It is hard to believe that a company that has worked so hard this year to censor free speech on the pretext of trying to stop the spread of “vaccine misinformation” to the public has been fined $5 billion by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violating the privacy rights of consumers. But that is precisely what happened to Facebook on July 24, 2019.1
According to the FTC:
Facebook, Inc. will pay a record-breaking $5 billion penalty, and submit to new restrictions and a modified corporate structure that will hold the company accountable for the decisions it makes about its users’ privacy, to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the company violated a 2012 FTC order by deceiving users about their ability to control the privacy of their personal information.1
“For years, when Facebook asked you ‘Who do you want to see your post?’ and you chose to share your information only with your ‘friends,’ Facebook provided that data not only to your friends but also to any of the millions of third-party apps that those friends used,” said FTC Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter.2
“Despite repeated promises to its billions of users worldwide that they could control how their personal information is shared, Facebook undermined consumers’ choices,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons.2
Facebook “misled millions of Americans” about how it was sharing user data and “committed serious breaches of trust,” said Gustav Eyler, director of the Department of Justice Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.2
After Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in April 2018, U.S. Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island tweeted, “Sure looks like Zuckerberg lied to Congress about whether users have ‘complete control’ over who sees our data on Facebook.”3
In August 2019, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon went so far as to suggest that Zuckerberg should go to prison. In an interview with the Williamette Week, Sen. Wyden said:
Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly lied to the American people about privacy. I think he ought to be held personally accountable, which is everything from financial fines to—and let me underline this—the possibility of a prison term. Because he hurt a lot of people.4 5
This doesn’t sound like a company fit to undertake the job as the arbiter of truth published online. Here’s what the FTC had to say about the penalty it imposed on Facebook…
The $5 billion penalty against Facebook is the largest ever imposed on any company for violating consumers’ privacy and almost 20 times greater than the largest privacy or data security penalty ever imposed worldwide. It is one of the largest penalties ever assessed by the U.S. government for any violation.1
This is not an insignificant violation of the public’s trust. Yet, over the past year Facebook has been directed by powerful congressmen like Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff to “address misinformation related to vaccines” and take steps “to provide medically accurate information on vaccinations to users”6 and then publicly applauded for its efforts to “combat vaccine misinformation” and “stand against anti-vaxxers.”7 8
A little more than a month after Facebook was fined by the FTC, the World Health Organization (WHO) proudly announced that it was partnering with Facebook to stop the spread of inaccurate vaccine information.9
About a week after the WHO/Facebook announcement, the attorneys general from Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia reportedly joined together to launch an investigation into whether Facebook violated antitrust laws.10
New York attorney general Letitia James said:
I am proud to be leading a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in investigating whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk. We will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.10
There is a strange cognitive dissonance with regard to Facebook. On the one hand, the company is viewed as being largely untrustworthy and unethical, perhaps even criminal, in its behavior. On the other hand, the company’s efforts to build what Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center describes as an “electronic wall” to “block you from getting [vaccine] information you want so you only get [vaccine] information someone else decides you need” appears to have the blessing of Congress and has aroused little public outcry.11
It reminds me of the cognitive dissonance that exists with regard to the pharmaceutical industry. On prescription drugs, the industry’s sins are unquestionable, extensive and ongoing. However, when it comes to vaccines, Big Pharma apparently can do no wrong. How is this possible?
1 Press Release. FTC Imposes $5 Billion Penalty and Sweeping New Privacy Restrictions on Facebook. U.S. Federal Trade Commission July 24, 2019.
2 Skiba K. Government Hits Facebook With $5 Billion Fine. AARP July 24, 2019.
3 Breland A. Dem lawmaker: ‘Looks like Zuckerberg lied to Congress.’ The Hill June 4, 2018.
4 De Lea B. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg deserves potential prison time for lying, top Democrat says. Fox Business Sept. 3, 2019.
5 Mesh A, Zusman M. Ron Wyden Doesn’t Apologize for Helping Build the Internet—But He’s Interested in Sending Mark Zuckerberg to Prison. Williamette Week Aug. 28, 2019.
6 Congressman Adam Schiff News Release. Schiff Sends Letter to Google, Facebook Regarding Anti-Vaccine Misinformation. Feb. 14, 2019.)
7 Pitovsky M. Facebook unveils feature to combat vaccine misinformation. MSN Sept. 5, 2019.
8 Mandal A. Facebook takes a stand against Anti-vaxxers and vaccine misinformation. News-Medical.Net Sept. 8, 2019.
9 Shama E. WHO partners with Facebook stop the spread of inaccurate vaccine information. CNBC Sept. 5, 2019.
10 Melendez S. 8 states and D.C. are now investigating Facebook for potential antitrust violations. Fast Company Sept. 6, 2019.
11 Fisher BL. The New Internet Police Protecting You From Freedom of Thought and Speech. NVIC Newsletter Dec. 3, 2018.