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Facebook backtracks after removing Warren ads calling for Facebook breakup (politico.com)
302 points by edward on Mar 11, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 206 comments

This is smart politics. Rather than simply telling people FB is a monopoly, she runs a limited experiment that had it been left alone, would have limited effect since the budget was so small ($100). Now this puts FB in a bind. If they really are a middleman for content, then these ads don't violate any laws and shouldn't be blocked. However, FB as a company with a product should block it just like coffee shop wouldn't allow a banner on the wall saying "better coffee down the street".

This sort of overreaction to a small calculated provocation just proves the point that FB is a company first, platform second. This was obvious already to many people, but now there's a clear illustration that'll make it harder for FB to simply say they are a neutral platform.

I agree this is smart, because it's a win-win for Warren: either the ad remains online and it does its work, or it gets taken down and that's a forced Streisand.

But I don't think this is an overreaction, specially because this isn't solely about Facebook: if Google removed or downgraded search results for Warren - a US senator and presidential candidate - that would be a worldwide scandal.

Antitrust issues have been risen when Amazon promoted some products over others.

The main questions, at least for me, are: what kind of action is acceptable for these companies? Have they grown beyond their own governance?

And this applies to other companies as well. If Twitter were to shut down the POTUS account for violating TOU, people would also wonder the state of limbo of some platforms: should everyone be treated in equal terms? Does it bear some responsibility as an intermediary for public officials? Should it be subject to some standard verification protocol other than the one put in place by its engineers?

It also raises questions for the user cases: should governments and public officials use social media indiscriminately? Traditional media has a certain democratic access to government: should governments give a specific social media platform preferential treatment? Should there be a call for bids when choosing a social media platform over others?

> a forced Streisand

For those who didn’t catch the reference, this is referring to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect

Thanks for the link. I'd never heard of this being called a "Streisand effect" before.

Ironically, that's evidence agaist its existence as an effect.

The phenomenon described is common - making a noticeable effort to hide something draws more attention to what you're trying to hide.

Attributing it to a specific individual seems a little weird to me. It'd be like calling lashing out in anger "the Depp effect."

Phenomena get named. Good names are in short supply. Names of individuals are used as an easy cultural shorthand.

Yes, but that then adds a communication barrier. There are more universal ways to describe what happened.

> if Google removed or downgraded search results for Warren - a US senator and presidential candidate - that would be a worldwide scandal.

Would it? A number of Republican candidates note that their email goes straight to spam in Gmail, while messages from Democratic candidates do not, even without any obvious difference in delivery efforts by the sender. Nobody cares.

> But I don't think this is an overreaction

The overreaction was on facebook's part.

Well, one could argue that the ad campaign was made in bad faith. Warrens people knew it would be flagged automatically by fb's algorithms because of the logo. No one at Facebook actually decided to pull the ad. And it wouldn't have been, if it weren't for going against ToS. The damage is done. But very insidious tactic still.

You're right, I misread that.

For Google, it would've been easy. Rank some other Warren-related site above her antitrust page. If they can't find one, have someone make one.

For $100, they should've left it alone.

What if FB makes sure the ad sees non impressionable audience?

It’s very smart, her ad campaign people must have known misusing the Facebook logo would get them denied, but now she gets press for being the victim.

You or I couldn’t run those ads, this is special treatment for her.

Lots of other ads have used the facebook logo and not been taken down.

It's pretty funny when people are manipulated so easily by facebook PR.

The article says that more than a dozen other of her ads were not taken down. So it is not like they were _all_ taken down, just a single one that carrier the logo.

Maybe only the ones they had an easy excuse to remove?

> Lots of other ads have used the facebook logo

Care to give a single example?

Seems more like dropping pamphlets behind enemy lines about the deception, rather than promoting a competitor on company premises.

I would say this is ordinary politics, an obvious calculated provocation we see every day.

What is surprising is a such dump FB reaction. Why such inteligent people make such dump moves? Are they really that arogant? Maybe that arrogance is caused by revenue increases after all these scandals. Maybe they treated politicians in the same way for many times, but in other countries.

It seems likely that no human decision resulted in this move. Instead, the take down may have been automated due to the used of the FB logo in the ad. If Warren's campaign knew this policy of such removal existed, then the entire setup was just that- a setup. The ad was placed in bad faith, but there was no bad faith self-interest on the part of FB in taking it down, just the appearance of such.

.. Or simply Facebook will blame it on algorithms that are complex, not trained etc...

