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How to Fix Facebook Before It Fixes Us (washingtonmonthly.com)
173 points by jf 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 114 comments



Quit using it. Let's go back to the way the internet used to be, y'know with instant messaging and a multitude of cultures that have their own ecosystems. Let's stop consolidating all of this information and wealth in the hands of people who don't give a shit about what makes us different (unless it sells an ad).


This is very unhelpful advice, as we are talking about a massively influential platform and the advice is ‘dont let it influence you.’

Our society has more dependencies than node.js, and the incentives in facebook’s world are skewed toward big payoffs for bad actors who will benefit at the expense of all others.

I’d classify this comment as fitting a very common paradigm called ‘If I were the god this would be my simple solution, so let us dispense with further discussion of the matter.’


I call this the "eat less and exercise" advice. That is, when some dismiss the obesity epidemic in the US by saying "people just need to eat less and exercise". Of course, this is nominally true, but at the same time, it's useless advice. People have been hearing that they need to eat less and exercise for decades, and Americans keep getting fatter. Unless you change something at a more fundamental level, "willpower" isn't going to change things broadly in society.

The same is true for Facebook. They have thousands of very smart people who are incentivized to do everything they can to get you to scroll, scroll, scroll. To think it's going to be useful to tell society at large to "just walk away from the dopamine pushers" is not going to change the situation.


Except you need to eat. Facebook is cocaine.


I quite honestly believe that Facebook contributed to -- or was responsible for -- the ever growing rate of depression. This type of behavior has led numerous people to participate in degenerate activities instead of contributing something to society. Social media may have started well but now it has morphed into becoming the cesspool of the internet.


While I think that Facebook is horrible I'm not too sure in thinking that it's the biggest reason. I think the advance of technology is rather more responsible for the current state and if it weren't Facebook it would be something similar with another name. Contributed surely but not responsible imo.


"Oh, the man would've died anyway some day, so I'm not really responsible for his death, I've only contributed."


Go back to what, the AIM and Myspace domination? Before Facebook it was Myspace that was the juggernaut of the social media sphere.

As the number of people that can freely access the internet grows, you see them focusing around a single social media platform. That's because social media strongly benefits from centralization, it's easier to talk to family and friends if you don't have to manage fifty different accounts.

The idea that there was a 'multitude of cultures' before Facebook is just wrong. There was the main social media platforms and a bunch of niche offshoots. That's why this is such a tricky problem to fix because even if Facebook vanished tomorrow, eventually there would be another platform which absolutely everyone would circle around.


Not AIM and MySpace, but things like XMPP, where you could use one chat client and connect to your own Jabber server, Twitter, and Google chat.

One solution is open, decentralized protocols.

The article addresses that a little bit here:

> ...the internet platforms were able to pursue business strategies that would not have been allowed in prior decades. No one stopped them from using free products to centralize the internet and then replace its core functions.


It's a solution to a separate problem. You need to make something easy to use for the masses, you need to make it safe from bad actors and you need to actually advertise it.

It's easy to talk about open and decentralized protocols but social media is a popularity contest, not one based off the best or most free platform. As the article mentions nothing was and nothing is stopping them from capitalizing on open and free products, followed by gutting and replacing them.


They build their products on open technologies and then attempt to extinguish the open technologies.

XMPP, RSS/Atom, and HTML are three examples of EEE in modern times.

- XMPP => proprietary chat that locks users in

- RSS/Atom => algorithmic news feeds that lock users in

- HTML => AMP -- if you want distribution, they tie your hands with markup and monetization restrictions

- etc.


Federated social networking solves this and didn't exist then. It allows separate networks to interoperate so you can still capture the overall utility of network effects. I think it would need governments to push this though e.g. recognise this as they might pollution and create the right economic dis/incentives.

If this was the standard model, you'd have greater utility as you wouldn't have siloed platforms and you'd get greater control over your personal data (as EU has already recognised and is legislating in any case).


Somewhat related -- a recent 'exit interview from social media' by one of the maintainers of 9front (which is an active fork of the Plan9 OS): http://stanleylieber.com/2017/11/07/0/


Honestly, tribe.net wasn’t that bad. I remember the outrage when they first introduced ads onto their site. That was the moment they plummeted to obscurity. Everybody flocked to the ‘free’ alternatives.

