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Facebook Fueled Anti-Refugee Attacks in Germany, New Research Suggests (nytimes.com)
84 points by pjc50 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

Would a better way of describing it be: "People Used Facebook to fuel Anti-Refugee Attacks in Germany." You could say that Facebook isn't doing enough to prevent people fuelling attacks but you could also say that the police aren't doing enough either.

It's a little different then that. The problem here is echo chambers. Echo chambers allow people to push eachother further and further away from mainstream views. Eventually this extremism leads to violence. Facebook's algorithm's seem to be designed to create echo chambers. Not only that, but their algorithms favor posts that lead to strong emotions. This study shows that this creates an environment that breeds violence.

The internet has been a series of echo chambers practically since its inception. That's how human society works most of the time.

You don't need algorithms for that. People will just naturally delete or block people they don't like seeing content from. And they will join communities containing people and content they do like seeing. e.g. Stormfront, which was founded in 1996.

The difference now is that it's just a lot easier for the common person to find one for themselves with the expansion of internet access and ease of use. And common people are just honestly not as progressive as the average person involved in computing technology.

Facebook doesn't need to hoist posts up on top with some black-box algorithm rather than let posts show chronologically.

If it turns out that said algorithm makes engagement of echo chambers that much easier, then some of the fault does indeed lie with Facebook. (although certainly, the majority does still lie with human nature).

How is this different from censorship ? Obviously it was still person1 convincing person2 on what is essentially a forum to do something. How is that wrong ?

What's next ? Mandatory muzzles that work in real life, and close and shock their wearer when you say something that's not OK according to whatever the current public opinion is ?

People have a right to talk to each other. About whatever, really, really whatever. It is not anyone's, and especially not the state's, or some random mob's business to approve or disapprove.

If it's no one's business to approve or disapprove, then Facebook should not be allowed to display comments sorted any way other than chronological.

Facebook is drawing more attention to specific posts, and it honestly doesn't matter whether its done by manual intervention or automatic algorithm. It's not hyperbole to claim that Facebook _already_ approves what you get to read on their site.

Facebook does that so those people would interact more with Facebook. In other words: it's doing exactly what those people want done. Besides, it's not like people wouldn't leave Facebook otherwise.

The real reason for increased racism is the abuse low-level workers have to endure in order to make the current Germany "economic miracle", and those fresh migrants undercutting, illegally, their already abysmal wages. Fix that, and Facebook won't matter. Don't fix that, and even going at it like Xinnie the Pooh won't help.

Very unfair that immigrants get blamed for economic misery. Of course, they're far from the only ones getting blamed, but they're the only group that the German police doesn't protect.

"HN doesn't need to hoist posts/comments up on top that have the most votes"

Sound better?

"let posts show chronologically"

Raising upvoted/most engaged/whatever posts to the top is social media 101. It's hardly perfect but it's preferable to letting your page become a glorified chatroom. In HN's case you would be browsing /new all the time and sifting through useless spam comments on each post.

Facebook posts as a whole have roughly the same quality of content whether a post has 1000 likes or it has no likes. A friend showing off photos of him in the Maldives, or a video of a cat dancing to EDM, how can you claim one is more valuable than the other? For the most part, Facebook is nothing more than a chatroom.

HN posts (and reddit posts in certain subreddits) genuinely do have a difference in quality, and that's where the value of upvotes/downvotes comes in.

Quality is in the eye of the beholder. Not everyone is looking for reasoned discourse, some really do want to see cat vids. And then there are plenty of good posts here that get passed by, or downvoted because of disagreement, and bad/misinformative posts that get upvoted. Social media popularity is to varying degrees a crapshoot.

I just don't see what Facebook should do here besides officially declare their platform Chatbook. And even if they did, how that would "help". Have you seen some chatrooms? Especially lightly moderated ones? Holy shit man.

"Echo chamber" seems to be the wrong word; the problem seems to be more like who gets the megaphone. The article talks about "superposters".

> "even if only a minority of users express vehement anti-refugee views, once they dominate the newsfeed, this can have consequences for everyone else"

Do this kind of thing in the real world and generally it's met with silence; uncomfortable, disapproving silence. Or people organise tiny pro-racist demos and are outnumbered by counter-protestors.

On the internet, a silent majority is invisible. To stop these people dominating the newsfeed, you have to actively drown them out, which means being louder and more effectively clickbaity for the algorithm that decides how loud you get to be.

(We should also not over-estimate the mainstream; it's probably very mainstream to have misgivings about refugees, but that's a long way from actual violence.)

Google clearly also favors echo chambers nowadays. In the beginning there were discrete resuñts about a topic but now the info layers about super specific topics male difficult to came up with alternative information.

Here's a statement of the research: places where the Facebook usage was one standard deviation higher than median had a 50% higher than average rate of anti-refugee violence. Based on studying all 3,335 attacks over 2 years. See cstross's tweet: https://twitter.com/cstross/status/1031873629489963008

This is clearly a case where "correlation is not causation" must be considered.

Suppose that refugees love Facebook. If so, then places with refugees will have more Facebook usage. Anti-refugee violence can only occur where there are refugees. We thus would expect that Facebook usage would be higher in locations with more anti-refugee violence.

Another explanation is that old people are less likely to engage in violence and also less likely to use Facebook.

> You could say that Facebook isn't doing enough to prevent people fuelling attacks but you could also say that the police aren't doing enough either.

Is there a demonstrated positive correlation between the police (what do you mean here—number of police, level of funding, level of civilian support?) and anti-refugee attacks? If not: what's your point?

