Ex-Facebook Exec Compares Big Tech to Big Tobacco

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Tim Kendall, Facebook's first director of monetization and former Pinterest president, painted a damning portrait of the social media world he helped build, likening it to tobacco companies threatening the health of the nation for profit. That came at a House hearing on social media ominously titled: "Mainstreaming Extremism: Social Media's Role in Radicalizing America."

"I thought my job was to figure out the business model for the company," Kendall said in testimony before a virtual panel of the House Consumer Protection Subcommittee." He said he presumed that would balance the needs of stakeholders with that business model. "Instead," he said, "we sought to mine as much human attention as possible and turn into historically unprecedented profits. To do this, we didn’t simply create something useful and fun. We took a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook, working to make our offering addictive at the outset. 

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He likened Facebook's allowing of misinformation and conspiracy theories and fake news to drive engagement was akin to the "bronchodilators" that allowed cigarette smoke to reach more lung surface area. 

Then there was the ammonia that tobacco companies used to speed the nicotine to the brain. Kendall said to further boost engagement, and profits, delivering incendiary content "to the right person, at the right time, in the exact right way" was social media's ammonia.

Kendall said Facebook and other social media sites "worship at the altar of engagement and cast all other concerns aside, raising the voices of division, anger, hate and misinformation to drown out the voices of truth, justice, morality, and peace."

He finished his testimony with a mea culpa: "[F]or my role, I do bear some responsibility. And so I regret my part in it. One thing I can do today, however, is what I am doing: dedicate all my time and resources to undo as much damage as I can."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.