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Facebook Employees Are Reportedly Deleting Controversial Internal Messages (fortune.com)
138 points by JumpCrisscross 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments

It's always amusing to me how people in tech want to have very private lives where they control their public image very carefully while building tools and networks which take away that ability from others.

From the Facebook engineers doing this while working on facial recognition to Peter Thiel going after Gawker while funding Palantir, this seems like a near universal double standard in tech today.

I really wish the media would distinctly separate media companies from technology companies. Facebook is not a technology company. They are a media company. They make money from eyeballs on advertising no differently than CNN or FoxNews. Google claims to be a diverse technology company but they make almost all their money, despite their various products and investments, from data micro auctions that populate paid listings and advertising on their search engine. Amazon is a general retail company.

In this vain almost every company in business is a technology company. Almost every company has software developers and writes software products. I work at a bank as a software developer to further the business of the bank. Wisely, my employer clearly claims to be a bank and not a technology company.

Examples of technology companies are companies that sell technology as their end product like NVIDIA, Intel, AMD, Apple, Micron, and so forth.

Why do you think they should be classified as a media company? Is it to apply the relevant regulations?

In my eyes, Facebook is a company of software and hardware engineers. They produce software as a service. That sure sounds like a tech company.

If regulations are what you're after, new ones should be created for their specific business.

>"They produce software as a service."

No Salesforce, Box, Slack, Zendesk - these are examples of SaaS companies. Customer pay for those services, the service is the product being sold. With FB the user is the product being sold.

Who is the "user" product being sold to? A business, right? And how do they buy the product? Thru a web browser, right? How is that not SAAS?

>"Who is the "user" product being sold to? A business, right?"

Yes and you just illustrated my point. Advertisers aren't buying software from FB they're buying access to FB users.

Because the product being bought isn't software.

> With FB the user is the product being sold.

This is not strictly true. FB makes Workplace, which is a sort of Facebook for internal and cross-company collaboration (competing with Slack): https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathleenchaykowski/2017/10/26/f...

You can be pedantic all you want but FB Workplace is many of the regular FB platform features repurposed without the advertising. Workplace is not their core product nor is it where the majority of their revenues or engineering efforts are concentrated.

Since they're using it internally to make facebook work, I'd say it's a core product and a lot of engineering efforts are being expended to make the company run better.

It just also happens to be something you can sell to others too.

Since you consider it a core product, what do you estimate the portion of Facebook's revenue comes from this core product in relation to the billions they receive elsewhere.

I don't know, how much do you estimate any given road contributes to the GDP of the US?

It's infrastructure that enables the rest.

What makes you think they produce software as a service? Their users aren't their customers, advertisers are.

That term refers to software applications made available in a browser. That's how I view Facebook.

That's the medium, not the product.

A company that makes radio program, and generates revenue by selling ad spots, is a media company.

A company that makes TV programming, and generates revenue by selling ad spots, is a media company. It's in the same line of business as the radio company, even though the radio company doesn't have any soundstages or camera operators.

And guess what, both of those companies stay media companies even if they start streaming sound or video in a browser instead of on the TV. That's just replacing the distribution team, a rather small part of their business by headcount. They're still media companies, because they make money by selling ad space in content.

The distinguishing feature of facebook is that it takes user-generated content, and generates revenue by selling ad space. That's the "social" in social media, it's what makes social media different from traditional media. But the other part is the same: They generate revenue by selling ad space inside the content that they manage.

No "software applications made available in a browser" is not the single defining characteristic of SaaS. SaaS is foremost a licensing and delivery model although it is often accessed via a browser it is not a prerequisite. There are SasS offerings with desktop integration points, sync clients, native iOS apps etc.

Sorry if this is an obvious question: would you call Microsoft Office 365 a software as a service? They charge per user per month I think.

Yes I would consider Microsoft Office 365 a SaaS offering. It's licensing is done via a subscription and delivery is via infrastructure managed by MS.

They aren't providing software as a "service"- they're providing user data and eyeballs as a service.

You're confusing the business model (advertising) and the medium (software).

