Internet Security

The facts about Facebook

This is a critical reading of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s article in the WSJ on Thursday, also entitled The Facts About Facebook.  Yes Mark, you’re right; Facebook turns 15 next month. What a long time you’ve been in the social media business! We’re curious as to whether you’ve also been keeping count of how many times…


This is a criticalreading of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s article in the WSJ on Thursday, also entitled The Facts About Facebook. 

Yes Mark, you’re right; Facebookturns 15 next month. What a long time you’ve been in the social media business! We’re curious as to whether you’ve also been keeping count of how many times you’ve been forced to apologize for breaching people’s trust or, well, otherwise royally messing up over the years.

It’s also true you weren’t setting out to build “a global company”. The predecessor to Facebook was a ‘hot or not’ game called ‘FaceMash’ that you hacked together while drinking beer in your Harvard dormroom. Your late night brainwave was to get fellow students to rate each others’ attractiveness — and you weren’t at all put off by not being in possession of the necessary photo data to do this. You just took it; hacking into the college’s online facebooks and grabbing people’s selfies without permission.

Blogging about what you were doing as you did it, you wrote: “I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of some farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive.” Just in case there was any doubt as to the ugly nature of your intention. 

The seeds of Facebook’s global business were thus sown in a crude and consentless game of clickbait whose idea titillated you so much you thought nothing of breaching security, privacy, copyright and decency norms just to grab a few eyeballs.

So while you may not haveinstantlyunderstood how potent this ‘outrageous and divisive’ eyeball-grabbing content tactic would turn out to be — oh hai future global scale! — the core DNA of Facebook’s business sits in that frat boy discovery where your eureka Internet moment was finding you could win the attention jackpot by pitting people against each other.

Pretty quickly you also realized you could exploit and commercialize human one-upmanship — gotta catch em all friend lists! popularity poke wars! — and stick a badge on the resulting activity, dubbing it ‘social’.

FaceMash was antisocial, though. And the unpleasant flipside that can clearly flow from ‘social’ platforms is something you continue not being nearly honest nor open enough about. Whether it’s political disinformation, hate speech or bullying, the individual and societal impacts of maliciously minded content shared and amplified using massively mainstream tools you control is now impossible to ignore.

Yet you prefer to play down these human impacts; as a “crazy idea”, or by implying that ‘a little’ amplified human nastiness is the necessary cost of being in the big multinational business of connecting everyone and ‘socializing’ everything.

But did you ask the father of 14-year-old Molly Russell, a British schoolgirl who took her own life in 2017, whether he’s okay with your growth vs controls trade-off? “I have no doubt that Instagram helped kill my daughter,” said Russell in an interview with the BBC this week.

After her death, Molly’s parents found she had been following accounts on Instagram that were sharing graphic material related to self-harming and suicide, including some accounts that actively encourage people to cut themselves. “We didn’t know that anything like that could possibly exist on a platform like Instagram,” said Russell.

Without a human editor in the mix, your algorithmic recommendations are blind to risk and suffering. Built for global scale, they get on with the expansionist goal of maximizing clicks and views by serving more of the same sticky stuff. And more extreme versions of things users show an interest in to keep the eyeballs engaged.

So when you write about making services that “billions” of “people around the world love and use” forgive us for thinking that sounds horribly glib. The scales of suffering don’t sum like that. If your entertainment product has whipped upgenocideanywhere in the world — as the UN said Facebook did in Myanmar — it’s failing regardless of the proportion of users who are having their time pleasantly wasted on and by Facebook.

And if your algorithms can’t incorporate basic checks and safeguards so they don’t accidentally encourage vulnerable teens to commit suicide you really don’t deserve to be in any consumer-facing business at all.

Yet your article shows no sign you’ve been reflecting on the kinds of human tragedies that don’t just play out on your platform but can be an emergent property of your targeting algorithms.

You focus instead on what you call “clear benefits to this business model”.

The benefits to Facebook’s business are certainly clear. You have the billions in quarterly revenue to stand that up. But what about the costs to the rest of us? Human costs are harder to quantify but you don’t even sound like you’re trying.

You do write that you’ve heard “many questions” about Facebook’s business model. Which is most certainly true but once again you’re playing down the level of political and societal concern about how your platform operates (and how you operate your platform) — deflecting and reframing what Facebook is to cast your ad business a form of quasi philanthropy; a comfortable discussion topic and self-serving idea you’d much prefer we were all sold on.

It’s also hard to shake the feeling that your phrasing at this point is intended as a bit of an in-joke for Facebook staffers — to smirk at the ‘dumb politicians’ who don’t even know how Facebook makes money.

Y’know, like you smirked…

Then you write that you want to explain how Facebook operates. But, thing is, you don’t explain — you distract, deflect, equivocate and mislead, which has been your business’ strategy through many months of scandal (that and worst tactics — such as paying a PR firm that used oppo research tactics to discredit Facebook critics with smears).

Dodging is another special power; such as how you dodged repeat requests from international parliamentarians to be held accountable for major data misuse and security breaches.

The Zuckerberg ‘open letter’ mansplain, which typically runs to thousands of blame-shifting words, is another standard issue production from the Facebook reputation crisis management toolbox.

And here you are again, ironically enough, mansplaining in a newspaper; an industry that your platform has worked keenly to gut and usurp, hungry to supplant editorially guided journalism with the moral vacuum of algorithmically geared space-filler which, left unchecked, has been shown, time and again, lifting divisive and damaging content into public view.

The latest Zuckerberg screed has nothing new to say. It’s pure spin. We’ve read scores of self-serving Facebook apologias over the years and can confirm Facebook’s founder has made a very tedious art of selling abject failure as some kind of heroic lack of perfection.

