"You have to feel shame, Mr Zuckerberg. Because unless you are capable of feeling shame then we are all lost", writes Jonas Gardell."You have to feel shame, Mr Zuckerberg. Because unless you are capable of feeling shame then we are all lost", writes Jonas Gardell.
"You have to feel shame, Mr Zuckerberg. Because unless you are capable of feeling shame then we are all lost", writes Jonas Gardell.
Jonas Gardell, one of Scandinavia’s most award-winning writers and artists. Foto: Jessica Gow / Tt / TT NYHETSBYRÅNJonas Gardell, one of Scandinavia’s most award-winning writers and artists. Foto: Jessica Gow / Tt / TT NYHETSBYRÅN
Jonas Gardell, one of Scandinavia’s most award-winning writers and artists. Foto: Jessica Gow / Tt / TT NYHETSBYRÅN

You must be ashamed – or we are all lost

Publicerad

By refusing to take responsibility for its content, Facebook has helped to create a world in which lies are starting to triumph over truth.

Jonas Gardell writes an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about death threats, false news and godlessness.

Dear Mr Zuckerberg,

You and I do not know each other. We are not friends on Facebook, you have no reason to know who I am.

But I am one of the people who uses your company's tool on a daily basis to communicate with the outside world, and I am one of the people who, on a daily basis, is threatened and ridiculed via that very same platform. Basically, I am one of the people you make money out of.

Naturally people mock me and threaten to kill me on other channels, not just Facebook, but on Twitter and YouTube too. Not to mention the fact that Google readily supplies links to websites that spread the most horrendous lies about me. Nevertheless, I turn to you for the simple reason that, when it boils down to it, I want to like you. You seem to be a pretty decent guy.

Up until now you have admittedly been careful to disclaim all responsibility for what Facebook is filled with. You stand, so to speak, only for the design and not the content. But even so...

Sure, I too should perhaps be able to put up with reading about how I'm going to be strung up from lampposts and thrown off rooftops, how my genitals are going to be sliced off and shoved up my anus, how my children are going to be forced to watch as someone slits my throat.

I might be able to put up with it, but I seriously cannot really understand how you can put up with it.

Jonas Gardell, one of Scandinavia’s most award-winning writers and artists.Foto: /All Over Press / /ALL OVER PRESS

False news stories

From this distance, you see, to me you appear to be a decent human being. Someone who wants to spend time with their kids while they're young, someone who wants other people to read good literature, someone who promised to donate almost half of their staggering wealth to charity.

I think that's what is so odd. That from this distance you still seem to be someone who means well.

And if I am right in my assumption, then you have probably - as many of us have lately - come to the huge and shocking, if not momentous, realisation that lies have increasingly won over truth. How fake news, facts and claims have been shared faster and wider than that which is true and verifiable.

Examples of false news stories that have gained widespread attention via the social media are that the Pope endorsed Trump in the presidential election, that Clinton sold weapons to ISIS and that an FBI agent who was investigating Clinton's email leaks was found dead under suspicious circumstances.

And if we could just leave the global arena for a moment and return to the little country of Sweden, where I myself live and which is far away from the US election, a simple Google search will take you to articles about how I have been infected with HIV and am now dying of AIDS and that my husband is a paedophile who buys toddlers.

I know, bringing up trivial examples like that seems almost ridiculous, and surely no-one in their right mind would believe such nonsense. But the fact of the matter is that, just the other day, there was someone who had expressed their doubts about a meeting with me because he had read that I had HIV. This further demonstrates how lies are repeated and propagated until they become "true".

And even if you present evidence that something is a lie, the response you might get is, "That's how you see it, but that's not how I see it."

President-elect Donald Trump.Foto: Matt Baron/Bei/Shutterstock / MATT BARON/BEI/SHUTTERSTOCK REX FEATURES

Truths covered by law

A case in point being when Sweden Democrats politician Bo Lindholm claimed that the image you have probably seen of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean, was fake. When, in September 2015, the Sala Nyheter newspaper asked the politician what evidence he had to substantiate this claim, he nonchalantly replied, "I don't have a source. It's people who have shared it on Facebook."

When the journalist then asked whether he should be more critical of source credibility, he replied, "No, why should I be? After all, this is a feeling I have."

And when the journalist, in conclusion, wondered whether it was nevertheless important to ensure that everything you share is true, Lindholm did not understand the problem at all saying, "Perhaps that's how you think. But perhaps I think with emotions instead!"

In several European countries, some truths are actually covered by law. For example, it is against the law to deny the Holocaust in France, Germany and Austria. This ban is progressively turning out to have been wise, as there are actually attempts being made. And as the final survivors of the camps leave this world, attempts like this will become more and more common and probably attract more attention.

Companies like Google and your company, Facebook, are now being held accountable. Or rather, are yet again being held accountable. And it is becoming increasingly evident that if the social platforms do not now start taking their journalistic responsibility, then the whole of Western democracy is under serious threat.

Big words, I know. But I fear that they are nevertheless true.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO.Foto: Eric Risberg / AP TT NYHETSBYRÅN

Assert the truth rather than the lies

Facebook, which began as a contact tool for students, risks toppling the entire fabric of our society, and Google, which began as a search engine for quickly retrieving relevant information, is rapidly turning into more of a hyper-efficient disseminator of misinformation.

In the US, both Google and Facebook have now been pressured into promising concessions, finding algorithms that can take into account the truth value of a claim and preventing the spreading of lies and false news.

That is all well and good, albeit way too late, but it is also horrifying that it should be down to your company's discretion, and your possible good will, to assert the truth rather than the lies. Do you not agree?

