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I was Zuckerberg’s speechwriter (vox.com)
347 points by huntermeyer 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 254 comments



Web platforms are governments.

  "Facebook is a government. Facebook's users are citizens,
  and Facebook's applications developers are the private 
  companies that drive much of the economy. Apple. Twitter, 
  Myspace, Craigslist, Foursquare, Tumblr and every other 
  large network of engaged users (including some services of 
  Google) plays a similar role. We have always tacitly 
  acknowledged this. We talk about these networks as 
  communities, communities have governments."

  "Once you start thinking about large web platforms as 
  governments, the logical question is what kind of government 
  are they. One thing is for sure - none of these platforms 
  are democracies. They are oligarchies controlled by 
  founders, investors or shareholders. That may not be at all 
  bad. As long as citizens (users) can move freely from one 
  government to another with little switching cost, there is 
  no reason to burden these polities with the inherent 
  inefficiencies of popular democracy. But that does put a 
  special premium on emigration policies and property rights. 
  Do I own my data, can I export it freely? It also suggests 
  that large networks that have strong network effects may 
  someday need other incentives to act in the best interests 
  of their citizens."
http://www.usv.com/blog/web-services-as-governments


Whether or not they are governments is a question of definition. Definitions are important, and social networks don't fit very well into it.

They are fundamentally different from modern governments as they do not have a monopoly on coercion.

If social media are governments, then every corporation - no, every association of people - on Earth is a government.


The key here is governance.

            ------------
I think if you click into the linked post, you get the analogy regarding governments and governance. Web platforms have to concern themselves with governance of their users and the respective eco-system that their users operate on.

The point is less to be abstract or symbolic, and instead look at the concrete decisions they have to make. Corporations or general relationships do not have to consider these points to the same degree for survival.

In the past, governments would create policies, laws, and make decisions that would determine the well being of a citizen. Now, web platforms are more commonly making decisions of regulation, censorship, interoperability, which all fall in the realm of governments.

  "So as you watch the large web services evolve, think 
  about how they are balancing the relationship between 
  the state and the private sector? What does Facebook's 
  introduction of Facebook Credits say about its monetary 
  policy? What is Apples foreign policy? Do they act 
  unilaterally promoting their own proprietary standards 
  or do they act multilaterally embracing international 
  standards? What is Twitter's industrial policy? Do they 
  invest in state owned services or encourage decentralized 
  economic development? The choices these platforms make 
  reveal a lot about who they are, and ultimately how well 
  they serve the companies operating in their economies and 
  the citizens who live there."
Companies or corporations in general may have a degree of these problems, but not in a way that their survival depends on.


Emphatic agreement.

Governance is the final frontier. By that I mean "How are grievances adjudicated?"

Any one struggling with the "platforms as government" analogy might think of MMORPGs instead.


The final frontier is coercion... threat to life and liberty. Saying MMORPG is a government because the game controls the adjudication of your grievances is like saying Macy's is a government because Macy's Customer Service adjudicates your grievances. Except when it doesn't. Except when the FTC, or the FBI, or any other (real) government overrules them.


I know this is an old thread, but wanted to note that this is similar to saying that federal courts are not courts because they can be overruled by the supreme court. The existence of more powerful forms of government does not negate the existence of less powerful forms.


I think the analogy is strained. But Facebook wields absolute coercion power inside their platform. Banning posts, pages, accounts, and apps without due process or recourse.

My parents run a business on Facebook and they have so many horror stories about the times Facebook has completely held their livelihood hostage. Or cut their revenue 10x with a single algorithm update.


Facebook wields absolute power over the platform, true. They do not coerce anyone by exercising that power, though.

Everyone on Facebook is on there voluntarily. People don't get to choose where they are born.

Don't get me wrong. I don't use Facebook, and I don't think anyone else should either. I would love if there were a (decentralized) replacement for it, and I think Facebook is on the way out.


Once you've built an app or business on Facebook's platform, what are you choices really? You're at their mercy.

You can say, well they chose to use Facebook's platform, they can leave if they don't like the rules. But I can also leave my country if I don't like the rules (incidentally, I did this!)

Maybe coercion isn't the right word, but the power is absolute. Greater inside their own platform than the power of the state, because you have no legal recourse with Facebook's exercise of power. At least with the governments in the West you can write your congressman, lobby, sue them, etc.


coercion is absolutely the right word, don't let its definition get twisted.


> They do not coerce anyone by exercising that power, though.

I think you should elaborate on your definition of coercion here and what does and does not lie within its boundaries.


Coercion is the initialization of the use of force or fraud against another person or their property.

Facebook exercising their power over their own platform is not coercion. People do not own their Facebook pages.


this is untrue in both a moral and legal sense.

People absolutely own content they post to facebook.


No, it has shades of truth and untruth. Absolutism isn't a great look on you.

You own the content, in the meaning of the sense that you can prevent the public at large from seeing it.

You don't own the content, in that you never have physical control over deletion, whether or not facebook employees see the data, or whether or not facebook licenses the use of your data for profitability purposes. All of those strongly detract from any strong concept of ownership.


There is diaspora*, which aims to be a decentralized replacement. Though replacing the social inertia is much harder than creating the tech. https://diasporafoundation.org/


I've been getting into it over the last few weeks. I found a quiet server and invited my preferred friends. It's quiet and respectful and reminds me of the BBS days.


Would the downvoters explain their gripe with this comment? Am I missing something?


> They do not coerce anyone by exercising that power, though.

It's muuuuuuuuch worse than that. They actually hire people (20000 if I trust my local media) to actually "clean" facebook. So it means that facebook defines what is socially acceptable and what is not. And, contrary to the law, the definition is not written, not shared. I'd prefer physical coercion (normally attributed to police) any time.


Coercion is the initialization of the use of force or fraud against another person or their property.

Facebook exercising their power over their own platform is not coercion. People do not own their Facebook pages.


Facebook does not force you to use their service.


My household is a government. When I was a kid, I was in a couple of clans in Blizzard games - governments. Sometimes I go out with friends for drinks and we form a short-term government to make decisions. We select a Minister of Transportation, and a Minister of Bar-Choosing.

Actually, whenever I start planning my day on a notepad...government of one.


Governments are organizations that govern. They don't need a monopoly on coercion to do that.


Nation-state governments don't have a monopoly on coercion. In the US at least, there are multiple political governments (state and Federal, not to mention HOA). Governments apply coercion across borders, and also residents can leave (most) nation-states.


>Government: the governing body of a nation, state, or community.

Is Facebook a community? If so it would seem it fits the plain dictionary definition.


By that definition, every conceivable grouping of human beings that has any sort of leadership has a government, but that definition is so broad as to be useless. An after-work football club is governed by its rules, organizers, customs, etc, but the idea that it has a government is laughable.


> that definition is so broad as to be useless

How is it useless? That definition includes exactly all of the relevant features to this discussion. Groups of people with leadership. How they relate to each other.

Your objection that the definition 'useless' only makes sense in the context that you didn't bother talking about anything but the definition. Focus on the material of the discussion, and perhaps it will seem less useless a definition.


> That definition includes exactly all of the relevant features to this discussion. Groups of people with leadership. How they relate to each other.

Which is not what a government is.

> Focus on the material of the discussion, and perhaps it will seem less useless a definition.

The whole discussion is based on the idea that just because Facebook has rules and somebody in charge, it's equivalent to the government of a state and should be thought about as such. That's absolutely absurd unless you think that every association of people in which someone is dominant or customs exist has its own "government". Pointing that out is focusing on the "material of the discussion".


>By that definition, every conceivable grouping of human beings that has any sort of leadership has a government, but that definition is so broad as to be useless.

Well, that is in accordance with the dictionary definition.

The bigger and more powerful the grouping becomes, the more practical the definition becomes. Which is why it could be a useful designation for an entity with psychological control over 2,000,000,000+ people, but not so much for a football league with ~100 people (though technically it still can be called a governing body).


You quoted that dictionary definition in another comment:

>Government: the governing body of a nation, state, or community.

Just because something purports to be a dictionary doesn't mean its definitions are useful or correct. That's a poor definition because it covers a large number of things that nobody ever uses the word "government" to describe, such as the football club. This is much more precise (from Webster): "the organization, machinery, or agency through which a political unit exercises authority and performs functions and which is usually classified according to the distribution of power within it"


The definition you cherry picked still seems to describe the management of Facebook. What specific part of the definition do you think excludes FB from being called a government?

>nobody ever uses the word "government" to describe, such as the football club.

FIFA manages football teams, and it describes itself as a government:

>The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA; French for "International Federation of Association Football") is an association which describes itself as an international governing body of association football, futsal, and beach soccer.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIFA


I picked that definition because it's precise, whereas yours was vague. Not all definitions are of equal quality, and choosing a good one over a poor one is not "cherry picking".

Specifically, Facebook is not managed by a "political unit". It's managed by its owners, who have authority over it because it is their property and they have property rights. Governments do not own their citizens. They only have authority because citizens agree, whether voluntarily or through intimidation, to respect that authority.

And no, FIFA does not call itself a government. It calls itself a "governing body" in the text you just quoted. That is not the same thing, and their choice of wording is deliberate. I will concede that they are much, much closer to being a government than Facebook, though, by virtue of their organizational structure and how they derive their authority.

Not that that's relevant to my previous example of a football club. We both know I meant a group of people who get together after work to play for fun, and that the people "in charge" of that are obviously not a government. Claiming that that's false because it's not 100% true for FIFA is a pretty egregious straw man.


>Specifically, Facebook is not managed by a "political unit". It's managed by its owners, who have authority over it because it is their property and they have property rights. Governments do not own their citizens. They only have authority because citizens agree, whether voluntarily or through intimidation, to respect that authority.

You're comparing apples (FB code) to oranges (citizens). A fair comparison would be users to citizens, or platform code to national territory.

Facebook does not own it's users just like a government doesn't own it citizens. A nation owns the land within it's boundaries just like FB owns the code on it's platform.

>And no, FIFA does not call itself a government. It calls itself a "governing body" in the text you just quoted. That is not the same thing

Again, a government is literally defined as governing body, even thougg you don't like it. Do you think there is a government that doesn't have a governing body?

>We both know I meant a group of people who get together after work to play for fun, and that the people "in charge" of that are obviously not a government. Claiming that that's false because it's not 100% true for FIFA is a pretty egregious straw man.

Claiming that we cannot call Facebook a government because a local football club is not typically called a government is itself an egregious strawman; apples to oranges again. FIFA is a far more comparable to an international entity like Facebook, isn't it?


Your ability to twist my words into the argument you wish I was making instead of the one I'm actually making is impressive. Infuriating, but impressive.

I will try to make this as simple as possible.

Facebook owns its platform (code, hardware, etc.). I own a house.

If someone posts on Facebook, they have the right to remove that post. That is their right over their property (the platform). If someone graffitis the wall of my house, I have the right to remove that graffiti. That is my right over my property (my house).

If Facebook wishes to punish the person (say they posted something illegal), they have to invoke the authority of the actual government. Facebook has no authority over people beyond how they interact with Facebook's property. If I wish to punish the graffiti artist, I must invoke the authority of the actual government. I have no authority over people beyond how they interact with my property. The government does, even though the country that the government serves is not its "property".

That is the difference between property ownership and governance, and it is why neither I nor Facebook are governments.

I don't know how I can make this any simpler, and I don't wish to waste any more time engaging with the umpteenth strawman you're going to throw up, so I'm going to leave it at that.


Définitions seem like pointless pedantry to me. People in this thread are using the term "government" in an usual way. They are describing a system, and a government is a good simplification of what they mean.


It's a gross oversimplification of what they mean. I don't see how pointing that out is "pointless pedantry".


No. They aren't. They may make decisions that impact millions of people, but they aren't a government. They may 'govern' the technical details of their implementations... But they are not governments.

They have no sovereignty, no expectation to the rights thereof. They do not answer to everyone that their decisions affect. They are social constructs that happen to shuffle around information, own assets, and generate revenue.

It is CRITICAL that no one makes the mistake that these businesses are anything more than the path of least innovation to solving problems.

The tech industry has a major hubris problem. They don't need people mistaking them for legitimate governments to make it even worse.

Every person needs to understand that no software product is really a big thing. The reason they SEEM big is the sheer data magnitudes involved. Most of which the layman has no real concept of.


> No. They aren't. They may make decisions that impact millions of people, but they aren't a government. They may 'govern' the technical details of their implementations... But they are not governments.

They have rules (jurisprudence). They make rules(congressional). And they mete out punishment for not following said rules (executive). They have a standing military to enforce (lawyers in the countries of presence).

Sure seems like a government to me. They certainly aren't ones I approve of.

> It is CRITICAL that no one makes the mistake that these businesses are anything more than the path of least innovation to solving problems.

The answer is, that some of these entities are past "businesses". When an organization resides within 20 countries, and their computing cloud and business infrastructure is everywhere, what exactly do you call that?

If anything, it seems like a meta-government. Or a virtualized government over local governments.

> The tech industry has a major hubris problem. They don't need people mistaking them for legitimate governments to make it even worse.

You are adding "legitimized". Nobody would say that Duterte's government is legitimate. Or the large handful of tin-pot dictators. The Googles, Amazons, Microsofts of the world are indeed governments. But they are amoral capitalist dictators.

> Every person needs to understand that no software product is really a big thing. The reason they SEEM big is the sheer data magnitudes involved. Most of which the layman has no real concept of.

It's because software is a multiplier of work that we've never seen the likes before. What better use can be had with software, than controlling the proletariat? We need look no further than the degradation of ownership (IP), rental versus purchase of hardware and virtual goods, and the "Gig-ifying" of low end workers.


> They have a standing military to enforce (lawyers in the countries of presence).

In other words, they have to use the legal authority of the actual government to enforce anything because they have none of their own. This seems to me to illustrate exactly why they are not a government. Governments have their own authority to enforce rules and their own means of doing it.


They do have the legal authority of their own platform. they are the king of their area, as in divine right of kings sense.

It is indeed true they do not have the divine right over the physical area and the organizational structure physically. That's because many governments in which tech companies have presence are quite stable.

Take away that stability, and absolutely yes the companies will hire private militaries to enforce their rule.

