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An Anti-Facebook Manifesto, by an Early Facebook Investor (nytimes.com)
122 points by smharris65 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 123 comments

I understand this is a manifesto, but really the dialogue around Facebook and social media has truly become unhinged. Facebook is just a symptom, it seems

What is there to be _done_? Pandora's box is open, so to speak. If Facebook disappeared overnight, are we really going to assume the problems they're in are going to go away?

Everyone is potentially connected to everyone, everywhere, on the entire planet. There has never been a technology so powerful as the centralized internet.

Furthermore, outside of media companies and the HN bubble, people _do not care_. Your average person doesn't care about decentralization, preventing social media addiction, gamification, or polarization of online communities.

To the contrary the market shows that companies like FB are massively successful.

So what are we to do? The world has been changed, drastically. Were we ready for it? And if we somehow were rid of Favebook, are we ready for what follows?

> Furthermore, outside of media companies and the HN bubble, people _do not care_. Your average person doesn't care about decentralization, preventing social media addiction, gamification, or polarization of online communities.

My parents, who are deeply not the HN crowd, are starting to care, and this is not my doing. They didn't two years ago, but they're starting to have the same sense of something being wrong that started to show up here 6-ish years ago. They're behind, but they're on the same arc.

I too have struggled to get people to care. Partially because the public has such little insight into how these things can used to manipulate and shred privacy.

I posted a few of my recently successful talking points to get people's attention on these issues here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19010553

and am always looking to hear from others how they explain important issues they actually understand and listen to.

for example, some older people don't care if fbk steal the photos from their phone (they don't have many, and none that are 'naughty') - however when bringing up that these apps can steal the pics from their daughter's phones without explicit knowledge, and send them to how many non-perv people to manually inspect? And forward them to how many agencies etc.. they start to have ears perk up.

also the psych tricks to random hit notifications and such - these things show a company that is trying to game and use the users, not a company that is just trying to make it easy to send holiday pics to the family.

"What is there to be done?"

A $0.01 tax per ad impression.

Such a thing would not destroy the advertising industry, but it would do wonders for making it much less worthwhile to deploy massive surveillance technology to make .03 cents more per user per day, and leave only very high-value advertising behind. It would probably anti-decimate it or more, though (leave only 10% behind instead of destroying 10%).

$0.10 per impression if you're feeling feisty.

I fail to see how this would reduce the incentive to collect data. If anything, wouldn't it require _more_ information on users to figure out whether or not showing an ad would be worthwhile?

See cousin reply. It's not about what they want to do, it's about what they can afford to do profitably. They'll want to do it even more so, but they won't be able to do so.

According to https://blog.adstage.io/google-display-ads-cpm-cpc-ctr-bench..., advertisers spend around $2.80 for a thousand impressions in display advertising. You're proposing a tax that is 3.5 times as much as the thing itself costs. That would have pretty steep ramifications on the industry.

Also, when one thinks about high-value advertising, it doesn't always correlate with high-value to society, but rather things that are expensive. That of course would incentivize advertisers to make sure their ad spends are effective which would in turn create more incentive for more ad tracking.

"You're proposing a tax that is 3.5 times as much as the thing itself costs."

Yes. Yes I am. I did say it would probably cut 90% of the industry.

"That of course would incentivize advertisers to make sure their ad spends are effective which would in turn create more incentive for more ad tracking."

They may sit there and wish for more tracking, sure. They're pretty addicted to that as the only model in the world for making money.

But if you may something much more expensive, and therefore much less profitable, you are saying that you'll get even more of it. That's not how raising prices works.

They're not tracking every last cough we make because they have to to make any money. They track everything because it enables them to make .03% more off of us, and that .03% is profitable. (Number made up, but the evidence strongly suggests we're long past the point of diminishing returns on more tracking, yet they do it anyhow.) Take away the profitability, and they'll stop doing it.

They'll have to. Most of them will be bankrupt and won't be tracking anybody anymore.

Besides, exactly what "more" tracking are we concerned they're going to deploy in a world where they have 90% less money and probably even less profit? They already read all our email, track everywhere we go, track everything we see on the internet, listen to a good chunk of what we say, and use our social connections in every conceivable way to monetize us. What's left?

Web advertising shouldn't just be considered advertising, but also data collection. Data collection should not be cheap.

It's almost as if websites had to pay for the bandwidth they sent to the browser would change the economics of blasting out ads everywhere.


It's almost as if networks themselves would start injecting ads, which has been going on for years[1].

[1] https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/blog/2016/12/comcast-s...

Such a thing would not destroy the advertising industry

Then it's not enough.

FB and friends are selling a product that's pleasurable, possibly habit forming, has big negative externalities, and presents all sorts of non-obvious risks to consumers. This is the textbook case for regulation. Some future iteration of the GDPR (or similar) will eventually outlaw FB's business model, at which point non-toxic social media will hopefully emerge, and we will realize that "potentially connecting everyone to everyone else, everywhere" is something that can be done ethically.

I agree that facebook is just the most visible dimple. Internet causes a lot of stresses at the personal and social level. We could wipe it out, we could learn how to deal with it.. let it fly so future generation adapt to it for better or worse.

Personally I have my scissors ready.

The minds that were behind LiveJournal, Friendster, and MySpace, to name just 3 other social platforms that had monthly active usership in the millions, were not as disgustingly criminal and unethical in nature as the mind of Zuckerberg, so, to answer your question, another online social platform could be more civil and nicer, and not as aggressive (with auto-playing, auto-looped videos, for one thing), and manipulative, and silo-creating in terms of the design and algorithms in the same way, and could be far less ruthlessly greedy, invasive, and devious toward its users in terms of the requiring, gathering, selling, and sharing of those users' data.