I think we've come far enough to realize that there are many business models to the concept of software being delivered in a browser as a service. The original model was companies paying a monthly fee for a subscription. Now we have many different types of models. The point is that FB makes an application for consumers and businesses. It is delivered as a service through a browser.

The more coherent litmus test for "technology company" is the role of R&D within the organization, irrespective of line-of-business.

On the clearly non-tech company side are those which purely consume off-the-shelf products. Your neighborhood bodega probably does most of its business through computerized cash register and credit card terminal, but is unambiguously not a technology company.

Then there's a vast middle ground where the company engages consultants and maybe a small in-house IT cost center to integrate and operate off-the-shelf products. Some of the more sophisticated players have unique enough requirements that they start to commission their own technology (or at least customizations to their existing SAP, Oracle, etc). This could be done internally or through contractors, but not as a core competency. Emphasis is on meeting requirements as specified by the business and at the lowest cost. Most banks would fit in this category. People who operate the line of business run the company; IT are support staff who occasionally automate the even-lower-status support staff.

Then there are companies whose core competency is R&D, whose technology teams proactively develop and augment products on their own initiative, whose leadership views R&D as an investment/competitive advantage/core of the business rather than as a cost of doing business. This tends to reflect in the social status and compensation of engineers. Engineers (and product and design engineering management) run the company; everyone else is support staff for whatever drudgery engineering hasn't automated yet. This is what we say when we mean "technology company."

But the only way to be a pure technology company is to license your tech to others to commercialize, and even then, by your logic, that would make you a patent licensing company. Most tech companies have a line of business. It could be advertising, entertainment, retail, transportation, trading... anything under the sun. The difference is how they go about it.

I will rephrase then. Is Facebook primarily a technology company or a media company?

I don't think they're a media company. A media company would have some expertise in selecting and/or producing content.

The closest Facebook gets to this is feed ranking, but that has no real resemblance to anything a traditional media company does.

I don't think being a company that makes money by advertising makes you a media company. Google Search makes money from advertising, but is even more clearly not a media company.

This line becomes blurry ... Google also sells hardware devices, Amazon as well... Microsoft as well ...Advertising is a big market and it looks like that everyone tries to get a chunk of it...even TV manufacturers (with their App stores etc). Now it's quite common to develop a device that runs only some DRM software(i.e. various TV sticks, coffee machines, music players).

Google "sells hardware", yes, but Google makes somewhere in the realm of 99% of it's money on advertising. The fact that they technically have other businesses doesn't change who they are. You wouldn't call Google an ISP, yet Google also has both Fiber and Google Fi.

Google is an ad company... with hobbies.

(Microsoft is almost certainly a "software company" even though they sometimes make hardware, and while Apple does make it's own software, it is indisputably a "hardware company".)

> but Google makes somewhere in the realm of 99% of it's money on advertising

almost 15% of google's revenue in q4 2017 was hardware/cloud/subscriptions. there's possibly a bump in hardware since it's q4, but 'in the realm of 99%' is not close at all. and this is trending upwards.

(yes yes, googler here)

Thanks for the correction! 84% of statistics are made up on the spot, and I'll admit, I didn't check current numbers before this comment. Mind you, I don't think the percentage significantly changes the value of my point.

I do wonder if that statistic will change enough for advertising not to be the core of Google's business though.

I think you make a good point, but actually AWS is where Amazon makes most of their profit. Can they call themselves a technology company?

Google and their cloud offerings are a little different. For the most part Google is an advertising company with expensive hobbies but it's always possible they'll figure out how to add another 800lb gorilla to their portfolio.

Now don't start calling NVIDIA and Intel tech companies. Aren't they just an 'Electronics retailer' like Best Buy and Fry's ? I mean they make money from selling CPUs and GPUs. If you say they are tech companies, then you'd call Best Buy and Fry's tech companies as well, given they sell technology as their end product.

In all seriousness, does it really matter if Facebook is a tech company vs a media company? Their primary focus and energy spent is on tech, so let's just call it what it is. I don't see the glamour in being labelled a tech company.