But your argument is that companies don't have physical divine right of kings - so they aren't sovereign. But we'll just hand-wave away the fact that they indeed do retain that power over their company and all the serfs who want to use the company's infrastructure.


That's called property rights. They have the same authority over their platform and its members that I have over my house and anyone who wants to use it. Owning property does not make me or anyone else "sovereign" in any meaningful way.


> Owning property does not make me or anyone else "sovereign" in any meaningful way.

The US does. And then they delineate national ownership to people/corporations. Property taxes are the upkeep to maintain the ledger in the governmental database(s). And the Government makes laws (congress), adjudicates laws, and enforces laws.

Yeah, "does not make .. sovereign" indeed..


> The US does

You and I must have a very different idea of what sovereignty means in the context of governments. Owning property does not make me, Facebook, or anyone else a sovereign government.


> Web platforms are governments.

No.

Governments are authorized to use force. They have military. The have a police force.

Web platforms are not governments.


This reminds me this talk from GDC by Raph Koster.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgw8RLHv1j4

Quite enlightening.


They have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force?


Whatever meme you learned that phrase from does not deserve the respect you think it does. A government is not synonymous with a monopoly on anything, in any sense.

One can very easily imagine governments that share responsibilities with any number of arbitrary organizations.


Except governments should watch the interests of their citizens, not only those of their shareholders.


Yet, we have governments watching the interest of the corporations.


> we have governments watching the interest of the corporations

Supplanting institutions with popular will is populism, an ideology that has a habit of bee lining towards authoritarianism. "Corporations" are employers, pension fund holdings, tax payers and instruments of foreign influence. The "people versus corporations" narrative is absurd.


I've seen this view stated several times this week on hackernews. Ive always seen it stated with no evidence. How is it not the people vs the corporations?

Take any environmental disaster, BP in the gulf for instance. They cut costs on construction which caused a disaster and ruined the environment and livelihoods for thousands of people. They did this to put more money in their pockets. It's not like they were trying to save money that would be dispersed among the citizenry and the gamble didn't pay off. It's not like they even planned on the extra profit to have taxes taken out as we've seen every large corporation try to avoid every cent of tax possible.

If the corporations are sharing their externalities and privatizing the profits, how is it anything but the people vs corporations? Because they pay wages? It's not like they won't stop doing that the second it's possible, all Uber's plan to rely on drivers until they have autonomous cars and plan to drop all of the drivers.

If someone has hurt you before, is openly planning to hurt you again, and openly states they don't see a problem with their actions, you don't have to wait for them to hurt you again before you call it a confrontation


> How is it not the people vs the corporations? Take any environmental disaster, BP in the gulf for instance

I am not pushing back on the underlying debates, just the way they're lumped together. Characterizing BP vs. the people of the Gulf as "corporation versus the people" muddies the water. Small, incorporated fishing companies were hit particularly badly by the spill. Meanwhile, certain private individuals did quite well on the clean-up contracts. It's a uniquely local issue with some federal regulatory touches.

There are deep rifts involved in every issue. Understanding those rifts is a pre-requesite to negotiating them. A good way to neuter a movement is to convince it the "corporations" are the problem. The term is so broad and so vague it's meaningless, and sometimes I suspect that's the point.

> If someone has hurt you before, is openly planning to hurt you again, and openly states they don't see a problem with their actions, you don't have to wait for them to hurt you again before you call it a confrontation

If someone hurts you and instead of confronting them, you call out their whole neighborhood, nothing will happen. The offending individual will blend into the background of people enraged at being pulled into a fight that isn't theirs. That's the problem. If someone hurts you, call them out specifically.


Companies lobby together for rules that help them at the expense of everyone else. Yes they'll compete against each other, but is there more than a handful of instances where a company lobbied for better protections for laboror society over something that helped themselves? Of course not, that's how they're set up.

If they we're people they would all be diagnosed as sociopaths. They treat the relationship between themselves and labor and themselves and society as either zero sum or an attempt at rent extraction. The only reasonable way to treat them is in kind at this point


> Companies lobby together for rules that help them at the expense of everyone else

Industries and like-minded companies lobby together. Even the Chamber of Commerce, one of the broader commercial lobbyists, only represents a streak of American business.

Charging a problem as "people versus corporations" is a good way to shut it own. Identifying specific victims and offenders, on the other hand, is how one motivates change.


It's not a problem with identifiable specific victims and offenders. Oftentimes the offense is committed on a generational scale, where companies cease to exist before their victims even have a voice.

So here's the standard socialist's argument: Corporations tend to have very strong incentives to expand. Naturally, they'll eventually find some reason to expand overseas. And at that point, economic stability ends up being dependent on foreign policy decisions -- by governments that govern other people. And in order to maintain economic stability (and continued expansion) foreign policy will gradually but inevitably shift to a position of "protecting economic interests" through the application of the powers of making war.

And in a democratic capitalist society, this means that big decisions about whether war should be waged or what treaties should be agreed to is no longer the business of the common people, it is the business of whoever can force foreign nations to support this kind of "capitalist... imperialism" (for lack of a better term.)

The victims are the population of a democracy that has had its sovereignty erased by pinning the survival of their economy (and country) on the continued success of privately controlled industries.

>Identifying specific victims and offenders, on the other hand, is how one motivates change.

Is "tragedy of the commons" a familiar term? There are no specific offenders or victims here. Just a slow breakdown of society. Once you can identify specific agents, it is too late. The cow that eats the last blade of grass might get a nasty sentence, but everybody loses just the same.


If populism is a bee-line towards authoritarianism, corporatism is a charter flight towards it.

The overwhelming majority of Americans do not have a meaningful stake in the proceeds of capital. They are labour, and will benefit from gains for labour, more then they will from gains for capitalism.

If 80% of your life-time earnings will come from wages, as opposed to capital gains, your interests are not aligned with those of your employer, especially when they treat their relationship with you as zero-sum. Most of them do.


Sadly, that's why I said "should". Imagine those same governments being actual corporations... maybe your standing as a citizen would be measured by how many shares you own.


Facebook is a "gov't" for its user-citizens, the same way dairy farmers are a "gov't" for their cows.

In other words, FB is not a gov't, it's a company that sells the product it creates from interaction with its users and sells to it's customers (other companies that want to advertise and/or analyze data).

Main difference with dairy farmers is that cows are property of of the farm, they're forcefully made pregnant, have their babies taken short after birth, and get killed, all at the whims of the farmer. FB has less control over it's, much more vocal users.

That's why FB's farmer, Mark, needs help writing speeches and and dealing with the "real gov't" (which to some extend represents the people, a.k.a. FB users). Full circle.


In my opinion it is ridiculous to equate a web platform to a government, regardless of scale. One is a web-platform, the other is a government. The difference is clear to me.


Great analogy that makes a lot of sense, never thought about it like that before.


Am I alone in thinking this isn't heresy? A country or federal state is just a company with a monopoly over law in a certain geographical region. Facebook's "monopoly" is at least subject to the whim of the market, as the Delete Facebook campaign shows.

Look at last week. The senate was on their high-horse, admonishing facebook for privacy infringements, totally unaware of the irony they are an appendage of the same entity which created the NSA and continues to eavesdrop on all of our conversations.

We can all opt out of Facebook. Thankfully many have. But NSA surveillance is involuntary.

Why are we more worried about a voluntary and foreseeable risk than an involuntary rights violation?

Don't interpret this as saying Facebook acted appropriately.


> Am I alone in thinking this isn't heresy? A country or federal state is just a company with a monopoly over law in a certain geographical region.

A nation state is backed by armies, monetary obligations, and the need to co-operate with other nation states in each others' best interests (optimally).

In order to protect its citizens and monetary interests and obligations most modern, well-functioning markets are regulated by these nation states.

Facebook doesn't care about users, laws, and lacks any sense of moral or ethical standards.

While I enjoy the benefits of being able to freely start a business I believe that a well-functioning market requires guidance and planning from broader, more conservative social structures in order to benefit everyone.


> Facebook doesn't care about users, laws, and lacks any sense of moral or ethical standards.

its difficult to say with a straight face that a government that runs trillions of deficits, spies constantly on its population, and engages in so called defensive wars abroad, cares about its citizens. The lack of responsibility is rampant among government figures.


You are comparing badly functioning government with businesses functioning as intended.

At least there's ability to enforce governmental responsibility through elections and free press.

Facebook can be leveraged in no other way then through government regulation, even if you opt out from facebook it still watches you, and good luck even understanding of what's going on if you're not a technical person.


> At least there's ability to enforce governmental responsibility through elections and free press.

Yes, for example, voters in the U.S. elect presidential candidates who promise to scale back our military presence overseas, and then it happens! Voters also get what they want when they elect candidates promising to reform Wall Street, make government more transparent, or end the culture of graft & corruption in Washington.

Or take the issue of NSA surveillance, mentioned above. Since there were zero candidates on offer from either major party who promised even a sliver of reform, and no major media outlet even raised the issue, we can conclude that the voters have "opted in" to this program, and we should all learn to just live with it.


The problem of participatory democracy is that the people need to be informed and participate and vote for the issues, if no one cares about the surveillance then nothing is going to be done about it, and this is a major problem of the society; nothing is going to be done with facebook policy internally because there is no democratic process inside corporations.

The other issue is -- as I come to grips with it myself, is yes NSA has sweeping and unjust powers, which invade privacy of many, but so far this power has been largely benign, whereas facebook was either complicit or actively participated with the subversion of several western democracies.


> The problem of participatory democracy is that the people need to be informed and participate and vote for the issues, if no one cares about the surveillance then nothing is going to be done about it

Incidentally this is also true of people patronizing large companies and exchanging their personal data for those companies' services. And I don't know why a constituency which accepts NSA surveillance from its government would be expected to pressure that same government to sanely regulate edge providers like Facebook. In reality, this pressure is all coming from elites who are upset by the prospect that they've lost some of their exclusive control over social media to the Bad Side. When it was the Obama campaign applying largely the same tactics in 2012, they were feted in the press as tech geniuses.

> yes NSA has sweeping and unjust powers, which invade privacy of many, but so far this power has been largely benign

"So far" being the operative term here, and I'm amazed that the same people who think Trump is a huge threat to civil liberties are somehow still not up-in-arms about this. It's probably also not true that its use has been benign, there are strong hints that NSA surveillance has already been deployed in an unconstitutional manner against U.S. citizens who find themselves in the government's crosshairs, e.g. in the hunt for Ross Ulbricht.

> facebook was either complicit or actively participated with the subversion of several western democracies.

Again, the only reason people are talking about "subversion of Western democracies" is because Trump/Brexit/Orban/AfD are winning, and that's not "supposed" to happen according to their own preconceptions. It's far easier to chalk these election results up to nefarious foreign meddling than it is to confront the genuine, pressing systemic problems causing voters to want to upend the system in this way. Had the Russians run a similar number of hilariously bad ads in favor of Clinton, occupying an equally infinitesimal sliver of Facebook ad traffic, it correctly would be dismissed as largely inconsequential to the electoral result.

I don't like Facebook, and even as a fairly hardcore libertarian, I'm open to the idea that FB and its ilk need to be reined back from some forms of data sharing and overly broad applications of their terms of service. But it's hilarious that what finally got people up in arms about this issue was Russia putting up a handful of vaguely pro-Trump Jesus arm wrestling memes on Facebook.


> In reality, this pressure is all coming from elites who are upset by the prospect that they've lost some of their exclusive control over social media to the Bad Side. When it was the Obama campaign applying largely the same tactics in 2012, they were feted in the press as tech geniuses.

That's just false equivalency.

> "So far" being the operative term here, and I'm amazed that the same people who think Trump is a huge threat to civil liberties are somehow still not up-in-arms about this. It's probably also not true that its use has been benign, there are strong hints that NSA surveillance has already been deployed in an unconstitutional manner against U.S. citizens who find themselves in the government's crosshairs, e.g. in the hunt for Ross Ulbricht.

So far we can only operate with the evidence we have. Ross Ulbricht was caught because he was trying to order a 'hit' on one of his accomplices who turned to authorities. It's strange that you used this example because he was arrested and charged by using good old police work, everything that he did to run his organization, besides tech skills, was really amateurish.

> Again, the only reason people are talking about "subversion of Western democracies" is because Trump/Brexit/Orban/AfD are winning, and that's not "supposed" to happen according to their own preconceptions. It's far easier to chalk these election results up to nefarious foreign meddling than it is to confront the genuine, pressing systemic problems causing voters to want to upend the system in this way.

There's consistent, irrefutable evidence that it is in fact the nefarious foreign power manipulating people to achieve destabilization of what it perceives to be the enemy states.

> I don't like Facebook, and even as a fairly hardcore libertarian,

Try throwing Atlas Shrugged at Zuck and see if that does anything.


> There's consistent, irrefutable evidence that it is in fact the nefarious foreign power manipulating people to achieve destabilization of what it perceives to be the enemy states.

It takes far more credulity to believe that Russian social media activity is swinging these elections than it does to be duped by the ads themselves.


And yet, living under that is preferable to living under a Facebook-governed polity.


No one is talking about a "Facebook-governed polity" in the sense of FB fielding police forces and standing armies, or holding elections to determine their leadership.


Taking an average over the world, most governments are badly functioning and they've been that way for years if not centuries.

Business on the other side, tend to be punished by the markets when misbehaving and then course-correct.


> Business on the other side, tend to be punished by the markets when misbehaving and then course-correct.

That only happens when there are regulations to run afoul of and/or a company is not a monopoly. Without government companies would be free to pollute the environment, cheat customers, and abuse workers to breaking point. The market wouldn't punish those companies if all the companies in the market were doing the same kinds of things, which is what would happen if said bad behavior was profitable.

"Oh you don't disagree with Exxon poisoning community water supplies and using a private army to seize land from indigenous people? Tough luck, Shell and BP are doing the same thing."

Yeah most governments leave a lot to desire in efficiency, fairness, effectiveness, etc. But a world where corporations are the only ones who set the rules would be far worse.


No, if a corporation behaves poorly then I can buy from a different corporation.

It has nothing to do with regulations.


You’re not the Equifax customer. Equifax arguably behaved poorly with its security breaches that have long term implications for millions, and even more so with their disclosure.