An online social networking platform could even take a total different format than one that invites users to upload all their real personal life information and photos; there could be a platform as one where the users are playing ficitonalized characters in a make-believe world, and there isn't the same severe data-mining and harvesting of users' minds and lives, let alone with clear algorithmic and editorial favoring of political-themed content; I'm thinking first of something like the The Sims from 2000 to 2015[0], but there is a now a certain game that has become the de-facto social network of pre-teens to early teens, and that is Fortnite Battle Royale - see these 2 articles from December 2018[1]-[5]. Yes, there are other risks and dangers with such a platform (where gamification is taken to a much further extent: you're playing much more of a character in a game than you are with the "character" you "play"--in the sense of "portray" and "direct" on Facebook)[6], but it's not, in my view, nearly as immoral and irresponsible as what Facebook does.

[0] Sims popularity, as recently as 2014, when the latest version of it was still the #1 computer game:


[1] Charged: Fortnite isn't a game, it's a place - As social media becomes ever more toxic, Fortnite has become the new social network and a place to hang out where you go to talk to friends


[2] WSJ: How Fortnite Triggered an Unwinnable War Between Parents and Their Boys


[3] See the selected tweets here, including: "Fortnite is the tween generation's Facebook (at least for boys). Spent a few hours last weekend with a friend's 12 YO, Fortnite is the platform for his entire social/academic life. FYI i was labeled an 'old noobie'."


[4] The astonishing usership stats (scroll down to the list):


[5] Many more stats:


[6] Impact:


>Fortnite isn't a game, it's a place - As social media becomes ever more toxic, Fortnite has become the new social network and a place to hang out where you go to talk to friends

Who are the boomers writing this shit that don't know groups of friends socialize online without social networks? Both before and during the era of social networks? Games as the rallying point isn't novel. Has this guy never heard of ventrilo, mumble, discord?

The worst part is, people who never used the internet to talk to people before the iphone will believe this dreck.

>Were we ready for it?

No, our brains evolved for millions of years to operate in groups of less than 100. Social media is basically high fructose corn syrup for our dopamine system. Within a span of roughly 20 years the way we live our lives and communicate with other humans changed massively

All the MSM hate for Facebook though is simply because they are butthurt that they've lost their spot in society in terms of controlling influence and information

You make an interesting point about expanding social spheres and influence, nice. However, do you really believe in this concept of a conspiratorial all powerful MSM, that spans the political spectrum and co-ordinates efforts to refute viewpoints they disagree with!? How would such a cabal work? With respect, it sounds a bit infowars/trumpian to me.

>However, do you really believe in this concept of a conspiratorial all powerful MSM, that spans the political spectrum and co-ordinates efforts to refute viewpoints

Pretty much all the media we see is controlled by a handful of corporations with varying degrees of connection


It's worse now than the image above because AT&T is purchasing Time Warner

With relation to Facebook it's pretty obvious that everybody in the traditional media industry would like to see them lose influence because it costs them money. Instead of watching the news or buying newspaper subscriptions people get the info from Facebook. There really doesn't need to be coordination because it's in their self-interest to pile on Facebook.

Go back 20 years before social media and if the news and the newspapers didn't cover it, it basically didn't happen. The MSM has lost a massive amount of influence due to social media because they can't completely control what information is spread around.

Hmm, I’d add that being owned by corporations does not always equate to being controlled. Editorial policy will be set by a range of people within these organisations, it can be very complex this chain of command, and the degree of influence that the board will have will vary considerably. I’d also posit that the current negative press around Facebook is of its own making to varying degrees and is the result of various substantive academic studies. The media would be doing us a disservice if they did not report on such things, as they are there to mediate, create awareness to the public against malpractice, accountability etc. This generalisation of ‘MSM’ is reductionist and not an entirely helpful to me. It is also the language that Trump and Alex Jones use and that is something that makes me very wary.

There is a solution: all sites (above a scale of say 1m users) must offer a zero advertising, zero tracking account option at a yearly fee of exactly advertising revenue per user per year.

Most people would not take this; but rich people would. The top 1%? Top 5%? This would cripple the monopoly model and open the market.

The article made an interesting point, namely manipulation.

As you say, most people wouldn't pay to avoid the tracking, the people who would pay could just as easily do without Facebook or Twitter. The question becomes: Would you pay to not be manipulated?

How would that cripple the monopoly model?

Because the key customers that the advertisers are after are no where to be seen (they paid) which means that if you want to get advertising to them you need to find smart, diverse and innovative ways to do so.

These large dominating companies are monopolies in every sense of the word and need to be broken up. The Bell System was broken up and didn't have a tenth of the tracking and control of people's lives that Google and Facebook do. Ma Bell didn't actively harm its users and cause depression. Ma Bell didn't collude with Russia to influence a presidential election and install a puppet president.


https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/185/3/203/2915143 "Association of Facebook Use With Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study"

> [Facebook colluded] with Russia to influence a presidential election and install a puppet president.

This is a conspiracy theory, and really diminishes the level of the conversation here.

A US company took money from a foreign government and used it to spread foreign propaganda, while calling it advertising.

Money is pooled into massive organizations called 'PACs' that are used to fund campaigns that get folks into government, then offer them sweet high paying jobs afterwards as long as they do their bidding while they work there. It's not corruption, that's lobbying.