We've known, for many years and from millions of dead people, that fascism needs the media. Without the media you don't get the widespread mass dehumanisation of people as vermin or cockroaches, and you get less violence against those people.

Seems to me the wording was chosen to put Facebook as the first word for more clicks.

The point this article (and the research behind it) try to make is that the Filter Bubbles social media sites rely on to drive engagement are themselves inherently harmful.

If true thats the closest thing we’ve see to an attack on the heart of facebook.

Russia has been active on social media to try to weaken NATO -- and one of their specific tactics has been stirring up anti-refugee sentiments.

While this has been well-documented, I think people have been hesitant to consider that as part of what's happening in Germany.

I like that they at least address the causality vs corellation question. I didn't read the whole 80 pages, but just considering it explicitely is a big step further than many empirical papers go. :)

I guess the telephone fueled the Nazi party and the telegraph fueled General Custer.

The difference is that telephone and telegraph are "neutral" content deliverer. On most social media, the algorithm of the company decide what you will see.

The telephone cannot force me to see more anti-immigration content. Facebook algorithm can.

I agree. This is a braindead article. They admit in the opening paragraphs that social media is only tied to 10% of anti-refugee violence. What about the other 90%? Maybe there are some bigger issues going on and Facebook is just one of the tools involved.

I suppose that makes you feel better to know that you’re one of the 10% beat up because of some social media drivel.

Slightly related, but radio did in fact fuel Hitler and the Nazi party. From this wiki page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volksempf%C3%A4nger):

> Most famously, Hitler's architect and Minister for Armaments and War Production, Albert Speer, said in his final speech at the Nuremberg trials:

> Hitler's dictatorship differed in one fundamental point from all its predecessors in history. His was the first dictatorship in the present period of modern technical development, a dictatorship which made the complete use of all technical means for domination of its own country. Through technical devices like the radio and loudspeaker, 80 million people were deprived of independent thought. It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one man..

Yeah, I have no doubt that it did. Powerful tools can be a double edged sword. A method of communication doesn't put evil in someone's heart.

Maybe they'll find a way to boot them off Facebook, but then they'll just use vk or another platform I'd assume. The same platform that allowed some bad actors to fester allowed us to be aware of their presence, write articles on how it happens, and become more aware of how hate breeds from cultural conflict.

If they don't have an audience of two billion to recruit from, and if they don't have an obvious place to virtually gather on one of the most popular sites in the world, their numbers will be smaller. Making it harder for them to recruit and coordinate will reduce their power.

> Maybe they'll find a way to boot them off Facebook, but then they'll just use vk or another platform I'd assume.

This is true, but having it on Facebook normalizes it, which aids its spread.

> A method of communication doesn't put evil in someone's heart.

But it absolutely can be used to do that, and such use needs to be cracked down on somehow.

Why do you think broadcast media was regulated?

Radio and video in particular is and was a threat to the democratic process because it magnifies the power the demagoguery.

Turn on AM radio sometime. It’s a sea of bizarre right wing syndicated propaganda 24/7. It’s no coincidence that the rise of unhindered broadcasting is correlated with modern fascism.

You’re literally advocating for censorship

I'm advocating for democracy. Free speech without meaningful accountability is the mob.

...and I'm sure we all agree as to what speech, and "accountability" mean in this context...

The funny thing that restriction of free speech is advocated as a cure for "modern fascism". It some kind of homeopathic cure, I assume - let's have some fascism to prevent modern fascism!

Because it is.

If you can't have an open, honest and educated discussion about the problems at hand, comparing different approaches, then you took a really wrong turn somewhere.

Just hiding the problem away, by making certain topics taboo or through other mechanisms, doesn't solve it.

As a German, I can speak from experience because it's something we've been doing for a very long time across a whole variety of topics from neo-Nazis to online libel.

In Germany, you are liable for any comments somebody leaves on your website. Couple that with all the anti-Nazi law stuff, you have the situation where literally no German news outlet allows unmoderated comments on their site.

Did that help? Does that help? Are all neo-Nazis gone from Germany, and nobody writes anything nasty anymore? Far from it, but at the same time a lot of people can point at this stuff and go "Look how they are censoring us away, we are a persecuted minority!" reinforcing their own victim-narrative.

> If you can't have an open, honest and educated discussion

You can't have such a discussion if there's a policeman (literal or figurative) standing over your shoulder waiting to drag you off to jail (literal or figurative) over any transgression - and anything that people who pay the policeman don't like is deemed to be the transgression.

And what we have in Europe now is that people get fined and jailed for retweets and facebook shares. And it's not even the Nazi stuff anymore, it's "culturally insensitive" stuff - i.e. posting something somebody from thousands of identity groups might not like (even if none of them complained). One person got in trouble for literally posting a song by an American rapper (which used some spicy language with racial slurs, as some rappers commonly do). And then it goes to people being fired and persecuted for merely mentioning certain words - even in context of condemning use of the same word! Just for mere mention you can get fired. Maybe in 5 years you'd get 5 years in jail for that. All in the name of fighting fascism, of course.

Radio was partially responsible for the Rwanda genocide: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_T%C3%A9l%C3%A9vision_Lib...

Why is this on "hacker news"?

Because techies should be considering consequences of their creations.

Ok that is fair.

But echo chaiber argument goes both ways. And if there is no discussion and iniciative to solve priblems becose everyone including police is afraid to be perceived as "racist", then sadly violence is unavoidible.

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