What other corporation are you going to buy from, when you’re not the customer in the first place, but have been commoditised to be their product?

How do you protect the product, if the corporation and it’s customers have no incentive to do so themselves?


The only monopolies are government-granted, otherwise startups quickly eat their lunch. They use each misbehavior of another corporation as a competitive advantage. See Apple vs Facebook in privacy stance.

But governments, they are monopolistic by definition. And the answer to no one. Army? Seizing land? Pollution??? Well the people of Africa could tell you some stories about their governments...

Or maybe you remember the USA govt detonating countless nuclear weapons over the USA soil...


This is Hacker News, so this is somewhat relevant. How in the world was Microsoft's monopoly on the PC operating system market a decade ago, a government granted monopoly?


It wasn't. So they the competition quickly routed around them and made them irrelevant. Where's Microsoft "monopoly" today?

In a free market a monopolistic company is just an invitation for the competition to a rich easily accessible lunch. The (naturally occurring) monopoly is short-lived.

Unless there is regulation. Regulation raises the barrier of entry, discourages start-ups and thus protects the monopolistic company from the competition.

It's quite logical, really.


> It wasn't.

It was ruled in 2001 that Microsoft, indeed, had a monopoly on the PC operating system market which they used to overtake the browser market. They did this through private contracts with OEMs and distributors such that all PCs sold to customers were to include Windows and only Windows.

> Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued his findings of fact on November 5, 1999, which stated that Microsoft's dominance of the x86-based personal computer operating systems market constituted a monopoly, and that Microsoft had taken actions to crush threats to that monopoly, including Apple, Java, Netscape, Lotus Software, RealNetworks, Linux, and others. [1]

> So they the competition quickly routed around them and made them irrelevant.

That's certainly true for some of their products, such as Internet Explorer, but certainly not for Windows on the desktop.

The PC operating system market is not the server or mobile OS market.

> Where's Microsoft "monopoly" today?

They own the PC operating system market.

> Unless there is regulation. Regulation raises the barrier of entry, discourages start-ups and thus protects the monopolistic company from the competition.

Microsoft created barriers of entry into both the PC operating system and browser markets through anti-competitive tactics. If by government regulation, you mean "court enforced contracts", I'd agree with your premise.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Microsoft_Cor...


I meant it wasn't a governments mandated monopoly - I agree with you and that they built a monopoly through anti-competitive practices.

But my point is that didn't last as the market punished them for it and made them irrelevant. The market moved to mobiles and web and today they are a good player in the industry.

Even on desktop where they still enjoy a healthy margin, it's not monopoly: Windows is ~80% while Mac OS and others take the other 20%.


> But my point is that didn't last as the market punished them for it and made them irrelevant. The market moved to mobiles and web and today they are a good player in the industry.

This was your point and it's also what I addressed:

> The only monopolies are government-granted, otherwise startups quickly eat their lunch.

You claimed that monopolies are only possible through government regulation, because government regulation creates a barrier to entry that's easily surpassed by larger companies.

I provided proof illustrating that monopolies have been built through private agreements absent of government regulation.


This is a libertarian fantasy. Large companies can stay solvent by undercutting smaller companies and killing their business. This is what would happen if we were to remove regulations and restrictions. You wouldn't end up with a perfect competition utopia you end up with a dystopian garbage reality where the business elite control even more than they already do.


And yet we are having this conversation on a site dedicated to this "libertarian fantasy", with countless examples of startups disrupting large, existing companies.

Reality contradicts your "dystopia".


> This is what would happen if we were to remove regulations and restrictions. You wouldn't end up with a perfect competition utopia you end up with a dystopian garbage reality where the business elite control even more than they already do.

Reality has a number of regulations and restrictions. The dystopia GP describes is a world without these regulations and restrictions, not the reality we inhabit today.


Funny enough, startups and competition thrive exactly in those pockets of reality with less restrictions and regulations, while large companies and monopolies rule the heavily regulated markets.


Large companies rule every market. Startups thrive in niches, not pockets with less restrictions and regulations. Once a market is established it becomes incredibly hard for new companies to enter and compete not matter the regulations as larger companies can take advantage of scale.

Perfect competition exists almost no where, and you should read up on the conditions when it is allowed to take place. Regulations are part of the equation, but not nearly all of it.


Large companies ARE startups who became successful. Until they are dethroned in turn by other startups.

Large companies are relatively easy to disrupt, since they usually respond slowly to market changes and they are much less efficient than a lean startup. The "advantages of scale" you are so fixated on are just a small part of the whole picture and what large corps gain at scale, they lose at management costs and through lack of innovation

It is a natural process, with countless examples all around us. A healthy process too, since it promotes competition and innovation.

But this process is interrupted by regulation. Regulation protects the incumbents, that is why large companies love it. They'd rather regulate than innovate. Indeed, when startups aren’t allowed to compete (by governments) large companies dominate and the market stagnates.


Yes but the point is that what is 'misbehaving' is defined by market norms. 'Misbehaving' is engaging in behavior which decreases profit but it can never help us to escape the question of profit altogether. That's what government is for - when what is good for society and what is good for profit conflict government steps in to correct. The point of markets is that they rely on only individual decisions and what may seem like a rational individual decision to every member of society may lead to an overall outcome that no member of society supports. In those instances we have democratic government to allow us to reach out of the realm of individual and act in a collective self-interest. That in recent years our government has been malfunctioning in a way that suppresses our ability to act this way is not an argument to get rid of democratic governance altogether, it's an argument to bring it back and strengthen it.


A well functioning government, does, ideally, what you describe. But most governments in the world (maybe except a few western ones) are, as I was saying, incredibly disfunctional.

And when governments misbehave, they kill: wars, corruption, suppression, etc.

Forgive me if I’ll prefer businesses over governments every day.


> And when governments misbehave, they kill: wars, corruption, suppression, etc.

You're comparing a giant to a nest of angry ants. The giant sometimes tramples houses; the ants don't. One might conclude the ants are therefore gentler, and wonder much better life would be under giant ants instead of the giant, neglecting that if the ants had the giant's power, they would be far more deadly than it.


absolutely agree.

I'd still rather live with angry (but benign) ants than a giant.

The ants cannot get the giants power, no matter how hard they try, so I'm comfortable with the ants.

(The thought experiment - what happens if Facebook tries to arrest someone? I'd be _so_ curious to watch the proceedings.)


Absolutely.

Which is why we need to get rid of that power in the first place.

The problem is not the entity, it is the power, no matter who holds it.


Even if the power of individual vote seems very small, It can be used to instigate change. One can argue that in order to increase the power of people, one has to reduce the power of corporation lobbying etc.

Corporations are vast entities of unaccountable power when they are unregulated by a government.

Chomsky's criticism of corporations holds good, and is becoming prophetic in all accounts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYxGkFxb7f4


Just recent elections show "the power of the individual vote" used to support things like Brexit in UK, Orban in Hungary, Xi in China, Putin in Russia, Maduro in Venezuela or, why not, Trump.

While the evil corporations give us, what, surveillance?!

We've never lived under corporations, but we’d always fear them. I for one, fear more the evil I know and I see ruining our world: politicians and their instruments of power, governments.


> While the evil corporations give us, what, surveillance?!

They've given us genocide, environmental destruction, the company town, the risk of being killed for striking, financial collapse, the funding of drug lords and terrorism[1].

[1] https://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1616991,0...


All those given to us also by governments but a thousand times worse, along with wars, dictators, mass genocides, race purges, and so on and so forth.

I look around me and every single object I use and makes my life better was made by a corporation. From my PC to my phone to my house and my card.

While every single thing that makes me fear tomorrow and sucks in my life is controlled by governments: health care, roads, bureaucrats, borders, international conflicts, corruption, etc.

I don't fear Facebook knowing everything about me and selling that info to third parties, but I do fear my government buying that info from FB and using it restrict my freedoms in the name of my own good or simply to steal more money from me.


> I look around me and every single object I use and makes my life better was made by a corporation.

Markets work well for most commodities.

On the other hand, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid ensure that people don't die so they can hopefully go on to enjoy a better life.

> I don't fear Facebook knowing everything about me and selling that info to third parties

A KGB, but for advertising, still collects and centralizes private info that can be abused by any party, governmental or private. A recent example of that exact dataset being abused by a private entity: the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Also, insurers and repo-men love accurate location tracking etc. Your insurers most likely aren't using that information to give you better rates.


Corporations have ruined most of asian nations. East India Company British exploited India, looting it from a country having top wealth in world to the bottom, Dutch East India Company destroyed indigenous asian trade.

Fruit companies and other monopolies of USA have routinely looted and exploited people and wealth of Latin American.

I can go on, recent history is rife with corporations exploiting nations for natural resource and wealth.


Businesses get punished by markets when they operate inefficiently. They do not get punished by markets when they poison, cheat, rob, or kill people - especially when those people aren't their customers.


This is mainly true in competitive markets. Markets aren’t always competitive. We could argue we live in an oligarchy which isn’t as competitive as we are taught.


> In order to protect its citizens and monetary interests and obligations most modern, well-functioning markets are regulated by these nation states.

It's hard to take this 'protection' seriously in many cases. It's for more often the case where nation-state protection is extended to one company against other companies within the state than it is for one country's industry to be collectively protected against other countries'.

Protecting your own company against both the state and other companies is the CEO's mandate.


> Protecting your own company against both the state and other companies is the CEO's mandate

No, this is a mob boss's mandate.


> Protecting your own company against both the state and other companies is the CEO's mandate.

Which usually mean to not care about users, laws, and any sense of moral or ethical standards.


That principle is much, much older than companies and business.


> Facebook doesn't care about users, laws, and lacks any sense of moral or ethical standards.

True, but I can point to many countries (my own USA in many cases) that doesn't care about citizens, laws, and moral ethical standards. I can also point to corporations with high ethical standards, who care deeply about their users and the laws.

Corporations and governments are just groups of people. Groups of people have shown great capacity for good, but also extreme evil.


Giving retroactive telecom immunity is moral and/or ethical?


It does all the people who fought, died, campaigned and worked to institute democracies over dictatorships or feudal lords a great dis-service to tout this drivel.

You want to make the NSA an election issue? You can go campaign on it. Setup a party, gather people to your cause. Vote.

You can't do anything even remotely similar to influence google or facebook.


Theoretically you could. You could create a political platform with the aim of revoking the corporate charter of Google or Facebook. I doubt you'd get far with it but the possibility exists.


> You want to make the NSA an election issue? You can go campaign on it. Setup a party, gather people to your cause. Vote. You can't do anything even remotely similar to influence google or facebook.

This is sort of a bizarro-world comment to me. I'd bet good money that I have more influence on Google and Facebook than I do on the NSA, even ignoring any "I know an employee" personal channels.

I'm confused on several levels.

1. Anything I can apply to the NSA, I can apply to Facebook, probably with greater impact - and the reverse isn't true. For both Facebook and the NSA, I can lobby for regulation or sue them. I can campaign on Facebook just fine; it's not like the government has never acted against specific companies to satisfy the public. But for Facebook, I can also call for a user boycott, or promote lawsuits in other countries.

Meanwhile, I expect that campaigning and voting are better at influencing Facebook than the NSA. The US government will usually act on corporations that provoke enough public outrage, and the US (if perhaps no other government) can powerfully influence American tech companies. Three-letter agencies don't ever seem to stay constrained (the NSA nakedly lied to the Church Committee), and I usually can't even oppose their behavior because I don't know what it is.

I certainly don't see how I have more options for dealing with the NSA.

2. I basically disagree that I can go campaign on the NSA. There hasn't been a credibly anti-surveillance Presidential candidate since... Dukakis? Maybe? And the handful of primary candidates who seriously opposed it have lost badly, often via forces largely independent of actual popular opinion.

I can work for legislative reform, donate to Wyden and Udall, do all the rest. And I do, but it doesn't really go anywhere. Partly from lack of support, but partly because there are regulatory and legislative hurdles at every turn to insulate state surveillance from public influence. And even for that lack of support - the idea that democracy means you have a role in things is on an important level false. Democracy involves many people (>50%, essentially) in government, it doesn't represent everyone. It's better than dictatorship, obviously, but "accept this outcome as representing you" doesn't inherently follow from "you got to vote".

I'm not happy with Facebook, and I do think there are axes on which it's noticeably worse than government action. (Mostly, that any random jackass can start a social media surveillance empire, and that corporations can jurisdiction-hop to avoid regulation.)

But the idea that living in a democracy gives me more power over the NSA than Facebook? I'm struggling to think of a single way that's true.


If you're a US citizen, you can become president and do whatever you wanted to the NSA. Or leader of the house or certain sub committees. It's not impossible. You could become a journalist and create a series of damning articles on the NSA, swing the nation and force change by proxy.

That you don't want to put the effort in is one thing.

It is completely impossible for you to get 51% voting power in Google or FB. You will never have a say in a single thing they do.

If you want to disrupt their business through campaigns, etc., you can only do that with protection from the government, democracy in action. Otherwise you'd simply be murdered, billions at stake.


If the same level of effort were applied to educating the population about Google and Facebook abuses as would be needed to successfully end NSA spying via elections, they both would be out of business. Political activism is incredible expensive and moves at a much slower pace than the free market.


Their employees can with labor organization. Strikes to end these kinds of abuses at Google and Facebook would end them. The thing the management of these companies fear more than anything is their employees realizing the power inherent in collectively withdrawing their labor from them.


Only possible because government sits above companies and regulates them (and their ability to break strikes).


History says otherwise. People won what we think of the “legal” right to strike only after acting collectively and disruptively against key industrial nodes which relied on their labor to function (mainly in the energy sector, e.g. the coal miners in England). They forced governments to render their actions “legal.”

Because of its centrality in the modern economy, tech workers are in a similar position today. They have the power to withdraw their labor from companies and restore a more equitable balance to ceaseless assault on labor by Capital that has pushed this country into decline since the 1970s.


Interesting – thanks for the correction!


>We can all opt out of Facebook. Thankfully many have.

I'm pretty sure that is not accurate. We can't opt out of Facebook without significant effort which most people aren't even aware is possible and which can prevent some websites from working (NoScript, router rules, etc).

They use the 'share' buttons built into most websites to collect information about and profit off of people who never signed up for the service, never agreed to their EULA, and never consented to interact with the company.


