Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Facebook: Let Us Be Part of the Hearing (foundation.mozilla.org)
234 points by dotcoma 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 97 comments

I find it really bizarre to be living in an age that such a thing happens. And by that I mean I couldn't imagine back in the early 1990s that owners of websites would be meeting leaders of nations to discuss the rights of citizens of the world.

It's not owners of websites, it's owners of big companies. I don't think owners of big companies meeting leaders of nations to discuss the rights of citizens of the world is a new thing (sadly, I would add).

It's not just big companies, it's the Media that make politicians electable. You won't see the same publicity around Bezos or Gates. Let's say it is a self-serving theater from both sides.

6 corporations own 90% of the media in the US. The media is big companies.

I think the point was more that not all big companies are media, and those are less likely to be called in like this.

Plus this particular boy wonder very confidently stood up in front of everyone and said fake news is BS right after the elections.

Was that really the case? I believe you, I just don't recall hearing that.

I wonder how he was convinced.

IDK if this is what the OP is thinking, but Zuckerberg said something like "Anyone who thinks the election was rigged is missing the message that American voters had for the country."


> Mark Zuckerberg has rejected the notion that fake news on Facebook influenced the outcome of the US election, describing it as a “pretty crazy idea”.

> “Voters make decisions based on their lived experience,” he said at the Techonomy conference near San Francisco on Thursday.

> “There is a profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could have voted the way they did is because they saw fake news,” he said, and anyone who believes that has “failed to internalize” the message supporters of Donald Trump sent during the election.


He didn't say fake news doesn't exist; he said it did not determine the American president.

> He didn't say fake news doesn't exist; he said it did not determine the American president.

It's even more specific: Fake news might have had an actual effect on the election, but blaming the election result on fake news fundamentally amounts to not accepting responsibility for your own side's failures.

That sounds like victim blaming.

If (as an extreme hypothetical) one side used lies and laundered foreign money to win the election, and the other side didn't do that and lost, then the losing side doesn't need to "accept responsibility for their own failures", they need justice.

We don't yet know the full story of what actually happened in the last American presidential campaign, though, so this is moot for now.

But what if, extending your extreme hypothetical, both sides used lies and laundered foreign money?

Then instead of focusing on accepting responsibility for their own failure, the losing side would need to focus on addressing their lack of ethics and potential criminality. (Both sides would need to focus on that, regardless of whether they won or loss).

Unfortunately I don't know what "justice" would look like in such a situation, but perhaps re-running the process without the unethical and criminal elements would be a good first order approximation.

>But what if, extending your extreme hypothetical, both sides used lies and laundered foreign money?

They both did. But one side is accused of taking money from scary Russia, while the other took money from fluffy bunnies Ireland, England, France, and other allies.

The "us versus them" narrative is easier to work with than the "us versus other people who are allied with us but also not supposed to do these things."

Plus, America has loved underdogs since the days when baseball was interesting. Since H lost, it's usual to attack T. If H won instead of T, then it would be the other way around. It's just how America works.

Yes he denied the possibility of it influencing an election. https://themoscowproject.org/collusion/zuckerberg-denies-fac...

> and said fake news is BS

Isn't this a matter of opinion rather than of fact?

Given how many people believe fake news, you simply can’t deny it’s a threat. Not just for democracy, but also in healthcare (antivaxxers) and a host other areas.

But hasn't this always been the case? Some people write or say stupid shit; other people believe stupid shit. The demand for stupid shit that motivates writers and speakers comes from people who believe it, or from the wealthy and powerful agents who want others to believe it.

Education helps, to a certain extent. But treating fake news as some sort of a new threat seems strange.

Until the Internet and social media in particular, there was no way for people to spread information this quickly and efficiently.

People are very susceptible to believing false information stated eloquently, and this as you say has always been true, but in days past the spread of such information was limited to very disreputable channels and were quite easily countered with that fact alone. "Where did you get that from? Oh, <publication> is full of shit, everyone knows that Joey".

Now it takes ten minutes for a Facebook post to be heard 'round the world and people believe it implicitly. Spreading fake news has never been easier, and countering it has never been harder.

