"Fix it, Facebook"

I've been following the most recent flap over Facebook in a desultory way. I assumed if I clicked on a few articles I'd find one that explained what FB was supposed to have done wrong this time.  Instead, I found article after article that assumed I understood the obvious crime(s), and lots of increasingly desperate acknowledgements by FB that it can and should "do more."

Particularly interesting were the sprinkling of references to FB's failure to "do more" to stem ethnic violence in Myanmar.  Wait, what?  Did something just happen in Myanmar?  When I click through on the Myanmar references I get more comments about "doing more," but no dates or particulars.  Even FB's 60-page white paper on "doing more" fails to explain what happened in Myanmar before it drifts off into an extended discussion of the history of censorship and repression in that country.  Finally a general search for "Myanmar Facebook" took me to reports of a violent flare in 2014 said to be connected to someone's publishing a deliberately false rape report in a FB post in an apparently successful attempt to stoke racial violence in that benighted country.  It seems that FB did not already have Burmese-speaking moderators in place on the night the false allegations were made, despite its clear responsibility for understanding how dangerous communication can be in a country with a history of such iron repression.  After failing to reach FB executives in the first few hours of the crisis, Myanmar officials simply disabled FB in their country, which apparently caused things to calm down by morning.  Those terrible people at FB, however, took more than a year to put its Burmese-speaking moderation operation into place, complete with operatives well-versed in the entire social and culture quagmire that is Myanmar.  And in the meantime FB callously allowed the Myanmar people to continue communicating with each other.

So why the sudden interest in FB late in 2018?  The New York Times apparently is investigating again, and--as helpfully summarized by the San Francisco Chronicle editorial page--this time has discovered that FB is engaged in denial and deflection.  It hired consultants to discredit its critics, mostly in the context of the Russian influence on our 2016 election, but Myanmar keeps getting thrown in the mix, too.  FB downplayed the seriousness of reports from its own executives about something apparently related to these concerns.  It deflected blame onto its rivals.  It sought special favors from politicians.  (These are nearly direct quotations; I'm not removing any references to specifics.)  And it took these unprecedentedly vile measures to escape blame for--what, exactly?

Well, it seems FB isn't taking its trust, transparency, and privacy problems seriously.  FB is not doing enough to combat false news and information on its platform.  Its failure in Myanmar four years ago shows that it's not willing to be an aggressive defender of human rights.  Its shaky steps to improve transparency haven't been thorough or consistent.  It uses contractors to hit back at critics.  Social media platforms are being used to sway and divide people, and the new House Democrats are thinking of doing something about it, so FB had better get with the program.

I feel an unwilling sympathy for Zuckerberg, trying to punch back against this amoeba.  I can't wait to see what the incoming class of representatives are drafting up.  It shall be a federal crime to operate a social media platform when your head isn't in the right place?

Way back in 2014, someone apparently had the bright idea of pursuing a successful criminal prosecution against the woman who first published the deliberately false rape claim in Myanmar.


E Hines said...

I think much of the schadenfreude regarding Facebook stems from its "We're so cool" attitude, coupled with its censorship of Conservatives coupled with its mea culpas on having gotten caught and its subsequently repeated such censorship, coupled with its efforts to censor censors in the name of stopping hate speech (whatever that is) rather than actually fostering free speech.

And as one of three canonical examples of social media, Facebook is tarnished by Alphabet's and Twitter's similar misbehaviors.

Much of the aspersions being cast Facebook's, Zuckerberg's, and Sandberg's way is unfair, but count me as one of the unsympathetics. I'll decry the unfair criticisms, but I won't be sorry for Facebook or the members of its management team.

Eric Hines

Christopher B said...

Tex, note the New Republic article linked by Grim a few days ago. Count the number of negative references to Republican and far-right. The SJWs smell the blood in the water from various groups deplatforming some of the farther out, and not so far out non-SJWs. You are exactly right that the message is FB needs to get with the program of aggressively censoring conservatives.

Texan99 said...

Another eye-popper from a FB insider: he's figuring out that news leaks don't always work out for his side, and contemplating the moral role of social media and tech giants in helping the government with its essential censorship tasks. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/yes-facebook-made-mistakes-in-2016-but-we-werent-the-only-ones/2018/11/17/3b62b422-ea9d-11e8-a939-9469f1166f9d_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d68004c8cbe2

james said...

"the large technology companies. The latter group will always need to act in a quasi-governmental manner, making judgments on political speech and operating teams"

"Eye-popper" is an understatement.

IIRC the US was founded by revolution, on the understanding that violence was legitimate against an abusive government. I would not be so eager as Stamos is to put myself and my organization into the position of "quasi-government," especially in a role so easily trending to abuse.

Texan99 said...

Right, and where does he get the idea that a government, let alone a quasi-government like his helpful civic-minded pals, has a role in making judgments on political speech?

raven said...

It depends what government he is looking to. China, Cuba, Venezuela, the USSR, lots of places for inspiration out there in the world of "governments".