For example, someone could tag your face in a photograph even if you don't have a Facebook account.


And they don't even have to tag a face. Facebook does facial recognition on every face in a photograph. So you could be in the background of a picture taken in a restaurant by someone else and now suddenly you have a profile.

Appear in the background of enough photos and Facebook can use other data to eventually figure out who you are, even if don't have a computer or smartphone.


> Appear in the background of enough photos and Facebook can use other data to eventually figure out who you are, even if don't have a computer or smartphone

Facebook faces a class action lawsuit for "improperly us[ing] facial recognition technology on their uploaded photographs" under an Illinois law "that says a private entity such as Facebook can't collect and store a person's biometric facial information without their written consent" [1].

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/16/603056662...


Meh. Most websites wouldn't add share buttons if people didn't click them, and the photograph correlation is only possible because many, many people upload photographs to Facebook.

If the social network dies, so will the surveillance system.


> But NSA surveillance is involuntary. Why are we more worried about a voluntary and foreseeable risk than an involuntary rights violation?

Americans do not broadly support reforming the NSA [1][2].

The reason for that is the same behind someone always posting, when HN discusses Facebook's shenanigans, "why is this news?" The public needs to see bodies to mobilise. The last few decades were filled with cable TV hosts and technologists screaming about existential threats to democracy. Most didn't pan out. The price we pay for our boys who cried wolf is a public demand for tangibility.

We don't have a case where the NSA's activities caused big, tangible, specific and easily-understood harm. We do with Facebook. Moreover, the NSA's leadership responded competently to criticism. Facebook's CEO and even rank-and-file reacted petulantly, which fuelled the fire.

> Don't interpret this as saying Facebook acted appropriately.

I'm glad you say this. Policy isn't zero sum. I, too, want to reform the NSA. But that isn't happening today. We do, however, in state houses, through our Attorneys General and in the EU, have a chance at dealing some heavy blows to Facebook.

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/06/11/190638738... (2013)

[2] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/19/americans-fe...


You can't really compare governments to companies. A state exists by its perceived right to rule over its citizens' lives, something that's generally only nullified by war or an armed rebellion of some kind, both things that result in massive casualties and wanton destruction. Companies are born and die all the time, not to mention combined, split apart, and traded on the marketplace like barrels of oil every day.


> Why are we more worried about a voluntary and foreseeable risk than an involuntary rights violation?

Addiction and psychological hacks start to blur the boundary of what is "voluntary." Regardless of that discussion, there is a problem of "reverse herd immunity" where some large fraction of the population is constantly manipulated by a systematically controlled echo chamber run by a corporation that is coopted by, frankly, bad actors. You can opt out all you want, but democracy can be compromised by mass mind control that is now not only technically possible, but clearly in beta.


> We can all opt out of Facebook

Care to explain how non-users who have been having their data harvested via back channels such as their friends/family, data brokers like Acxiom, and trackers on non-FB sites, can "opt out of Facebook"? Sure, technically skilled people can "opt out" of portions of this in a sense, but that leaves billions of people still powerless in this regard.

I'd also love to know how to opt out of the wider societal damage Facebook has encouraged and enabled.. and no, "Move to a shack in the woods if you don't like it" is not a valid answer here.


As of today and the West, countries as we understand them are the basis of the rule of law. Companies have no independent justice system.

Despite their shortcomings I back countries...


> Why are we more worried about a voluntary and foreseeable risk than an involuntary rights violation?

Cognitive dissonance would be my guess. Admitting to ourselves how helpless we are against the actual powers of this world is too uncomfortable. Much easier is to demand "democratic oversight" over the management of some nonsense-sharing app that you could have simply never used in the first place. Because hey, you might even get it.


Agreed. I am no fan of Zuckerberg and do not use Facebook, but this seems like a non-issue from my point of view.

Perhaps it would have been more palatable if phrased as "People over countries," which is a maxim I may myself use to make a saccharin vision statement. The point is voluntary exchange over the involuntary constraints one endures as part of a country.

From there, evolving to "Market over countries" is also satisfying to me although probably a bit disarming to others. And then another hop takes you to the "Companies over countries" of Zuckerberg. That's not a vision statement I would use, because I have no particular love for companies outside of what they can do for me. But taken simply on absolute measures, I still favor the freedom I enjoy when interacting with companies versus even the most free of countries. In all but the most extreme cases (usually those involving government-provided monopolies) I can disassociate myself with a company with little effort.


"Companies over countries" on it's own might be defensible, but combined with

watching Mark Zuckerberg raise his fist with a slight smile and say, “Domination!” as a way of closing out our weekly Friday all-hands meeting

suggests a dystopian future.


If we must make this comparison, most actual companies are totalitarian dictatorships.

> We can all opt out of Facebook.

Can we? What is the practical effect of doing so? Will they stop tracking us on the web? Will they stop gathering data about us via people with whom we are associated?

Facebook is a crowd-sourced global surveillance program from which there is no real opt-out and over which there are no checks and balances because most of the people running it don't even think they're running a surveillance program.


I didn't vote for Zuckerberg.


True, but you didn't pick your country of birth either—although it is possible, for some, to chose their country at a later date. Voting is only a partial choice (at best).


I know quite a few people who have never in their lives voted for the elected President - some are in their 50s and vote in every single election. Many have no other country which would let them in and better suit their desires.

That doesn't make democracy bad, but it's absolutely bizarre seeing people in these threads equate "you get to vote" with "you're voluntarily accepting your government". As you say, you don't get to pick where you're born, and the chance to vote doesn't necessarily change anything for you personally.


As an aside, your unlucky acquaintances present an intruiging statistical anomaly. Pure random chance would cause a failure rate like that about 0.1% of the time - I imagine the rate is considerably lower for real people, who by definition are more likely to vote for the winner. It's not so surprising to know one such person - 1 in 5 if you know 200 people - but you know 'quite a few', which rapidly brings it to thousands to one against. You should definitely consider putting some money on whoever they aren't voting for next election.

Unless of course they vote for third party candidates every election, in which case failure is guaranteed and voting is an entirely symbolic act.


> consider putting some money on whoever they aren't voting for

I probably should, honestly - at least if most/all of those people are voting the same way in an election. Since it's not prescience, I suspect I just don't have a good sense of the dropout rate; I learned this because 2016 was an upset, so several Clinton voters mentioned that even a seemingly-safe election had maintained their losing streak.

> I imagine the rate is considerably lower for real people, who by definition are more likely to vote for the winner.

This I'm not sure about, and it's a pretty interesting question. You're obviously right that a randomly-chosen person has a >50% chance of having voted for the winner, but I think this is a non-standard population issue.

People have a lot of different voting strategies, and presumably the people I know are some sort of 'perverse voters' - whatever forces lead >50% of people to vote for a given candidate tend to push them in the opposite direction. I'm not sure how common this is, but I expect it's probably bigger than the random rate. If somebody's "vote for the underdog" instinct hits 60%, that would ~triple the odds of getting this outcome.

> they vote for third party candidates

I didn't count anyone who consistently votes third party, since that's effectively "didn't vote" for odds of winning. But I think several of these people did vote Nader in 2000, which dodged a particularly hard-to-call election.


And I didn't vote for the President. Or perhaps more saliently, I didn't vote for Theresa May - and her government does an endrun around the surveillance protections I get from the US government.

I'm honestly confused by the idea that democracy means the outcomes we get are inherently more acceptable. Democracy only opens the possibility of influencing what one government does to us. Which beats the hell out of autocracy, but doesn't actually mean people are consenting to what the state does to them. Even assuming you get to vote your preference, 49% of people are still having things done to them against their will.


People who use facebook daily do though.


it may not be heresy but it is naive. a market economy requires a supporting political environment from which to develop.

you need both, and both need tending by citizens. nothing about a company makes it implicitly better than a government (being able to start a company is good for you, but how do i know you're not a jerk?), and both need vigilance to keep in line.


Companies compete for your time, money, and labor. Governments have no competition.

Even if you think natural monopolies are a true facet of free markets, Facebook is not a natural monopoly. MySpace is a simple counterexample to that idea.


that's an inadequate rebuttal built on an idealization of free markets (we should strive for fair markets, not free-for-all markets).

of course competition for governments lay in ideas, thoughts, policies, and actions, not markets. in various forms of democracy, politicians vie for our votes, and that forms a web of constraints against greedy self-interest. besides, there are many goverments, and many levels of governments, all jostling with each other for the title of "best".

there's no need to revere free markets and abhor goverments (we should be vigilant of both). economic and political arenas are but two facets of our complex societies.


Most people interpret “Companies over countries” as “My company over my country”.

It's an heresy only if it is my country.

As an example, a lot of people is mad because Intel didn't tell (officially) to the US government about Spectre&Meltdown before the disclosure date. Should they also had toll it to Russia, China, UK and France?


> " A country or federal state is just a company with a monopoly over law in a certain geographical region. Facebook's "monopoly" is at least subject to the whim of the market"

Some countries are at least subject to the "whim" of democracy.


Democracy is just tyranny of the majority.


“Would it not be a great satisfaction to the king to know at a designated moment every year the number of his subjects, in total and by region, with all the resources, wealth & poverty of each place; [the number] of his nobility and ecclesiastics of all kinds, of men of the robe, of Catholics and of those of the other religion, all separated according to the place of their residence? … [Would it not be] a useful and necessary pleasure for him to be able, in his own office, to review in an hour’s time the present and past condition of a great realm of which he is the head, and be able himself to know with certitude in what consists his grandeur, his wealth, and his strengths?” — Marquis de Vauban, proposing an annual census to Louis XIV in 1686.[1]

Others have noted powers that a country has, that a company doesn't.

The converse holds too.

It's interesting to re-read James C. Scott's "Seeing Like a State" with social networks in mind. Facebook can “read” its users (and many non-users) in ways that states only wish they could.

“Filipinos were instructed by the decree of November 21, 1849, to take on permanent Hispanic surnames.[…] Filipinos generally lacked individual surnames, which might ‘distinguish them by families,’ and that their practice of adopting baptismal names drawn from a small group of saints’ names resulted in great ‘confusion.’ The remedy was the catalogo, a compendium not only of personal names but also of nouns and adjectives drawn from flora, fauna, minerals, geography, and the arts and intended to be used by the authorities in assigning permanent, inherited surnames. Each local official was to be given a supply of surnames sufficient for his jurisdiction, ‘taking care that the distribution be made by letters [of the alphabet].’ In practice, each town was given a number of pages from the alphabetized catalogo, producing whole towns with surnames beginning with the same letter. […] the traces of this administrative exercise are still perfectly visible across the landscape: ‘For example, in the Bikol region, the entire alphabet is laid out like a garland over the provinces of Albay, Sorsogon, and Catanduanes which in 1849 belonged to the single jurisdiction of Albay. Beginning with A at the provincial capital, the letters B and C mark the towns along the coast beyond Tabaco to Tiwi. We return and trace along the coast of Sorsogon the letters E to L; then starting down the Iraya Valley at Daraga with M, we stop with S to Polangui and Libon, and finish the alphabet with a quick tour around the island of Catanduanes.‘”[2]

The modern corporation doesn't require the cooperation, or even permission, of local officials in order to index the populace.

Mark Koyama criticizes[3] Scott: “It is hard to avoid the impression that Scott underrates the adaptability and flexibility of markets. Yes, markets can result in homogeneity; but the market process is also a driver of creative experimentation and innovation. Too much bland standardization, and markets provide incentives for entrepreneurs to create products that appear idiosyncratic or unusual. The market as a process can certainly appear ruthless and much that is valuable can be lost as a result in the hurly burly of the market place. But everyday experience provides pretty convincing evidence that markets tend to be more capable of self-correction than are state planners and bureaucrats.”

Maybe there's a case to be made that the market is working in the case of Facebook, but it's not obvious.

[1] James C. Scott, _Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed_. Yale University Press (March 30, 1998). p. 11. Excerpt https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/first/s/sc....

[2] Ibid, p. 67

[3] Mark Koyama, "Some Thoughts on “Seeing Like a State”", Medium (July 13, 2017). https://medium.com/@MarkKoyama/some-thoughts-on-seeing-like-...

[4] Bradford Delong, October 24, 2007. http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2007/10/james-scott-and.html

[5] Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Seeing Like a State”. March 16, 2017. http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/03/16/book-review-seeing-like...


hearsay


>A country or federal state is just a company with a monopoly over law in a certain geographical region. Facebook's "monopoly" is at least subject to the whim of the market, as the Delete Facebook campaign shows.

Not really. In countries with representative government not only does that state have a monopoly on law/force but all people are granted an equal say in the state. The market may be good at some things but would you desire a governmental system where the rich having more power than the poor was baked into the system? [0] I think most would resist that.

>We can all opt out of Facebook. Thankfully many have. But NSA surveillance is involuntary.

Well actually we can't. We've found out recently that Facebook tracks even non-users. Besides you could go so far as to say that you can opt out of NSA surveillance by rejecting email and cell phones. Even if your work requires an email and a business phone you're certainly not required to share personal information over them. So what makes surveillance of your private emails more involuntary than surveillance of your private FB messages?

>Why are we more worried about a voluntary and foreseeable risk than an involuntary rights violation?

I think if you went around and asked regular people with Facebook accounts whether they voluntarily gave fine detail location data and browsing histories to Facebook they would reject that. Certainly they would reject foreseeability.

Further I'm not sure you can even call rule by market regime more voluntary than rule by representative government. Both require loads of coercion.

[0] I'm aware that our own representative democracies have been corroded by the effects of wealth but there is at least a path towards eliminating that influence. In a market system there isn't, it's the core feature of the market.


> . The market may be good at some things but would you desire a governmental system where the rich having more power than the poor was baked into the system?

Most countries around the world are led by the upper class who has large access to capital. Even in democracies power goes to the wealthy, and you dont get to vote for lower class representatives.


>Most countries around the world are led by the upper class who has large access to capital.

Yes and that's bad so we certainly shouldn't expand the power that people with lots of capital have.

>Even in democracies power goes to the wealthy, and you dont get to vote for lower class representatives.

That's not an intrinsic feature of democracies but it is of markets.


Governments aren't companies. In the case of the USA, their root authority comes from consent of the governed, who do that in order to maximize their own personal freedom and opportunity.