It gets tiresome calling things what they are when there are dozens of definitions that the corrupt use to alter the nature of what they do with language. Corruption and propaganda are rampant, but once they can all be called 'marketing', or whatever the people with the power to influence via the media want to call them, that's the language that we use, and truly harmful things become easy to defend.

Disclaimer: I'm Russian-American. I do not believe Russian "siloviki" are competent enough to pull off anything like what you're implying.

Russia spent $100k on FB in total, and they ran ads on controversial issues from both sides, not just Trump (and also organized "resist" protests after Trump won). For comparison, Trump's campaign alone spent $100 _million_. I don't know off the top of my head how much the Clinton campaign spent, but it did have 2x the money advantage, so it probably spent twice as much. If we assume the total FB spend of $300M for both campaigns, Russian money represented 0.033% of ad spend, and they likely used far less sophisticated targeting than the campaigns, and riled up both sides.

Tell me again how this could have altered the outcome.

Their goal seemed to be to sow discord, not to elect a particular candidate. I believe that's still their goal, and you, HN poster, is a great help to that end. They could not imagine a better outcome than Trump (or Clinton) getting mired in controversy and partisan gridlock, and unable to do anything about anything.

If you're going to talk about foreign influence, there are countries that are much more influential in US politics than Russia. No US president can even win a primary without pledging allegiance to Israel, for example. Clinton Global Initiative accepted millions from all over the world (donations dropped massively once Hillary lost, suggesting influence peddling). When it comes to hacking, China hacks the US far more than Russia ever will.

I don't quite get this raging hard-on for Russia that the mainstream media has manufactured. If it's outrage you want, there are far better targets.

With FB, propaganda campaigns are cheap, and the advertising, while small scale, doesn't really deal with the entire issue. Modern social tooling allows for broad propaganda with minimal interruption, and companies are happy to allow it because it brings additional advertising dollars. This can be seen in the various groups created by Russia and internal groups during the campaign, and the reach of them, many spreading falsehoods and propaganda... and yes, to both sides. The goal is to divide, not necessarily a full take over.

I admit that these groups pushed both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, Anti-Vaxx and Pro-Vaxx groups, etc., etc. I'm suggesting that the problem is that we have corporations that are apparently 'US' corporations that make money from the process and have a perverse incentive to push it, as it creates increased activity from certain users. It's this 'sharing' economy in propaganda that groups during the election took advantage of, and once set up it's almost free and self-expanding.

I agree: Israel, China, SA, Europe, and other groups and nations have a lot more impact here. My anger is not towards them for what they are doing here in this country. My anger is directed towards the regulatory and corporate structures in the United States that make propagandizing the populace possible in the first place, while also being legal and producing profit.

Sure, but campaigns also engage in "grass roots" propaganda efforts. For instance, _the entirety of US mainstream media_ aired propaganda in favor of Hillary Clinton campaign for a year and a half. Bad news were suppressed, good news were circulated, angles and crops were picked for the rallies to show crowds that weren't really there, Trump (American icon just months before his run) was smeared head to toe, including allegations of rape (which disappeared immediately after the election) and pee-pee "dossier" which turned out to be completely bogus and paid for by the Clinton campaign. That's not even considering the official "social media" propaganda efforts like Shareblue etc, on which millions were spent.

Are you going to tell me that given all these blatant propaganda forces at play Russia still had any effect on the election? I understand this meme looms large in US liberal psyche, but I'm struggling to understand why anyone would rationally believe this.

Some fair points, though I don’t agree with all of them. What are your thoughts on the DNC hack and subsequent leaks btw? It seems reasonable to credit the disclosure and the way the Trump campaign encouraged it and then capitalised on it as significant. 12 alleged Russian intelligence officials have been charged as part of Mueller’s investigation. Also there was the the Internet Research Agency "troll farm", based in Saint Petersburg and the alleged intrusions into state voter-registration systems. It’s a combination of all of these events that I believe is making it ‘loom large’ and it’s fair to say this transcends the categorisation of ‘meme’ doesn’t it? What do you think?

It's not proven (as in, no verifiable evidence was presented) that it was a "hack" rather than a leak in the first place. The emails could have been leaked by an insider. There is some evidence (albeit very weak: file timestamps) that the leaked data was collected locally before it was sent over. I also find it extremely suspicious that the DNC did not allow the FBI to investigate the "hack", but rather chose a private firm to do so, and not just any firm, but Crowdstrike, one of the founders of which, Dmitri Alperovitch, is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank with openly anti-Russian sentiments that is funded by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, who also happened to donate at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation.

As to the Mueller investigation: no US person has been charged with _anything whatsoever_ related to collusion thus far. It's all "tax evasion" or process crimes. And he can charge anybody he wants in absentia: it's no secret that governments spy on each other and wage psy-ops campaigns all the time. Heck, Obama even listened in on Merkel's phone calls. Russia is not unique in that regard. In fact it's somewhat unique in how _little_ it interferes in affairs of other countries it has no common borders with.

For a bit of a historical aside to give some color to my perspective, consider that the US helped to re-elect Yeltsin in broad daylight in 1996 (he would have lost to a communist if it wasn't for the US), and was heavily involved in getting Poroshenko elected in Ukraine, also in broad daylight just a few years ago. US influence in Ukraine predates Poroshenko, though: see e.g. Manafort.

So to sum up: I do believe that there was "interference" to the extent proven by concrete evidence such as Facebook spend. I do also believe that such interference is part and parcel of international affairs: the US itself interferes all the time, often in a rather heavy-handed way. I have seen no evidence thus far that the DNC hack was indeed a hack, and not a leak. I believe about 0% of what Crowdstrike says, given its affiliations. I don't really believe in "alleged intrusions in voter registration systems" in absence of independent evidence. As far as I can tell it's fake news.

