Eight years ago, in a piece entitled The Facebook Fallacy, I wrote this after watching Lesley Stahl do a puff-piece interview on “60 Minutes” with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg:
In it, she repeated the fallacy that Facebook is “used by 500,000,000 people.” If that were correct, one in every 13 humans on the planet would be on Facebook. That’s demonstrably false. What Stahl — and everyone else who spreads that lie — should have said is that there are half a billion Facebook accounts. Consider that every movie has a Facebook page, as do hundreds of thousands of corporations worldwide (including the one my wife works for). There are Facebook pages for Chex Mix and John Deer tractors and Vaseline and Levi’s jeans and Dr. Pepper and a huge number of other products that you can “like” if you’re so inclined.
There’s also a Facebook page for — wait for it — “60 Minutes.”
Do all of those commercial endeavors count as people? Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, they may have the right to make political contributions, but that still doesn’t make them human beings.
Since then, the alleged number of Facebook accounts has been inflated by some media outlets to two billion. On a planet with a population with 7.6 billion humans, that would mean almost one in four is on Facebook. Impossible.
But, as Zuckerberg’s company continues to face pressure to do something about trolls, hate speech, graphic violence, and terrorist propaganda, the company announced Wednesday that, in the first quarter of 2018 alone, it had deleted 583 million fake accounts. A number that large means it was far too easy for anyone to open a Facebook account and start pumping out whatever nonsense they liked, regardless of its impact on the rest of us, with no oversight by Zuckerberg’s staff.
It also tells you how the company’s claims about the size of its total user base became so inflated — to say nothing of all the people who may have opened a Facebook account at one time but subsequently abandoned it. How many dormant accounts are there?
If I were a Facebook advertiser, I’d want answers to these (and a lot of other) questions before spending another dime on the site. As with any media outlet (including radio, TV, and print), if you’re being charged based on the reach of the platform, you’re entitled to the facts, not some fictional number pulled out of the cloud.