More. But I got a dead device..

Back.

Business operates under license, and that comes with terms, the rules, law. It serves us, as do markets, and when that doesn't happen, the license can be revoked, or new terms come into play so it all does.

Government is about the general welfare too. Very different purpose from a corporation, and a necessary one.

Under all of that lies the basic idea of citizens defining their society, for their own welfare.

When we set those basic ideas aside, we get the sort of mess we have today.

Zuck has this backward, and favors lords and fiefdoms over a just society. His ideas are old world, old money ideas more closely aligned with ideas of leadership, how a society runs more in line with kings, divine right, wealth, purity, and other obviously unjust ways to define and manage power.

This nation was formed on the idea of rejecting all of that. Thomas Paine derives most of this in "Rights of Man" and "Age of reason", where the first reference speaks to self governance and what free people means, and the second speaks to why the church is not a center of power either, both straight up rejections of both forms of old world governance.


The rise of nationalist populism, although something I still disagree quite contentiously with, really begins making more sense when opinions like this start leaking out.


The problem is how those words have been coopted. While “nationalism” can be associated with nation state horrors of the twentieth century, the true alternative hasn’t really been been examined. The ideal is a global community, but the reality is much more a drift back into tribalism (i.e. company over country, or I and my Brother against my Cousin [1]). Tribalism is apparent in the growing intensity of intra-nation political conflict. Nationalism was an advance despite its flaws. Certainly the right kind of globalism would be best but we don’t seem to be there yet.

And populism can be defined as “support for the concerns of ordinary people”. [2] Is this a bad thing? Would we prefer our politics be for the rich or for the companies? Populism too has an association with reactionary movements, but what is the alternative? A platonic corporate king to rule us all? Democracy is inherently populist. It is ugly. But it is better than all other forms of governance. It feels in general that we “ordinary people” are being divided by those who favor companies over countries and in reality favor their own power and wealth over sharing power with others. Nationalist populism seems a better alternative than corporate oligarchy.

[1] https://eppc.org/publications/i-and-my-brother-against-my-co...

[2] https://www.google.com/search?q=populism


The distinction has to be between exclusive ethno-nationalism and more inclusive forms of civic nationalism. It can't just be for "ordinary people", it has to be for everyone, with a minimum level of rights protected by law. That's how we avoid collapsing back into ethnic cleansing.


> It can't just be for "ordinary people", it has to be for everyone, with a minimum level of rights protected by law.

Nicely put.

Around the Iraq War, I remember some clever cynic pointing out that while we might 'export democracy', it's still democratic for 51% of the people to vote to murder the other 49%. Or perhaps more commonly, to vote for a permanent dictator from the 51%. The fundamental advance of a healthy government isn't (just) democracy, it's a bedrock of inalienable or hard-to-alienate rights.

The recent talk about the 'paradox of liberalism' has been interesting, but it's all felt a bit misguided to me. There's a real question, sure, but the entire fight between "let intolerance go unchecked" and "be intolerant of intolerance" was a false dichotomy. The missing alternative is liberalism within boundaries - setting some threshold of behavior which isn't permitted, and can't be permitted by any minor political swing.

(Arguably what we were having was a debate about where to set those boundaries, but if so I wish we could actually say that.)


Nationalism and Populism are words that are constantly reinvented and reused.

One example is that “Populism” means quite different things in US vs Latin America vs EU. In US it’s always had this agrarian, rights of the farmers, Jeffersonian element to it that distrusts big business. In Latin America, it’s about taking on the permanent plutocracy of the landed rich, and in the EU...it’s often just a euphemism for neo-Fascism-lite.


It goes counter to the idea of a globally connected internet though. Without a degree of oppression of free speech you can't stop the flow of culture and ideas no matter how big of a wall you build.


As it turns out, the actual effect of a "globally connected internet" was to make it easier for the Russian state to exploit its own underemployed citizens to pretend to be Texans and stoke racial tensions in Texas.

Meaningful human connection requires some amount of basic honesty.


> I was one of the first U.S. journalists to report extensively on the St. Petersburg-based “troll farm,”

> I agree with my colleague Masha Gessen that the whole issue has been blown out of proportion. ... if I could do it all over again, I would have highlighted just how inept and haphazard those attempts were. That the Agency is now widely seen as a savvy, efficient manipulator of American public opinion is, in no small part, the fault of experts. They may derive their authority from perceived neutrality, but in reality they—we—have interests, just like everyone else. And, when it comes to the Trump-Russia story, those interests are often best served by fuelling the fear of Kremlin meddling.

https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/a-so-called-experts-...


Is this only a problem when Russians behave dishonestly, or is it also a problem when domestic media behaves dishonestly, in an effort to stoke divisive tensions?

That line seems to be incredibly arbitrary.


Of course, everyone but you is being manipulated.


Yes it makes propaganda easier, but so did the printing press and I still believe that it had a positive net effect on the world.

By coincidence I am a Texan and I've had some really interesting conversations on the internet and have been exposed to a wide variety of viewpoints and information sources that vastly outweigh that of Putin's little troll farms.


How does respecting national sovereignty rather than letting your government be trampled over by international corporations run counter to a globally connected internet?

This sort of attitude might seem like "nationalist populism" now, but it wasn't that long ago that "the left" was on the same page. I still am personally, but there seems to be a disturbing trend where anti-Trump sentiment is being leveraged to promote a corporate agenda.


One issue is with diverging values and rules.

If national sovereignty overrides everything, one country mandates X, and another mandates not-X - then that's not compatible with a globally connected internet; since each of them will require the "other" thing to be removed from "their" internet, and that leads to segmentation, blocking and separation.

What do you do when country A requires all maps to show that some territory belongs to them, and country B requires the same?

What do you do when country A requires particular data to be stored so that they have access to it, and country B requires that the same data is stored so that country A does not have access to it?

What if country A wants people to be say X without restrictions, and country B wants everyone to be prohibited from saying X?

If you separate everything cleanly into "areas of sovereignty" then you can't really have a single, globally connected, integrated internet, as services/content can't satisfy all conflicting requirements and thus be available everywhere the same; if you do not, then the sovereignty of at least some countries will be limited. For me, the best solution would be if we could come to some agreement about some global, universal rules/principles for the internet, but that inevitably requires countries to hand over some of their sovereignty and abstain from any making requirements contrary to these rules.


You don't need to go that far. Problems already start on the local level, where you have cities and city people ruling over rural people and their interests, totally different lifestyles. There needs to be a way to shrink to homogenous units, and then use technology to organize everything.

The bureaucracy of centralized governments was practical, but it didn't kept up with the diversification of society. The self driving car stuff could effect housing too, think about self driving mobile homes, that cluster and arrange based on your preferences, basically going back to a nomadic way of living, but in a techy way.

This could be a solution to many problems of the static nature of cities, and problems that start perpetuating upwards from there.


I'm not arguing against populism, more so the nationalist aspect of the "nationalist populism".

Particularly the idea that "diversity is the root of our problems" and "immigration is inherently bad". These ideas seem central to most of the nationalist movements in western society recently.


I generally agree. "Nationalism" is often just a euphemism for xenophobia which is not only immoral but counter productive if what you were really concerned about was the national interest. At the same time, I wish we could have a reasonable discussion about what level of immigration, free trade, etc is most beneficial for the people. There are legitimate issues that can arise from these things, but there's far too much toxicity in the debate for any nuanced view to really be politically viable it seems. And the policies that would benefit workers don't really seem to be materializing from either side that claims to represent them.


Absolutely. We need less polarization and more nuanced debate.

It's one of those issues where it appears that party lines have been drawn around it and both sides seem to be drifting more and more extreme.

I don't think that the average person is that polarized on some of these issues, but instead I think party members are afraid of being shunned for not fervently agreeing.


People are people even when they’re on the Internet, and people are tribal. If anything the Internet makes tribalism easier.


Except facebook does stop the flow of culture and ideas, per their community guidelines.


But you can teach people which ideas are toxic, and you can make sure toxic ideas don't get air time. I think people overestimate the power of the Internet compared to schooling/telly/etc.


> why should the world trust Facebook or Zuckerberg to shape and manage this new global meta-society? Could Zuckerberg, who wields considerable power over Facebook’s share structure, develop the self-awareness and responsibility to manage it?

> it’s time to set real limits on Facebook’s power

Makes me wonder: who will be setting those limits, and how can we know they will have the "self-awareness and responsibility" to handle it?


> who will be setting those limits

The same ones who set the limits on the railroads and oil tycoons, after they abused their power, or on AT&T, after it abused its power, et cetera. This is why we have government.


The situations you mention involve antitrust law and unfair competition, with the intent that consumers would benefit from increased competition. Internet companies are different, and specifically Facebook is different, because its customers are advertising companies and its product is the eyeballs of its users. Ironically, the closest contemporary internet analogy to your examples is Net Neutrality...

Any legislation around Facebook and similar is going to look fundamentally different than antitrust law. It's more likely to look like some sort of "consumer protection" suit rather than a monopoly takedown. I don't trust our lawmakers to successfully figure out the incentive structures; they'll likely seize this opportunity to appeal to their voter base. The results might not be what they intend.


Antitrust law, specifically the Sherman Antitrust Act, does not talk about customers as much as "protecting consumers" from "abuses", broadly defined. In my discussions in New York political circles, many see a Facebook antitrust case as a paved road to a Governorship.


> Sherman Antitrust Act

Broadly defined, in terms of economics. I don't see much discussion of Facebook with regards to "market competition". It's free to use, tough to argue that prices are being artificially inflated when there are none.

But I also don't doubt that antitrust suits are how legislators want to pursue action against Facebook.

EDIT: The justification I could see is that (1) advertising prices are being artificially inflated, which is tough given that many other tech companies compete for the same advertising dollars, and (2) that consumers aren't receiving fair compensation for their personal data, but even that doesn't seem like a good fit for anti-trust law.

> In my discussions in New York political circles, many see a Facebook antitrust case as a paved road to a Governorship

As a lifetime NYS and current NYC resident, I sure wont be basing my vote for governor on whether they take action against Facebook. I'd see it as an attempt to use the governor position as a stepping stone to federal government. This state has more pressing regional problems to deal with, in my opinion.


Exactly. Freedom is not just a set of laws, it's an attitude and a culture that can step back from popular convenient choices and avoid ones that concentrate power.

Crucially, individuals need to be willing to sacrifice something -- usually a moderate amount of money or safety -- or it's not ever going to work.


Or, increasingly, simple convenience


The government will, and we won't entirely know but it'll be better than it is right now.


Users are the only people who will be able to set limits on Facebook's power, and the only way to do that will be to form some kind of union to organize collective action. Feel like there's a learned helplessness effect, though, that has settled into people.


I feel like early FB culture had quite a few of the signs of a cult. Like legit, almost religious, cult.


Hardly unique to Facebook though. Isn't it a bit of a Valley cliché to be on a mission to change the world? To ask employees to believe in the company, not just to work there?


"But my startup is different!"


> To ask employees to believe in the company, not just to work there?

To ask employees to ACT LIKE they believe in the company

"My PhD in maths helped me increase click conversion rate by 1%!! #soexcited "

...and then your employees leave after 1 year.


> ...and then your employees leave after 1 year.

No kidding. I have trouble accepting the "Valley are a cult!" rhetoric, because we're talking about faiths where all the acolytes advocate changing cults every 18 months to progress faster.

(Although now that I say it, that could be a great RPG or something - like Paranoia with a Lovecraft setting. Hmm...)


It wasn't just FB. the trend was "openness", let the world know everything you do. It was actively pushed by all the media who are today accusing FB of going to far. When facebook was doing everything in and out of the books to grow faster and faster (such as allowing zynga to force-invite your friends to their games) , they were all looking the other way, because they saw a massive source of traffic that they could control themselves (facebook was giving untapped access to likes/followers back then).


People sounded the alarm many years ago. EFF from 2009 "predicted" a CA-like event would happen as a direct result of FB policy changes: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/12/facebooks-new-privacy-...

Rest assured, not everyone in technology openly embraced the externality-disregarding "move fast and break things" ideology that took hold of SV in the last decade or so.


> Rest assured, not everyone in technology openly embraced the externality-disregarding "move fast and break things" ideology that took hold of SV in the last decade or so.

To be honest tho, like I can't blame them, I dont think they were aware of the consequences this might have.


They might not have been aware, but to me, that just indicates that they didn't think about the consequences. Other people, who did, fairly accurately predicted that something like CA would happen.


As bad as Trump is, as bad as the potential foreign propaganda affecting election outcomes is, I'm worried the solution will be worse than the problem. I suspect the two incumbent parties will use this as an opportunity to further cement the two-party system, making it more difficult for third parties or political "outsiders" to have successful campaigns.

Russian spending on FB ads was a drop in the ocean compared to the total spend. Congress clearly doesn't care about our privacy as evidenced by the domestic spying programs. Without trying to go too far down the conspiracy rabbit hole, we need to figure out what their real motivation is here. My personal opinion is that they will make it harder for outsiders, including other political parties, to gain any traction.


I share some of your concerns. However re Russian spending, I think that that the current spending estimates are on the lower end. Also the money was spent less wastefully so it might have ended up having larger effect than assumed.


>Also the money was spent less wastefully so it might have ended up having larger effect than assumed.

My understanding is the opposite. First, money was spent on both sides. Yes, the majority was in favor of Trump but at least two anti-Trump rallies were allegedly started by Russians. Second, not all the money was spent in swing states. Third, at least according to one FB executive more than half was spent after the election.

I'm not suggesting that Russian ads didn't affect the outcome, this was such a close election that even small things could have swayed it one way or the other. At the same time we don't need to exaggerate what really happened.


Not just “early”. If you talk to FB employees they do really seem to believe they’re “changing the world”, and that their product is a gift to mankind rather than an abomination.


What makes you think that Facebook is an abomination?


What makes you think it is a gift to mankind?


It allows me to keep in contact with many of my close friends and my family who live on three continent and more countries than I can count on a daily basis, has helped me find work a dozen times, has provided several companies who I worked for with credible identity, spectacular growth via targeted advertising. I can use Uber, AirBnB and so many more and not fear that the people with whom I share a car or a flat with are dangerous because those companies use Facebook profiles to credibly exclude problematic participants. That’s not me being idealistic: before that, I’ve tried email, CouchSurf, working for company based on email-and-password for almost a decade.