Ever since the earliest civilisations, in Mesopotamia between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, as cities grew, with a regulated political rule and some form of army and judicial system, we have had laws that regulate the conditions under which people live and a ruler who can ensure that the laws are adhered to. In ancient times, it was argued that God set the limits for chaos.

To this day, these limits must be regulated through legislation and be upheld through government authorities, not least on the internet, to ensure that chaos does not spread and the mob do not run wild. A mob has always consisted of people who, using the power of their anonymity and strength in numbers, are able to attack, humiliate, threaten and silence.

Historically, this happened during periods of lawlessness as a result of wars or natural disasters. Today it is happening on our social media.

In Germany, laws against hate crimes are being used to put pressure on Facebook, and I sincerely hope that my country, Sweden, will start applying the legislation we also have against hate crimes.

JONAS GARDELL

Since his breakthrough in the 1980s, Jonas Gardell has been one of Scandinavia's most award-winning writers and artists.

Gardell has been celebrated for a long list of performances, TV productions, films and books. His most acclaimed work is the "Don't Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves" novel trilogy, about the HIV epidemic when it hit Sweden in the 1980s. The trilogy, which was also made into a three-part TV drama, has been compared to Tony Kushner's "Angels in America".

Gardell is a recognised debater on issues relating to LGBTQ rights, tolerance and Christianity. He also holds honorary degrees in both theology and medicine.

This text was originally published in Swedish national newspaper, Expressen.

Translator: Laura Åkerblom

Give Facebook a human face

Has it never occurred to you that you could avoid these laws by getting your company to appoint a legally accountable publisher for each country? An editor who takes responsibility, or simply something that is obvious to a lot of other companies: someone to answer the phone when you call, someone who is held accountable.

In short, between you and me Mr Zuckerberg, you need to give your company a human face, and you should perhaps feel a smidgen of humility when it comes to your own immense power.

In today's fact-resistant world, the terrifying and verifiable news about the North Pole currently being 20°C warmer than it should be is able to reach us, as well as the fact that climate change is accelerating faster than previous warnings. While there are also reports about Donald Trump wanting to put climate change deniers in charge of America's environmental policies, and has himself, the President-elect of the United States, claimed that the threat to our climate is simply something that China made up.

Our hope is that the President-elect will decide to suggest something else tomorrow.

In this post-truth society, where facts are simply one of several options, and where the Republican presidential candidate can look straight into the camera and say, "I never said that," while you simultaneously hear him saying exactly the thing he is denying he said in a YouTube clip.

And this leads to something that is perhaps even worse - the terrifying feeling that our reality is disintegrating.

If truth and lies are of equal value, and truth and lies are something we can choose depending on whether it suits us at the time, then where will we end up?

In the Bible it says that the truth will set us free.

But what if we live in a society where the supremacy of truth is no longer a matter of consensus?

It used to be the case that when you were disproved, you conceded. In the conclusion of the detective novels, Hercule Poirot would gather all of the suspects in the drawing room and point out the killer, who would concede under Poirot's overwhelming evidence. You conceded to the truth.

If someone is caught telling an obvious lie, then they are shamed and ostracised.

The truth has divine authority

But what if they feel no shame? If they casually repeat their lie again and again, despite it already having been disproved? And, Mr Zuckerberg, what if, like you, someone also discovers that they themselves are partly to blame by having supplied the liar with a megaphone?

In lasting and functional societies, there must be a fundamental consensus about the value of truth. A claim or an accusation must be demonstrable, substantiated with empirical data, confirmed by mutually independent witnesses.

In the Bible, it says that the truth will set us free.

But it also says in the Bible that it is God who will set us free.

Truth and God are therefore one and the same. The truth has divine authority.

Someone who disregards the truth and instead unashamedly embraces the lie is therefore a godless person.

One reason that many of us were paralysed with terror after Donald Trump's triumph in the presidential election was his unashamed use of lies and the fact that it did not bother him in the slightest.

Nor did it phase him when he was proved wrong. He just continued to argue his lie.

According to the Bible's two thousand-year-old rationale, a person without truth is a person without God.

Which makes Trump a godless person.

A godless person is a shameless person.

And a person without shame can do anything at all. The shameless no longer have any inhibitions, the godless can do anything they like because they answer to no-one.

Few things are therefore more dangerous than a person without God and without shame.

 

Russia's president Vladimir Putin.Foto: Alexei Druzhinin / Sputnik / Kremlin P / EPA TT NYHETSBYRÅN

Feel shame

Trump is not alone in his shamelessness. I don't think that Russia's Putin or Syria's al-Assad feel any shame either, not even when the hospital in Aleppo was bombed and children were killed. And take the British politicians in favour of Brexit, for example. They not only flat-out lied, but they also knew that they were lying and had absolutely no intention of taking responsibility for the situation when it turned out the way it did.

If the world is increasingly being run by people who feel no shame, it is even more important that the rest of us feel shame, for our inability to obstruct their route to power.

And it is important, Mr Zuckerberg, that you feel shame.

That you feel shame for the hate that has been allowed to grow because you did not recognise or want to take your share of the responsibility.

That you feel shame for the lies that have gained momentum because you did not understand or want to understand the role that you and Facebook play.

Feeling shame, you see, is not a bad thing, but rather a sign that you are still a decent human being.

You have to feel shame, Mr Zuckerberg. Because unless you are capable of feeling shame then we are all lost. You are one of the responsible ones, and I hope that you can bear to see and acknowledge your responsibility.

It wouldn't matter if you were to donate everything you ever earned to the poor, if the free, democratic world as we know it comes to an end.

Jesus once asked, "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?"

It was true then. It is true now. It is true for me.

And, Mr Zuckerberg, it is true for you.

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Jonas Gardell

Kulturen@expressen.se

 

Translator: Laura Åkerblom

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