Facebook harmed America and is ‘living, breathing crime scene’ over 2016 U.S. election, insiders say

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/01/17/facebook-harmed-america-and-is.html


i am glad to see this in the press. the number of anti-hillary / pro-bernie memes in the instagram “popular” page was overwhelming during the primaries. i simply could not believe that bernie’s camp, millennials though they may be, were responsble for all those posts. i would not be surprised if those were russian propaganda.


The only surprising thing, to me, is that there is no real, direct competitor to Facebook. Sure, there’s IG, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. Nobody else comes anywhere close.

Active monthly users:

Facebook: 2 billion
Instagram: 800 million (edit: acquired by FB)
Twitter: 300 million
Snapchat: 150 million
Google+: 100 million, or less depending on how you count “active monthly users”

The point being, that while this kind of news is scandalous, there’s no real consequence because there’s no head-to-head competitor. And it’s not like people lack innovation. There’s plenty of that. Nobody has made a good business play against Facebook.


I posted it in a previous thread, but here’s a more detailed article by McNamee that proposes some measures and changes toward the end. Summarised and quoted, they are:

  1. Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others be required to contact each person touched by Russian content with a personal message that says, “You, and we, were manipulated by the Russians. This really happened, and here is the evidence.” The message would include every Russian message the user received. [McNamee’s colleague Tristan Harris came up with this based on his experience with deprogramming cult members. Doable.]

  2. the chief executive officers of Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others—not just their lawyers—must testify before congressional committees in open session. [this is intended to make their employees aware that they’re not the final authority in America. Doable.]

  3. ban digital bots that impersonate humans [easier said than done]

  4. platforms should not be allowed to make any acquisitions until they have addressed the damage caused to date, taken steps to prevent harm in the future, and demonstrated that such acquisitions will not result in diminished competition [not likely in our late-stage capitalist society]

  5. the platforms must be transparent about who is behind political and issues-based communication. [not just ads, and not just candidate-oriented ones. Somewhat doable.]

  6. the platforms must be more transparent about their algorithms [not happening, since the platforms will scream “trade secrets” to protect whatever’s in those black boxes]

  7. the platforms should be required to have a more equitable contractual relationship with users [this would only have a chance of happening with a subscription based model – products don’t have rights]

  8. we need a limit on the commercial exploitation of consumer data by internet platforms [see 7, above]

  9. consumers, not the platforms, should own their own data [again, see 7, above]

  10. we should consider that the time has come to revive the country’s traditional approach to monopoly [re: evaluation based soley on impact on prices, which is not an issue for FB. Good luck with that as long as the GOP and the neoliberal consensus hold sway]

After all of that, John Battelle gets at the root source of all the dysfunction at FB: the advertising-based business model.


Instagram tried, as your numbers indicate. Facebook responded by buying them. Same with Whatsapp. I hope that anti-trust authorities* are watching them carefully, because that won’t be the last time FB tries to buy out a potential competitor.

Given that situation, I think the only viable competitor will be something like Diaspora that isn’t interested in any business play. Unfortunately Diaspora and other networks that use the protocol don’t yet have the simplicity that your typical FB user demands.

An alternative is a subscription-based service of the sort Battelle proposes FB shifts to but that also also has limitations when it comes to widespread adoption.

[* I know, who am I kidding?]

  1. Mandatory:
  1. I am not if we should be placing too much blame on Facebook for the 2016 election. I don’t think meme wars did a lot as far as swaying of opinions, rather just bolstered opinions.

  2. It sounds like they are going to clean up their act some and not push sponsored political content. Though it will still be there form users sharing.

  3. Had Hillary won, would this be as much of an issue in people’s eyes?


“Making you angry, making you afraid, is really good for Facebook’s business ."

Agree. I have never been a Facebook user and my level of anger and fear is well under control.


We said the same thing to the press oh… forty years ago? And look how dedicated to objectivity they are to this very day!


Sure facebook is a garbage heap. But how else do I stay in touch with my parents? Am I the only one whose parents use facebook messenger as almost their only form of communication?

Getting personal there!

Smoke signals?

1 Like

You have to start weaning them. Not easy, but no alternative.


I don’t see the point that discusses the harm of turning partisanship into a business model, especially with the hackneyed “it’s just fucked” posturing. Surely you at least acknowledge that partisanship has gotten more extreme, more exploited, and made people a lot of money for the past few decades? That is literally what they are saying here.


Don’t you understand, though? Both the Republicans and the Dems are equally bad in this regard. /s

Seriously, the truly scary part is that I doubt Zuck or any of the other CEOs deliberately wanted to turn partisanship into a business model. It just happened because a certain shirtless someone and his collaborators in the West found a way to game their ad-based models to their own advantage. As with derivatives trading algorithms on Wall Street, the social networks’ black-box algorithms quickly evolve to the point where they can’t be comprehended by their own now-befuddled creators.


I agree with that. If it wasn’t Facebook, it would be what ever other social media outlet was the most used.

Facebook makes its money through ads and content aimed at people’s interest. That in itself isn’t a bad thing. Some of their targeted ads by questionable players is a bad thing, and I believe something they are working on fixing.

But aside from that, even if we removed that specific paid for content, the shared content that occurs organically will still happen. How do you combat that?

You say this with sarcasm, but the Left Demonizing the Right just makes their Demonizing justified - and vice versa. It is a cultural war on top of a political one. It makes people reject any idea if it gets branded as being “left” or “right”.

Conflict breeds interest. Don’t believe me, the coolest Science related post on BB won’t get half the views and comments that a good Cory headlined one with a bit of hyperbole will pull in.

A slightly simpler solution:

Step 1: Delete your facebook account.
Step 2: Tell all your friends to do the same.


[quote]I am not if we should be placing too much blame on Facebook for the 2016 election. I don’t think meme wars did a lot as far as swaying of opinions, rather just bolstered opinions.[quote]

But that’s exactly what Facebook does, and why they are guilty. They are the resonant cavity that echoes whatever hateful message torques you off. To them, the purpose of clickbait is exactly that - bait - to get you to view more ads. Sowing discord is profit. If democracy dies as a result, so what? We’re rich!

It’s not even the Tragedy of the Commons - it’s the forcible rape of public discourse.



Email is just so difficult!

And don’t get me started on, heaven forbid, that instrument of auditory torture called a phone. (Do you know it actually requires you to make sounds come out of your mouth? Horrors!)


As someone who falls slightly left of centre in the U.S. I’ll gladly cop to “demonising” the Right for the well-documented and seemingly endless instances over the past 35 years of their indulging racists, sexists, religious fundies who want fewer barriers between church and state, and of their enacting economic policies that seem to be trying to restore Gilded Age levels of inequality.

I’d ask about the many fact-based ways in which the Right demonises the Left, but that takes us further off-topic than I intended with my sarcasm. Bringing it back on-topic, on behalf of which wing of American politics was the promotion of “fake news” (including a lot of non-fact-based demonisation of their opponents) deployed as a weapon over FB’s network in 2016?

(since we both know the answer I’ll allow for the fact that left-wing orgs probably “demonised” the right in some of their FB ads in 2016 as I did above – that’s called truth in advertising.)


But they are saying it’s not just the ads and the sharing was geared around generating interest in the ads. That’s, like, the point.


And the solution is the same as it was a decade ago, live moderation and not cartering superusers above the law of the platform. It’s a formula that works, and we know what the opposite turns into.


see also