Your description of the past is really really wrong. In the US "fake news" just used to be the "yellow press" and it was as widely spread as the fake news of today. In fact the Spanish American War was basically entirely started because of the yellow press and the cries of "Remember the Maine" despite the sinking of the ship probably just being an accident.

> In the US "fake news" just used to be the "yellow press"

but nobody doubted that the yellow press existed, and that's the important difference. People knew that they were reading tabloid bs when they opened a paper like this, the authoritative function of trusted news outlets wasn't undermined.

Social media disguises itself as authentic. People who influence on social media can do so by pretending to be your neighbour who shares real-life experiences rather than the 'distanced elites'. Regardless of whether they are saying the truth or not.

That's the difference and it has had a much bigger impact on undermining a shared consensus about what is fiction and what is real than the historical yellow press.

There is a contradiction between your second and your third paragraph. If people learned that "<publication> is full of shit", they will also learn that Facebook is generally full of shit and will learn to discern between trustworthy posters, gossipers, and posters whom they know nothing about (and so can trust only guardedly).

I do hope it's a self-correcting process.

I simply stopped using Facebook after I learned it was full of shit.

There was plenty of fake news / ideas spread before the internet. The mechanisms were different, but impactful just the same.

It also goes without saying that, had Clinton won, this conversation wouldn't even exist, despite the wild amounts of false information about both sides, and the results, that is said about the election to this day.

As an exercise, write down everything you believe about the demographics that voted for both Trump and Clinton, then compare that to the polling done by CNN.

They do worst in the US (they pay politicians too).

Same thing after a few magical alchemists in labs started inventing things ~100 years ago, who would've thought?

I have great respect for Mozilla, and as an EU citizen I find it odd that a meeting that is taking place on behalf of the public is held for closed doors. However, I can't help thinking that this partition for openness lacks openness itself: The site contains very little information about to whom and how the signatures will be presented to drive this change. Also about the number of signatures collected, which is otherwise commonplace to have a counter for.

... Or am I missing something entirely?

> [...] and as an EU citizen I find it odd that a meeting that is taking place on behalf of the public is held for closed doors.

This is how the EU works. There are WAY more serious discussions in Brussels behind closed doors[1] than this one, it's not by accident, it's by design.

[1] https://www.yanisvaroufakis.eu/2016/03/30/the-eurogroup-made...

It would allow Zuckerberg to talk more candidly. Public perception and opinion is very important to any of these billion-dollar business leaders. If you have an open hearing then there is a snowball's chance in hell that you will hear anything that wasn't carefully planned by teams of PR guys and lawyers.

A closed hearing won't be picked apart and (mis)interpreted ever which way, so the speaker can try to get their true point across. The speaker can also acknowledge faults and mention some sensitive issues without making their company's stock ride a rollercoaster.

Nothing could influence Zuckerberg to talk candidly in front of regulators, he'll be speaking the same carefully planned legalese. At least with a public hearing, the public have the benefit of watching him try to bullshit everybody.

> It would allow Zuckerberg to talk more candidly.

This is exactly the problem. If he's not able to talk candidly in public, it suggests that Facebook is doing things to which the public would object.

> A closed hearing won't be picked apart and (mis)interpreted ever which way, so the speaker can try to get their true point across.

In the same post, this is a very good counter-point, I think. Anything this high-profile will be cherry-picked and de-contextualized a million times. Including in Facebook posts, ironically. Speaking candidly is bad PR for anyone that visible, no matter how virtuous.

The power differential between randoms taking something he says out of context and that of Zuckerberg himself does not really garner much sympathy for him and his company here.

Any action by anyone will be objected to by some if the audience is large enough.

One distinctive aspect of the EU is that the constituent states are genuinely sovereign nations, and retain the convention of sovereign privacy. We see this principle (and its abuse) when nations work on trade deals and treaties together, and more mundanely when a Prime Minister's cabinet has its meetings.

To give a specifically British example, the Privy Council holds its meetings behind closed doors, and its (often unelected) members have to take a literal oath of secrecy, yet somehow this aspect of the British constitution does not receive the same criticism as the EU does.