There's no such thing as a "tech" company in the first place. Technology is intangible knowledge, techniques, strategies, and information. Every single company on the planet uses technology as a means to an end, that end describes the actual type of business.

Every company is a technology company now (or soon will be if they want to survive). It's a meaningless label.

How is Apple a technology company when their main business is selling consumer electronics?

After working for a bespoke semiconductor foundry, I can’t help but be annoyed that “technology” == software.

It irks me when I see people say things like "life was so much better before all this technology".

You mean like agriculture? Writing? Stone tools? :-)

What definition of "technology" are you using?

I disagree that iPhones are simply "consumer electronics ".

This is a diversion from the important point the parent was making

I've begun to wonder if the double standards and hypocrisy are a symptom of our industry where a college education isn't required and maintaining ethics isn't really encouraged.

Sure you might spell out what you're doing in your TOS, but if your advertising sells a different story and you let people believe that instead, is that behavior ethical? I don't think so.

For some people, however, this might feel acceptable.

It is a bit of a shame because of we can't act ethically ourselves, I fear clumsy regulations will be created to correct us. We should have done better with the power we had.

If professional ethicists are no more ethical than other philosophers I think we can lay to rest any hope that education in ethics effects behaviour.

Ethicists’ and Nonethicists’ Responsiveness to Student E‐mails: Relationships Among Expressed Normative Attitude, Self‐Described Behavior, and Empirically Observed Behavior https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/meta.120

How does college education have anything to do with living ethically?

College provides (and usually requires) courses specifically focused on topics like business ethics, philosophy of law, environmental philosophy, environmental ethics... How much any one person takes these courses to heart is up to them, but college provides an exposure that wouldn't otherwise be required.

I'm not trying to say that everyone needs college, especially not with the costs it takes. I'm only trying to question what it is about our industry that seems to make unethical behavior so acceptable.

I believe that almost anyone can learn to code if they're interested, but self-teaching doesn't necessarily show you why you shouldn't use that to overpowered others.

I know of ethics courses. Obviously there are moral implications for actions in many professions which aren't readily apparent.

A few courses are not going to fix these problems by a long shot.

Peter Thiel, went to Stanford and got not only his BA there, but also a JD. Alex Karp has a JD from Stanford. Harvard MBAs care about one thing (hint: it isn't you). Construction and large infrastructure projects are rife with corruption. Our political system is corrupt. Barack Obama didn't stand up to the status quo of institutional behavior. Doctors prescribe opioids to white trash and speed to kids. Prosecutors are "tough on crime" solely for their own career advancement. The Milgram and Stanford prison experiments... This isn't confined to tech, or people without higher education.

I heavily question the assumption that learning philosophy or ethics courses will make one more ethical. I think being required to do something makes it less likely to take it heart in my experience.

Yes it would be delicious irony if the downfall of Facebook happened because of the very technology and data collection that they created.

The only threats are advertisers pulling out or users leaving. Most people like Facebook for staying in touch.

Sad but true. Most wouldn't choose to work on this sort of garbage but it is what seems to make money.

How is Thiel’s Gawker funding in conflict with Palantir.

These seem like very different things. Palantir is a massive investigation software tool like many other BI/Analytics tools. Palantir doesn’t collect data, but use data others collect. It’s like complaining because Excel is used to analyze the Facebook data.

Gawker encroached his privacy, but Palantir was built to do exactly that to the public, at scale.

Are you sure? Palantir doesn’t encroach privacy more than R or SAS or any of the other myriad analytics software.

Are there examples of Palantir collecting data? Or violating user privacy?

They work directly with the government to enable them to do so. I’m not faulting them directly, just pointing out why the link can be made.

I think Palantir is mostly a joke, overpaid consultants selling subpar technology backed by slick salespeople and PowerPoints. Like IBM.

Palantir won't work w/o any of the data. Facebook would work w/o the invention of a spreadsheet. I mean, they could just program their own.

I’d be more surprised if people working for a company like Facebook weren’t raging hypocrites. Other than stratospheric levels of cognitive dissonance, hypocrisy or just not giving a shit is the only way someone could work for them. In my experience far more people are hypocrites than truly callous and uncaring.