In retrospect, at least their business model wasn’t opaque.


No, one step further. To the world of interconnected blogs (see pingback), competing ICQ, AIM, MSN, actually working forums and IRC.


Xanga was great. I loved default anonymous nature of it.


> we should consider that the time has come to revive the country’s traditional approach to monopoly. Since the Reagan era, antitrust law has operated under the principle that monopoly is not a problem so long as it doesn’t result in higher prices for consumers. Under that framework, Facebook and Google have been allowed to dominate several industries—not just search and social media but also email, video, photos, and digital ad sales, among others—increasing their monopolies by buying potential rivals like YouTube and Instagram. While superficially appealing, this approach ignores costs that don’t show up in a price tag. Addiction to Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms has a cost. Election manipulation has a cost. Reduced innovation and shrinkage of the entrepreneurial economy has a cost. All of these costs are evident today. We can quantify them well enough to appreciate that the costs to consumers of concentration on the internet are unacceptably high.

With the current deck of politicians, it is highly unlikely that anything will be done to address this


Hyper-restrictive copyright and network access laws (coupled with aggressive interpretations a la the RAM Copy Doctrine) are the key overlooked components that have allowed the net to devolve into a giant AOL-Keyword-ized walled garden.

Fix these laws (which doesn't necessarily mean abandoning their core concepts) and the floodgates will open with fresh competition. This is never discussed because these legal mechanisms undergird a massive part of the tech and media industries. It is better to fix the anti-competitive mechanisms at the source than to use the anti-trust kludge to break down people who have simply exploited them too well.


Underlying driver for this is that an unregulated market favours economies of scale and network effects and therefore trends towards monopolies. This is particularly pronounced and accelerated on digital platforms.


“Fixing yourself” automatically fixes the “Facebook problem”. Because then, Facebook will be completely irrelevant to you.


I "fixed" myself many years ago. I have sinkholed everything-FB. I suggest to anyone that wants to use FB, do so for 10 days, locate the ones they want/need, and then continue their dialogues in a more meaningful manner away from FB and whatsapp (also FB) and keep their comm channels open, without the cancerous environment of FB, with all their tests and manipulation tactics.


Another option is to "unfollow" everybody except for a selected few.


I actually did this a few months ago. Today I realized I had gone 7 days without logging into Facebook or even thinking about it. The good thing about unfollowing everyone is that I can still participate in Facebook Events and Groups, both of which many of us still need to coordinate meatspace activity.


I think that most people don't really need Facebook Events and Groups. If people tell you to join an event of group, tell them you don't use Facebook (for ethical and personal reasons) and that they should provide another method for people to participate so that it doesn't lock out non-Facebook users.

I block all of their sites in my hosts file so can't even view a Facebook event page or group. It has only provided benefits, and I haven't missed out on anything. Productivity is up. Social life is better.


Sadly, as I'm not that popular, that would make me miss all the events except for the regularly recurring ones.


It can take a while (years) to transfer one's social life out of Facebook, but I think it's worth the effort of doing it in small steps.


> and that they should provide another method for people to participate

Ideally that would be perfect.

Realistically, the people running the groups and events have 99% of their time dedicated to non-communication activities and standing-up a mailing list or website is outside their time-capacity AND experience.

As an example here in Ireland we have a group called Airliner Experiences that organise enthusiast flights on rare and interesting aircraft. They exist only on Facebook, I have asked why and it's because they "don't have time" to run a website for the few non-Facebook oddballs. So I've missed many potentially-interesting experiences but they haven't missed my money because there is such a huge audience in Facebook.


What do you think if event discovery tools like drop!in (http://www.idrop.in) would this solve your problem with events?


No. This is undesirable for people looking to break the habit of joining platforms to go to events.


This is such a simple solution I fear one day Facebook may no longer allow it.

I unfollowed everyone years ago and it has made a huge difference in how I think of Facebook. Without the persistent feed and flood of ads, it’s just another tool for communicating with people, one that is seldom used when faced with other alternatives. Facebook is now mostly harmless, and I only spend maybe a minute or two on it every few days.


