“The Facebook Dilemma:” Data, compromised
Mark “Zuck” Zuckerberg is no fan favorite of consumers these days and hasn’t been for quite some time. From a movie depicting him as a less-than-admirable young hotshot (courtesy of the acting work of Jesse Eisenberg), to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and his testimony in front of Congress, Zuckerberg has had to answer a lot of tough questions he didn’t seem ready for.
Public trust in Facebook doesn’t seem to be on the rise, and now a new documentary from FRONTLINE PBS might just wither that trust even more.
Directed by James Jacoby, who also acts as the film’s primary reporter, “The Facebook Dilemma” is a blisteringly critical review of the social networking site’s history, business strategies and moral failures.
Among the film’s key strengths is its polar opposite mood from the marketing campaigns of its subject. While Facebook always marketed its early years as a fun-loving, innovative, world-connecting, friendly forum, FRONTLINE takes that notion and smashes it to pieces. Facebook has seemingly always been, in fact, a reckless, immature, fraternal organization. The problem began when they got bigger and started making a lot more money.
The film opens with those aforementioned beginnings. It shows a baby-faced Zuckerberg being interviewed by a largely unknown YouTuber named Derek Franzese, back when Facebook had only around 20-something employees and a DIY office space, complete with semi-provocative graffiti across the walls.
The company is shown celebrating surpassing 3 million users with a keg of Heineken. In this scene, one of the employees does a low-energy keg stand before returning to his desk. A montage then follows, featuring photos of Zuckerberg and his team at tiny kitchen tables, working on programming for the site, beer and snacks aplenty on hand.
Then came Facebook’s explosive growth. Zuckerberg went from talking to YouTubers and small college classrooms to tech conferences and network television. It’s a rapid shift, and you immediately see the red flags with Facebook’s motto: “Move fast and break things.”
One of the most striking things about the film is the extensive amount of interviews with current and former Facebook employees, many of whom seem to be grappling with their original, wide-eyed interpretation of Facebook’s core mission: “to make the world more open and connected.” That message seemed to have inspired all of them to join in, and how could it not? Facebook’s promise of a world filled with new possibilities through software seemed so optimistic.
Then, with cold collectivity, Jacoby tells the viewer of everything that started going wrong. The algorithms, privacy policies, content policies, hacking, hate speech and Russians. Throughout the film, Zuckerberg and his core team seem almost incapable of understanding the monster of a platform they have created, and it’s just now starting to truly spiral out of control.
There is no solution suggested by the film, as there shouldn’t be. If you’ve ever been concerned about the debate around online privacy, “The Facebook Dilemma” will get you to speak up.