Facebook is so pervasive that it’s easy and tempting to isolate FB, then apply a higher standard of scrutiny, and in the process, single-out the company for unique and perhaps unfair criticism. It’s not entirely reasonable to to focus so many intense attacks mainly on Facebook and make a scapegoat out of its founder-CEO Mark Zuckerberg. For some, he is a symbol and thus an easy target.
That said, FB is visible and its dominance of social media necessarily subjects the company to more visibility and consequently greater vulnerability. And we know that government officials, whether in the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission, or in state government, and elected officials at all levels of government, and candidates, especially for president, are all seemingly overjoyed to go after FB. They often pursue FB on serious matters with thoughtful criticism, but they also are zealous and even demagogic with cheap shots, to get headlines. When you see someone running for president, take a step back, because they may try to score political points at the expense of reasonableness.
Don’t believe for a minute that government harassment and litigation, a wave of new monitoring ,rules and regulations, anti-trust and breakups…comprise some sort of panacea to everything that’s wrong with social media, or all sorts of related and unrelated challenges posed by the Internet. There is no simple fix, if only because there are many problems to mitigate.
Facebook continues its controversial effort to censor posts that are not in line “with community standards” — whatever those are, determined by who?, enforced perhaps selectively, and often evolving or redefined. Now, let’s remember this is beyond scanning and deleting posts with texts or links or images that spread illegal content. For example, we would all agree that a post seeking or offering sexual slaves would be not merely offensive, not only immoral, but quite properly ILLEGAL. But the problem right now with FB is that you might express a controversial opinion in a public post and a FB artificial intelligence protocol deletes your post.
But what we found out a couple of months ago is beyond the questionable role of FB in its expanding role to judge and censor or limit or delete posts that it deems “hateful” or “extreme” — though they may simply be controversial or politically incorrect. Not am I addressing scandalous disclosures about how Cambridge Analytica exploited FB, or its recent Federal Trade Commission fine. I’m talking now about a different revelation.
What we found out is that Facebook has been scanning private messages to see if they might be too inflammatory. So, suppose you sent a private message to your spouse or child or relative or close friend, and you expressed your emotions for or against Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, or expressed a strong view on immigration policy. FB will decide whether your private messages cross a line.
Of course, we all know how FB uses our public posts to analyze who we are, what we want, and gear advertising. We’ve all see how when we search for a product on, say, Google, that suddenly we see ads for that product or similar product on Facebook. But some have complained that Facebook is even more intrusive — one user wrote, “I was messaging my wife about dinner tonight, , mentioned a particular place on Facebook messenger and then oepned up Facebook to see an ad for that restaurant.”
I think private conversations should be PRIVATE, unless there is some recognized and required protocol, whether it’s a court order, intervention from a law enforcement agency, or some procedure that seems appropriate and reasonable. We face the same challenges as, say, the National Security Agency (NSA) which monitors all sorts of conversations. Does it monitor indiscriminately? Does it require a court order for American citizens? Does it simply scan and retain (“just in case”) but not monitor or review, without some reason or authorization?
In the case of FB — Obviously, if John Smith were to send a private message to Mary Jones directing her to commit a violent act, we would like to know about it. But how do we do this without wholesale eavesdropping on private conversations? All this for another discussion.
Right now there is a technology I helped develop over a period of years that deals only with public social media. That technology has the capacity to distinguish between controversial and even unpopular opinion as opposed to extreme, true “hate speech” that might require intervention. That technology has many other possible applications to monitor, evaluate and even interdict bullying and intimidation, sexual harassment and other predatory behavior, and even to discern and source, monitor and (if necessary) interdict foreign manipulation. That technology uses artificial intelligence and machine learning. And it does all this in real time, with immediate alerts — for example, if a PTSD veteran were giving clues on public social media indicating he or she might be a danger to himself or herself, or to others.
What people say in public social media is, some would argue, the same as expressing themselves in another public forum. If they want to be private, they can use a private method, such as messenger. If so, they should have confidence that what is private remains private.
Presumably, that private method should be secure, perhaps unless what they post or link to, or images they use, in the public social media so violates serious and reasonable standards that approved and transparent protocols require probing into private messages.
Well, for the time being, let’s look at how we can take a look at PUBLIC social media to achieve what Democrats and Republicans and independents and people of different views agree on — we all want to deal with the dark side of social media, that is, we want to reduce or thwart actual bullying and real sexual harassment, suicides, foreign interference in elections, and so forth. We can do that.