Peter Thiel though, seems like less of a hypocrite and more like someone who just says and does whatever he thinks is personally advantageous, and screw everyone who isn’t Peter a Thiel.

There is the possibility that they well and truly believe that living inside a panoptikon that also manipulates us to manufacture desire for products and consent for political goals is the best of all possible worlds.

Or they are in it for the money and are lacking in ethical integrity.

When FB employees said that these freewheeling discussion boards were a core part of Facebook’s organizational focus, I could believe it. But now that they’ve faced the reality that everyone else lives with — that there’s is no such thing as a permanent perfect safe space — these discussion boards are now useless?

Leaks, when they happen, are only harmful to the employees if FB doesn’t pledge to stand behind employees. Zuck didn’t fire Boz, so why should other FB employees fear if FB was so committed to free expression as a core principle?

A company’s values aren’t proven when they exist in a safe space. It’s only when values operate in the real world — withstanding public scrutiny and even outrage — that we can know the company’s principles.

The public and the media are out for blood, and will gleefully ignore the context of discussions in order to publicly hang someone on a single quote.

Under that threat, real discussion and debate is not possible, so I think it’s wise of employees to censor themselves.

This captures my feelings exactly. Even on this forum where I used to feel people would look at scenarios through a neutral lens, I see the dumbest, most outrageous conspiracy theories being upvoted to the top purely because they paint FB in a negative light. If I worked at FB I would definitely be keeping a low profile, lest some tinfoil hat nutjob got a hold of my comments, snipped a few words, and presented them in a negative light to the public completely out of context.

> "someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools"

I can't believe how terribly the media is spinning this. Obviously it's not Facebook's fault or responsibility if that happens. I mean, should we just shut down the internet and have spies listen to every phone conversation and reading every (paper) letter sent, just so that we can be sure that there won't be any criminals using any communication tools? Live in a totalitarian distopia? Thanks, I'll take my dose of "terrorism" in exchange for freedom from tyranny.

>freedom from tyranny

Funny if you compare this with another quote from the Fb memo:

>The work we will likely have to do in China some day.

No, the point was that there was a “damn the consequences” attitude on the growth team because of some higher calling that more connections equals more revenue equals the ability to build great products.

For goodness sake, at one point they partnered with media companies to automatically share every article you read with your friends. Absurd.

Yeah sure, it wasn't just a soundbyte, explicitly picked because completely devoid of context it would offend everyone. There's something to hate for everyone in that line. Privacy advocates hate it, leftists hate it, rightists hate it, all for different reasons that mostly wouldn't apply to the post as a whole. Well, except the privacy argument.

The actual message of that post SHOULD be expressed as "we believe the advantages of having people interacting on social fora outweigh the problems" ...

a) is obviously true

b) is very, very different from the statement that was picked and spread

And, I might add, we are switching into a political climate where people can no longer safely express themselves for fear of the consequences of offending the "majority" opinion. (between quotes because ... well because Trump got elected. Even if that view is really majority it isn't majority by much, obviously)

What baffles me is that progressives actually seem to think that doing these attacks will further their cause. It is blindingly obvious that all these progressive efforts destroy what we stand for:

fake news, and making online fora censor themselves

anti-racism and especially the constant doxxing (and worse) instead of protecting and engaging people with these racist opinions (yes, protecting. really)

and the repression of economic reality. The news about it, the facts ...

I don't understand how any of these are progressive. And yet, the democratic party is at the core of all these efforts, and many progressives I know participate in them. The net effect of them is almost fascist.

You are picking the least controversial part of the memo. Far more controversial is that Facebook executives would admit to their behavior being ethically questionable but insisting that it’s necessary because Facebook is “de facto good.”

There’s plenty of ways to defend Facebook in this without constructing strawmen.

But are they really being deleted?

They probably just archived them. To delete you need to click on the hamburger, click on the ellipsis in the drop down, enter your password, receive a one time code via text message, scan a QR code spray and stare up directly into the CCTV camera for 10 seconds for retinal confirmation.

