Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Make Facebook Angry, And They’ll Censor You Into Oblivion (techcrunch.com)
156 points by cristinacordova on Nov 23, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

I've earned a lot of ill-will on Hacker News by stating the obvious. The kind of behavior described in this article bothers me for several reasons, and I've posted plenty already about most of them, but one that doesn't get talked about enough is that Y Combinator and Facebook are in business together now. (See http://venturebeat.com/2010/08/26/facebook-working-with-y-co...)

Facebook, Inc. has in the past taken, and appears to still be taking, a number of actions designed to crush entrepreneurship. I would think that Y Combinator would do anything but support such radical and destructive behavior. My note to Paul Graham expressing this sentiment several months ago remains unanswered.

YC has "partnered" with Facebook only as much as it benefits YC companies tremendously to have inside access and help from the largest and most dominant social network. Partnering with them can hardly be construed as an endorsement of everything Facebook does.

Also, it's only fair to disclose that you have a very public history with Facebook and would have plenty of reasons to lobby this criticism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Facebook#Aaron_Gre...

First, every time I make such a disclaimer about something that you're saying is already "very public" I'm criticized for not being quiet about my prior involvement, but if you think that needed to be clarified, that's fine. Either way, in this case my role is completely immaterial. I said that I've written about this topic in the past, so anyone can click on my username and see. My real name is clearly in my profile for anyone to look up. Yours isn't, and I don't see it on your web site, either. And as the CEO of a Y Combinator-backed company, you might want to disclose that you are the beneficiary of the inside access you reference.

Second, call me crazy, but it's an official partnership from what has been reported, not a "partnership."

Third, partnership is an endorsement, plain and simple. You don't partner with people you don't support; you partner with ones you do.

partnership is an endorsement, plain and simple

Not at all.

I'll continue the Facebook ⟺ Communist China comparison of my other comment – which ought to demonstrate I'm not coming at this issue with total sympathy for Facebook. A policy of engagement means only, "we're pragmatic enough to work together on matters of common benefit", not "we endorse everything about our partner".

A lot of positive-sum interactions would be lost, and society would be a lot less civil, if we had to shun partnering with anyone we weren't ready to 'endorse'. That's the mindset of a crusader rather than a businessperson.

Why talk in such absolute terms? YC is in it for option of early exists into Facebook (Zuckerberg is frank about his support for acquisition-as-a-hiring-bonus). Facebook sees it as a way of hiring the top talent coming out of universities. Facebook also does stupid things sometimes, like violating obvious privacy expectations set by a recent launch. Not the end of the world (people can tell each other about lamebook in other ways), but clearly a mistake. Your phrasing forces them to acknowledge weakness with the mistake. Skip the ego.

>Why talk in such absolute terms?

I'm not saying that I agree with her, but this is exactly the type of language Ayn Rand hates, and frequently makes fun of in Atlas Shrugged.

> partnership is an endorsement


Not sure why you'd want to draw PG into a political shit fight...

Besides - wouldn't a more hacker thing to do be to fund the folks (or be the folks) that build the next take down?

All empires fall - the cool thing about modern times is that they seem to fall faster and faster...

I'm not looking for a fight. I'm looking for an explanation. The odds of success as an entrepreneur are low enough without influential investors implicitly blessing those who are notorious for their unique interpretations of right and wrong.

Nah course not, you just want someone else to get in one.

Simmer down gentleman. This really isn't the place for "flame-on".

He is responsible for YC. Who else would you mention by name when arguing this point?

Its not a 'political shit fight'. There are some consequences to being a startup incubator, and partnering with a company that has a record of using outside innovations for its own benefit.

Yeah - I reject that. I don't agree with facebook's approach. So I don't use it. But this isn't black or white stuff... this is grey area that lots of people have different opinions about. By all means critique facebook - by all means critique those who have partnered with facebook.

But demanding that someone else must come in on the fight on your side or your going to denounce them publicly on their site, is a pretty horrible - either your with us, or your against us - sort of mentality. As far as I'm aware, YC itself is not funding any companies with similar sorts of ethic breaches. So why not take the fight to where it needs to be fought?