My point was that dismissing the ongoing investigation and its emerging findings as a “meme” implies it is un-substantive and trivial when this appears not to be the case. Conflating all the multiple stands of a complex and far reaching investigation as “fake news” is, I believe, dangerous and reductionist. For example, Muller’s 37 page indictment against the Kremlin’s Internet Research Agency and its leadership and affiliates is detailed and has been widely reported on. Mounting evidence suggests we are talking about something significantly larger in scale than the $100,000 advertising campaign. Is the US not right to investigate it and the press to report on it? Isn’t this in our, the publics, interest? Using terms like “fake news” and “meme” in such a context is unhelpful and I believe dangerous. I increasingly see the term being used to shut down debate, undermine opposing viewpoints and sow doubt. It is myopic and doesn’t help discourse and I think we'd all do best to drop the term. I’m assuming we both want to know the truth right? I know some argue that the concept of absolute truth itself is a fallacy but I don’t subscribe to that, do you?

Is it an ongoing investigation, or a multi-year, multi-campaign, full media all-hands-on-deck failed hatched job?

It’s an investigation by the common definition. You know Mueller is a Republican right? What do you think it is, can you expand?

In response to your last question, please reread my previous comment after the word "or".

Indictment is not a proof of wrongdoing. It's merely an accusation. The accused will never be tried, and therefore they will remain innocent since they aren't proven guilty in the court of law. But that's just a formality, albeit an important one. That 37 page indictment isn't worth the paper it's written on _unless_ the accused are tried in court.

Note that I did not say that there wasn't an influence campaign - evidence suggests otherwise. I merely said none of the candidates colluded to benefit. If they had, something would have leaked already, and/or collusion-related indictments would have been made against the people involved (note however, that indictment is once again not a proof of wrongdoing).

The "meme" I was referring to is that Putin is this omnipotent evil mastermind who has the capability to decide who gets elected in the US. He's just a thief and not much more. You're de-facto putting him on a pedestal he does not deserve to be on.

And stop the histrionics, will you? Challenging a point of view is not "dangerous". Neither of us has any verifiable evidence either way, so it's a faith-based argument.

I’m not on about the “collusion” accusations (I agree we have still to see hard evidence of this though I’d suggest it may be forthcoming). I am specifically talking about the idea that a Kremlin initiated campaign of influence is the stuff of memes. I also agree to a degree with your assessment of Mr Putin and I am not seeking to imply or promote the simplistic Bond villain caricature (read above, I am not saying this at all). Finally, ref your point about “histrionics”… the concept of “fake news” and its use as a rhetorical tool is, I believe, insidious and I would classify as dangerous in the way it is being wielded. I’m obviously not saying challenging a point of view is dangerous!? Where did you get that from? Why would I come to a site like this if not to have my views challenged? I’m very interested in having my viewpoints challenged, thank you very much. Shutting down discussion with accusations of “fake news” is exactly my point.

Hillary lost, in spite of the immense effort to support her that you described. If there isn't an all powerful boogie man in the picture hindering their efforts, like Fantasy-Putin, then the only inescapable conclusion left is that the democrats lost because at least some of their ideas suck even more than Trump. And that is not something they are able to face.

I'm not American. However I think the current president is entirely on Americans. Sure, Russians may have helped a little by running those ads. But most of it is the Democrat candidate, and the general attitude towards America's Red populace in the Middle states.

[Facebook colluded]

I'm not sure what source you're quoting, or what the original text was that you're attempting to simplify.

EDIT: missed the quote when reading the message above somehow - sorry.

> Ma Bell didn't collude with Russia to influence a presidential election and install a puppet president.

In the context of an argument about why Facebook is a more dangerous monopoly than Ma Bell, this implies that Facebook did collude with Russia.

OK, agreed - that was definitely unjustified hyperbole. By all accounts, they did not intentionally "collude" with the Russians.

But what looms larger in my mind is the fact that FB was egregiously negligent in allowing the manipulation of their platform to take place to the extent that it did --- both in the context of that fiasco, and in much worse situations, e.g. in regard to the genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar.

The person I'm replying to said "Ma Bell didn't collude with Russia to influence a presidential election and install a puppet president". They're implying that Facebook, in contract to Ma Bell, did do these thing.

The right had Obama birth certificate conspiracies, the left has Russian election hacking conspiracies. Different sides of the same idiotic coin for stupid people.

Except it's not just the left, and there are open indictments against many of the President's team.

The difference between the two is that even the majority of the right dismissed the birthers as idiotic nutjobs, while today the Russian election conspiracies are basically mainstream among the left. It's crazy

The Russian election influencing (not gonna call it hacking because it's not) is not a theory. It's not on the same level as he birther BS which is total fantasy. Of course Russia are trying to influence US elections. Why wouldn't they?

All of which are for process crimes committed after the investigation started, or for completely unrelated white collar crimes from years ago

So-called "process crimes" that cover up real crimes are still crimes. Or do you think Capone's tax evasion rap wasn't just the tip of the iceberg?

That so far, two years in, have nothing to do with collusion.

Russia has been playing both sides to destabilize the country, and the left's selective hysteria is playing right into the strategy, straight out of the KGB playbook.

The easiest man to fool is the one who thinks he cannot be fooled.