Then they go into "disabled" mode, and if you use the internet within the next 90 days they are reinstated. "For your convenience."

Is it just me, or could this (deleting internal messages) get them in serious trouble if lawsuits come as a result of the latest troubles?

Or are they just "deleting" them like they do everything else?

Serious trouble like jail, hundreds of thousands in fines against you personally, being labeled a rogue employee and treated as the whipping boy, paying for your own defense out of your own pocket?

Yes, it might be a bit serious. When the first lawsuit was filed, a lot of stuff went under legal hold. Ask the legal department if it is ok to delete. If they say yes, it's their neck on the line, not yours. CYA CYA CYA.

They're in an ongoing FTC investigation so it's likely.

Given the general attitude toward Edward Snowden in the Valley, I can’t help thinking that a lot of these FBers who are so upset that their dirty laundry is being publicly aired were perfectly fine with Snowden doing the same with state secrets.

I can't load the fortune page in chrome, I get too many redirects. I get the same thing in anon mode. I see its still listed on the fortune site. It's got some kind of redirect loop in it, I just tried in firefox.

I had the same problem in chrome. Clearing cookies fixed it :/

They should be careful not to obstruct justice. ;-)

This is sad. It used to be the case at the university that you could say things with your real name, especially on internal forums. That was useful. This really helped with making carefully thought out judgements and getting the feel of what a bigger community thought on a certain subject.

That's over and done with, and ended with a similar event. People deleting their internal posts, or even demanding useful internal fora being taken down entirely. Problem is that there are a number of controversial/racist ... but fact ... well, facts (and of course some of these fora contained cartoons from the 80s that are ... more than a little bit sexist, for example. In some cases posted by what are now important professors or administrators). And you simply cannot risk "being seen" saying them. Especially not have a published source for something like that with your name prominently next to it.

Now we're supposed to point out papers that point out the problematic facts and expect people to read them (and then finding that you can't say anything about them). We have a few anonymous forums, and a few private forums. Even there, you have the problem that some people might use these statements against you outside of these forums, but at least it can't be some random student, or worse an outside journalist (that's worse because firstly outside journalists, frankly, almost always don't know what they're talking about, and their works are widely read and can even affect the university as a whole). We actually dedicate 2-3 lessons to warning students about racial sensitivities, to push them to check their work and make sure it doesn't point out racial, or god forbid, cultural, differences.

But the sometimes violent opposition to facts are the truly bad parts. Facts that don't fit (this year's flavor of) the social justice narrative can destroy careers. In some cases literally statements from particularly "caring" students made a few years back come back to bite them now (one instance was a (long) comment made a few years back about "white trash" middle Americans being victims of capitalism. Now these people are perceived to have elected trump ... they're still poor and need help, but now they're evil)

Hell, someone got reprimanded for saying people with black skin really are more difficult to see at night. He meant, of course, in the context of getting a neural net to do it automatically (and let's be fair here: they are).

And we have a problem: there are massive differences in performance between white and black students, and we both must ... and can't ... discuss that. That difference, especially that one is not going away no matter what we do, and everyone in that meeting knows that everyone is just going to blame us (and we're already letting some people cheat more than a bit). Privately I've checked, assuming the name points to the religion, you can classify people into their religions based on their grades 96% correctly. So there's big differences in academic achievement "based on religion" (I would say attitudes finding their origin in religions influence academic outcomes more than a little bit).

Let me just say it here: different races ... are different. Different cultures ... are different. Unfortunately not just in skin color.

There's a pretty good movie called The Circle from 2017 with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson that stylized really well what's happening now with FB. (The funniest part was Doga!)

The movie was made from the book of the same name. I haven't gotten to watching the movie, because of all the bad reviews it got, but I'm part way through the book and it's pretty good.

pro: you can watch it for free on Amazon Prime Video.

con: it’s worth every penny.

the movie has a 16% on rotten tomatoes. is it really worth watching or do you just find the specific topic interesting?

I thought it was quite good. It shows a Facebook-like company that goes to the extreme of getting people to make their lives completely public, and I don't want to give it away, but then shows the dangers of that.

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