Roach: Airplane mode

Pondering the use of Facebook

Amid the flow of manic presidential antics, mass shootings rooted in cruel prejudice, serial assassination attempts designed to decapitate the Democratic Party, and hyperbolic election projections, there was a quieter story developing beneath the surface in our nation this past month.

It manifested itself in more subtle ways, adding context to a madness that is sure to continue, no matter the election results.

First, PBS’s Frontline, the most thoughtful television news program to be found, premiered a two-part series on Facebook, taking a hawk-eyed look at Mark Zuckerberg’s fabulously profitable and addictive plaything. Frontline showed, in methodical fashion, how Facebook was utilized by nefarious international forces, and just how ill-prepared Zuckerberg and his Menlo Park millennial geniuses were when forced to face the consequences of their “move fast and break things” philosophy.

In the most compelling clip of the investigative work, Frontline replayed a 2010 interview of young Mark being grilled by two veteran journalists, Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, before a live audience. When prodded about the degree to which Facebook was accessing and monetizing the private information of its users, Zuckerberg broke out in such serious flop sweat that he was forced to remove his trademark hoodie and mop his face with it.

If you Google the clip, you will see a young leader realizing that he had gone too far. And that he had been caught.

In riveting fashion, Frontline illustrated political chaos in Egypt, Ukraine and Myanmar that had been instigated and magnified via Facebook by players using the site for something far more malevolent than reconnecting with your prom date or viewing your aunt’s darling new cat.

By now it is no secret that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were weaponized for use against our own nation and political process. Regardless of your political leanings, it is a sure thing that Russia executed a plan to sway voters in support of Donald Trump and in opposition of Hillary Clinton. But worse than that, they managed, quite successfully, to drive us apart as Americans. And they’re still doing it.

If you doubt this theory just ask every major intelligence agency in the free world, unless you get your information from QAnon or Alex Jones, in which case nothing any sane person says will convince you of anything.

What Frontline made abundantly clear is that Facebook had been perfectly fine making billions by selling our personal information to anyone willing to pay up. And, with the exception of overt sexual content and violence, they felt no responsibility for the targeted, toxic, political content posted on their site directed at each of us. It’s as if they had created the automobile but felt no need to include brakes.

In another report, one that topped the daily rankings of most read in The New York Times, was the story that many Silicon Valley parents are putting serious limitations on their children’s access to smartphones and tablets – far greater restrictions than found in the average household in America. The story included the practice of parent controlled Wi-Fi access, and the sentiment that the moms and dads who manage to keep their children from having a smartphone until high school are considered winners in the parental digital sweepstakes.

Imagine that – the folks who have created our digital world are more leery of its impact on our children than we are. Hmmm.

Add to that the latest feature of the Apple operating system for iPhones and iPads that measures how much time you spend online, and then sends you a report so that you are aware of your usage. This feature may well have come from Apple’s head man Tim Cook who declared, “I thought I was fairly disciplined about this, and I was wrong. When I began to get the data, I found that I was spending a lot more time (on my device) than I should.”

So, to review, Facebook is being used by the Russians to end our democracy. Silicon Valley parents are protecting their children from the very devices and sites they have created. And Apple thinks that we are using our digital devices too much.

And remember, while you ponder the use of Facebook and your digital devices, you can forward this column to your friends from, Twitter and Facebook.

But please, don’t send it to the Russians.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at