Facebook knew in August ~70% of most active civic 'Groups' were too toxic to recommend to users

Originally published at: Facebook knew in August ~70% of most active civic 'Groups' were too toxic to recommend to users | Boing Boing


Another week, another “totally unforeseeable” scandal for this toxic platform. Unless FB is broken up or regulated like a utility expect more of the same.


The push for breakup of this toxic behemoth is getting a beat, and I think I might be able to dance to it.


FBook, the steaming pile of shit of the internet. FACT!


Breakup into what exactly? The problem is the core business that is a single piece - making facebook get rid of instagram won’t change a single thing about what is going on in facebook - the entire structure of the app is designed to foster this kind of grouping - it’s us meat bags that can’t seem to handle what we have - and that’s before you get into the slimy ‘make money off of us’ business model.

Tricky situation - because the lessons on how have all been learned by the bad actors - this isn’t going to be cleaned up by breaking up facebook.


They’ve got a pretty funny definition of the word “civic,” now don’t they.


And yet BB continues to have a tracker^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hshare button for f_c_book…


There is one item on which I’m surprised to find that Drumpf45 and I agree - When a platform has that many subscribers, it’s a publisher. It might not like being responsible for content, and its business model might depend on not being responsible. But I struggle to imagine how it isn’t actually a publisher, by any useful definition of “publisher”.

Having accountability in proportion to its reach might be the thing to tame this beast.

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Conceptually, it’s in the difference between say The Daily Mail and WH Smith’s.

The Mail is a newspaper which publishes stuff. WH Smith’s is how the punter gets to buy a copy but WH Smith doesn’t itself publish the newspaper.

That’s easy enough in that case even if Smith’s decides which newspapers to publish stock (thanks for pointing this one out @anothernewbbaccount), where each newspaper gets displayed, whether the Socialist Worker gets equal shelf space with the Telegraph or whether there’s one tatty copy hidden behind Spoon Whittlers Weekly (cover article: Me and my Spoon) and so on.

The same principle applies whether you’re talking about one little corner shop or a worldspanning chain of newsagents. Size isn’t the distinction between being a publisher or not.

Now if you want to talk about use/abuse of a dominant market position, then size obviously matters and I think Facebook has a lot of explaining to do.

Also, you may well be right Facebook should be treated as a publisher. It’s just that size alone isn’t the reason.


Thanks, that clears up a lot of my thinking. I was picturing FB more as a “publisher of selected works” than “newsagent”. Probably because the information being delivered to my home and set up in an easy-to-read format sounded more like a process of (automated, algorithmic) publication to me, but your point about where to arrange the papers is clear and makes a lot of sense.

I believe the newsagent would be in a world of strife if it was displaying copies of The Anarchist’s Cookbook and seedy agitprop, and kept The Times in the back, and when asked would shrug and say “the customer is always right”. The lack of accountability here sticks in my craw.

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The mail and the phone network reach a lot of people. This is supposed to be on a one-to-on basis, though most of my calls and mail is junk. They early on elected to go the zero moderation ‘we just deliver’ business model. That business model was the one for e-mail. It does not seem to work well for chatrooms.

It does not follow that FaceBook is not the phone or the mail, therefore it must be a publisher. If it was a publisher, it would be a vanity publisher with minimal charges and a huge throughput. It might be like your local printshop. If someone ordered ten thousand prints of a pamphlet, they could take the thumb drive, press the buttons, and it would happen. If it turns out the tract was hate speech in the middle, where a random glance might not spot it, I do not see that the print shop should be held wholly responsible, and the originator is innocent. This is a typical example of lazy Trump thinking: identify < thing you don’t like > with < something bad > in a tweet, say we will make them pay for it, and leave the legal mess for someone else to clear up.

I am no fan of Facebook. I think there is a clear case for making Amazon run like a state-owned parcel service, because there is a good working model in place. But I see no clear case for what Facebook and that ilk ought to do. Yes, you can get rid of the more obvious hate groups; they will re-form and appear somewhere else; and Facebook should react to that. If they engage, then it will be a slow, ongoing struggle.

What do we want? I don’t like zero moderation. I don’t want to like in the panopticon. I can imagine something where I could see everything, but the stuff I don’t like is sorted towards the bottom. But the effort that people put into getting good placings on Google searches or Amazon reviews suggest that this won’t work either.

People, eh? Maybe people can fix other people…


That’s how Facebook works today


Facebook is MUCH more a publisher than a newsagent. It gathers together material from various authors, makes decisions about which material to collect and how to order it, formats them so they fit a consistent look, fills in ads and other notices, and arranges for the distribution of the final product to you.

Most of that process is automated and near instant, so the interaction with FB becomes meaningfully different from a traditional book or newspaper publisher, but it’s definitely all the kind of stuff a publisher does, much more than the kind of stuff a newsagent or distributor or what have you.

Facebook would like to hide behind that automation and push responsibility for what happens on FB onto us, but by manipulating the system to drive engagement, they make clear just how much they are in control of the outcome. They can’t say they didn’t know it was happening, and they can’t say they were powerless to stop it: they didn’t know how to stop it without compromising engagement, but that just means they purposely prioritized engagement over our safety and mental health.

If I create a hazard, and then someone gets hurt, I can be sued for the injury in most places – if I dig a pit in my lawn and cover it over with sticks, and someone falls in and breaks their leg, I am responsible through my negligence. Commercial establishments have higher expectations of care: they can get sued for leaving a floor slippery without putting up warning signs. Why shouldn’t we be able to hold Facebook to account for wilfully creating a hazardous online environment?

(I should be clear that I don’t think FB is responsible for all the divisiveness in the US right now – it’s an accelerant on a media problem that’s been smoldering for a long time, and that one I suspect comes back to the profitability of lies and divisive speech. It’s a tough nut and I think many approaches will need to be taken at once, but I don’t think you need onerous regulation necessarily – the rest of the western world seems to be managing better with relatively unobtrusive measures like funding public broadcasting better, limiting money in politics, not carving out such wide tax exemptions for “religious” institutions, etc.)


For clarity you need to change the word ‘publish’ to ‘sell’ or ‘stock’, as otherwise this error may be seen by some (yeah, they’d have to be looking for trouble, but still…) to undermine or contradict your very valid argument.

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Exactly. Facebook actively CURATES content via its algorithms - hence it is a publisher. Remove ALL the algorithms and recommendations and so on, and just stick adverts in randomly and they can qualify for section 230. As long as they are doing any curating or organising content and who gets to see what, they are publishing.


WH Smith’s doesn’t have an anonymous room (of infinite size) where you can spout racism and foment insurrection at the back of the shop, tho, which is the problem with FB.

The core problem is that Facebook will identify a potential social network competitor, acquire it, and integrate it into the toxic business model and engagement-based structure you mention. That predatory behaviour has to stop so that new competitors in the social media space have a chance to try out healthier structures and models.

That’s the future-oriented redress of proposed anti-trust action. In terms of past-oriented redress, it won’t be a social network like Instagram that’s broken off but services like Oculus and WhatsApp that are meant to lure new users into the Facebook swamp.

If that combination of anti-trust actions happens, Facebook (now an “uncool” brand in the eyes of young people) and Instagram (which will be eventually rendered “uncool” by another photo-sharing social network) will have to innovate and perhaps improve themselves to meet the demands of more media-savvy consumers.


Sure they do, it’s the letters column in the Daily Mail.:slight_smile:

No, but seriously, there are obviously all sorts of differences between Smith’s and Facebook and many good reasons to argue that Facebook is closer to a publisher than a media distributor (or in fact that it may be both at various times in various ways depending on what it’s doing).

@Jjjjj sets out several above. All good points.

My analogy only goes to illustrate the size=publisher fallacy.


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