I definitely don't contest the amount of tracking these companies do. I wouldn't even be surprised if it goes beyond what I can even imagine. But when it comes to control can we at least attempt to quantify it or at least make it a bit more exact. For example I'm positive these companies have influence over what brand of headphones I buy next, but I'm even more positive, at least on a personal level, that these companies have zero influence when it comes to convincing me to take money out of my IRA and using it to buy something I can't afford. Frankly what I'm getting at is I buy into the argument that these companies can influence smaller behaviors, like restaurant A or B but I'm really dubious of their influence reaching to more important decisions like to get a divorce or not maxing out my 401k and/or IRA. So I find myself not really caring about their influence because I don't think it pertains to the big decisions that I really care about.

Any idea how many people are using fbook that do not have the same level of education that you have? and how much time is spent on the fbk by this group of people?

How many people are using the fbk that do not have the same familiarity with tech and apps? Same eye sight, finger dexterity?

Did you miss the recent stories about the thousands of people bilked out of thousands of dollars via sneaky game app purchases? Certainly some of that hurt some people's IRAs.

Funny you mention divorce. This is an anecdotal 1 data point out of millions.. but in the past year I watched a friend go through the struggles of considering separation and divorce for about 6 months. As I often rail against the use of fbk, she confided in me that the ad tech did indeed influence her on this decision.

For some time when she used the fbk system she saw ads saying she could sell her wedding ring for cash quick and easy.

This coming at a time of emotional distress, when searching for options for places to go, with the need of funding to do these things...

I'm glad you do not find yourself in a position to care to about these issues. I myself worry more about the influence of the less tech savvy, whether they can vote or not, have IRAs or marriages or not, these things affect people around us, and not always in a "lets connect the world to make it better and have a kumbaya party with fresh goat and laser beams" kind of ways.

I appreciate the response, but I definitely did not mean to imply that I don't care about other people's problems, but was simply questioning and hoping to get a more exact and maybe quantitative picture of the control these companies have. Perhaps I made a mistake in thinking too much about my own (important) personal decisions and the information and processes I use to make them.

With respect to the sneaky game purchases are you referring to the stories of facebook letting children make purchases and not reimbursing the parents? Because the ability to control children is much different than the ability to control adults.

The wedding ring for cash is definitely creepy and I can see how that would add additional distress to your friend. But I guess my point is: how much did that ad contribute to your friend deciding to get a divorce? Had she not see that ad and probably other similar ads would she have not gotten a divorce? I think at least attempting to quantify these questions is important when trying to understand the level of control of these companies. We have to go beyond "This company showed a creepy ad(s)" to "This company showed a creepy ad(s) and this is the extent it influenced my final decision."

"letting children make purchases and not reimbursing the parents?" - yes those recent stories. I think it was more than 'letting them make purchases' in what docs came out, it was more 'knowing that they racked up huge bills and often without the knowledge or consent of adults paying the bills' - yet purposely not doing anything about it.. but I did not read the documents only the headlines (admittedly from media companies that have a financial interest in pushing info to be detrimental to time spent getting news there on fbk instead of elsewhere - and just headline scanning - so guilty of that in this instance.

wedding ring sale - yes it led to separation, as it made a backup plan avenue for travel money more of a reality, and the constant reminder seemed to come at a time when reaching out to others for comfort / strength? help in making a decision?

in some ways it could be said that this is great! better to get an ad that is relevant! I know some close, for lack of a better understood description 'mutual feminist friends' - that think this ad is great, and they encouraged leaving, pawning the ring for a good lawyer and travel on the guy's dime - etc.

I know some, for lack of a better term, 'religiously conservative mutual friends" - who would of preferred the "relevant ads" to be marriage counseling services of clergy of local clergy or other similar pro-family things.

This is just one data point, but certainly there are many other, what I would consider abuses of these systems that many of us will never know about.

I for one would like to know more about ads and posts / pages and how they get into the feeds of people with info about alcohol and gambling, even non-money gambling - I think more transparency should be out there for things like this,

and people should be able to publicly report interesting intersections of things like these controversial mind influence images / ads / text - so public debate can occur -

not that I think things should be censored by govs, but certainly people should be more aware of these things, how they could be used to influence less mentally strong people, and people should have options to set settings to avoid some of these things easier.

Its hard to judge these systems when our view of the systems is not very controversial. We have no idea how millions of others see their feeds though.

I applauded fbks decision to make available a list of all ads run by 'whatever group' in light of the election interference investigations. I think we need more tools like this, more transparency.

To see what others or having pushed in front of their eyeballs, it could be shocking.

> because I don't think it pertains to the big decisions that I really care about.

Because you dont want to think that, or because you've studied this and know it is the case?

With companies like FB being directly involved in the study of emotional manipulation of their users by altering their news and friends feed, I really think you are off base on the potential power they could have over a large number of individuals. Maybe you are somehow immune to their propaganda, but that is not a risk I want to take at society scale.

Right, so I was speaking personally there and I can confidently say among the priority of things I care about my relationship with my wife, how I manage my budget and my overarching career goals all of the decisions related to these things are done with a great deal of deliberation and research. So I'm not saying I'm somehow special and immune to propaganda, but I think when practically anyone takes the time to research and deliberate on big decisions and asking people they trust for advice these companies have a marginal effect.

I can specifically point to times where these companies have and have not influenced my decisions. For example my wife and I decided we could afford a 3k vacation this budget was informed by looking at our incomes, expenses, savings and job security. But social media definitely influenced where we chose to go and what we did once we got there. I'm much more concerned with the first decision (I can afford to blow 3k) than the second (where we ended up going).

The bell system was a government granted monopoly, as in it was illegal to compete with them.

