I’ve been thinking for years about what it would take to make the social web magical in all the right ways—less extreme, less toxic, more true—and I realized only recently that I’ve been thinking far too narrowly about the problem. I’ve long wanted Mark Zuckerberg to admit that Facebook is a media company, to take responsibility for the informational environment he created in the same way that the editor of a magazine would. (I pressed him on this once and he laughed.) In recent years, as Facebook’s mistakes have compounded and its reputation has tanked, it has become clear that negligence is only part of the problem. No one, not even Mark Zuckerberg, can control the product he made. I’ve come to realize that Facebook is not a media company. It’s a Doomsday Machine.
When reality starts to sound like the plot of a James Bond film, it’s time to, uh, reverse course. What gets my attention is the notion that the problems as a result of Facebook out-scale the maker’s ability to “just turn it off.” Does that sound familiar to you? It’s the dystopian pre-story for a million science fiction movies. We may already be on the path to living out THX 1138.➵