'They have taken all the techniques of Joseph Goebbels'

Early Facebook investor likens site’s techniques to Nazi propaganda

Robert McNamee says social media platform advances culture of ‘fear and anger,’ shows users only those things ‘most commercially valuable’ to it

Early Facebook investor Roger McNamee. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Early Facebook investor Roger McNamee. (Screen capture/YouTube)

An early Facebook investor likened the social media site’s practices to Nazi propaganda in a Friday interview with the London-based Telegraph.

“In order to maintain your attention they have taken all the techniques of Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels,” said Roger McNamee, referring to the public relations magnate who promoted smoking for women and Hitler’s propaganda chief, respectively. “And all of the other people from the world of persuasion, and all the big ad agencies, and they’ve mapped it onto an all day product with highly personalized information in order to addict you. We are all to one degree or another addicted.”

The investor explained that, “Many of these methods are the same as they use in casinos. The problem is the advertising business model. There are millions of things they can show you and they pick the 20 things most commercially valuable to them, and these are not designed to make you wiser, better educated or healthier.”

Adolf Hitler, Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels (right) and others watch filming at Universum Film AG, the principal film studio in Germany at the time, in 1935. (Photo credit: CC-BY-SA, Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-1002-500, Wikipedia)

McNamee, who made a fortune backing the social media powerhouse early on, said Facebook was creating a culture of “fear and anger” and was “lowering civil discourse.” He added that the company had “weaponized” the First Amendment to “essentially absolve themselves of responsibility.”

Two former Facebook employees responsible for designing the “Like” feature have made similarly repentant statements in the last year, saying their invention gave rise of what they referred to as an “attention economy” that is hurting humanity.

Justin Rosenstein, 34, an engineer, and Leah Pearlman, 35, a product manager, have since left Facebook. In separate interviews recently, each expressed concern for what the button has come to represent.

“It is very common for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences,” Rosenstein told the Guardian.

Rosenstein, who founded Asana, a San Francisco-based company that works to maximize office productivity, and Pearlman, who created Dharma comics, a popular web comic series, are part of a small but growing cadre of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are encouraging their colleagues in the industry to reassess the aftermath of their work.

Recognizing the control Facebook has had over their lives, each has taken steps to wean themselves off the social media platform that they helped build to its current state of dominance. Pearlman hired a social media expert to manage her Facebook page and Rosenstein imposed personal limits on his use of the site.

Jason Rosenstein (Left) and Leah Pearlaman, co-creators of the Facebook “Like” button. (Screen captures/YouTube)

Critics of Facebook have pointed to Facebook’s algorithm, compounded by the “Like” feature designed to encourage users to quickly share posts with as many people as possible, as a factor in the spread of fake news stories that many believe helped sway the 2016 US presidential elections.

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