This is Bret Taylor, CTO of Facebook. I responded on the other thread (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1932259), but cross-posting here since it is largely about the same issue.

This was a mistake on our part. In the process of dealing with a routine trademark violation issue regarding some links posted to Facebook, we inadvertently blocked all mentions of the phrase "lamebook" on Facebook. We are committed to promoting free expression on Facebook. We apologize for our mistake in this case, and we are working to fix the process that led to this happening.

If the TechCrunch article is to be believed, Facebook gives itself the power to filter and block outbound private emails between users based on its content.

> Not only is it currently impossible to share a Lamebook link to your News Feed or a friend’s Facebook Wall — you can’t even include them as part of a direct message or email to friends

I'm not on Facebook so I don't really know; if I'm wrong about this then I'm sorry.

But if it's true, it's crazy. Private communication between people that the system knows

1) are human (as opposed to an automatic spamming engine)

2) mutually declared themselves to be "friends"

should not be monitored in any way.

If the recipient wants to set up a filter then it's fine, but if messages are blocked at the source then it's very disturbing.

Everyone used to assume that Big Brother nightmares were imaginary and overblown; now that Facebook is becoming the main communication channel between some people, those nightmares are real...?

Not every computer is guaranteed to be free of malicious software capable of acting on behalf of the individual. This necessitates that security filters operate on private communications. This is true for all messaging products.

An example of why this filtering exists: http://blog.trendmicro.com/koobface-makes-a-comeback/

If you are committed to promoting free expression why do you have a feature on your site that can obliterate mentions of a certain phrase? Would you have noticed that you "inadvertently" blocked all mentions of lamebook if there wasn't any publicity about this blocking?

Probably so they can obliterate mentions of spam domains. HN has a similar feature, except that one can also stealth-ban your account for posting links to certain sites. Until we get strong AI, any high-traffic site where users can post links will need such a feature.

It's one thing to nuke links, but this apparently went beyond that. From the TC comments:

"Wow, you can't type ANY form of lamebook.com, lamebook DOT com, lame+book DOT com...NOTHING! How can I trust Facebook as a messaging system if it's going to block entire words and phrases?!? What if I just wanted to ask my friends what they think about the Lamebook case?? WTF"

This would be like if I asked you for examples of which sites were banned, and you couldn't even post to tell me.

We use it to block spam and malware, typically to block mentions of URLs that are, e.g, links to malware downloads.

You use it to block spam and malware, yes. But you've just shown that you use it for other purposes as well. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't there also an issue with The Pirate Bay on this too? That's neither spam nor malware (not that I'm defending what it is...), so it seems odd to act like this is just for protecting users.

I call bull on this statement. I once tried to send my friend a perfectly harmless link (no spam, no viruses, no malware or anything) and I couldn't because FB blocked it. The link contained a couple of images from South Park.

I can't imagine using the new FB mail for my communication if FB will censor the crap out of it.

Well, we'll accept anything in the name of security.

Facebook operates in some countries in which certain speech is illegal, such as denial of the Holocaust in Germany. IIRC they comply with the nation's laws in each country they operate in.

In almost all countries (where appliable) these laws only apply to "public" speach. If you're just mailing a friend you can write there whatsoever.

So there is no reason to censor messages themselves.

> why do you have a feature on your site that can obliterate mentions of a certain phrase?

It's called database access, and every CTO has it, ultimately. That said, I doubt there is a big red button sitting like a blank check for the CTO to nuke phrases that contract his sphincter. That said, what the hell do I know?

This feature "filters" comments as they're made, it's most definitely something that was built as a feature he even says as much, it's not "database access", it's a built in feature for filtering (censoring) bad content. It doesn't remove old mentions, it disallows future mentions.

I love that you can imagine the CTO running through the database blocking all mentions of lamebook in real time.

According to the article, in addition to blocking links, the company's fan page was also removed. Is this also part of the phrase blocking routine? (This is a genuine question and not an antagonistic attempt.)