Harmless? Every page which has anything Facebook-related on it will be fed your Facebook-related cookies on every visit. Any Facebook-related code on such pages will have access to anything Facebook-related stored in your profile (cookies, local data, etc). Since everyone and his dog felt the need to add 'social' buttons to their sites this includes a sizeable portion of the 'net. You might not use Facebook much but rest assured that Facebook uses you. You are part of their product after all...


I'm a fairly shitty product.


I did this a year or so ago - can't recommend it enough.


The question isn't whether Facebook is relevant to you. It's whether it's relevant to 300 million other people.

If a problem as 300 million causes, you still have a problem if you cut that down to 299,999,999.


Society has always been manipulated. Facebook has nothing on religions for example.

The real question is whether an individual checking out from Facebook harms themselves in some way e.g. less able to find work? We just need to make sure Facebook never gets endorsement as some kind of identity / passport.


> Society has always been manipulated.

True. And people have always murdered each other. But when millions of people are murdering each other we call it war.

My body is fighting some millions of germs right now. If you add an order of magnitude or two to that I'll be sick. Or dead.

A camel can carry a lot of straw. Enough straw can crush a camel.

At some point we have to deal with the problem.


So far it hasn't harmed me, and I haven't had an active account in 8+ years. I believe this actually helps me, though I can't really quantify or prove it.


Ok, I get it that no man is an island and all. But if your happiness is so dependent on other people that even change your life this much, then you already have a deeper problem that is elses fault.

(I don't mean that everyone should get off Facebook. But I do mean it for the crowd that somehow they hate facebook but yet think they are dependent on it.)


Behavior is contagious. If you behave in the way that people should behave, then others will follow.


It doesn't. Some of us got off Facebook years ago (or stopped using it). An individual abstaining didn't stop society from being manipulated the way this describes, FB's reach is too great.


Society has always been manipulated. In ancient Egypt, priest calculated eclipses and used it as act of the gods to threaten people with them.

To change society, we indeed need to fix ourselves, but those fixes would be essentially getting rid of wanting to poses. Once that's gone, we can finally think ahead, but for that, countless steps are ahead of us.

( One of the first, in my opinion, should be a base income, but no necessarily in money; cover the physical needs: food, water, warmth, shelter; and motivate people to achieve something in order to gain anything above the basics, but remove the fear of lacking safety.)


> To change society, we indeed need to fix ourselves

Dark ages with manipulative priests didn’t end because people decided to fix themselves. They ended because people decided to fix their society. Namely, they separated church from government, instilled compulsory education, etc.


Fully agree, though I think that individual abstention is still important, if only fractionally so.


This reminds me of the popular opinion that all you need to do is recycle to stop global warming. Or don't buy a house you can't afford and there will be no giant credit bubble. Some form of regulation is clearly needed. Despite what the MBA's may have told you, fraud and deception is not good for the economy in the long run.


> "This reminds me of the popular opinion that all you need to do is recycle to stop global warming. Or don't buy a house you can't afford and there will be no giant credit bubble."

I strongly doubt anyone believes that their actions alone can stop global warming or destructive financial cycles, however, there is still merit in individual actions. They do have an impact, though you have to consider these actions over the long term to see it.

Consider how the market for electric cars developed. I'd suggest the electric car market started getting mainstream acceptance after the launch of the Tesla Model S. However, it took a long time to get to that point. Consider how the market for electric cars looked in the 1990s. There was some activity, but it was largely a hobbyist market. However, those early adopters, though small in number, kept the market progressing until it was ready for mass acceptance.

Using your recycling example, it also took many years before people took recycling seriously. There's still plenty to be done to improve recycling practices further, but it's clear that the situation now is far better than it was 30 years ago. If you consider the work that had to be done to get us to the point we're at now, it's clear it would've taken the work of dedicated individuals to go against the grain to start making recycling normal, even if their initial impact was small. We can either build upon this foundation, or squander the progress that has been made.


Agreed, progress or risk mitigation was achieved via regulatory framework, in contrast to suggestion of parent comment, and general to General HN sentiment of free markets for Internet giants.


I stopped using Facebook years ago. But I still live in a world with Brexit and Trump. What did I do wrong?


> When citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, most observers were stunned. The polls had predicted a victory for the “Remain” campaign. And common sense made it hard to believe that Britons would do something so obviously contrary to their self-interest.

Y'know, I suspect that Leave voters thought leaving was in their self-interest — or at the very least that voting 'Leave' send a message which was in their self-interest.

