracy theory took hold

  9. Tell me again about how we shouldn’t worry about our privacy during the pandemic…
    China’s Virus Apps May Outlast the Outbreak, Stirring Privacy Fears (The New York Times)

  10. An absolutely fascinating read by Barton Gellman about his life Post-Snowden. “Watching my iPad turn against me was remarkably unsettling. This sleek little slab of glass and aluminum featured a microphone, cameras on the front and back, and a whole array of internal sensors. An exemplary spy device.”
    Since I Met Edward Snowden, I’ve Never Stopped Watching My Back (The Atlantic)

Sick and tired of big tech behaving badly? 20 Minutes into the Future is about holding the bastards to account. One way we can do that is by spreading the word of their misdeeds.


Bastard watch

Kaleb James Cole is the baby-faced leader of Atomwaffen Division’s Washington State terror cell. What’s more he’s the lead propagandist for the overall neo-Nazi group. Thankfully Washington State has stripped him of his weapons arsenal. It would be even better if they also took away his Internet. Fuck fascists.

Kindred spirits

Dr. Nakeema Stefflbauer is the founder and CEO of the Berlin NGO FrauenLoop. She is also Venture Fellow at Included VC. In both roles she works tirelessly to advocate for cultural & economic inclusion via tech. You should watch her video on AI, surveillance, and discrimination. It’s brilliant.

We need more Stephanies and less Kalebs working with tech today if we want a better tomorrow.

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Good night and good future,

20 Minutes into the Future is a critical look at how technology is shaping our lives today. And what actions we can take for a better tomorrow. If you're not already a subscriber and found this newsletter worth your while then please sign up.

My name is Daniel Harvey and I write 20 Minutes into the Future. I’m a product designer and have written for Fast Company, Huffington Post, The Drum, & more. If you're pissed about the current state of tech and want to see us do better then you’ve found a kindred spirit.

You can email me at daniel.harvey@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @dancharvey.