Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Facts About Facebook (wsj.com)
64 points by gfosco 22 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

I don't agree with a lot of the recent anti-Facebook narrative (much of it is prompted by the 2016 election), but I have always been a bit uncomfortable with the 'connecting people' thing he talks about here. Although I like when someone I haven't talked to since high school 'likes' a status update of mine, I don't actually want to be connected to everyone. If I go to a party I don't need my Uncle to see the pics. I think that is what is prompting declining FB usage among young people anyway, the fact that your Mom and your neighborhood grocery store owner is on there makes it different than what FB was ten years ago.

I also believe him when he says that Facebook doesn't purposefully host unseemly material that drives up engagement. Their newsfeed has always changed to reduce that kinda thing (app notifications circa 2008, clickbait titles circa 2011, infographics, quizzes, etc... they all have their run and then get tuned out.) Although Facebook has always been fanatical about growth so I guess it's more about long-term vs short-term engagement vs. not caring about engagement at all.

Looks like a classic non answer to me:

"Some worry that ads create a misalignment of interests between us and people who use our services. I’m often asked if we have an incentive to increase engagement on Facebook because that creates more advertising real estate, even if it’s not in people’s best interests.

We’re very focused on helping people share and connect more, because the purpose of our service is to help people stay in touch with family, friends and communities. But from a business perspective, it’s important that their time is well spent, or they won’t use our services as much over the long term. Clickbait and other junk may drive engagement in the near term, but it would be foolish for us to show this intentionally, because it’s not what people want."

So are you NOT showing that? Seems like FB has the outrage non-story click baits to drive the short term engagement with the "it's the ONLY place where my friends and family communicate" for long term.

EDIT: He says the automated removal can't catch everything. in the following paragraph.

Great, then remove the newsfeed until it can be AI cleaned to NON society destroying levels. Will definitely remove that short term engagement Zuck says he doesn't care about.

Great, then remove the newsfeed until it can be AI cleaned to NON society destroying levels.

I've read a few dystopias centered around the idea that all friends and family members must be monitored to prevent socially undesirable communication. Some would argue that China is becoming that dystopia today.

No thanks.

I honestly believe Facebook is turning into scapegoat for the fact that, simply, your friends suck. "Facebook is full of outrage clickbait", eh? Guess who put it there.

I've read a few dystopias centered around technology corporations inserting themselves into the majority of communication and media access.

No thanks.

I was pretty sincere though. Just remove the newsfeed. That's the battleground for your attention and by far the most toxic part of the product.

It is not like they are not showing that. It is more like they are not incentivized to show it. The only reason they do it is because their review systems are not developed enough to take them out. He literally mentions this in his next line which you chose not to quote.

Thanks for the catch. Edited my response.

Still is a non answer to me.

FB says they have a problem. FB says the are trying to fix the problem. Still waiting on results.

It really doesn't matter that their intention is not to host clickbait and "junk". His platform (like other global, everyone to everyone network) predictably attracts this kind of content, and they are responsible for filtering it out.

Just last week I got another fake ad in my feed using the same fake-photo-tagging injection method that was supposedly shut down ages ago.

Facebook's been ramping up their censorship of their users to an unbearable extent. Apart from losing control of the situation when it comes to peoples' data, they're also losing control of their attempts to purge their own platform of things Silicon Valley tech giants frown upon on their own platforms. "Getting Zucc'd" is an internet meme for a reason.

I have friends who got suspended from the platform for 30-some days for posting pictures of their children to their own profile. Just children, doing children stuff. Not naked, not doing anything wrong or illegal by anyone's moral standards. I myself got suspended for 7 days by posting a completely apolitical, non-offensive joke to a private group that their system deemed evil. And then caught another 30 day suspension when I posted a screenshot of my suspension to my friends to laugh at how stupid the situation was. I've had enough of it. As personal as the experience is, before it used to be that people who were getting suspended had very easily understandable reasons behind it: when someone posted stupid, edgy stuff and got punished for it then at least you knew why it happened and acknowledged that it was fair enough. I understand that this is all anecdotal, but nowadays it's been very common to see my active friends be on timeouts. Why?

