Sunday, 15 April 2018

It is getting harder and harder to believe Facebook Inc's denials of intentional harm

The fact that Facebook Inc. re-named the street in which it is headquartered "1 Hacker Way" should have been a clue to this social media giant's business ethos but it obviously didn't register with national governments and everyday Internet users. 

By the time All tech reported this on 11 November 2016 we were all a little more informed, but Facebook was still trying to pull the wool over our eyes:

Mark Zuckerberg says the notion that fake news influenced the U.S. presidential election is "a pretty crazy idea."

The Facebook CEO is finding himself in a unique position in this election cycle. Many news organizations have come under fire for their coverage of the campaign. Now Facebook is getting it too, as a modern media company that does not vet fake news from its News Feed and that, critics argue, allows users to stay in information bubbles that reinforce existing prejudices.

Zuckerberg took both these criticisms head-on yesterday, at a conference called Techonomy. (You can find the full interview on his Facebook feed.)

He says hoaxes existed before his platform was created. They aren't new, and people who say misinformation is why Donald Trump won simply do not get it. "There's a profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason why someone could have voted the way that they did is because they saw some fake news," Zuckerberg says.

He also says his company has studied fake news and found it's a "very small volume" of the content on Facebook. He did not specify if that content is more or less viral or impactful than other information.

Denials of a dangerously lax attitude to risk in Facebook Inc.'s business model continued to be made as more information surfaced......

BuzzFeed, 30 March 2018

The Age, 31 March 2018:

In a 2016 employee memo that was leaked this week, a Facebook executive defended the company's questionable data mining practices and championed the growth of social media at any cost - apparently even death.

Users in the US sue Facebook for not protecting personal data of the 50 million social network account owners whose data ended up at the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

"Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies," company vice president Andrew Bosworth wrote in the memo, according to BuzzFeed News, which published it Thursday. "Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good."….

Bosworth, who oversaw Facebook's advertising and business platform at the time and is now in charge of the company's virtual reality department, has acknowledged writing the message but said he intended only to start a debate. "I didn't agree with it even when I wrote it," he wrote on Twitter after BuzzFeed published its report.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who is already facing a public relations crisis over accusations that the company mishandled millions of users' private data, disavowed the memo.

"Boz is a talented leader who says many provocative things," Zuckerberg said in a statement, using Bosworth's nickname. "This was one that most people at Facebook including myself disagreed with strongly. We've never believed the ends justify the means."…….

The 418-word memo is framed around Zuckerberg's often-stated mission to connect the entire world through Facebook, which Bosworth cites as the company's ultimate and unchangeable goal - whether those connections let users fall in love, attack each other or, in the memo's most extreme example, coordinate a terrorist attack.

"That's why all the work we do in growth is justified," Bosworth wrote. "All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in. The work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it."

BuzzFeed noted that the memo was written almost immediately after a man was shot to death while streaming live video of himself with Facebook Live, and a few days before a Palestinian teenager was accused of killing an Israeli girl after praising terrorists on Facebook.

These deaths were a prelude to a string of other gruesome and violent incidents that appeared in videos and live streams on the social network. A man posted a Facebook video of himself killing someone last April. A month later, a man soaked himself in kerosene, lit himself on fire and used Facebook Live to stream video of his self-immolation.

Then we saw Zuckerberg donning a suit as he did the rounds in Washington DC. Appearing before a Joint Senate Committees on the Judiciary & Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s  Facebook, Social Media Privacy, and the Use and Abuse of Data hearing and a House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee's Facebook: Transparency and Use of Consumer Data hearing.

There was an expectation that during these hearings Zuckerberg would reveal the full extent of Facebook's data collection and retention, as well as explain why he allowed third party apps to collect data without the knowledge and/or fully informed consent of up to est, 2 billion Facebook users.

His disingenuous witness statement published ahead of his appearances contains this gem:

Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company. For most of our existence, we focused on all the good that connecting people can bring.....
But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here. So now we have to go through every part of our relationship with people and make sure we’re taking a broad enough view of our responsibility.

However, if one reads through the full witness statement it is clear that Facebook Inc. is not responding out of a genuine realisation of its ethical failures or wrongdoing, but is essentially responding to the sharp fall in its stock value which began last month.

It clearly intends to still allow third party apps access to Facebook user accounts and there is no guarantee that the amount of personal data that can be extracted by these apps will be limited to a digital version of 'name, rank and serial number' or that Facebook users will have given fully-informed consent for this data extraction.

This reading of Facebook Inc.'s intentions was reinforced by Mark Zuckerberg testimony before both the Senate and House committees.

He came obviously rehearsed by lawyers and tightly scripted......

Time Magazine, Facebook aide closing notes during hearing recess,11 April 2018
Brief summary of Mark Zuckerber notes here.

Although in his spoken testimony Zuckerberg commenced with yet another apology, in my opinion he frequently dissembled, mislead, misdirected, contradicted a number of his own and Facebook management's public previous statements, lied by omission and sometimes almost defiantly told what appeared to be bald-faced lies.

NOTEReaders can form their own opinion of Zuckerberg's testimony courtesy of The Washington Post at

However Facebook Inc. is not just relying on its founder and CEO's recent testimony to ward of further regulation of its businss practices.

Since 2011 Facebook Inc. has had a registered Political Action Commttee (PAC) which has donated to the 2012, 2014, and 2016 US election campaigns. 

As well as in-house and paid lobbyists who spent in total US$11.5 million in 2017 alone fighting against further Internet regulations including any proposed strengthening of privacy protections. Add that to the company's US$8.6M lobbying spend in 2016, $9.8M in 2015, $9.3M in 2014, $6.4M in 2013, $3.8M in 2012, $1.3M in 2011, $351,390 in 2010 and $207,878 in 2009 and one can see that Facebook Inc. is increasingly determined to have the ear of US lawmakers.

Although how successful the social media giant's lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill will be in 2018, it is clear that in has been partially successful in protecting the market value of its shares.

To date this year Facebook Inc.'s ordinary share price has gone from a closing high of US$193.09 (01.02.18) to a low of $152.22 (27.03.18) in the wake of revelations about the company's business practices and, then gradually climbed over the course of 17 days by $12.3 to close at $164.52 (13.03.18), according to Yahoo! Finance.

As for the number of active Facebook users - only time will tell if current figures hold over time. With trust in Facebook Inc. at a new low it will not be surprising to find the number of accounts showing daily activity falling over time as users become more wary of this platform.

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