Well, Congress hearings are public. And Varoufakis is right.

I don't see how the political theatre of Zuckerberg testifying in the US Congress actually increased useful public information.

At least our taxes were used in a fun way. Closed meetings won’t produce any new memes.

> I find it odd that a meeting that is taking place on behalf of the public is held for closed doors

That is not at all odd in the EU. In fact most are, and this lack of transparency is by design: If EU was left to the caprices of the heterogeneous electorates of its countries, they would break it up.

So Europe actually IS ruled by a shadowy cabal, furthering "the greater good" even if it's something no country wants, keeping citizens in the dark "for their protection"?

Well, that seems like the only way to get things done for a large group of countries or states.

An example of this: it is how the constitution of the United States was formed.

That doesn’t seem like the best counterexample, given that the US held a public hearing on the same topic.

No that is not the case. But EU is a special kind of union that is "united in diversity". Wide consensuses and vetoes exist to ensure that populism does not destroy it. It works well for as long as the integration is not too deep.

The “common good”. EU will be the next buble. Institutions are sturated by debt while overflowing the “free” economy with new regulatio.

Being somewhat aware of how EU politics works, this is worse for him than a public hearing.


No showboating (like what we saw with the US hearings, a lot of senators went on random tangents to placate their voter base). More likely they'll just be talking specific difficult/uncomfortable positions for zuck and staying focused on it.

None of this getting a canned answer that half dodges the question and moving on, instead getting an answer that picks apart more of the nuance.

Isn't this just a property of closed-door hearings, rather than anything specific to the EU? ("Being somewhat aware of how EU politics works...")

I am not sure if that’s really true. I think EU meeting like having a meeting at work: looks serious, but often are ineffective. For show.

If you know how EU politic works, you might be aware of the defeated device of VW and other Europrean car manufacturers. EU’s own poulltion level is getting worse each other because of governments covering their own domestic manufacturer’s ass. See Netflix’ documentary.

It would still be nice if they let a couple of people from e.g. Mozilla attend the hearing, and ask some questions.

Why should Mozilla be the representative? Why not X organization?

Drop Facebook. It won't happen overnight and it's up to people in the tech community to innovate and ideate around new social tech that isn't monolithic and centrally planned.

You can produce a viable alternative for Facebook for less than $1M upfront and pretty low running costs. Maybe $10/user/month or less.

However, nobody has done it. Why? Because it doesn't make any profit. Everyone needs it, it would save a lot of resources otherwise wasted on useless products and bad political choices, and it would make public discourse much better, but nobody will pay for it.

This is the classic example of when the government should step in. We need to either create a Facebook tax (let people choose who to fund with it, but make sure they pay for it) or make FBs business model illegal. Both would work.

People know their long-term interests but they can't act on them unless corner-cutting is made illegal. And the governments would have fixed the problem by now, only if Facebook wasn't offering politicians a cheap way to get reelected.

I'm open to new approaches but I can't figure out a solution for this to get funded.

An unconventional idea: drop FB without creating any new alternative. Instead use other already existing channels: meet people in real life, send messages (I know, FB owns WhatApp). Despite their success there is no real need for social media networks like FB.

As a demonstration, after 10 years of FB I started using it only to announce events which I already announce on Eventbrite, Meetup, LinkedIn, but no personal news, no reading of the news feed. Guess what, after months of that I still have all the friends I had before.

Facebook has a lot of utility. We tend to look at Facebook through goggles of hatred because it's a corporate propaganda and brainwashing machine, but if you take that away, you have a neat way of keeping in touch with friends. Imagine if content and people were more discoverable, if you could filter the content you see, and better yet, if all the people who hate Facebook and its culture were on the platform because the culture wouldn't be monolithic anymore. It wouldn't be bad at all.

Solution: ban targeted advertising. Then even Facebook can't fund Facebook.

I like this solution (probably more than the Facebook Tax idea above) and hope that the GDPR will go some way towards this. However, there is another timebomb against Facebook hidden in the GDPR which I'm looking forward to seeing donate this week.