What I struggle to understand is how could esteemed AI researchers like LeCun and many others work for such a company to give it even more powers and edge? How can they justify this as scientists?

The huge influx of money into research (here AI, but could be anything in the future) combined with the disfunctions of academia is very troubling.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

-- Upton Sinclair (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upton_Sinclair)

It is not just that. Some people in this field just have questionable ethics, unfortunately. Some are just childish and have this close minded ignorant macho attitude that though men, as they style themselves, should not care about ethics. Then there others who just don't care either way as long as they get paid to play with their toys.

+1. I'm a foreigner from Mexico-- back there all engineering majors study ethics in school as part of the requirements. I studied abroad in the US, and was surprised at how not only there was no ethics requirement, but many engineering majors actually shunned anything having to do with the humanities in a very "us vs. them", "we do real work", "this is not important" manner.

It's hard to measure what impact a couple of classes could have and it would certainly vary from person to person, but it would at least set the stage for conversation and be an acknowledgement to the importance of ethics in engineering.

To add an anecdote to the pile, I went to school in the US and had to pass an ethics in engineering course to complete degree requirements for Computer Science in the late 90s.

I joined a year ago to lead the AI team (Yann is part of it but I am not answering for him here). It's a choice as I don't have to work any longer. Why am I there?

- I believe Facebook's products are good for the world. They have had an extremely positive impact on my family in particular.

- It is the one place where AI can have a really positive impact on the world.

- It's is the most talented set of people I have ever worked with. Not just the AI team but every single person I meet there.

- I believe in Zuck. Despite all the bashing, he is one of the most thoughtful and visionary leader I have worked for.

This said I don't agree with everything that the company has done. But Facebook is a place were you are free to disagree openly and so far my team and I have always been able to do what we considered the right thing to do.

[Edit: agreeing with the comments that I should have written "is one place" instead of "is the one place"]

> - I believe Facebook's products are good for the world. They have had an extremely positive impact on my family in particular.

I see that as trading off some positive impact at a personal level for a much larger negative social impact. Many people do this quite often in various situations for different reasons. Not holding this against you at this point.

> - It is the one place where AI can have a really positive impact on the world.

You'd need to substantiate how Facebook is "the one place" for making this claim, and also explain how all the evil things the company has done all these years, including news of tracking teens recently, gets somehow compensated for or adjusted against the positive impact you claim it can have. Without looking at all the negative things the company has done, this is just daydreaming, IMNSHO.

> - I believe in Zuck. Despite all the bashing, he is one of the most thoughtful and visionary leader I have worked for.

Thoughtful and visionary don't necessarily imply that it's good for everyone else. He doesn't seem visionary in what he says or writes. He may have a vision for himself, that's for sure. He's shrewd, cunning, obstinate and all that, but "thoughtful and visionary" on a broader level is really a huge stretch of imagination. Also consider the reason why the WhatsApp founders left the company.

> But Facebook is a place were you are free to disagree openly

It doesn't look like many employees disagree openly in the company, or don't follow up with disagreements when the CEO and COO shoot things down. The employees at Google, another company which thrives on profiling and tracking people, have shown a lot more disagreement in public in the recent times (though only for a few things). I haven't seen something as vehement or as many from Facebook employees (I have to research if something like that has even happened). So there's something else going on in the company (maybe Facebook employees who realize the negative impact of the company and how disagreements aren't encouraged just quit silently?). From the outside it doesn't look like a company that accepts or even allows disagreements. It looks like one person at the top vetoes everything that doesn't match his strategy. Again, consider the reason why the WhatsApp founders left the company.

Thanks for your clear reply. There's only one thing though from what you mentioned that is not vague or subjective:

> It is the one place where AI can have a really positive impact on the world.

Can you develop on this please?

Why do you think a social network (however efficient it may be with e.g. targeted ads) will have a bigger impact on its members versus e.g. AI in healthcare? or finance? or education? which will have a truly global impact.

Not OP, and I don't agree with "the one place", but I think I might see his point from a content moderation perspective.

The possible effect of AI in other fields I think is overstated, or worries me because it might take jobs. I'm skeptical about AI in education and don't really see how it could fit. I think the negatives in education come from a broken system and not necessarily a lack of "an efficient way to extract information from data".

Dropping more automation in finance will just help extract value more efficiently, not necessarily create it, which if anything I think is a negative impact on the world.

Content moderation sounds like a big positive though. It is necessary, but not really a job many people have or many people "should" have-- there's a lot of violent, gory, traumatic things those people have to sift through.

I do think healthcare can be augmented by AI and doctors working together in a way that doesn't cut jobs and increases the effectivity of treatment. Wether that will happen or this will be an excuse to cut staff is a worry, though the implications if effectivity of diagnosis and/or treatment increases are not to be understated-- quite literally life-changing.

Could you elaborate on each of those four points? How did you come to these conclusions?

Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department

Facebook recruiters seem more aggressive lately, perhaps they're starting to actually have trouble attracting top talent?

Perhaps, but if you notice that anecdotally, it may be that you and your network and becoming more experienced and therefore more attractive to Facebook.

Nope, I'm in my late thirties. They're so desperate they're approaching old losers like me.

I feel the same way about Carmack. Such wasted potential that could've been so much better used at a company like SpaceX or even one like Epic Games or Valve.

What's the alternative? Google? Baidu?

Are you suggesting that there is no application for AI outside global surveillance platforms?

How about universities?