What I find perhaps most interesting here is how the narrative about political campaigns has changed in four and eight years. When Mr. Obama won twice, his campaign's adroit use of the Internet was praised by the media; when President Trump (for whom I did not vote) won, his campaign's — and other actors' — use of the Internet has been reviled by the media.

I think all of this is just due to psychic aftershocks from the 2016 election: folks just can't believe that their candidate lost, that they live in a country which rejected her. The sad fact of the matter is that Mrs. Clinton was easily the worst candidate that the Democrats have put forward in a generation — she makes Mondale, Dukakis & Kerry look charismatic! Pretty much any Democrat in the country could have won the election — heck, Tim Kaine (the Democratic vice-presidential candidate) would almost certainly have won handily.

My own theory is that outside meddling in the U.S. election was intended to weaken Mrs. Clinton's administration. I don't think anyone expected Mr. Trump to win.

> It reads like the plot of a sci-fi novel: a technology celebrated for bringing people together is exploited by a hostile power to drive people apart, undermine democracy, and create misery. This is precisely what happened in the United States during the 2016 election.

You know, there were an awful lot of folks who felt pretty similarly in 2012. I don't think many of them tried to undermine the freedoms of association & speech, although perhaps some did.


Most people felt positive about the impact of Internet advertising on political campaigning when the themes of the message were hope and change. It has become clear that those themes are easily trumped by messages of fear and divisiveness. I think it's a fair question, now that we've seen where we're likely headed, to question anew whether we need to adjust course.


Hope, change and continued war, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the destruction of Libya and a good try at the destruction of Syria.


> The sad fact of the matter is that Mrs. Clinton was easily the worst candidate that the Democrats have put forward in a generation — she makes Mondale, Dukakis & Kerry look charismatic!

I saw this sentiment floating around Reddit a lot amongst disenfranchised Democrats supporters. It sounds exactly like the type of meme the article is discussing. Does being charismatic actually matter? It makes sense to make this a talking point if the candidate you want to win has no political experience but is a great showman.


Easy answer, yes.

Charisma has been attributable to popular opinion since we figured out how to talk to one another.

If you still think charisma doesnt matter, pick up a history book.


> Pretty much any Democrat in the country could have won the election

Trump didn't just beat Clinton – he beat a whole bunch of pretty decent Republican candidates. He beat them by saying and doing things that hadn't been done before, appealing to the worst elements and instincts of Americans, and relying, in the last few months, on the Republican establishment to acquiesce to a man they would not have near their daughters.

Trump's victory is not Clinton's fault. It's America's.


> Mrs. Clinton was ... [not charismatic]

I've never understood this line; she always seemed charismatic to me.

I'm curious -- can you name a female politician you consider charismatic?


> I'm curious -- can you name a female politician you consider charismatic?

I hate to say it, but the first example which leaps to mind is Mrs. Palin. There's no there there (as anyone who watched her vice-presidential debate performance would know) but she was, at the time, quite charismatic.

Senator Gillibrand might count, but I've not seen her speak often enough to have an opinion.

Certainly with someone like Baroness Thatcher one knew that she had a brain, and she was keen to use it, but I don't know if she was charismatic. I don't think that's a word anyone would apply to Mrs. Merkel, either. Maybe Indira Gandhi? I don't know enough about her to know.


What do you think of Elisabeth Warren?


I think that Sen. Warren had more charisma before she entered politics (this is probably true of Mrs. Palin, too). There's certainly a strong group of people for whom she has quite a bit of charisma today, but I don't think that they're a terribly large electorate (although they are probably disproportionately represented in the media, which will certainly help her).

She's certainly smart, but that's not the same as charisma.


Although I often disagree with her foreign policy pronouncements, Nikki Haley seemed very charismatic as UN Ambassador over the past year.


"Y'know, I suspect that Leave voters thought leaving was in their self-interest — or at the very least that voting 'Leave' send a message which was in their self-interest."

The trope about rubes voting against their interests is easily my least favorite of this political season.

1. First of all, when a group of people consistently vote in a way that surprises you, perhaps it's time to update your understanding of the world, instead of assuming -- over and over -- that theirs is broken. At the very least, one might admit that they don't actually know much about those interests.