It allows me to find interesting view point on current issues and to exclude toxic people from my social circle. I know who the people that I’m talking to are from, what they stand for and I can get that, say, that friend of a friend is probably joking when he’s teasing our common friend about the US Government because… well, he works for the Department of Energy -- that saves me the effort to rant and mansplain to them how gas market works.

I’ve moved more than a dozen times, both before and after Facebook: before, you’d need months to find friends and you were limited to classmates, colleagues, religious affiliation; earlier this year, I’ve moved to a mid-sized city and I knew I could find fun people to find a beer on my first night here -- whether those were games, hobby or language-based local groups. I got to explain to my cousin who was an aspiring film-maker how to grow his social presence and drive audience at festival, and he’s now reasonably successful.

There is so much more Facebook did: I was in London during 7/7 and there again, during the London Bridge attack -- I can assure you that Safety check saved my loved ones a second heart attack. I met my fiancée at a party and we couldn’t swap numbers because neither of us really knew whether it would make sense, but we didn’t had to explain what technology we meant when we suggested “Let’s write each other for a bit and see what goes”. I remember trying to do the same couple of years earlier for a party where I had nothing but an email list; talk about a series of embarrassing messages to find which one of the seven Julies was the right one.

I could go on: there’s a lot more it allowed me to do, as an employee, things I can’t talk about but that I’m incredibly proud of, and that have made the world a meaningfully better place.

Now, I’m trying to change my current employer’s very painfully silo-ed culture, to find people in the very large organisation that acquired us four month ago, to explain how to structure a data science project between analyst, different types of engineers, train, get feedback: Workplace, the Facebook-like software is an absolute blessing to leverage my single, anecdotic experience; to isolate motivated, like-minded people; to drive effective corporate change.

What I think is impressive now is that Facebook is showing how to properly react to a scandal by explaining it to stakeholders who don’t really seem to want to listen, but throw mud; move on an do the right thing because, still, far more people don’t care than those who do -- and those who do aren’t exactly forthcoming to help. Even now, the company is exposing itself to more criticism because that’s the right thing to do.

That might not be ‘a gift to mankind’ but, to me, personally, that response who actively avoid confrontation teaches me that I should be helpful and constructive, even when I’m dealing with dimwits. That I should fight my instinct to respond to a troll on Hacker News, say: “No, asshole, it’s not a gift to mankind but somehow you are too much a low-brow mouth-breathing impulsive cretin to imagine that the opposite of an ‘abomination’ has to be a gift to mankind.” because I’m not the kind of person who gains by speaking in absolutes, or insults, not do I want to be.

Overall, it’s fairly positive, I would say.


Most of the features you're talking about existed before FB in some way. FB doesn't hold a monopoly on introductions or communication and we did just fine before it.

Your argument that you couldn't swap numbers with your fiancé doesn't hold water with me. In a world without FB, it wouldn't occur to you that somebody you didn't swap numbers with would be your partner. Instead, you'd be marrying somebody you did swap numbers with and be none the wiser.


I realise re-reading my comment that this example wasn’t clear. Sorry about that.

I’ve dealt with dating and meeting people at parties before and after Facebook took over my social circle. Facebook meaningfully improved the experience for me, mainly through the two avowed goals of the platform: universality and “real” identity (I hate the word ‘real’ but it’s the most legible way to combine recognisable face photos, civil name, personal details and representative social graph). Yes, you can ask for a phone number, but that’s a rather transparent ask; the person you are asking it from usually doesn’t have enough context to know if they want to expose themselves that much, lead me to believe there is a chance, etc. In my case, I know for a fact that, if I had asked for it, she would have preferred to give it to me but would have not (she was in the process of breaking up and felt this was too early; she was fully single couple of days later, when I wrote to her).

During the earlier stages of dating, I believe that a ambiguity helps (and that is very much something that my American colleagues at Facebook disagreed with). I believe that by reaching out by being helpful rather than assertive, you can offer a less macho version of masculinity. Then again: if you knew me, you’d know I’m not good at this, at all. ‘Sliding in your DMs’ as it became known is not entirely positive, but it does take away some responsibility from a party that is not willing to appear keen. Male friends more attractive than I am have also noticed that it offers more initiative to female daters -- whether that’s the technology or the time, I can’t tell. It also allows you to hide or block unsuccessful attempts in a way that many social circles don’t.

One thing that is my experience and that is universal is that having a social graph helps greatly to pick partners: you have common friends you can rely on to insure the person is reliable, more context, things to talk about. Dating apps have taken those features in stride (and still have access to those, i.e. meaningfully more information than other apps have on the Facebook API). That does help compared to the stranger-in-a-bar deal. It might foster homophily, more superficial matching, etc., once again: I don’t know of an exhaustive study on the subject. However, I do know from working directly with that team that Facebook cares an is willing to build tools to help, and support companies trying to do the same.

I realise that my experience is anecdotic. That was my original point: a long list of anecdotic, positive experiences through Facebook. In that anecdote, I did find the courage to ask someone for their phone number, a while earlier, I did end up with someone else. She just wasn’t nearly as amazing, and that’s why I was hanging out, sad and single at that party. Had I known more about the first one, say, through Facebook, I would probably have realised faster that we were not meant for each other.


These encyclopedia-sized replies perfectly illustrate my original point.

Gift to mankind, I’m tellin ya. People just couldn’t have friends before FB, and Zuck deserves our eternal gratitude (and all of our private data).


The moral equivalent of a gish gallop, might want to trim this a bit for an actual reply to come through...


I don't.


Stay losing then? Trying to help, whatever.


Losing what?

What are you trying to help?


Can you tell me more about your previous affiliation with Facebook?


I submitted a PhD topic to my adviser in 2004: Social media didn’t really exist then, not without civil identity, but I saw some versions of it, and recognised there a different type of network effect than those described under that name in the economic literature or in two-sided markets. I submitted that this would require a different type of monopoly enforcement. I started in 2005, trying to combine epidemiology, AL Barabasi’s work on complex network and competition policy. Initially, it sounded like the worst idea anyone ever had. I gradually changed how I introduced my work to… well, the long paragraph that you just read to, in 2008, “Is Facebook a monopoly?” which generally triggered very long agressive rants on how the company was evil, even then. I didn’t defend in 2009 because my lab submitted (after the 2007 crisis that triggered a lot of soul-searching in economic science) that any defence should include actual data, not simulations -- and I didn’t have access to Facebook actual data.

I tried to get access some sample of it anyway, like many academics; my trick was to use not quizz, like Kogan but casual games, like FarmVille. So I worked as a data scientist for a gaming studio (that ended up being sued by Zynga because their game was too derivative from FarmVille). The player social graph was unusable because massively skewed by players befriending each other to benefit from a ‘viral’ hack in the game. I gradually forgot about my ambition to be called “Dr.”.

At the same time, I was very attentive but hardly active in both ethnographic research on social networks (Ellison, Steinfield, boyd, Dutton & al.) and the technical side, the OpenSocialWeb and related platformisation of the web.

When many researchers and key developers joined Facebook, and go attacked violently for what seemed like a reasonable decisions; actually, as I saw so much attacks on a company that was started by teenagers who very rapidly learned and grew up, I ended up in the paradoxal position of defending against everyone the company that I was forecasting to be the dusk of the Nation-state. A few close friends had learnt how to leverage a social platform in 2003, on a previous iteration; they were power-users (tailored publication, messaging friends to read their update) and loved the power it gave them. They didn’t see a problem; but I did: they were working for anti-competition authority and I needed to convince them that people who hated Facebook were wrong-but-not-wrong. Somehow, that argument failed to convince.

I remained a full-time analyst of the company, and was the highest-voted contributor on Quora on all related topics for a while. That was easy: most employees wouldn’t touch the topics.

Fast-forward 2014, where I had pretty much moved on making a living out of my understanding of the company; video games were not fun (most project failed) and I got a call to interview there. I was very excited, mainly because I really wanted to talk to anyone there, at all, at this point. Also because I expected to re-animate my dead-and-buried PhD. Also because I really needed a job.

I did raise the question of my research and advocacy several times, during the interview and during the on-boarding, but no one really seemed to care, which I thought was odd.

I worked a year in the London office. I was given to see a lot of great projects during that time -- pretty much anything cool or note worthy, I was there, often by accident. Happy to give more details, but I learnt that Facebook really value criticism -- I made friends with several people who were internally famous for working on or asking to Mark very tough questions (terrorism, suicides, pedophiles, political manipulation, etc.) and the intelligence, nuance and haste of the company surprised me; they eagerness to do good was immense, almost as much as how much in a hurry to fix things. They really wanted to understand what good was, and it generally wasn’t obvious: e.g. free speech is about letting pretty uncomfortable things fly, because you have to limit censorship to real harm.

I left for many reasons, but the most obvious one was that the company hadn’t fully thought about the role of the London and my team had a lot of late meetings with Menlo Park, i.e. very late meetings, UK time -- leaving the office after midnight more often than not.

I didn’t really engage for six months, but as soon as I knew that my previous director left (for the same reason) I lobbied my new company to hire him as CTO. He ended up hiring a dozen former Facebook engineers.

The company I worked for then was one of the largest Facebook ad-buyer in London and we ended up being one of the first to test Workplace (at the same time as Slack). By then, I was more than used to the role of explaining how Facebook Ads worked, as many video game companies also spend a lot.

I’ve been for literally more than 14 years been saying to anyone who care or not: What Facebook is trying to do is very precious, most of it seems anecdotic but they really allow connection in ways no one else can (basically the argument you see higher) but the company mechanically gains power in a way that you can’t prevent, so you want very strong regulations. I absolutely trust Mark to do the right thing; I’m scared that even smart politicians and civil servants don’t understand what’s at stake.


there are some problems with what you have posted.

let's begin.

>things I can’t talk about but that I’m incredibly proud of, and that have made the world a meaningfully better place.

ah, so we must simply trust you, then? FB has violated users trust from day one with the "dumb fucks" and the like. "making the world a better place" demands evidence. btw, i bet you can probably provide some evidence that will satisfy your criteria for this. just recognize that it's overtly incredulous unless you provide that evidence. and yes, i am incredulous here.

>Facebook is showing how to properly react to a scandal

lying, denying, fumbling, partial admission, larger admission, and then a cycle of non-apologies is NOT the right way to handle a scandal.

>Even now, the company is exposing itself to more criticism because that’s the right thing to do.

yeah, that explains the extralegal FB "raid" on CA's offices. or is there some internal explanation for that? because to everyone else, it looks like you guys were "just doing the right thing" by trying to destroy evidence of their wrongdoing. trying to dress that up somehow comes off as... shall we say, incredulous, again. there's a limit to how much people will believe that you believe.

and don't even bother watching zuck's testimony to congress. you will find that he is eminently doing his darndest to avoid criticism by avoiding inquiries. i encourage you to watch it in full and count the dodges. you will break fifty.

oh yeah, and trying to sue the newspaper that broke the story is egregiously scummy -- i'm talking like richard nixon level of brutal sliminess. these are the actions of a criminal organization trying to escape punishment for their wrongdoing -- or at least that's what it looks like from the outside.

>Overall, it’s fairly positive, I would say.

does your appraisal include:

involuntary surveillance of non-users

passing information to (malevolent or otherwise) governments regarding their citizens

non-consensual experimentation on users' emotions (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/29/facebook-...)?

what about being a willing accomplice in Chinese censorship, if they were allowed to operate in the country at all (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/technology/facebook-censo...)?

oh yeah, and what about causing negative emotions intrinsically via using the platform (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/facebook-may-cause-stress-study-... and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23709009 & an extensive amount of similar evidence)? or is this somehow acceptable despite the galaxy of evidence that explicitly links FB to worse quality of life?

what about tax evasion (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/dec/23/facebook-...)? tax evasion is typically not prosocial behavior.

what about political censorship in kashmir (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/19/facebook-...)?

or maybe political censorship of the kurds (http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201308240040-0023000)?

or religious and political censorship in pakistan (http://tribune.com.pk/story/855030/facebook-censored-54-post...)?

what about the censorship of the rohingya trying to tell the world about their persecution (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/20/facebook-...)?

---

i guess the bigger philosophical question is: at what point do you take responsibility for your actions in the context of facebook as a company? i understand that companies are often unethical in tiny steps until they're a monster, and it's hard to tell from the inside when things are happening. i can't imagine that i would have quit the company after any two of the things i listed. but there's more than two things. all the evidence is there, now.

what's your move?

PS: exhibiting restraint in this post was . . . difficult.


I don’t think you responded to any of my points. Most of what you are claiming is not true or irrelevant.

I’ll try to respond to yours.

> the extralegal FB "raid" on CA's offices. or is there some internal explanation for that?

That was apparently part of the agreement that Facebook had with CA after it was revealed by The Guardian that they bought data from another firm. CA claimed at the time they didn’t know the data was not licensed to be sold and agreed to fairly extensive terms, including agreeing for Facebook auditors to check that the data was actually deleted.

It’s my understanding that acquiring this data does not break any law, at least not clearly, so few official channels are available to prevent a company from sharing that information -- not until GDPR is in place, next month. Even then, you might need users’ complaints: jurisdiction is not clear. Facebook auditors, who are sworn to a lot fiducial obligations, not Facebook, had the ability to prevent Cambridge Analytica from deleting evidence hours after the revelations -- thanks to that previous private agreement; the ICO took several days to draft a warrant.

As someone familiar with the situation, I was flabbergasted by the spin that Facebook could be “deleting evidence”: it wasn’t in their interest, certainly not after the revelations were out. It was however very representative of an incredibly misinformed and hostile media coverage of the company.

If you start with the presumption that Facebook is the Devil incarnate, well… you are stuck without much options to solve a data leak, and you reach the conclusion that Facebook in the Devil incarnate. If you trust the company to act in their own interest and the interest of their users, yes, you would expect they enforce that contract properly.

