Just when you think that some TV hosts can’t sink any lower, they manage to top themselves.
And just when you think that the Company Formerly Known as Facebook can’t get any greedier or more hypocritical, another even more stomach-turning example of its true corporate priorities hits the headlines.
While part of me hesitates to draw more attention to statements clearly designed to generate headlines, social media frenzies and ratings, ignoring what’s happening clearly won’t make it go away.
So here’s a capsule of the latest: In an appearance on Fox News Monday night, Lara Logan — host of the network’s “Lara Logan Has No Agenda” (yes, you read that correctly) — stated: “What you see on Dr. Fauci, this is what people say to me: That he doesn't represent science to them. He represents Josef Mengele. Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who did experiments on Jews during the Second World War and in the concentration camps. And I am talking about people all across the world are saying this."
After public condemnations of her remarks by the American Jewish Committee and the Auschwitz Museum, among others, Logan doubled down by retweeting a new Twitter user with (according to The Week) zero followers. This user (“Esther Schneider”) wrote in part: "Shame on the Auschwitz Museum for shaming Lara Logan for sharing that Jews like me believe Fauci is a modern day Mengele..."
It is, of course, one of the oldest — and sadly, too often successful — tricks of would-be despots to try to turn the tables by accusing others of pursuing their own despicable agendas. The targets: legitimate public servants and governments, along with some vulnerable segment of the population. (Nero had the Christians, Hitler the Jews... the list goes on.)
Exhibit B: At about the same time Logan was spewing her anti-vaxx venom, Facebook was allowing an ad to run that compared the rollout of vaccines to the Holocaust, “falsely and ludicrously implying they are part of an attempt to slaughter people on a mass scale,” reports Fox News rival CNN.
That Facebook page that ad ran on, dubbed “Ride the Red Wave,” has in the past run ads for, among other things, a t-shirt advocating “Make hanging traitors great again” — and has paid Facebook more than $280,000 for ads since May, according to data reviewed by CNN.
But that’s by no means the only merchandise company running similarly ugly anti-vaxx, pro-violence ads on Facebook — and this has been going on “over the last few years,” according to the report.
Another of the examples cited: "Next Level Goods," a page run by a different company, “regularly uses Facebook to advertiser anti-vaccine t-shirts,” spending more than $500,000 on Facebook ads since 2019.
In other words, Facebook’s newly renamed parent Meta — which has been desperately trying to convince us of its total commitment to stopping its platforms from being used for precisely these kinds of dangerous abuses — has been reaping hundreds of thousands of dollars by taking ads that actively seek to undermine our health and our democracy.
If CNN’s report is accurate, these ads were running before, during and after the Trump administration’s attempts to block the results of a legitimate national election, and the Jan. 6 insurrection.
In response to the report, Meta acknowledged that ads likening the government’s COVID response and vaccines to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, as well as ones describing the vaccines as “poison,” violate Facebook’s policies against misinformation.
Meta had no comment on whether "Make Hanging Traitors Great Again" is allowed by its roster of frequently updated but ineffectively enforced policies.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars are peanuts to Facebook/Meta. And for that matter, to Fox News — which is currently crowing about beating CNN and MSNBC in the November ratings (though cable news viewership overall is down significantly from November 2020).
To state the obvious, many millions of Americans continue to use social and other media that serve to spread conspiracy theories and misinformation, and brands of every size and nearly every kind continue to feed these organizations with a flood of advertising dollars, despite a growing (and far from “new” or surprising, at this point) body of evidence demonstrating their pernicious effects on our society and wellbeing.
Boycotts have to date been far too short-lived, and limited largely to Facebook and (some) large advertisers. Millions of small advertisers continued to ensure that Facebook barely felt a thing during last year’s essentially month-long boycott.
Using technology to identify and avoid placing ads near egregious content is a start, but not yet practiced widely enough to make a dent. And how long will it take for such efforts to help deter the most dangerous types of content, if advertisers keep cynical media companies afloat by continuing to support their less objectionable content?
It's become cliché to acknowledge that there are no simple solutions. But I think the point has more to do with there being no painless solutions, combined with insufficient concern and willpower to take meaningful action. How can anyone doubt that truly large-scale, extended boycotts by consumers and advertisers can be effective in persuading companies to consider acting like responsible corporate citizens? These are for-profit businesses, after all -- and there are more than a few real, live historical examples of successful economic boycotts.
The truth is that there seems to be very little will to bear the inconveniences — "sacrifices" would be an exaggeration — that this would require from brands and consumers.
So here are two requests:
If you are an advertiser that spends money in such media, please stop claiming that you care more about concepts like inclusiveness and equality, or avoiding your brands being associated with hateful, corrosive, false content, than you do about the most efficient means of reaching your target audiences — regardless of the larger consequences.
Advertisers and media users/consumers: If you won’t take a stand, at least stop trying to evade responsibility for the harms being done by fobbing it off on lawmakers.
Without fuel, fires go out. If you are being used as fuel, don’t kid yourself: You are an active participant in what is turning into a nightmarish national and global scenario.