2. An inability to understand why somebody might vote against their most immediate economic interests isn't something to be proud of. There is an enormous gap here and it's increasingly a gap in a belief in the transcendent. Yes, for a lot of rural American voters the transcendent is god, but it's more than just that. Are there or are there not ideals worth dying for? It shouldn't be so surprising to the left that some people actually behave as though there are.


I quit Facebook around Christmas time. Felt weird at first, but overall it's been a position experience. The Chrome blocker plugin I use to enforce my quitting keeps a count of how many times I've attempted to visit it. I'm in the 40s now. If I spent 2 minutes per visit, then I've saved 80 so far!


I blocked reddit. I can still use it via incognito mode if it contains useful information while doing Google search result. What I've learned is that, I wasn't really addicted to reddit as much as my bored fingers were. I don't miss it.

I also blocked cnn.com, and couple other sites that I habitually go to. I may even add HN to the list. Sure there are some gems to be found here, but I find myself coming here more to read comments and headlines. It has essentially turned into reddit for me.


For me it was/is the same thing- bored fingers go cmd-t + faceb... + enter out of habit


Glad to hear it. I quit Facebook many months ago and I'm much happier as a result. I hope that you'll benefit from quitting as much as I have.


This quote sums up, for the most part, how the system is gamed; "People tend to react more to inputs that land low on the brainstem". Maybe parents and schools should teach kids more about how not to respond in such a fashion.


I get the impression that well meaning teachers, parents, guardians, friends, strangers, and everyone else HAS been trying very hard for a very long time. Socrates, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, you think they were trying their darndest?

The problem is that even if we give ourselves well meaning instructions that will benefit ourselves in the medium to long term, invariably we will come to betray ourselves.

Personally I think it stems from a censor-breaker strategy that emerges from the complexity of the limited hardware we have that needs to quickly solve real world problems.


In my experience teenagers are often better at ignoring "lower brainstem" attacks than their "teachers, parents, guardians," etc. Much like a DOS attack, ignoring this shit early and often is the dominant success strategy.


I'd be very interested in your experience as that goes against what I understand about human neurocognitive maturation as echoed by insurance rates, suicide rates, violence, teen pregnancy, etc...


Search for 'tax' finds one instance:

> This allowed the platforms to centralize the internet, inserting themselves between users and content, effectively imposing a tax on both sides.

Sadly this does not contain the obvious fix: tax ads.


By some accounts the Russian fb spend was under $100k (https://techcrunch.com/2017/11/01/russian-facebook-ad-spend/)

Assuming election meddling is the thing you want to avoid, even a 50% tax wouldn't take this out of the price range of even the thriftiest of governments.


>By some accounts the Russian fb spend was under $100k

If true, that would indicate that these ads are dramatically under priced. If it was simply a matter of spending money on facebook, things will balance next election, as the price of those ads will go up dramatically

Of course, the fact that Clinton spent so much more on facebook and still lost the electoral college would indicate that if the facebook ad campaign was decisive, that it's more about how you use it than about what you pay Facebook; I would bet rather a lot that Facebook is spending a lot of effort right now to reverse engineer what the Russians did so they can sell it to their more wealthy clients.


You're comparing apples to apples when this is an oranges and apples situation.

Regular campaign advertising (like the stuff done by Clinton in the last election) is at least partly constrained by things like the truth and the semblance of accountability. I.e. if I run an ad saying "vote for me I went to harvard" there would likely be a major scandal because I did not in fact go to harvard. The words came from me, and they were lies.

A 3rd party, dumping thousands of fake news stories on to facebook, disguised as real news and using a little ad spends to pump them up - is not constrained by the truth, and because they are not easily linked to the candidate there is no accountability.

If you're allowed to hide your identity, lie, and disguise your lies as valid information, yes of course you can be more with your ad dollars than if you have to be accountable for what you are saying.


There may be some accountability when it comes to what you say about yourself, but there doesn't seem to be much accountability when it comes to untrue things said about your opponent anymore, though I think it's still traditional to use a third party proxy to say those things:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whispering_campaign


I'd love you to go into more detail with this proposal. How would taxing ads be different than just taxing corporations?


Two basic approaches, not mutually exclusive: 1) make advertising expenditure non-deductible or weaker version treat as investment, make deduction multi-year reducing NPV 2) directly tax ad revenue, strength depends on rate.

