The Coup: How Facebook Elected Trump
I have seen Facebook evolve over the last 8 years. While its algorithm favours different aspects of the platform at different times, it is never ‘accidental’ — it is almost always a choice by the engineers at Facebook. Whether it pushes Facebook Apps, or FarmVille, or Pages, or more recently, Groups — or how content from apps, or pages, or friends is prioritised in Newsfeed, there is a clear strategy behind every move.
The consistent choice on Facebook has been that it does not favour implied commitments, it changes anything and everything that favours the platform. Privacy for users? Notifications for apps? Fair newsfeed access for Pages? Facebook consistently drops whatever it thinks is necessary to push forward its growth agenda.
Facebook’s biggest and direct competitor is Google. Both are basically advertising companies — and they compete for consumer attention which they sell to the highest bidder. Both have great engineering cultures. Google understands data better than anyone else. Facebook understands people better than anyone else.
Google had a close relationship with Obama. Google and the Obama Administration exchanged 250 staff members. Although they are broadly aligned as members of the Silicon Valley ecosystem…but what serves Google, does not serve Facebook. And vice versa.
We all felt Facebook becoming Fakebook in 2016. Fake news trended more than apps, pages or sources of authentic content. ‘Clickbait’ became the norm for even credible news sources. I don’t think Editors were ‘promoting’ Clickbait and Fakenews. But because the Facebook algorithm was ‘pushing’ fake content and allowing it to spread, even decent Editors felt like it was the only way to push their traffic numbers.
And here is the thing: this fake news industry disproportionately benefitted Trump. Donald Trump had many flaws, the best way to help him win was to make the other party look worse. And since Facebook is structured around the social graph, people who were pro-Trump could affect each other and undecided voters without ever becoming visible to the ‘other side’. Since the news was being shared by ‘your friends’, and since certain types of news was dominating your feed, it recreated reality for a sizeable enough population to affect the final outcome.
Peter Thiel donated $1.25 million to Donald Trump and became a visible supporter from Silicon Valley. Now he’s a key player in Trump’s transition team. He happens to be the first outside investor and Board Member at Facebook.
Hate did not trump love. This was just another episode in the secret war between Google and Facebook.
And yes, this time, Facebook Trumped Google. And if the world goes to hell for it, so be it.