The GDPR contains a section on Data Portability:


mandating that "the data subject shall have the right to have the personal data transmitted directly from one controller to another, where technically feasible." This means that someone with a Facebook account should be able to request that Facebook automatically send their posts to the accounts of their friends on other competing social networks.

Obviously the question of what is "technically feasible" will be argued, but I think that a large, potentially monopolistic company like Facebook would have a hard time arguing that it couldn't implement something like ActivityPub:


especially if its smaller (and European) competitors are able to implement it and interoperate with each other. Once you no longer have to be on Facebook to receive updates from your Facebook-using friends, I imagine that their empire will crumble relatively quickly.

So I have to run English ads and just hope whoever reads them speaks the language?

Buy advertisements from whatever publication you think your target audience is most likely to read. That's how it used to work.

And it worked a lot better than what Google does. I remember buying things I discovered through ads on my favorite magazines.

You can show a language-selector. After the user makes the selection, you show them the ad.

Given how public hearings just turn into opportunities for political grandstanding, empty soundbites, and gotchas, this is probably a good thing.

In this case i would like to see it, not to hear Zuck's opinions (we know them), but to see the lawmakers opinions and knowledge on the matter, because i have some doubts based on reading legislation they passed.

This sort of thing just doest really happen in Europe, or elsewhere for that matter.

Maybe that’s the reason the US rank higher in democracy index than the main EU countries.

Actually, the US is ranked as a „flawed democracy“[1], as opposed to „full democracy“ like Germany, Netherlands, UK etc.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index

This petition seems to be addressed to FB. Does anyone know if FB requested a closed door hearing or did the EU?

Could Zuckerberg be jailed as a result of this hearing? For instance, in case of him being previously aware of Europeans data leakage or deliberately lying about it?


"No." is a very short answer for something as complex as could someone become imprisoned.

While the EU parliament doesn't jail people, there are lots of countries that do.

If he admits to breaking the law during the meeting any one of the EU countries could issue an EU arrest warrant for him. Then he would be held within that country to be extradited.

If I was in charge of the British Parliament committee that wants to question him, I would issue an EU arrest warrant for one of the many crimes that are being levelled at Cambridge Analytic with him being part of it. Then question him about it. But I am petty and would want to show that just because he's American he isn't always out of reach.

It's not a complex thing at all. No, there is zero chance, short of stabbing someone on the mean streets of Brussels on the way there that Mark Zuckerberg or anyone else voluntarily appearing before the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament will be jailed as a consequence.

So, you're saying, Mark Zuckerberg goes and admits to breaking several laws, ones that are criminal in many EU countries, but because he was appearing before Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament no one would issue an EU arrest warrant for those crimes?

The entire assumption is Facebook isn't breaking any criminal laws and Mark Zuckerberg isn't directly linked to those laws.

Chances of going to jail, slim. But it is still in the world of possibilities.

you're saying, Mark Zuckerberg goes and admits to breaking several laws

I'm not saying that, you're saying it and it's not going to happen any more than him stabbing someone or all of Belgium getting eaten by bears.


Oh, a setup.


Let me make sure I have what you're saying correct. You think the basis of all of this backlash stems from anti-Semitism rather than:

Blatant political corruption

Selling/distributing of user data to shady third parties

Poor protection of user data

Privacy invasion beyond what's reasonable to sell people adds

Tracking of individuals who do not have accounts


Do I have that right? If so I find it hard to agree with your conclusion.

Edit: OP edited the anti-semitism bit out of their comment.

Facebook doesn't sell data, and unless you think it's a bad thing for them to have an API then they don't distribute data either.

> Facebook doesn't sell data

Of course they do, and they have for a while now. It's how they make money. In fact, they not only sell data they collect on your use of their service, they sell data based on information scraped by their persistent cookies as you browse other sites:


Better targeting for their ads is not selling data.

Isn't Facebook's entire business model essentially based on selling user data?

Selling targeted ads, targeting done by analysis of user data. According to FB: allowing user data to be leaked (which in turn allows for more directed individual targeting) was an oversight.