My motivation is treating ads as mental pollution and force for centralization and monopoly, not preventing election manipulation. Complaints abut the latter are nothing but extreme hypocrisy coming from the US.


I like the idea. Ads could be treated as pollution.


Ads are pollution. Information pollution.


> How would taxing ads be different than just taxing corporations?

Without commenting on the wisdom or relevance of the proposal, this seems really simple. Taxing activities disincentivizes them, so you could expect a tax on a specific activity to have the first order effect of reducing that activity.

Tldr: lower advertising budgets


The corporations in question pay very little taxes in the first place, getting them to pay their fair share would be nice.

But I don't think that would change their negative influence on the society.


Facebook's monopoly is a problem because, increasingly, Facebook's dopamine-driven tools replaces traditional civic society. They're easier. They're superficially more pleasing. They're often addictive. And any company in control of the sphere in which people congregate and interact then controls /how/ we congregate and interact. And if you control how we congregate and interact then you control how we exert control on those who we chose to rule us. As soon as you change that quality, quantity and ability you change the whole basis of society. And therefore how that society presses its current rulers and chooses its future rulers. And this is happening and has happened. And it may not be for the best.


I wish TFA had opposed Facebook for the right reasons and in the right way. It really is a massive waste of our collective thought and attention, but apparently that's only bad because then we voted for the guy that the TV talked about all the time. (You know another era in which we voted exactly as TV told us to vote? Before the internet existed! Oh Facebook you have ruined us!) Also apparently the answer is to expand FCC's role until it defends Facebook against all competition in precisely the manner in which it has long defended Bell Telephone against all competition. Democracy in action!

(And Google? Does TFA actually contain an argument against Google, or did he just mention it a bunch of times? Oh right, they stopped funding a think tank. To a Washingtonian that would probably constitute a high crime. Out here in flyover country, that doesn't even rate a "meh".)

If the author really wanted to help, rather than insert himself and his cronies into the regulatory state, he'd be getting Sanders and Warren on a reality show with Snoop Dogg and Mama June, right away. Or he could act like what he claims to be, a "technology investor", and start funding the innovations that will eat the heart out of an increasingly old and ungainly Facebook. It's interesting that he made such a big deal about his visionary investment in Facebook without bothering to tell us if he is still invested. (Which, obviously, he is, which is why he wrote TFA about this wonderful "movement" which coincidentally totally aligns with Facebook's interests.)


"Dear diary, here is how I repeat what thousands of people have been saying about Facebook/Google/etc. for years."

I am wondering how someone seemingly oblivious to what Facebook is can be a successful investor.


I'd agree, it was obvious what FB and Zuckerberg were from the beginning. But we all see what we want to and what we allow ourselves to see, so it's commendable that they are seeing it now and speaking against it.


It is human nature. We all grow up and regret mistakes. Most often in public for the sake of showing how we have grown.


> All software platforms should be required to offer a legitimate opt-out, one that enables users to stick with the prior version if they do not like the new EULA. “Forking” platforms between old and new versions would have several benefits: increased consumer choice, greater transparency on the EULA, and more care in the rollout of new functionality, among others

Interesting. Although if this applied to all software platforms, I suspect startups are going to be hit a lot harder than the big co's. Maintaining this level of "forking" seems like a nontrivial engineering task.

> Eighth, and finally, we should consider that the time has come to revive the country’s traditional approach to monopoly

Feels unclear how this would help. It feels difficult to craft anti-trust laws that big co's can't reason their way out of. But IANAL, so please correct me if I'm wrong here.


hmm. if one grasps the basic idea behind this (recently top-HN-ed) weird-machines+exploitability stuff: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/ielx7/6245516/6558478/08226852.pd... and extrapolates "weirdness" further from hardware/OS/application into a social-network-as-system... there might be many ways to hack it to do something useful for someone. How about Machiavelly-as-a-service, anyone?


Pretty long article that I doubt most will read in its entirety, if at all.

It was, however, a good read about social engineering, and I've summarized the points made and the solutions proposed below:

>Fear and anger produce a lot more engagement and sharing than joy.

>The result is that the algorithms favor sensational content over substance.

>Continuous reinforcement of existing beliefs tends to entrench those beliefs more deeply, while also making them more extreme and resistant to contrary facts.