But the spin has been going on for far, far too long. Fifteen years, as you remind us. Yet given that hefty record it’s little wonder you’re moved to pen again — imagining that another word blast is all it’ll take for the silly politicians to fall in line.

Thing is, no one is asking Facebook for perfection, Mark. We’re looking for signs that you and your company have a moral compass. Because the opposite appears to be true. (Or as one UK parliamentarian put it to your CTO last year: “I remain to be convinced that your company has integrity”.)

Facebook has scaled to such an unprecedented, global size exactly because it has no editorial values. And you say again now you want to be all things to all men. Put another way that me

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Internet Security

Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes, calls for Facebook to be broken up

The latest call to break up Facebook looks to be the most uncomfortably close to home yet for supreme leader, Mark Zuckerberg. “Mark’s power is unprecedented and un-American,” writes Chris Hughes, in an explosive op-ed published in The New York Times. “It is time to break up Facebook.” It’s a long read, but worth indulging…


The latest call to break up Facebooklooks to be the most uncomfortably close to home yet for supreme leader, Mark Zuckerberg.

“Mark’s power is unprecedented and un-American,” writes Chris Hughes,in an explosive op-ed published in The New York Times. “It is time to break up Facebook.”

It’s a long read, but worth indulging for a well-articulated argument against the market-denting power of monopolies, shot through with a smattering of personal anecdotes about Hughes’ experience of Zuckerberg — who he at one point almost paints as “only human,” before shoulder-dropping into a straight thumbs-down that “it’s his very humanity that makes his unchecked power so problematic.”

The tl;dr of Hughes’ argument against Facebook/Zuckerberg being allowed to continue its/his reign of the internet knits together different strands of the techlash zeitgeist, linking Zuckerberg’s absolute influence over Facebook, and therefore over the unprecedented billions of people he can reach and behaviourally reprogram via content-sorting algorithms, to the crushing of innovation and startup competition; the crushing of consumer attention, choice and privacy, all hostage to relentless growth targets and an eyeball-demanding ad business model; the crushing control of speech that Zuckerberg — as Facebook’s absolute monarch — personally commands, with Hughes worrying it’s a power too potent for any one human to wield.

“Mark may never have a boss, but he needs to have some check on his power,” he writes. “The American government needs to do two things: break up Facebook’s monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people.”

His proposed solution is not just a break up of Facebook’s monopoly of online attention by re-separating Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp— to try to reinvigorate a social arena it now inescapably owns — he also calls for U.S. policymakers to step up to the plate and regulate, suggesting an oversight agency is also essential to hold internet companies to account, and pointing to Europe’s recently toughened privacy framework, GDPR, as a start.

“Just breaking up Facebook is not enough. We need a new agency, empowered by Cong

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Internet Security

Facebook hit with three privacy investigations in a single day

Third time lucky — unless you’re Facebook . The social networking giant was hit Thursday by a trio of investigations over its privacy practices following a particularly tumultuous month of security lapses and privacy violations — the latest in a string of embarrassing and damaging breaches at the company, much of its own doing. First…


Third time lucky — unless you’re Facebook.

The social networking giant was hit Thursday by a trio of investigations over its privacy practices following a particularly tumultuous month of security lapses and privacy violations — the latest in a string of embarrassing and damaging breaches at the company, much of its own doing.

First came a probe by the Irish data protection authority looking into the breach of “hundreds of millions” of Facebook and Instagram user passwords that were stored in plaintext on its servers. The company will be investigated under the European GDPR data protection law, which could lead to fines of up to four percent of its global annual revenue for the infringing year — already some several billions of dollars.

Then, Canadian au

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Internet Security

How to handle dark data compliance risk at your company

Lisa Hawke Contributor Share on Twitter Lisa Hawke is VP of Security and Compliance at Everlaw, and Vice Chair of Women in Security and Privacy. Slack and other consumer-grade productivity tools have been taking off in workplaces large and small — and data governance hasn’t caught up. Whether it’s litigation, compliance with regulations like GDPR…


Slack and otherconsumer-grade productivity tools have been taking off in workplaces large and small — and data governance hasn’t caught up.

Whether it’s litigation, compliance with regulations like GDPR or concerns about data breaches, legal teams need to account for new types of employee communication. And that’s hard when work is happening across the latest messagin

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Internet Security

Facebook needs a white hat Cambridge Analytica

Rob Blackie Contributor Share on Twitter Rob Blackie is a Digital Strategist based in London, England, who has contributed to The Guardian and The Independent newspapers. Mike Butcher Contributor More posts by this contributor Consolidation in Africa as classifieds player Jiji acquires their main competitor OLX Wayve claims ‘world first’ in driving a car autonomously…


Facebook has hada terrible couple of years. Fake news. Cambridge Analytica. Charges of anti-Semitism. Russia hacking the 2016 election. Racist memes, murders and lynchings in India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.  

And Facebook is just the tech company with the longest list of scandals.There’s Google, YouTube and Twitter’s well-documented roles in radicalization to consider, not to mention growing global health crises caused by medical misinformation spread on all the major platforms.

Investors are rightly beginning to worry. If tech companies and their investors can’t foresee and stop these problems, it will likely lead to damaging regulation, costing them billions.

The rest of us are increasingly unhappy that internet giants refuse to take responsibility. The argument that the problem lies with third-party abuse of their tools is wearing thin, not just with the media and politicians, but increasingly with the public as well.

If the tech giants don’t want regulators to step in and police, they need to do much more to predict, and stop the abuse, before it even happens.

One hundred cardboard cutouts of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stand outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, April 10, 2018. Advocacy group Avaaz is calling attention to what the groups says are hundreds of millions of fake accounts still spreading disinformation on Facebook. (Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The common factor in social media scandals

The problems mentioned above weren’t caused by anybody breaking existing social network rules. Nor

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