When Chaos met Covid

Mera Granberg Paul
2 min readMar 8, 2021

An object lesson in how surveillance capitalism drove social media to screw the pooch. Part 6 of many unpacking Shoshana Zuboff’s very important editorial

The World Health Organization declared Covid 19 a global pandemic in March of 2020. A month earlier people who watch this sort of thing reported an ‘infodemic’ of rumors about disease. Social media is where these rumors were socialized. Zuboff writes that by May at least 34 extremist right-wing websites were disseminating Covid19 disinformation. Avaaz released a study in August reporting that by April of 2020 — only one month into the official pandemic — half a billion of Facebook’s April views were perusing Covid19 disinformation. Half a billion. 300 million of those views were fueled by only 10 sites.

Did Facebook know about those 10 sites? Well, 300 million views equal 0.017% of Facebook’s daily views. That’s not much. However, they’ve found a way to moderate other kinds of illegal or objectionable content. They know how to address a problem like this. And we saw until very recently that they lacked the will to do so. Which leaves me imagining they’re on one of two tracks: They willfully would not see what was happening. Or they did see and did not care.

In October of 2020 the National Center of Disaster Preparedness at Columbia estimated that 130,000 of the 217,000 deaths caused by Covid-19 were avoidable. They cited “misleading the public” as one of the four key reasons for these unnecessary and avoidable losses.

Social media raked in the money and did nothing else while Americans turned to platforms like Facebook for information on how to survive. Instead of distributing and amplifying actionable information that would save lives Facebook said, nah, see how many clicks we’re getting by serving up bad information that might kill you? How could we walk away from that sticky money?

And with that, we the people literally became the victims of the surveillance capitalist business model.