What do you get when you intersperse the ominous-sounding narration of PBS’s “Frontline” with the patois of a (Silicon) Valley Girl, whose resume belies her you-know-like-wow series of reaction shots to allegations that Facebook is an online sieve of personal data and social division, whose corporate newspeak fails to address the proliferation of fake news and bogus accounts on the world’s biggest platform for groupthink and the promotion of chain letters?
The answer confirms that Mark Zuckerberg needs to steal—I mean invent—new tools that prevent the public from learning the truth, that Donald Trump is a Nazi and that Lee Harvey Oswald was having a Coke (and a smile) on the first floor of the Texas School Book Depository, while a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle autonomously fired three shots from the sixth floor of the same building, killing President John F. Kennedy.
The answer, by way of “Frontline’s” two-part report about Facebook, is that the company does not have a monopoly on propaganda. Indeed, the report itself is nothing more than a repeat of the mistaken belief that correlation implies causation: that because Russian trolls ran ads and managed bogus accounts on Facebook, 77,744 voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan—whose names we do not know, whose whereabouts (on Facebook) we cannot find, whose ballots we will never see—shut their laptops and closed the door on democracy. The other answer, hard as it is to believe, is that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election.
And yet, “Frontline” reinforces our cognitive dissonance about advertising.
Companies spend billions of dollars on advertising, mostly in a vain effort to get us to switch to Geico or to “Taste the Rainbow.” But once the ads shift from the commercial to the political, a posthypnotic trigger allegedly converts us from sleeper agents to assassins—with ballots instead of bullets.
That Facebook insinuates as much proves the point: that you can fail without knowing it, so long as you focus on a collection of meaningless numbers.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.