When I think of New York Times opinionist David Brooks—which is, happily, almost never—I remember him as the guy who wrote that his friend who didn’t go to college was too dumb to understand sandwiches. Others may remember him as the man who wrote an open letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates suggesting he be nicer about America. But whether it is for these dreadful opinions or some others one remembers David Brooks, he is a white man who has never let the fact that he is wrong and his opinions are bad stop him from insisting that those opinions are right and good. This trait makes him a perfect shill for Facebook, the preferred social media platform for middle-aged fans of echo chambers and willful misunderstanding.
That perfect intersection of interests is likely why Facebook has been slipping money to Brooks for years, even as Brooks, surely coincidentally, has repeatedly used his New York Times column to argue that Facebook is not a hotbed of Russian election meddling and neo-Nazism but a force for societal good. In fact, Brooks believes in this bad opinion so much that he started a “community building” project called “Weave” in conjunction with Washington D.C. think tank the Aspen Institute, which is, again surely coincidentally, funded in part by Facebook, a detail Brooks failed to mention in his many New York Times columns promoting his little Weave side hustle.
All of these dots were connected by Buzzfeed, which reported that Brooks wrote a 900-word blog post for Facebook in praise of its groups and also appeared in a corporate panel discussion that was mostly a circle-jerk for employees to assure themselves the company they work for is not evil.
Per Buzzfeed: “In Dec. 2018, Facebook earmarked a $250,000 gift to the Aspen Institute for the project. Three months later, Brooks introduced Times readers to his concept of “Weavers,” which he described as people who fight social isolation by “building community and weaving the social fabric” across the US. “We need to create a shared Weaver identity,” Brooks wrote in the column “A Nation of Weavers.” To make that happen, Brooks explained, he had started Weave at the Aspen Institute.”
But what Brooks didn’t explain was that the Weaver identity was funded by Facebook and other donors with connections to giant corporate entities like JP Morgan and even got $300,000 from Jeff Bezos’s dad.
Brooks’s venture into freelance content marketing for Facebook’s blog comes as the company is hyping a giant NYU study it purchased which, also completely coincidentally, found that Facebook Groups are not that bad:
“Beth Simone Noveck, director of the Governance Lab at NYU and a coauthor of the NYU report about Facebook Groups, said her team was aware of the ethical issues of working with Facebook and accepting money from the company to produce the report. NYU’s GovLab has received $700,000 in funding from Facebook since 2019, including $300,000 for the Groups report. For the research, Facebook connected academics with more than 50 administrators of large Groups, and shared data from a survey as well as selected internal data, with restrictions.”
Despite the fact that The New York Times appears to be in full-on panic mode denying they knew David Brooks was possibly on the take, truly this does not sound evil at all! Just like ethical journalist David Brooks wrote in his corporate blog post for the company whose money he did not admit to taking, “Clearly people have come to really value the communities they are building online,” I am very much beginning to see the value of these communities. While I have not had a Facebook account in quite some time, as I found that I could live without daily reminders that many of the adults I knew from childhood are deeply racist and cannot spell, I am very much willing to rejoin this valuable community for a fraction of the price the company paid David Brooks. Please look for my upcoming blog post “Why Facebook Is Great for Feminism, Actually” just as soon as my student loans are coincidentally paid off in full.