My position is not that Facebook is perfect: I have repeatedly pointed out here, recently and for more than decade online that I was the first person warning about such a company, since before Facebook was even founded. I suggested in early 2004 to my adviser a PhD topic on the challenges to enforce anti-competition rules on social media. I believe that there are a lot of things that make Facebook potentially dangerous and that need regulation and monitoring. I have very publicly opposed certain decisions made by Facebook, generally in that direction -- but I think that the foaming-at-the-mouth hatred that so many people display here is unhelpful and actually helping the company evade necessary challenges.


3/

> what about tax evasion

This is a point that I have raised loudly before I joined. A point that I have raised internally in a fashion that I can only describe as scathing (making a very direct connection with a project that Mark praised and government-funded education). I was later told by people who cared to move the needle on tax that my anger was unhelpful and delayed their own effort. Facebook does it because of its environment (big international American corporation who misinterpret fiduciary duties to their investors) and should be the first company to break that mold (mainly because Mark genuinely doesn’t care about money). I was explained why it’s so slow (Basically, Americans hate government and think that it is inefficient; truth is: they are right, US civil servants are terrible. Countries where civil servants are competent don’t have that issue, and you can expect to get senior leadership to change their opinion on that topic if more non-Americans reach senior positions. Paying tax when you think private foundations are more efficient seems unethical. I don’t like it, but the point makes sense.) I would be happy to vote for anyone (presumably at the European parliament) willing to make it legally impossible for them not to pay proper tax.

> what about political censorship in kashmir

I’m not familiar with that process, but I’m happy to admit with the people who manage that team that they are overwhelmed by their responsibilities and are trying to find a solution to help with political interference. Solutions at scale include a combination of political science, machine learning and clever product design that I wouldn’t trust anyone but Facebook with.

> or maybe political censorship of the kurds

Same: accusations like that are constant. They often come from biased media, which make them quite ironic to process -- but doesn’t make it less important. I don’t think it is a simple process and I don’t think that the company is neglecting it. They are just trying to address it with a hard-to-explain multi-layered approach, using a lot more technology than journalists imagine.

> or religious and political censorship in pakistan

Same. You are basically starting to blame Facebook for the existence of conflict in places where… I mean, censorship didn’t started there. I would not be surprised if Facebook got punked by local authorities. If you want to help, I am sure that the company is hiring political wonks to help explain what is really happening, how to address it.

> what about the censorship of the rohingya trying to tell the world about their persecution

I think that you either over-estimate my ability to travel, or my trust in the objectivity of The Guardian and Al Jazeera. I have no doubt that those places face horrible hardships. I have no doubt that Facebook should, and does, care. I wouldn’t be surprised if their take was more nuanced than what you can get from reading one article on the topic, and I would be even less surprised to see that The Guardian both believes that Facebook should not interfere and have a moral duty to fix the problem.

Facebook is now a meaningful player in the political arena. They are growing to that realisation and hiring people who can help, thinking about what they role can and should be. If you think about them strongly and want the right to tell to Mark, to his face and repeatedly that he’s wrong and misinformed, my recommendation is that you join the company. Disent is not very helpful without the full context, but you absolutely can influence and make things better from the inside. (You can fuck things up too: God knows I did. I didn’t even mention the Growth team constant over-reach; privacy groups simplifications… So many things where data was telling that my instinct was wrong.)

> at what point do you take responsibility for your actions in the context of facebook as a company?

Ten years before I joined; literally before Facebook was started. I made myself responsibly for explaining my PhD to friends who work for the anti-trust authority in Europe. I failed so far: there are no meaningful enforcement of social-media based monopolies.

> i understand that companies are often unethical in tiny steps until they're a monster,

I don’t think that’s true -- and I’ve worked for pretty much any type of (civilian) “bad” company you can think of: Exxon Mobile, TelCos, etc.

Companies have hard choices to make. They get blamed for the ones you see; no one realise that the choice was actually very easy, very impactful either way when they get big. Sometimes the outcome is murky, but the decisions are rarely hard, and very rarely made in the name of greed, or pure evil. There often is a greater good to defend. They just choose to shut up about it because of people like you, who will attack them rabidly even if they tried to save children’s lives.

The best example of that kind of discussion that I could find was actually in the pilot of The West Wing, and pretty much the staple resolution of every episode of TV show:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4h0_bz2Qew

> PS: exhibiting restraint in this post was . . . difficult.

That’s fairly obvious, so is the fact that you suffer of it, on many levels; and your hatred is not rational. If you realise that, and you want to change, try to ask people who defend Facebook, including pretty much every employee. Don’t tell them that they are wrong. Ask what they are doing. They won’t because the company takes confidentiality very seriously but you’ll be able to tell that they are doing it to defend something bigger than themselves, something that they know is incredibly positive.

There’s not much I can do about your anger, other than to point at it, and tell you: I’m more than familiar with legitimate criticism of that company. The recent scandal is not it. If you want to address real issues, start by making sense of what they are trying to do, what they bring, why they are so successful and influential. Why people expect to find reliable political information there -- and why they expect others to find it too.

That should help you understand what many in the company are still missing: lack of international sensitivity, how to behaviourally engage users to care, lack of clear communication; and what they certainly are not over-looking but still need to do a lot more of: fighting spammers, abuse and government over-reach.


>not until GDPR is in place, next month.

FB isn't going to comply with it in places where it isn't law. they prefer to spy on people. it’s their business model.

> I was flabbergasted by the spin that Facebook could be “deleting evidence”

none of this justifies barging into their office. enforcing a contract is calling your lawyer, not barging into an office. there is nothing "hostile" about media coverage sounding an alarm that FB people hit up CA before a warrant could be written. it is an alarming incident because it is outside the law.

> but I think that the foaming-at-the-mouth hatred that so many people display here is unhelpful and actually helping the company evade necessary challenges.

as we can see, strong criticisms repeated often tend to stick around, especially when they're substantiated. if the company doesn't deal with them, the burden is not on the critics to ease up. Characterizing exhaustively documented legitimate criticism as “foaming at the mouth” is a bit misplaced. Sure, I’m foaming. But I’m always foaming, and the evidence speaks for itself without hyperbole. Anyhow, your comments avoiding the problem of surveilling non-users are disappointing and pretty irrelevant tbh. It really is not that complicated: don’t surveil people who have not consented. It doesn’t matter if other companies do the wrong thing too.

> I don’t think you want Facebook to act as if they are above the law and refuse to obey a judge?

Your company issues a report on the number of government information requests it handles. It has happened for years already. This goes way beyond just law enforcement. They obey judges, but also offer much, much more without any warrants. https://www.yahoo.com/news/google-facebook-cooperated-nsa-pr...

>I don’t think the harm in that context was large: it was, literally, barely enough to be measured

The size of the effect is utterly irrelevant.

It is not ethical to experiment on people’s emotions without their consent.

your other comments are also not relevant to the issue of FB experimenting with manipulating people’s emotional states without their consent.

I can’t underline this enough: FB harmed their users directly.

This was not getting people to click ads. It was not an A/B test to optimize conversion. This was emotional manipulation for the very purpose of seeing whether it was possible to inflict emotional manipulation on unsuspecting people. this is completely and utterly inexcusable under any kind of study consent dynamic. If this were a psychology study performed with an institutional review board it would have NEVER been approved. And you’re okay with that so long as you work there – and in fact, y ou’re willing to defend it. You’re defending non-consensual experimentation on people. which harms them. Think about that for a minute.

>That’s speculative.

No, it isn’t. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/technology/facebook-censo.... There are other sources for that same story. The intent was to do evil. If you take issue with the language there, think for a minute about what they were really volunteering to do.

>this is open science and I find that very interesting – current understanding is that using FB is bad for your emotions. This understanding gains weight every day.

>Evidence doesn’t come into Galaxy and, like anyone reasonable, I know that new technology and new service have positive and negative sides and I work on separating them to keep the best. https://scholar.google.com/scholar?as_ylo=2014&q=facebook+em... there’s more than 10 pages of scholarly papers. The ones relating to emotion are exclusively unfavorable.

>comments dismissing the sourced instances of facebook censoring various groups

I guess you’re saying that “it can’t be proven” but the whole point of the sources that I linked is that it’s all proven. FB cooperates with the Turkish govt to suppress the kurds, same with the pakis, etc. Here is the thing: complicity in censorship is utterly unacceptable.

It is totally unethical. There is no weaseling away from it: facebook is helping to suppress minorities in these countries. It’s wrong.

>Facebook is now a meaningful player in the political arena.

Yes, much to our detriment, as is obliteratingly self-evident.

>If you think about them strongly and want the right to tell to Mark, to his face and repeatedly that he’s wrong and misinformed, my recommendation is that you join the company. Disent is not very helpful without the full context, but you absolutely can influence and make things better from the inside.

I don’t even know what to say to this.

Here is a proposition: pay me, and I’ll do my best to destroy the company from within should it confirm my prejudices once I have the “full context”.

Does that work for you guys?

>and I’ve worked for pretty much any type of (civilian) “bad” company you can think of: Exxon Mobile, TelCos, etc

hey, it’s bad to work for unethical companies.

>There often is a greater good to defend.

What, you mean like the shareholders?

>They just choose to shut up about it because of people like you, who will attack them rabidly even if they tried to save children’s lives.

This isn’t how PR works, especially for big companies. Their horn is getting tooted at every opportunity, always. Lack of tooting means lack of favorable things for the public to hear. No company plays the unsung hero because it isn’t profitable.

> try to ask people who defend Facebook, including pretty much every employee

I’ve cited extensive amounts of evidence; you have cited none.

The problem with asking employees about what they do is that they only do one small thing. They’re just one tiny cog in the machine. They don’t accept responsibility for the machine’s smooth functioning because they know it could work without them. But they’re still complicit, just like all the other cogs. And people love to rationalize, especially when their paycheck depends on it. It’s only human to be self-deceptive – but that does not mean that you have to abide by it when other people are doing it.

Indoctrinated people respond to a few things, in my experience.

The most effective thing is being hit with the sledgehammer of facts until they break – it’s academic and obnoxious, but most people can’t fight reality for long.


I’ve already addressed which of those I think are legitimate criticism and which miss the point.

It’s increasingly clear that you are not willing to understand why intelligent, moral people are willing to defend (and criticise) Facebook. Whether you are wrong on part or the whole, you fiercely refuse to see a contradicting argument. You openly prefer to demonise: the only way someone could disagree with you is if they are either delusional, stupid of deprived of ethics. That’s also why you won’t acknowledge that I did agree with you on several points.

You are welcome to think that I’m morally repugnant.

We both know that insulting people is a bad way to convince them, so you won’t be surprised that --sledgehammer of opinion pieces from the Guardian or not-- you have not really told me anything to move me. Most critics are like you, actually.

My take is that, if you write the way you did, you will come of as dangerous and misinformed to anyone who is able to and trying to address the problem. A majority of them work for or used to work for the company; few people are in academia; I can name a couple of elected officials but not many more. I regret that it’s so unbalanced.

I believe that you are making your cause seem worst off, because you can’t separate your prejudice from issues that have a solution. I’m very sorry that I couldn’t help you.

What will happen (what has already started) is that Facebook will leverage some of that anger to actually consolidate its power. One examples: with the CA scandal, the first reaction from the company was “Partner apps could abuse our users’ data, we have not exerted enough control -- very sorry.” justifying invasive audits. Good if it prevents another CA scandal, but that doesn’t make Facebook any less influential.

The more you go after Facebook for making the wrong political decisions, the more the company will gain legitimacy in making those calls, against empowering democratic or international institutions. Facebook might lend that legitimacy to some democratic or civil groups, like they did with Snopes, Wikipedia and CJI on false news, but, with every additional complaint, they will keep the authority to pick and choose it and only ever let it go for so long.

If you think the people at the helm are morally bankrupt, that should terrify you; I hope that you see how this is judo-ing your own anger. I think that Mark & his team are trying to do well, but that they are increasingly in over their heads and need informed support and more intelligent control -- neither of which they are getting in enough supply, so they learn as they go. I think they are doing well, not repeating many mistakes, acting fast, being increasingly careful and considerate. But the end result is scary in a different way.


>I’ve already addressed which of those I think are legitimate criticism and which miss the point.

and yet i've substantiated everything that i've written. it's all legitimate criticism. notice how i haven't bothered to say that zuck looks like an alien? that's because it isn't legitimate criticism.

>you are not willing to understand why intelligent, moral people are willing to defend (and criticise) Facebook.

i'm willing to understand incentives and rationalization. sophistry is another matter.

>you fiercely refuse to see a contradicting argument. You openly prefer to demonise: the only way someone could disagree with you is if they are either delusional, stupid of deprived of ethics. That’s also why you won’t acknowledge that I did agree with you on several points.

there isn't any contradicting argument is the thing, there's just rationalization, whitewashing, diversion, glossing over, and apologia.

provide counterfactual evidence to the things i posted to make a contradicting argument.

merely stating that criticisms are illegitimate or that your opponent won't see things your way doesn't prove your point or defend your point whatsoever. likewise, claiming that i think you're stupid/delusional/whatever really isn't relevant. the arguments are what is relevant -- address those more substantially.

as far as demonization goes, i guess the ball is in FB's court to clean house and try to remove the stains from their reputation. honestly it's very hard to demonize companies that don't have an extensive rap sheet like FB does.

you agreed with me on a few points, but so what? the substantial issue of FB's systemic and unrepentant abuse of their users (and non users) is still just as alive as before.

>My take is that, if you write the way you did, you will come of as dangerous and misinformed to anyone who is able to and trying to address the problem. A majority of them work for or used to work for the company; few people are in academia; I can name a couple of elected officials but not many more. I regret that it’s so unbalanced.

hm, it's weird that i have provided so much evidence yet i'm still somehow "misinformed". i think the problem is in your court to defend against the serious criticisms that i've leveled. furthermore, the sensation of danger is good. it means that my criticisms are touching a tender spot -- a spot that is an actual vulnerability rather than something superficial. the next step is for legislators to apply an abundance of pressure to the tender spots, of course. i think we need more dangerous criticism to facilitate that.

>I believe that you are making your cause seem worst off, because you can’t separate your prejudice from issues that have a solution.

here's the thing: the solution is extensive privacy laws which gut FB's profitability as a consequence. note that i said consequence rather than feature. facebook is just one problem company among many others.

you guys don't want to hear that or accept it either way. i guess a lot of people object that companies shouldn't ever be subject to laws that undermine their profitability. but frankly, there are higher values than profit -- a lesson that facebook has never known.