That's great to hear, Bret. A lot of us are wary of FB because of stories like this. A followup about the fix to the process that led to this happening would be much appreciated.

That would be really nice and open of them - but for your own sake please don't hold your breath :)

an oversight by facebook ?, really ?, a mistake ? ... so you just decided for the hell of it to ban all links to <random url> and <random url> just happened to be lamebook!!!, what an unreal coincidence.

Y'know what's really lame?, expecting anyone to believe that crap ...

"The rumors of my censorship have been greatly exaggerated!"

Come on. There are plenty of facebook hater groups (such as http://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Hate-Facebook/377167999094) on facebook.

This ought to be everyone's prior when something like this happens. Bugs are common, censorship is not, particularly for tech companies.

In China, young people get around censorship filters with euphemisms, and especially rhyming-euphemisms. See:


So looking on the bright side, kids will find ways to talk. On the not-so-bright-side, Facebook is behaving like the Communist Party of China.

Happy to see Bret Taylor's statement above (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1932272) and elsewhere that topic-filtering was applied by mistake, and would be inconsistent with Facebook's commitment to free expression.

Facebook has a relationship to its community/system that is much like that of a sovereign government to its jurisdiction, so even Facebook's transitory slip-ups can make it seem like an overbearing or bumbling state.

Pretty ridiculous and ballsy of Facebook, I think. Zuckerberg must be drunk with power to allow this kind of thing, with delusions that his burgeoning empire is invincible. He is practically daring someone to prove that Facebook can be taken out of its place by this kind of behavior. How blatant can you be that you have no regard for the public perception, no regard for those who depend on your platform for a means of communication, no regard for those who use your platform to deploy their own applications? I think that literally removing all content _just because_ you don't like someone is about as blatant and power-drunk as you can get.

I don't think anyone believes that the trademark litigation has any merit. They're just using it as an excuse because they think that Lamebook reflects poorly on their business, though I don't really see how ... I think it probably encourages people to use it more, in hopes that they'll find something Lamebook-worthy.

This is a good thing as it will make more people aware of what Facebook is becoming. The value Facebook provides is no longer higher than the cost (in privacy, liberty to express yourself, and of possibility of targeted disruption of service) of using the platform. I hope something better takes them out. Soon.

Lots of people are pointing out that it’s their site [Facebook], they can do what they want.


But then they can’t pretend they are neutral enough to be “the” social graph or “the” messaging platform.

[Edit in response:] Agreed, it’s absolutely up for users and third-party developers / webmasters to decide. “The internet considers censorship damage and routes around it,” or however that goes.

To be fair, isn't that for the users of the platform to decide? What becomes the defacto method or medium is largely based on who and how many use it.

"We’re disappointed that after months of working with Lamebook they turned to litigation."

Because facebook stands a good chance to lose?

I for one hope this walled garden idea of social networking sites doesn't come out on top. Maybe facebook will become the next AOL.

Newsflash: FB is already the next AOL. :) We are helping Zuck and company build those Walled Garden walls.

I do wonder about filters like these on the upcoming messaging. Will there be a point where the blockage hits the non-tech savvy in a way that ends up on the news?

// does the phrase "XXXX is a lame book" get blocked?

I noticed this effect earlier this year when Facebook was facing scrutiny over privacy. I posted a few negative links and criticized facebook and it appeared that far fewer people saw anything I posted afterward. Pure anecdote, but it looked suspicious. Facebook controls what pops up in your friends feeds.

Startup idea: let Jason Kincaid submit this story to Facebook with the stipulation that it gets published if they don't fix it in the next 3 days, and they pay him $10k for pointing out what idiots they were if they do. The precise monetary sum should be the value of the negative publicity. The details of a market structure to accomplish this goal is left as an exercise for the reader ;)

Lets be honest... lamebook does look confusingly similar to Facebook - the likely source of trademark violation allegations.

While I'm no fan of facebook acting petty and heavy handed - I can understand their discontent.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2018

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