Ha! Let me explain to you how the sausage is made at [American] universities. You're a fresh-faced researcher with a brand new PhD and you got super, super lucky and landed one of the very few tenure-track positions at a research university available each year. On your first day of orientation, your department head hands you a piece of paper with a number written on it. The number varies every year based on the university and the economy. Maybe this year it's $500,000, maybe a few years from now it's $1M. That number is how much money in research grants you need to bring in to the university over the next 6 years.

If you bring that money in, congratulations, you get tenure; now you get a chance to work on whatever interests you for the rest of your life. But if you fall short of that goal, you're denied tenue; GTFO. You might think being a really good teacher will save you; it won't. You might think that volunteering for some annoying university committee will save you; it won't. You may think writing some really impactful papers (that nevertheless fail to bring in research grant money) will save you; it won't, unless you're really, really, really close to your monetary goal.

So how do you get across the hump? In your first year or two, you think that ethical projects can totally work for you. You bring in a $10K grant here, a $25K grant there. Then you realize you're far short of your goal. So you do what most successful professors do. You start taking DARPA money, DOD money, DOJ money, Amazon or Google or Facebook money. You start building (or facilitating the building of) technology that kills people, that selects people to kill, that monitors populations for trouble-makers or for people susceptible to advertising campaigns. Of course, those aren't the words used in your grant proposals, instead you keep it really abstract. But deep down, you know what your research is going toward.

I know how academia works. Though being a theoretical particle physicist, I don't have to worry about the societal impact of my research and I can't be influenced by industry.

You seem to be unhappy with your situation. And you also seem to suggest that the choice boils down to either work in a hypocritical (re ethics) environment in academia or be openly cynical about it and join facebook and the likes.

Well. I think the world is bigger than this. And we always have choice. Be it academic prestige, good salaries, power, ethics, etc.

There are plenty of small companies trying hard to make a positive impact in the world (not just with words like Zuck) and which would be happy to have you. But then the price to pay is your academic dream.


We need an Operation Paperclip for Facebook talent.

Well we eventually got two things out of that operation....ICBM's and the Saturn V.

im not justifying it, but its easier to do research at a place like FB than in a university these days

This scares me.

It's easier because.. FB has access to millions of people that universities do not? Because fbook can manipulate the minds, emotions and money and politics of highly targeted groups without anyone knowing and the universities could never do that, or would never do that?

Is it because fbook has less ethics / laws / rules in place? Because universities need to answer to the community they are in and have the fear of pitchforks and loss of funding / donors / non-monopoly and need to think of their future and reputation and fbook does not?

What other reasons could there be?

This is something that indeed, unfortunately, we probably should have had regulators talking about long ago.

> This scares me.

> It's easier because.. FB has access to millions of people that universities do not? Because fbook can manipulate the minds, emotions and money and politics of highly targeted groups without anyone knowing and the universities could never do that, or would never do that?

> Is it because fbook has less ethics / laws / rules in place? Because universities need to answer to the community they are in and have the fear of pitchforks and loss of funding / donors / non-monopoly and need to think of their future and reputation and fbook does not?

> What other reasons could there be?

Money. Lots and lots of money, a scarce resource at most universities.

Well this is true only if your research is well aligned with fb's interests. Not the case in universitiew where academic freedom, albeit not perfect, still exists to a large extent.

Dataset. AI is nothing without high-quality datasets: without ImageNet, there will not be deep learning.

Isn’t imagenet an academic dataset? Thank Stanford and Princeton, not FANG

I mean researchers go into FANG to gain access to private, high quality datasets.

Simple, not everyone share the same concern regarding privacy or those sjw stuff, moreover fb has vast amount of data and also funding, it's very suitable for AI research.

Even if he refuse to work with fb, pretty sure a lot of other people will be happy to replace.

SJW is a weird insult to use here, the outcry isn't anything to do with SJWs. FAANG in general are actually very pro SJW in the gender/racial sense, see Damore's firing, the twitter feed of senior devs at any of them.

They're the epitomy of the liberal elite, privacy is totally orthogonal as an issue.

You can say right now that "not everyone cares about privacy" and it seems reasonable, but in a decade or two it will sound like saying "not everyone cares about environmentalism" does now, it's ignorance that will slowly bear fruit.

By using the term "sjw" I think you significantly diminish the strength of your argument. Why did you choose that word?

Is privacy only the concern of social justice warriors? Have you met rural American preppers?

sjw = individual who promotes socially progressive views. socially progressive views could include society attitude towards privacy.

Unfortunately, I don't think your personal definition of the word is in step with common parlance, hence my comment.

>Social justice warrior (SJW) is a pejorative term for an individual who promotes socially progressive views, including feminism, civil rights, and multiculturalism, as well as identity politics.


If you continue to use it to mean, just, "a liberal," people are going to misunderstand your point.

Yes, I used the Wikipedia definition. Not sure what do you mean by "a liberal"

Because to me "individual who promotes socially progressive views" just means "liberal," while SJW is an actual pejorative.

> Even if he refuse to work with fb, pretty sure a lot of other people will be happy to replace.

I think this applies to some level to entry positions. I know plenty of people coming out of school who need the money, especially considering how aggressive the economic system in the US is to young people (student debt, impossible housing, tough job market to beginners, the responsibility of saving for an uncertain future due to the lack of safety nets, etc). It is also the case there's many people who could replace you: entry-level projects will be done, regardless of wether you do them or not.

Nonetheless, there's a point at which you're set. You could take another job without worries, and in fact you're in demand. Moreover, you're effective at what you do, and have started contributing with decision-making or really bringing efficiency into projects. At this point, other people will be happy to replace sure, but they won't be the same. There's more responsibility on you.