>The Russians appear to have invested heavily in weakening the candidacy of Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary by promoting emotionally charged content to supporters of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, as well as to likely Clinton supporters who might be discouraged from voting.

>We also have evidence now that Russia used its social media tactics to manipulate the Brexit vote.

>A team of researchers reported in November, for instance, that more than 150,000 Russian-language Twitter accounts posted pro-Leave messages in the run-up to the referendum.

>[B]ad actors plant a rumor on sites like 4chan and Reddit, leverage the disenchanted people on those sites to create buzz, build phony news sites with “press” versions of the rumor, push the story onto Twitter to attract the real media, then blow up the story for the masses on Facebook.

>Facebook and Google responded by reiterating their opposition to government regulation, insisting that it would kill innovation and hurt the country’s global competitiveness, and that self-regulation would produce better results.

>Polls suggest that about a third of Americans believe that Russian interference is fake news, despite unanimous agreement to the contrary by the country’s intelligence agencies.

Solutions proposed:

1) [I]t’s essential to ban digital bots that impersonate humans

2) [T]he 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.

3) [T]he platforms must be transparent about who is behind political and issues-based communication.

4) [T]he platforms must be more transparent about their algorithms.

5) [T]he platforms should be required to have a more equitable contractual relationship with users.

6) [W]e need a limit on the commercial exploitation of consumer data by internet platforms.

7) [C]onsumers, not the platforms, should own their own data.

8) [F]inally, we should consider that the time has come to revive the country’s traditional approach to monopoly.


I suspect people worried about these issues are a bit more likely to make time & muster attention to read the articles on the topic.

This article was at the very end of my one-sitting article-reading endurance, but it had enough of a flow for me to finish with only a bit of skimming near the end.

Thank you for preparing a great summary :)


You're welcome!

After reading a few paragraphs I realized it was going to be largely anecdotal, so I figured paring it down would save some people ten or twenty minutes. I agree, however, that the flow made it more manageable to enjoy.


This year is election year in Sweden and we know the Russians spread disinformation during the Finnish election through social media. They’ve had plenty of practice for taking on our small country.

Denmark, Norway and Finland have a populist, far right party in their respective government coalition, Sweden and Iceland are the only Nordic countries that have resisted. I fear this will stop being the case. The Sweden Democrats are already polling highly and something bad, anything, wether it’s a recession after this long bull market or a politically charged murder could quickly be blamed on immigration and spread like wildfire on social media by people who love simple answers to complicated questions.


Aren't you overestimating facebook influence and underestimating the real life? If "evil Russia" is spreading misinformation isn't it a great opportunity for traditional media to expose and correct the misinformation? Censorship will mate the matter only worse.


I don't really think I am underestimating it, we can see a clear connection between supporters of Trump (and other far-right populist politicians) and the disinformation they've received from Russia. I'm not suggesting Russia started the angry movements that are dismissive of experts and government officials to begin with but they could potentially swing other people to join the already existing movement.

We already know this is possible. The media has managed to influence elections multiple times, so has celebrities and religious officials (in Sweden, one of our most beloved children's books authors is credited with influencing the 1976 election a lot) and Facebook makes the angry person with a catchy meme as influential for a few weeks.

The thing is that too many don't trust traditional media even when it's revealed Russia were influencing elections. As the piece stated, more than 30% of Americans believe Russian meddling in the US election is fake news, even though the US intelligence community has no doubt they were involved. 30% is absolutely enough to swing an election.

So, I'm not really suggesting censorship, neither is the opinion piece linked in the OP. Let Facebook be responsible for the defamation resulting from these malicious posts and you can bet your ass they'll throw money at stomping out this problem.


It is obvious for reading just a few lines of this article that the author is extremely biased in support of Clinton and Democrats and he only cares about media manipulation when he loses. If media manipulation in his side it doesn't matter.

I am not American and from my point of view Democrats totally own media attention in the US. They own the artists and famous people space, they own most important TVs and newspapers and so on.

In fact Trump won because of their support, as they only talked about him in preelection time, as they believed Trump was way weaker than other Republican candidates.

Now this man is socked not because Facebook is a manipulation media, like TV or Newspapers, but because other entities could control it as well as they can.