Facebook does not offer one iota of support for their users, be it when they get banned or have issues on the platform that a human should see. You're not getting through, clicking the buttons does nothing. Just like Google.

I have a friend who unfortunately attracted the attention of a mentally ill stalker, she was harassed and threatened for months by this stalker and his friends, she almost ended up committing suicide due to this. Our circle of friends reported this person to Facebook and they deemed it to be completely acceptable and allowed it to continue.

Not even mentioning the whole psychological experimentation crap they were doing with the goal of keeping people glued to their platforms by any means necessary, even if it means driving them into depression.

When people look at Facebook and the things that have been leaking out into the world, people don't care for any excuses anymore. And it might not be fair but they're giving Facebook the treatment they received. Even if the media sensationalises the whole anti-Facebook thing, a lot of people resent it for a reason.

I simply contacted my friends, left them alternative ways of contacting me and requested that my account be deleted.

Happy birthday to Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg. This is the 15th year of hollow excuses and empty, soulless explanations.

The comment point at one of two key aspects of the trouble with the platform. The company created something that no one could imagine living without, even as early as five years after the platform was created: a credible social identity online. In spite of that, people overlooked the benefits and focus on a deep, personal resentment.

The more widespread is context collapse, the idea that not everyone who knows you wants to know everything about you. See the comments below. That was something that Facebook was focused on in 2010-2012. Every attempt at personalising your audience failed. There was some ambitious effort to automate clustering of your friends by third-party but no one really cared enough to take over. Google Plus tried with their Circles. That excessive visibility led to less candid messages and less activity over the years, about two-thirds of the drop. Story was meant to compensate for that but didn’t try to identify problematic relations explicitly. It worked on Instagram but more as a quality level than anything targeted. Messages and Groups have that role, and because it’s not harder to create those elsewhere, it’s easier to move away on Facebook.

The one that you mention is less widespread but indeed had a devastating effect. Facebook, like every company, has under-invested in “customer service” or in their case moderation. This had some seemingly isolated effects over random incidents but it didn’t stop at one person’s anger: their friends got increasingly disgruntled by the blatant unfairness. That expansion of isolated injustice explained the remaining third.

Those effects were documented, measured in detail. The first effect was denied by Mark, on principles. It took a Digital World War to start caring about the second.


While I can think of quite a few companies that have even less utility (Twitter, Netflix, Juicero, etc. etc.) but living without FB is not only imaginable, it's quite beneficial.

I don’t think that FB itself is necessary, but many services rely on the ability to have a cheap identity verification. Let’s take three examples.

Dating apps now almost all depend on you connecting either - a social media account, almost universally Facebook in the West; - credit card information. Not everyone is comfortable with that one.

If a user doesn’t connect, most services implement some soft-gating to prevent abuses of trust. Uber, for instance, let an established user order a ride without having to input a bank card when their previous card was expired.

A large part of political communication relies on having a reliable proxy for an identity for campaigns. It doesn’t have to be perfect but it can’t have 50% of Russian sock-puppets. Even if Facebook Identity has been disputed, it remains far more reliable than, say, Twitter in that regard.

You might not use any of those services personally but you rely on people who do. A society where people can’t find a partner because dating conventions are broken; where everyone has to own a car; where democracy is at the mercy of press barons -- that would be problematic.

My point was less that Facebook was the best identity, or irreplaceable (which is certainly not true; more than any other message, Mark Z. repeats all the time that Facebook will be replaced sooner rather than later). Google offers one that I think has strong software support, but less social proof. My point was that most people are unaware of the impact of having that option of a “Trust API”, even imperfect. You didn’t seem to.

Some people would prefer to have a government-operated identity or a bank-based one; those are actively developed in Nordic countries. I have used both and I’m in awe of what they unlock.