And lastly, you reach the point at which some of these top researchers are. They're beyond fine both economically and career wise-- they don't "need this job". They're also crucial. In their projects it's either them or no one. They are very responsible for their work.

> Even if he refuse to work with fb, pretty sure a lot of other people will be happy to replace.

Good for them. When I see a dog turd on the sidewalk, I don't step into it because otherwise, other people might. I make sure to not step into it for purely personal reasons -- it's me and my shoes that matter, not the dog turd regardless of its ambitions, nor people who might not pay attention to where they're walking.

Science should be above this.

Inspired by your comment, I'll make my point more graphically: Nazi camps were also suitable for medical and spychological testing. Nazi and even interned doctors did all sorts of experiments on prisoners. And if they refused to do so, pretty sure other people would have been happy to replace. Not everyone shared the same concerns regarding human life.

They were able to do a lot of beneficial research because they didn’t have to deal with cumbersome regulations and roadblocks.

And if they didn’t do it, someone else would have lined up to take advantage of the opportunities.

Edit: If it isn’t clear, I am being sarcastic.

It depends how you see things. imho some things are intrinsically wrong, doing them because "someone else would have lined up to take advantage of the opportunities" doesn't change the fact that it's wrong in the first place.

Just the same way that if something wrong is done by a lot of people it doesn't make it right (smoking, drinking &c.).

What if the alternative is to be shot yourself? Where do you morals stand then?

Unfortunately our morals are easily swayed when the alternative choice is death.

Coercion undermines agency.

How is that relevant here?

>Science is above this.

Yes, thats probably what Nazi thought too. Above the cost of human life.

This debate is needlessly muddled by this fuzzy notion that because it is "the Internet" therefore something different needs to be done, that this is somehow a new situation. But it is not. If it was the 1970s and people were told to sign a contract to allow a company to physically track every single event in their lives, they would not consent to it. If it was the 1970s and some company tried to get exclusive access to people's TV and radio to bombard them with bespoke advertisement and propaganda, they would not consent to it. So then what is so different? Nothing much. What Facebook and Google and others are currently doing is way beyond what a sane society would allow. It is just that people are confused because it is done through a new medium, but nothing much is different.

If he gave away all the profits he made from Facebook and put out the book for free, then maybe I'd consider his feedback.

Off topic comment here. I remember two years ago when people on HN were arguing people that cared about privacy had something to hide. I am glad the tide is starting to change. Privacy is a fundamental human right.

It would be a dramatic change of decades of ideological, political and popular sentiment to start breaking up companies or tightly regulating them. I doubt it would happen.

> It would be a dramatic change of decades of ideological, political and popular sentiment to start breaking up companies or tightly regulating them. I doubt it would happen.

I think it will. It took a couple decades of dramatic change to get us here (in the 70s and 80s), and the pendulum is now swinging back (and probably has been for the last decade).

> Let’s examine the evidence. At its peak the planet’s fourth most valuable company, and arguably its most influential, is controlled almost entirely by a young man with the charisma of a geometry T.A.

Does the writer really think a more charismatic founder would have changed the outcome for the better, or that more charisma would have led Zuckerberg to make different choices?

Let's not forget that history is scarred from the manipulations of charismatic leaders.

This sounds rather like the old nerd/geek/greasy-grime bashing trope trotted out again.

Yeah, that seemed like an unnecessary, irrelevant personal attack.

Raise the alarm about what he's doing to privacy, not his social shortcomings.

Its curious that the media is going to such great lengths to paint Facebook as villians.

My own Facebook stream is travel photos, people saying gushy things about their spouse, plus a few people still obsessed with Trump. Harmless stuff.

Our lives must be pretty cushy when this is one of the biggest dangers that we face.

Unfortunately I believe your myopic viewpoint is exactly what Facebook has driven to create.

What are the sinister threats in your Facebook feed? Or are you just speculating about what the unwashed masses must be seeing?

Well, if I remember correctly, they track your web navigation using that little like button on every page (even if you don't click it). Then there is the issue that its working on identifying exactly who you live with, where you work, who you socialize with etc. These are things that i can think of right now, and im sure there are a lot more.

Edit: While you where talking mostly about content of fb, i see these issues as being the biggest problem for me personally. I was on the internet in the late 90s and we learned early on never trust anything written on the web, and i apply the same to FB/Twitter/HN/Reddit etc.

Take a look at LiveRamp. And LiveRamp is just the tip of the iceberg.

Effective privacy legislation wont change the user experience of Facebook by much. And it would be a great idea.

Not sure about threats, but I've seen plenty of fake news, conspiracies, etc; many of which have been tied to Russian disinformation groups (or other malignant foreign interests). See the Nation in Distress group; https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/10/11/faceboo....

You saw these in your own feed? Do share

Sounds like you're caught up in your own FB reality tunnel.

Of course. All it requires is some naive (usually older) family members. In this case, my in-laws are in their 70s, and extremely right-wing. They would share stuff from the Nation in Distress group all the time before Facebook banned it. That is just one example; Facebook has been extremely instrumental in providing a platform for disinformation and propaganda. Just because you don't see it in your own bubble, does not mean it is not a threat.

Also what's not there? What are you not seeing? Have you wondered about the world outside your bubble?

This is one of the things that individual experience can vary a lot. My Facebook is maybe 30% racist rants, bashing liberals, and a call to arms against the government for taking away guns. Another 30% is people ranting about Trump and talk to about a communist revolution. 30% is memes. 10% is travel photos and news about lives.

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