For this man it was obvious that Hillary was going to win (because they control most media) so it was a big surprise that people could actually vote on their own in a democracy system.

The day they lost the election he wants to talk with Zuckerberg to "make them aware of the problems" of facebook not being a totally biased platform like the New York times or Washington Post is.

Again as a non American I don't want to be manipulated by either side. I don't want to be forced to go to a WWIII just because some people can't deal with losing a democratic election or because some guy impulsive action.

So it looks to me that the best solution is to design alternatives to facebook that are not as centralized and to start using them even if they are not as good.


I wish we Americans were sensible enough to implement the suggestions you make here. I'm not optimistic about that, however.


If you'd read the article, you would know that it is not about election meddling, but about the susceptibility of social media to social engineering, because of specific underlying technology (filter bubbles) and current policy (outdated).

You making this out to be about Democrats vs Republicans is a pretty cheap move, and detracts from those real (hopefully non-partisan) issues.


Just curious ... show of hands, how many people here have never been on Facebook?


I created an account once, in "incognito" mode, but I only sent one message and never posted anything... It turned out that someone who couldn't be emailed or telephoned because he "was only on Facebook" also didn't respond on Facebook. Shocking!


Me. I took the founder's advice and didn't trust him.


Give me one good reason on why we need Facebook.


Gossip, life, entertainment, procrastination. Nothing wrong with that at all.


I stopped reading after so many I's in just the beginning. It's an all about "me" piece.


I agree the article is incredibly long (him establishing his credentials is almost an article onto itself), but I assure you that the article is not just about him. :-)

One of the other commenters gave a succinct bulleted overview. I recommend you check it out, if you're interested in what the article was actually about.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16092602


People still use facebook?


Facebook never fixed me so I didn't have to fix it. No account. Ever.


Who's nerve did I hit that it got voted down?


The nerve that you're responding to the title, not the article.


Nuke it from orbit.


Would you please stop posting unsubstantive comments here?


The author justifies his desire to regulate facebook with election outcomes he finds personally unpalatable. (u mad, bro?)

Yes, visceral content has high engagement. But is this really new information?

How can you recommend content regulation without exacerbating the problem?


Its been 1.5yrs since, I had uninstalled FB app from my phone due to battery usage and havent used it since. Most of my friends are on WhatsApp and we have groups for each occasion like roadtrips/ bdays etc. I follow few on my friends on Instagram, which I occasionally see before making my next travel plans. Its feels more appropriate to share in the right context, unlike FB which feels like a public restroom.


> WhatsApp

> Instagram

You're still using and supporting Facebook services, then.


Those 2 services are a lot better than Facebook newsfeed, which is basically a pile of garbage!


Don't use Facebook or any of their properties like Instagram, Whatsapp, etc. Just as important, tell others not to use Facebook (et al). Tell your children not to use Instagram and Whatsapp (they won't care about Facebook as that is 'for older people'). When someone proposes using Facebook to plan something point out that Facebook is not the right venue for such activities, use email instead. If your neighbourhood wants to start a 'Whatsapp group' tell them to use an alternative (Telegram comes to mind). If your local council wants to communicate through Facebook just tell them to quit doing so as they have no business pushing their constituents towards any commercial entity, let alone towards Facebook. Just steer anyone and everyone away from Facebook (and similar companies for that matter but Facebook is the one to kick to the curb first). Don't be a zealot and bring up this subject when there is no call for it but don't be shy to voice your opinion when it is warranted. Make sure to be able to answer questions as to why Facebook should be shunned.

Yes, you do run the risk of being seen as a Don Quichote who probably even uses Linux but so be it.


Don't this, don't that - geez. Tell what TO do, what TO use. Saying not to without solutions is completely useless noise.


Smokey told you not to play with matches. Way back in time one of your ancestors told another of your ancestors not to play in the crocodile-infested Limpopo river. Frank Zappa sings about some parents warning their children to watch where the huskies go and not to eat that yellow snow.

Sometimes it is necessary to warn people about something. They can make up their own mind about what to do instead, it is not as if the internet is useless without Facebook (et al) after all? Do you really think it is necessary to tell people what to use instead of Facebook when the options are so abundant and clear, not to mention the fact that they were around when Facebook was naught but a glint in the eye of whomever M.Z. got the idea from?




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