Some people (quite common on HN) hate the idea of depending on either and would prefer to rely on a system that they built or on have a choice of private solutions around a cluster of standards. OAuth is the best example of that vision. I’d love to see something more mature emerge (if anything so that not every website relies on the broken password authentication). But once again: even if the software works, I think the main benefit is less from token exchange and more from authenticity. I’m not sure that a cluster of service can guarantee that.

As I've mentioned, I do find Twitter even less "useful" than FB (and possibly even worse for the society at large), but while Dorsey come across as just a clueless, out of touch hipster, Zuckerberg comes across as not quite human automaton that performs experiments on humans. And FB is more valuable company, so that might be why they get picked on more.

But I am still not convinced that FB provides any service that is actually valuable, let alone good for society as a whole. I think it could well be argued that even under press barons et al democracy worked better than it has been lately. But then the cynic in me says that even robber barons had more decency in them than Zuck, Dorsey and their ilk.

Do we even need that cheap identity verification especially as provided by social networks whose incentives are aligned completely orthogonal to societal good? As anecdata, I actually met my wife on a dating site with no benefit of any FB authentication (or credit card, for that matter). What would FB connection do there?

So no, I've never connected anything with any FB account, and I do not see that I am missing anything that I would find the least bit useful. Obviously, HN tends to look for technological solutions for problems (or even in absence of problems) but farming out "trust API" to a commercial entity that aims to maximise engagement seems to be a prime example of a (bad) solution in search of a problem.

>The company created something that no one could imagine living without, even as early as five years after the platform was created

On the contrary, I think more and more people can imagine that nowadays. I use facebook for 30 seconds maybe once a week, and a dozen of my friends have quit entirely.

I find the account suspensions for innocuous things pretty hard to believe - since I'd suspect any action like that came from your friends reporting your content, not automated culling of users.

Honestly, I don't know. I would hope that it was not the case! But I will freely admit that it's possible that you're right.

Looked very robotic and automated since stuff like that would happen in waves and if you're in bigger groups then you'd often see it happening to a lot of people at the same time. But I can't claim to know, that's for sure!

Regardless, deleting most of my social media's been a really refreshing experience. It's great to feel boredom again, instead of just automatically reaching for the phone to scroll through timelines.

What was the joke if you don't mind me asking?

A Pew study released last week showed that (among other things) 74% of Facebook users did not know Facebook was maintaining a list of their interests/traits, 51% were uncomfortable with it, and 27% felt the list was inaccurate: http://www.pewinternet.org/2019/01/16/facebook-algorithms-an...

This is consistent with what we should expect when most users still use the same password (or predictable variation thereof) for their bank/email/social logins.

Hosting user-generated content in general is a mug's game these days. I wouldn't even consider launching a new startup in this space now and it's only going to get worse as the regulatory hammer comes down. I'm not a fan of Facebook at all but a lot of their current troubles are intrinsic to any platform that lets people post whatever they want.

"People consistently tell us that if they’re going to see ads, they want them to be relevant."

I am assuming the "people" he is referencing are the advertisers, not the users.

No, this is the result of studies on users.

People shown their News Feed with relevant ads regularly mention that this was interesting content and do not point it out as ads. This is not an exception, but common for brands with certain characteristics. One example of that is music of film trailers. They however regularly describe as Ads and resent the presence of content that was not sponsored (at least not to Facebook). MLMs and “influencer”-type of content is a caricature; other objections are more idiosyncratic.

There are some ads that are seen as such, but those are generally from brands who don’t use Facebook self-optimisation tools or insist on a reach that doesn’t make sense (typically, solution vendors).

Overall, sponsoring isn’t correlated with interest.

Would you prefer to see irrelevant ads instead?

I think we need to clarify some terms here. Advertising by its very nature is disruptive. It's goal is to interrupt you or grab your attention so that you look at SOMETHING and become aware of it, start to form associations, etc. There really isn't such thing is "relevant" advertising in the sense that ads pertain to my current activity, which, by the way, Zuck insists is "connecting to people."

