This review first ran in the Oct. 23 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google
Portfolio / Penguin
Your favourite burger joint just got caught cooking fake meat They knew the burgers were bad but kept serving them up and making people sick.
So what do you do?
Of course, you quit eating their burgers. And you cheer when they’re shut down and run out of town.
So why are you still on Facebook?
The company knows it’s being used by troll farms to spread lies that divide us, dial up the distrust and outrage and get us marching to extremes, says Scott Galloway, a tech entrepreneur, New York University professor and author of The Four.
While fake news is bad news for our mental health and civil society, it’s great business for Facebook.
“The true believers, whether from the left or the right, click on the bait,” says Galloway. “The posts that get the most clicks are confrontational and angry. And those clicks drive up a post’s hit rate.”
High hit rates and more time spent on site mean more money for Facebook. And making money – not giving you a way to share baby photos and cat videos — is the company’s sole mission, says Galloway. “By trashing fake news stories, Facebook would sacrifice billions of clicks and loads of revenue. Once the company’s success is measured in clicks and dollars, why favour true stories over false ones?”
This is a big problem since nearly half of us now get our news from Facebook and one in six people on the planet use it every day. Mixing together real and fake news makes Facebook even more dangerous, warns Galloway.
We greatly overestimate our ability to separate fact from fiction and Facebook is in no hurry to spend whatever’s necessary to weed out fake news, says Galloway.
“This abdication from social responsibility, enabling authoritarians and hostile actors to deftly use fake news, risks that the next big medium may, again, be cave walls.”
Along with Facebook, Galloway takes a hard look at Amazon, Apple and Google.
Amazon renders moot the living wage debate with its warehouse robots and cashier-less grab and go retail stores.
Apple has morphed into a luxury brand. “It may sell millions of iPods, iPhones, iWatches and Apple Watches but likely only one percent of the world can (rationally) afford them and that’s how Apple wants it,” says Galloway.
And while God may not answer your prayers, Google has all the answers. “Look at your recent Google search history: you reveal things to Google that you wouldn’t want anyone to know. We believe, naively, that nobody (but the Big Guy) can listen to our thoughts. But let’s be clear…Google too is listening.”
Galloway says we need to cast a more critical eye on the four tech titans as they fundamentally change how we live, work, shop and get along with each other.
“These firms are not concerned with the condition of our souls, will not take care of us in our old age, nor hold our hand,” says Galloway. “They are organizations that have aggregated enormous power. These companies avoid taxes, invade privacy, and destroy jobs to increase profits because they can.
“Are these entities the Four Horseman of god, love, sex and consumption? Or are they the Four Horseman of the apocalypse? The answer is yes to both questions.”
@jayrobb lives and works in Hamilton, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and does not get his news from Facebook.