>If you think the people at the helm are morally bankrupt, that should terrify you; I hope that you see how this is judo-ing your own anger. I think that Mark & his team are trying to do well, but that they are increasingly in over their heads and need informed support and more intelligent control -- neither of which they are getting in enough supply, so they learn as they go. I think they are doing well, not repeating many mistakes, acting fast, being increasingly careful and considerate. But the end result is scary in a different way.

this isn't judo-ing my anger. judo implies that the angry one ends up on the floor. the way things are going currently it is FB who will end up on the floor. their political power has been identified, and now the focus is on gutting it.

i personally don't care if mark is "trying to do well". i care about results, and i care that he dodged most of the questions congress asked him because it's dishonest and harms the public good. that isn't careful, nor is it considerate. it really worries me that you are serious about these "sillicon valley" style tropes -- it's not a good look to drink the kool aid, and i've heard that FB is similar to a cult internalyl, which you are substantiating. not that that's relevant to the larger discussion here.

>you have not really told me anything to move me

this part is never true, when someone states it explicitly after engaging in a lengthy series of replies. the truly unmoved don't bother to reply in the first place.

in conclusion: now that i've extensively researched the problems with FB, heard your responses, and examined further, my opinions are both fortified and more nuanced along an even more radical vector than before we spoke. i wasn't about to call for FB's dissolution as a company before, but i'd consider it now that i can see there will be absolutely no positive change coming from inside the company.


2/

I have studied the reason for that rage in an academic context (people generally have far less violent opinion of, say, data brokers, who do a lot worst but they don’t see) so I understand it; I don’t think that’s what you are looking for.

Let’s go through your list:

> involuntary surveillance of non-users

Facebook operates an Analytics network, like Google and about a dozen companies. I don’t think “non-users” would have their data processed differently if website owners operated their own analytic platform, I just think that would be done poorly and would cost a lot more and raise barrier to enter web businesses. Without Facebook, that market would be a quasi-monopoly for Google, which would worry me more.

If you are not a Facebook users, I would expect you to consider that you are actively trying to avoid the company (and there are legitimate reasons to) and I would certainly expect you to have significant DNS-level filtering of all Facebook domains.

There is an unrelated question about how your friends can upload their address book, including your emails; those emails are never matched with any web traffic. How anyone could imagine this is doable is beyond me.

In either case, Facebook is the only company offering you the ability to access some of data as a non-user, although… it fails to do it because it doesn’t make sense with the current data structure. With the recent push to access that information, Facebook is thinking about how to answer that question -- but I believe they are the only company to do so. You can go ask Google what data they have about you as a non-user and see if they can tell you. I’m not blaming Google (a company that I admire greatly too) or trying some false equivalence; I’m just expecting that, if you consider the problem without your prejudice against Facebook, you’ll realise it doesn’t make sense -- unless you tell Google that this email matches this cookie.

> passing information to (malevolent or otherwise) governments regarding their citizens

I’m not familiar with that, even as a person who talked to team on controversial project: genuinely, I’m best mate with a guy who keeps saying that this might happen, so I would know if we did. There are situations where Facebook cooperate with law enforcement, but as far as I can tell, that’s exclusively with a warrant (and Facebook is very proud of having lawyers who can push back). I don’t think you want Facebook to act as if they are above the law and refuse to obey a judge?

- non-consensual experimentation on users' emotions

I don’t think the harm in that context was large: it was, literally, barely enough to be measured (that was the point of the paper, actually). I realise that Facebook should disclose more clearly that there are dozens of thousands of experiments, many of which change what you see and that some of those, plus some bugs, might affect your experience. They might affect your ability to reconnect to long-lost friends; they might affect your ability to meet your future spouse. Most websites have the same practice, so I would consider that digital literacy to know that, but I’ll readily admit that I’m ambitious when it comes to what people should know.

I do think that the inexplicably violent backlash to that articles costed everyone who cares about Facebook impact on its users enormously. The research team completely closed off after the, once again irrational and foaming-at-the-mouth reaction. If you want to ask “How do you look at yourself in the mirror after what you’ve done?”, I have serious questions for you -- in a minute.

- what about being a willing accomplice in Chinese censorship, if they were allowed to operate in the country at all

That’s speculative.

- oh yeah, and what about causing negative emotions intrinsically via using the platform

This is open science and I find that very interesting -- and my work at Facebook was closely related to questions like that. I was very disappointed when I left that my personal suggestions to address that were overlooked but Moira Burke picked it up and did a tremendous job explaining the detail of their current understanding. I was impressed at the work and its impact (changing the corporate mission of Facebook in insanely important). I was more impressed that Moira did that in spite of her seeing the scars of the previous published research on Facebook’s impact. That change could have been possible two years earlier without that incident.

> despite the galaxy of evidence that explicitly links FB to worse quality of life?

Evidence doesn’t come into Galaxy and, like anyone reasonable, I know that new technology and new service have positive and negative sides and I work on separating them to keep the best.


Umm, let’s see here. A service that hacks the dopamine cycle of hoi polloi to peddle ads, gossip, manufactured outrage and fake news in one direction, and personal information in the other. Is this enough, or should I provide more reasons?



Looks like any other company hoodie? Or are we trending into conspiracy subreddit territory now?


Yeah, though that one has particularly bad bad graphic design. Cf. "conjoined triangles of success".


Have you seen the comments on any Elon Musk related post?


I agree with your criticism, however this is slightly different. The difference here is that one is like a promoted company culture, the other one is just like online fanboy hagiography.


I agree that the comments on threads aren't equivalent, but I have to say that every Musk employee I've known is exceedingly passionate about their company - much moreso than the FB people I've known. More than one has explicitly told me they and the other staff treat Musk as something like a father figure, to the point of being excited and proud whenever they find out he'll visit/tour their division.

Granted, some of that gap is pretty understandable; building rockets is damned inspiring for a lot of people. But I still have the sense that Facebook isn't anywhere near the top of the "religious attitudes" ladder, they just get called out for it because of what their product does.


Title is a little clickbaity, but it still stands that FB is some deep shit right now. Zuckerberg's child like competitiveness, coupled with silicon valleys hyper capatalist nature has created a serious problem for current and future generations...


.. that is how the snowball started rolling.. and that was years ago !


Quote from the article:

Cambridge Analytica is a scandal that isn’t a scandal: Everyone who has ever worked on or with the Facebook platform knew that for several years, the platform made data available to third-party developers by design.

Why is this news and a problem now? What made the sky fall? If everyone knew, then why has someone been picked to be the bad guy now?


A substantial group of people knew this was a problem for decades. The New York Times has a good "I Told You So" article on just this point.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/12/technology/privacy-resear...

More generally, it's quite difficult to present a problem as compelling when there are no bodies on the ground. Take a look around you at any particular piece of safety equipment, process, practice, regulation, etc., and realise that that price was paid, in blood if not souls.

An example I've recently learnt of was of oderised natural gas. That "gas" smell you know is not the smell of methane, which is, in fact, oderless, but a special oderiser, Mercaptan, which as been added to it.[1] The reason it's been added is New London School, New London, Texas. In depression-era 1937, the school found an inexpensive source of heating by way of a local "wet" gas line, related to oil production, that ran near the school.

The gas leaked. The explosion killed 295 students and teachers, and is still the deadliest school disaster in the U.S., 81 years later.

Texas, a state known for its reluctance to government regulation, required the addition of mercaptan to all gas supplies within weeks of the accident.

That's just one of many such stories you'll find in the world of industrial and engineering safety.

A significant aspect of unintended consequences is that they are non-apparent consequences. It takes time, and evidence, and quite often bodies, to make the point.

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

________________________________

Notes:

1. The scent is exceptionally notable and detectable at low levels. Mercaptans are part of the hazard warning system in mines, environments in which visual or audio signals might not be readily apparent.


I think part of it is the public lack of understanding of technology. A layman won't understand the phrase "Facebook API allowed access to data" as opposed to "There was a breach".


The worst part of that is that a layman only "thinks" he understands what "There was a breach" even begins to mean.

But what/who do we blame? Is it the education systems staggering lack of ability to prepare people for modern, tech-enabled society in any sort of privacy-as-a-right context.


> But what/who do we blame?

No one? We shouldn't be assigning "blame" because the public doesn't have the same specialized education that we have to understand the nuances of "APIs" vs "breaches."

I think what needs to be done is to create an easily understandable formulation of "privacy-as-a-right" and teach that.


Why is this news now?

Because: everyone who has ever worked on or with the Facebook platform != everyone


Everyone hates when "their side" loses. Someone must suddenly be breaking the rules. There must be blame.


It's almost as if it's gone viral...


Reducing this problem to tribalistic "oh u mad because trump won!!" is infantile and absurdly counterproductive.

Which is of course why its brought up so much...


Apologies to USA's readers, no disrespect, I am merely trying to put some sense into throwaway2048's brain :)

Dear TA2048,

In some/many parts of this planet we don't give a poop about who is the President of the US-of-A.

But we care for our own elections (see UK referendum, Greek referendum, Catalonia referendum, elections in Austria, Hungary, Italy, etc.)

The problem surfaced NOW, and NOW we are dealing with it. We can't turn back time. Not even slow it down. But we can try/make sure it won't happen again, or at least reduce its impact.

Kind regards, Someone-who-believes-in-democracy


Why did it surface now? Everyone knew.


Can you provide a citation for that? Everyone who ever used FB knew exactly what was going on?


I got really stressed out by Trump winning, but I still think the backlash against social media and tech companies has a lot to do with the establishment being afraid of losing power. When the Arab Spring happens, the free flow of information is an unalloyed good, but when Trump gets elected we suddenly need to curtail "troll factories", and ensure Fake News is being fact checked, and see to it that personal data isn't being used to influence elections.

I'm the first person to admit that I'm not impressed by my peers when it comes to electing suitable leaders, but it worries me much more that we're now falling for the temptation of reasoning for them, and protecting them from themselves. I think this straitjacket that we're so eagerly putting on our fellow man for his own good may very well be put on us, or perhaps the truly original thinkers that we yet don't know about.

So no, comments like these aren't infantile, they're crucial for maintaining the liberty that we've thus enjoyed on the internet, and that I would very much like to keep enjoying, even if I don't always agree with how people tend to use that freedom.


Sounds straight from a dystopian cyberpunk novel. Corporations rule the world!


It’s also straight out of Mussolini’s Italy.


Clearly you haven't yet seen Network:

https://youtu.be/yuBe93FMiJc?t=19s

(I highly recommend the film if you haven't seen it)


I think having a military force that helps a set of people enforce an us vs them and ‘own’ resources (natural or otherwise) makes a country a country. A company, unless it has physical power, will never be like a country.


How can Zuck's speehwriter write about experience without violating her NDA?

This post reminds me of Gavin Belson's blood boy. I assumed CEOs locked down the people close to them with NDAs.


"But Cambridge Analytica is a scandal that isn't a scandal: Everyone who has ever worked on or with the Facebook platform knew that for several years, the platform made data available to third-party developers by design. The scandal is that the world finally understands the ramifications of that state of affairs."

But could the world "understand the ramifications" based on reading terms of service and click-through permissions or did the world come to understand the ramifications through disclosures from "whistleblowers" and investigative journalism?

"We don't sell people's data. Period." - David Baser, Facebook

https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/04/data-off-facebook/

According to the former Zuckerberg speechwriter, Facebook shares access to people's data with third-party app developers.

Does Facebook share people's data with academic researchers? Why? Can users opt-out of this sharing? Are they opted-in by default? How much data has Facebook shared in the past?

Do Mr. Zuckerberg, Ms. Sandberg, Mr. Baser and others at Facebook believe people would only be concerned with "sale" of their data, but not with sharing access to it with unidentified third parties?


"Companies over countries" is tolerable speech, but nation states will not find it tolerable as policy. As a citizen, I don't find "companies over countries" a tolerable policy. I get a say in how my country is run. I get NO say in how Facebook is run.


maybe that's the future .. globalization reduced borders and culture meaningfulness. Lots of global social structures are results of large companies and not nations.

If Musk martian fantasy succeed it may even be earth vs planets in a way.


I'm sure there were plenty of people that had second thoughts about privacy in the early days; but, like the author, they probably chose not to question it and said nothing.


FB should be stopped, along with Google, and maybe Amazon. One way or another.

But, is it me, or speech writers and close advisors should not be spilling all private stuff? Maybe she was not paid for it but it's almost like a attorney-client thing. Or it should be.


I thought his early motto was "Dumbfucks".


I was hoping that a congressman would ask Zuckerberg if he still viewed his users this way. I'm sure he had a well-prepared response to this exact question, just in case.


Look, i really don't like fb's practices as much as the next guy here ( you can check my history if you want to) but are you really going to hold someone accountable for something they said when they were 19-21?


It's pointing out that he's not some cyber-saint.

What can we look at that would stand as evidence that he's not a huge douche-bag?

Renaming the SF General Hospital after himself? His recent behavior in front of Congress?

Show me the evidence that he's a good person, please.


Only thing i said is, to judge him based on something he said when he was somewhere between 19 and 21 years old in Uni is a stupid thing to do. A majority of us have said and done stupid things in uni.


Yes, and you're right about that.

It is stupid and unfair to judge somebody based on one thing they said when they were young.


Yes. You can be tried as an adult, go to war, vote, and drink, marry, have children, and so on. You’re an adult, and fully accountable.


Sure, but majority of us have done and said stupid things back when we were in Uni. Doesn't mean a person hasn't matured/changed since then.

Also, you are reaching if you are equating getting tried as an adult to someone labelling users as dumb-fucks.


I’m equating nothing, I’m saying that you can be held to account for words and deeds as an adult. In Zuckerberg’s case, it seems he hasn’t changed much either, so why give him a pass? He treated people like dumbfucks then, and now. Getting coached to appear like less of a prick and wearing a suit didn’t change him either.

His business practices speak for him.


I wonder when Facebook would start incorporating some of the democratic processes in its decision making and potentially let users elect 'directors' to oversee some of the decision making. I guess never. I don't think capitalism and social media, that would be good for the society, cannot go together.

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