The real question you're asking is: Would you rather trade some of your data so we can show you ads that you are more likely to click because we have ascertained that these value propositions are likely to drive some kind of an action? (And by the way action is all we really ever know, and is a so-so proxy for "relevance" or value to the user, c.f., clickbait.)

When you ask this question I'm inclined to say some users wouldn't consider this an awesome trade. That's being modest.

Disclosure: I make digital ads for a living.

trade some of your data

This seems a wrong and misleading way of looking at it. Facebook has the data either way, and advertisers aren't getting the data either way. You aren't "trading" anything; the algorithms can either show you something relevant, or show you something irrelevant.

Personally, I'd rather see something I might find amusing. I was about to say "it hasn't happened yet", but I actually have clicked on one FB ad (ever) - the mysterious package company, which actually does look interesting. Not enough to give them my money but still, it's a start.

The only things to ever sell me anything were news articles about cool new innovative products and YouTube videos showing products like that off, from people I subscribe to or other creators in their community.

I've learned to mentally block out any ad-space-based advertising a long time ago, in the Warez-site era of the late 90s, early 2000s. I mostly just get annoyed by the disruption of useful space but I don't even really process ads, I couldn't tell you what the last ad I've seen was, even tho I'm watching a YouTube video with mid-roll ads right now.

I don't trust ads. Especially since I've grown up in Eastern Europe, ad-spaces were always littered with dodgy things here. It's still not a common thing to see ads for products from big brands, etc. Last year I've seen Jesus-cult (not kidding, it was some weird religious sect advertising), Russian singles banner ads on YouTube itself. Oh, and I forgot about the one for "winning the luxury cruise of your dreams".

The only exception to pointless, dodgy and creepy ads I see daily are the e-commerce site product carousel ads. Those more than often advertise products or alternatives to products I just bought. Very useful!

I would very much like to be left out of "personalised" advertising. If this is what my data gets me and gets you as an advertiser then we're both better off with me keeping it to myself anyway.

If I want to hear from your products, I'll subscribe to your newsletter or visit your site.

Sure, if it involves less data collection.

I'd rather try to be sold something I don't care about, so I can walk away from that ad.

Absolutely. I have never, to my mind, benefitted from a “relevant” ad.

I work in advertising. I have heard it all, and all of it essentializes an unrealistically infantile and helpless audience. If the audience is so helpless, how could we even reason they have the means to purchase the product being advertised? It really makes no sense.

The answer is extremely easy for me: Give me the irrelevant ads and stop collecting my data.

Then you can simply opt out of FB ads controls. And enjoy the irrelevant ads.

They get my sweet, sweet data though...right?

Well they are only using your data now for ranking your organic news feed and other operational purposes (such as catching fraud which, I hope, you will believe is a big problem on social networks).

Unless now you are like I don't even want FB to rank the news feed and show me posts from fraudulent accounts..

1. I am not on FB. I think i made it clear that I do not support their company or product.

2. I do NOT want FB to rank the newsfeed. It should be deleted or ranked by time. The more parts of a social media product handed over to a ranking or search or algorithmic feed, the more chance they have for anti-user patterns: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/may/08/social-me...

3. How would a fraudulent account show up on a feed? I'm actually curious. Do they need to be friended first?

Personally, yes. It's easier for me to feel less psychologically manipulated if I'm seeing ads for tampons, in addition to not feeling like someone knows more about me than I'm comfortable with.

There's zero room for ads in my life, so I see almost none. Where some slip through, I consider them an imposition that I avert my gaze from, so I'm indifferent to their content.

Yes. Irrelevant ads are less likely to influence me to buy something.

Obviously the objection is that its a sentence like: "People consistently tell us that if we're going to hit them, they want it to not be in the face".

Yes, I prefer that people who try to manipulate me in their own interest do so as ineffectively as possible. Do you have a different preference?

I am shocked that some people are still influenced by online ads. I mentally blocked them and I almost always make informed buying decisions based off of evidence/data.

This seems to be a common comment. But advertising loves to take advantage of quirks in human psychology. It seems a bit of a stretch to claim to be immune to advertising.

Even if you do carefully research your purchases, you're influenced by which products you're exposed to, which are reviewed, social media chatter, etc. This is all heavily influenced by marketing efforts which are a lot more subtle than banner ads.

well then you must be inhuman because subconscious bias plays a part in online advertising. sure you can mentally block them but eventually you will fatigue from the cognitive overhead.

sorry to paint such a bleak picture but this stuff is ubiquitous, both online and offline, and it will eventually and consistently break your mental defenses in a way that you might not even notice.

Well - you need to realize you are absolutely an outlier. The entire online advertising thrives because ads - as a function of ROI - works. A $ which an advertiser puts in generally [1] nets out to more than a $ that they get back.

[1] I use generally and not specifically since on average the ROI is positive but for some advertisers the ROI is negative too.

This really does feel like a false choice.

Do you want to see ads?

> No

You have to. Now would you prefer those ads are relevant or irrelevant?

Would you rather pay FB for providing you a service?

Mark talks about the control that users have. I am disappointed that Mark didn't take the opportunity to simply link to that page. Too few people know about https://www.facebook.com/ads/preferences/.

in this PR piece the "political" point (by political I don't mean electoral, but power above communities and indivuduals) still miss. The algorithms decides what a facebook user will see. what become viral, what is trustworthy and what is not. this is never mentioned in the transparency promises, and still, transparency would not be enough (too many unaccountable variables in the neural network).

People should get chronological ordered content in machine readable format. client side, your personalization algorithm would decide which priorities give. I work for this, and I feel is there where the true challenge is. If you want to hack on this, please follow up on this comment.

Do I really have to subscribe or sign in to read this article? No, thanks.

Paywall bypass: https://outline.com/tM3TCU

Looks like outline disabled WSJ links, or at least this one. You can get full text by following the link from Mark's fb post: https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10106257635829431

Works on my local :)

WFM on reload.

paulcole 22 days ago [flagged]

A little trick I use is to give them my credit card number and they let me read their articles!

Could you please not post these? It's off topic, and breaks the rule in https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html. Yes, the current situation sucks. But the issue has long been decided on HN because the alternatives are all worse. Someday that will presumably change and we'll all be better off for it.

Please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10178989 and https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20paywall&sort=byDate&..., and avoid taking HN threads on tangents that have been repeated ad nauseum already. I seem to recall that you've done it a lot, and you pretty much crossed into trolling below.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18994596 and marked it off-topic.

How does my comment break the rules? I am seeing these statements in the link you provided:

> It's ok to ask how to read an article or to help other users by sharing a workaround. But please do this without going on about paywalls. Focus on the content.

> In comments, it's ok to ask how to read an article and to help other users do so

I am helping others to read an article and sharing a workaround. Can you clarify?

That's so contorted an interpretation that I think it's enough to just say it's not what we mean.

No more of this, please.

Practical for a few sites that one might choose as private portals. Not (except for the extremely wealthy) if you use the web via its natural affordances.

Yeah pick and choose the ones you want to subscribe to. Doesn’t mean you’re entitled to the private portals you don’t want to pay for.

Actually none of the standard means (ie. not stealing/hacking logins , but using archives, caches & reading services) are illegal in my jurisdiction, so I am perfectly entitled to do just that.

Your approach fits an old fashioned way of reading (ie. reading primarily a small group of publications). Personally if I were to do that I'd rather buy paper. A huge part of the point of the web to me is to be able to read articles from a multiplicity of individual sources, not be corralled within a few. This affordance doesn't suit site subscriptions, which are fundamentally anti-web.


WSJ and other publications clearly welcome readers bypassing their paywall when they land via Facebook and other referrers. Are you saying it's OK to give people a hard time for reading the content for free when they enter via Facebook, but not via a different channel? It seems a fine point to make a big deal out of.


I realise I muddled my words in the previous comment, but I think you get the point.

WSJ themselves are welcoming of non-paying readers from certain channels.