An API is a method of data distribution whether I think it's a bad thing or not.

I don't see the "political corruption"" angle.

The rest (your distortions aside) was already addressed by him and the company on many occasions still the animus directed at him is extraordinary.

He sent his CTO to the Commons Committee in the UK, and he failed to answer a whole host of questions satisfactorily:

'Damian Collins, the chair of the DCMS committee, said: “We asked them to look for evidence of Russian influence and they came back and told us something we now know appears misleading. And we’re still waiting for answers to 40 questions that Mike Schroepfer was unable to answer, including if they have any record of any dark ads.

“It could be that these adverts are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s just so hard getting any sort of information out of them, and then not knowing if that information is complete.” ' from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/may/12/facebook-...

How about the other angles?

Or do they not fit your narrative?

Yeah let us, Google's proxy, be one of the interrogators when we fight for the privacy of internet users. BTW did you see the super cool world domination mind control fantasizing internal video? Amazing stuff!

> "BTW did you see the super cool world domination mind control fantasizing internal video?"

Care to share?


The scary fact is that they do this to an extent with their ads.

Mozilla is hardly "Google's proxy".

Recent versions of Firefox have a feature called "Multi-Account Containers" that can be used to isolate websites from others. It can be used with any website, but the interface leaves something to be desired.

Mozilla was good enough to publish an extension called "Facebook Container" that creates default settings for Containers to isolate Facebook from other websites, impeding Facebook's ability to track user activity across the wider internet. https://blog.mozilla.org/firefox/facebook-container-extensio...

Great stuff! Where is the "Google Container" version? (There exists one, but it's not from Mozilla.) Could it be that Mozilla receives most of it's funding from search engines (including but not limited to Google), and even during years when Google isn't the default search engine it's still not in Mozilla's financial interest to burn that bridge? Maybe that's too cynical. Maybe it's too cynical to suggest that huge amounts of money could bias people. Or maybe it's unfair to suggest that being biased by google in this way makes them a "proxy" of google.

Maybe. But the fact remains that Mozilla still isn't promoting a "Google Container" extension to protect users from Google.

Do you think Mozilla would promote the Google container extension if Google found itself in Facebook's position?

Mozilla might publish and promote their own^ Google Container if the possibility of ever receiving the majority of their funding from Google was never on the table for them. I really doubt they'd ever do it otherwise. Skepticism of Google, while perhaps not currently as widespread as skepticism of Facebook, is nevertheless quite popular. Mozilla has a financial incentive to close their eyes to this. Mozilla releasing an extension that protects users from Facebook is easy because Mozilla receives minimal if any funding from Facebook, but Google is another matter entirely.

^ Many users are wary of third party firefox extensions because firefox extension permissions are so coarse: https://i.imgur.com/G1HuXgy.png

Aren’t they almost entirely funded by Google?

Sometimes. My impression is that sometimes they're mostly funded by Yahoo instead, and other times perhaps Bing. But one way or the other they're always getting most of their money from one of the major search engines. So even when they have a contract with Yahoo, they have a financial interest in staying cozy with Google because when their contract with Yahoo expires they're going to take offers from both Yahoo and Google and, even if they ultimately decide to sign another contract with Yahoo, the offer they get from Yahoo will doubtlessly be competitive with whatever offer they receive from Google.

I believe there's currently no public information about that. They didn't get search engine payments from Google for several years, but with them replacing Yahoo with Google for US customers again it seems likely there's a new contract (although there were reports that the Yahoo contract had clauses that force Yahoo to continue paying them until 2019, so it's possible they just use that money right now)

The Mozilla Foundation is a US 501c3, all their finances are public record. I believe the most recent filed financial statement is for 2016 [0]. See also the summary document, the 2016 State of Mozilla Report, for higher level information [1].

0: https://assets.mozilla.net/annualreport/2016/2016_Mozilla_Au...

1: https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/foundation/annualreport/2016/

Which is why we have no current information about this, since some of these changes happened afterwards.

97% by their last financial report.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact