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The flip side of the Facebook hearings.

April 12, 2018

Yesterday we were critical of some Facebook  business model flaws and practices as related to data scraping, privacy and censorship.

Here are some other takeaways from that exercise. It wasn’t just the FB founder who revealed some flaws.

Clearly, it seems to be the intent of Congress to co-opt Facebook and similar platforms to police the entire online global population, a practice many find both dangerous and naïve.

It is the function of the U.S. government to protect us, and that includes cyber security.

Time after time you heard Mr. Zuckerberg being asked one on hand to make the internet safe from fake news, “hate speech” and government bad actors, and on the other hand being excoriated for  practicing censorship and political favoritism.

No private platform can do the first without employing the second to one degree or another. What the hearings didn’t do was provide any sense of direction to that process.

As an example, Mr. Zuckerberg has said repeatedly that the platform seeks to take down sites that are “hurtful.”

Hurtful to whom, and in what way?

Is it the dainty little co-ed at Berkeley who is triggered by a Trump T-shirt?

Is it a left-wing Silicon Valley worker who has been systematically schooled into developing a pathological dread of white men, Christians, gun owners, and conservative bloggers?

Is it the increasingly large number of young people who believe the only people with the right of  free speech is when it is their speech?

What about the millions of NRA members who have  been labeled en masse by the left as kill-crazy psychopaths?

Or the 31% of the U.S. population who are Caucasian males?

Without defining the terms used to develop the algorithms, that would seem to almost invite the company to employ censorship and invasive monitoring as a tool.

Congress often seems intent on fobbing off its Constitutional responsibilities onto private enterprise.

There were also some nuggets to be collected from Mr. Zuckerberg’s answers.

For instance, he mentioned the company’s commitment to bring affordable internet access to rural or underserved areas worldwide.

The goal is laudable, but the mechanics may deserve some scrutiny. There is also the question whether that access should be solely owned by private firms, and thus subject to the whims of a founder or board of directors.

He mentioned using airplanes as broadband carriers.  There are at least three companies already investing in that field, although how much financial or technological backing they may be getting from Facebook, if any at all,  is unknown.

That seems like a technology that is imminently vulnerable to hacking or even the creation of fake networks by both private and government bad actors, not to mention the vagaries of weather.

Is it Facebook’s responsibility to provide broadband capacity? If so, given that because of sheer volume it can’t control everything on its own pages now, how would it guarantee that airborne capacity would be free of bias or undue criminal influence?

These questions and many more of a similarly substantive nature were barely touched upon in the hearings.

Musings submits that like many of these Congressional inquisition panels, Mr. Zuckerberg and his company were used unabashedly to score political points ahead of an election.

For instance, many of the questions seemed to presume that Zuckerberg should know and control the most minute details of his company. That was evident as he was asked if he knew the political leanings of his employees, a question that flies in the face of fair hiring practices as they are now written.

Imagine if John Q. Business Owner  were to ask applicants that question and then based hiring decisions on hiring only Republicans or only Democrats? It would take the ACLU about 1/10 of a New York minute to file suit against that policy.

Does Facebook have some stinky business practices?

Absolutely, but no one forces you to have a Facebook account, or a Twitter account or indeed to keep those you do have, although if you close your FB account it takes 90 days or so, and they will keep at least some of the data they have scraped.

By the same token, sloughing off the government’s responsibilities and scapegoating Facebook for political purposes smells just as bad.


From → op-ed

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