So it seems a bit mean-spirited to hound people and liken them to criminals for doing what the publisher welcomes under only marginally different circumstances.

there are many problems with this article. let us begin to unravel them.

problem one is claiming that this article is "the facts". it is not the facts. it is a PR piece.

the subtitle of the article is "We need your information for operation and security, but you control whether we use it for advertising."

but that isn't factual. you don't need my information. you need some people's information to make money. those people don't get to control how you make that money.

>Recently I’ve heard many questions about our business model, so I want to explain the principles of how we operate. I believe everyone should have a voice and be able to connect. If we’re committed to serving everyone, then we need a service that is affordable to everyone. The best way to do that is to offer services for free, which ads enable us to do.

he starts by saying "business model" then starts mentioning non sequitors. he doesn't want to talk about the business model at all because it will make him look bad. he is intentionally conflating his product -- people -- with his customers -- advertisers.

>People consistently tell us that if they’re going to see ads, they want them to be relevant.

no. nobody says this. nobody tells you this. nobody wants to see ads, ever. especially not ads which are derived from spying on their most intimate activities.

>That means we need to understand their interests

no. this is not factual. you need to understand their buying habits. furthermore, this is still not a discussion of FB's business model.

>The internet also allows far greater transparency and control over what ads you see than TV, radio or print

once again, this is a non-sequitor. furthermore, "allows" is a lie by omission. the technological capacity is there. but it is not exercised. and "transparency" does not equal control. and let's be honest: nobody has any control over what ads companies try to serve them with via e-stalking.

>On Facebook, you have control over what information we use to show you ads, and you can block any advertiser from reaching you. You can find out why you’re seeing an ad and change your preferences to get ads you’re interested in

a non sequitor, again. they harvest the information either way. blocking the advertiser does not block them from harvesting your info or finding another way to monetize it. the user's preferences regarding seeings ads are irrelevant because their preference is to never see an ad, which is not an allowed action for them to take because they do not have any control.

>Still, some are concerned about the complexity of this model.

no, incorrect, wrong. nobody is concerned about the complexity. people are concerned about the way facebook invades their privacy. a bad faith argument by zuck, to be sure.

>This model can feel opaque, and we’re all distrustful of systems we don’t understand.

no, incorrect, again a complete whiff of an answer. people are distrustful of companies who have an incentive to exploit them. everyone understands FB does not have their interests at heart, there is no ambiguity.

>For example, we don’t sell people’s data, even though it’s often reported that we do

perhaps the biggest factual inaccuracy in the article; truly this is a titanic lie which nobody can even hope to unpack. suffice it to say we shouldn't even give his misrepresentation any consideration.

>In fact, selling people’s information to advertisers would be counter to our business interests, because it would reduce the unique value of our service to advertisers.

again, a massive misrepresentation which is intentionally deceptive.

>I’m often asked if we have an incentive to increase engagement on Facebook because that creates more advertising real estate, even if it’s not in people’s best interests.

i think we all know enough about the addiction economy to laugh at this statement.

>And when we asked people for permission to use this information to improve their ads as part of our compliance with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, the vast majority agreed because they prefer more relevant ads.

implying that the users even understood what they were being asked to agree to is a hilarious mistake of something to say.

the rest is similarly bad.

it will be a joy to see facebook torn to shreds by regulators and abandoned by users. it is long overdue.

This is easily the most vacuous of all the comments here. You just take statements and call them disingenuous or obvious lies with not even a shred of backup

I'm blocked behind a paywall.

copy and paste the link in google and load it from the search results

"When I started Facebook, I wasn’t trying to build a global company."

Why is he still saying this? No one is buying the dorm startup story anymore. You control world media, act accordingly.

He is saying that because he is regularly accused of having a financial objective, which isn‘t true. Like any moral claim, he can’t prove it unless he gives all his money (which he has done, but somehow that hasn’t worked) so he’s trying to prove the purity of his intentions by their origin.

He’s been very open about the influence on media and the responsibility that it gives him. Say what you want about his education, ‘Noblesse oblige’ the idea that having responsibilities demands that you act in a certain way, was very much a part of it.

Speak for yourself

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

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