We have seen every possible experiment, there is always an excuse. They even had excuses for Cambridge Analytics.The best thing to do is just delete your account and that's it.

This is the correct interpretation of the Facebook propaganda response. “The algorithm did it” serves the same purpose, for data-hoarder companies, that “drugs made me do it and I’m going to rehab” serves for celebrities.

What is a "neutral platform"?

Are there any examples of such "neutral platforms" outside of web company marketing?

Was this term coined by web companies?

Seems to me like a more concrete term to describe a web company such as Facebook is "MITM". This has a specific meaning and we can all understand how it applies. A MITM could be benevolent, malicious or perhaps "neutral". (The existence of the later might be obviated by peer-to-peer connections.)

If there could be such a thing as a "neutral platform", then maybe "the internet" is the best candidate. Not any particular MITM, whether benevolent, malicious or "neutral".

> the budget was so small ($100)

Really? The article says: "The ads were limited in size and reach, with each costing under $100, according to disclosure details listed online." Each ad was "under $100," and there are no details as to the exact extent of reach. The total spend could have easily been a few hundred grand.

Have you ever paid $100 per impression on an ad campaign? You're mistaken anyway. $100 was the total budget, not per impression.

Does Facebook claim to be a content-agnostic middleman? I know we accuse them of it, but they pulled some GOP / Trump ads for being sensational, that hardly sounds like a dispassionate middleman.

It's not about what they claim to be, it's about the legal provisions that may or may not protect them. I'm not sure of all the details, which wouldn't fit in an HN post anyhow, but the short version is that if they are picking and choosing what can appear on their platform, they're also liable for it. Facebook, among other companies, want to both be able to pick and choose what appears on their platform and to enjoy the legal protections that come from not picking and choosing, but the days of that arrangement working for them are clearly numbered. And in the case of Facebook, they're clearly going to go for choosing what can appear on their platform, so it's only a matter of time before they get sued about it.

> I'm not sure of all the details, which wouldn't fit in an HN post anyhow, but the short version is that if they are picking and choosing what can appear on their platform, they're also liable for it.

You might be thinking of the pre-CDA rule suggested by the Stratton Oakmont case. But Congress specifically removed that rule!



Your link to

seems to not format properly, because presumably hn strips the last '.' thinking it's a full stop to end a sentence. Boo.

Also for those wondering where they know the name from, that is indeed Jordan "Wolf of Wall Street" Belfort's company.

I guess I could try escaping the period: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratton_Oakmont,_Inc._v._Prod...

Serious question(s), not trolling.

Why shouldn't Facebook take down the ad that's calling for a break up of their Company?

How is this any different from a person walking into a store and asking to place an ad inside the store calling for breakup or shutting down of said store? What store owner would ever allow such a thing?

Why would (or should) any business allow any sort of propaganda that strikes at the heart of it's operations?

Why would Facebook be expected to restore the ads (which I don't think they should've done).

Well, the Warren Campaign was playing them, and they fell right into it. Because, by taking down her ads, they supported her point that they have too much power to control debate.

That is, that they've become a monopoly. So they either need to be very careful not to abuse their monopoly, or be highly regulated, or be broken up.

Edit: Stole from ktjfi. [and spelling]

>That is, that they've become a monopoly.

Facebook has no monopoly on internet advertisement. I'm not a big fan of Facebook but I don't see where it would be a monopolist.

> Facebook has no monopoly on internet advertisement

They do on local political ads. Google searches are no longer effective for targeting those not already political involved. The local papers have been run out of business. Direct mail is expensive and unreliable. Pretty much all roads in this arena lead to Facebook, which makes its willingness to censor opinions unfavourable to it disturbing.

There are strong reasons to break up Facebook into, at the very least, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Dissecting the company along those lines does nothing to curb their cumulative potential effect on controlling what ads a user sees. They all hook into the same ad backend anyways.

> Dissecting the company along those lines does nothing to curb their cumulative potential effect on controlling what ads a user sees

If I can reach my audience through Facebook or Instagram, that’s more competition than Facebook properties alone.

> They all hook into the same ad backend anyways

Hence the call to break them up.

>If I can reach my audience through Facebook or Instagram, that’s more competition than Facebook properties alone.

I mean, if anything, competition will lower the price per contact with potential voter? What problem it will solve?

How in the world is that enforceable, or legal?

Well, there was the Bell System. But arguably that didn't work as planned. And it probably couldn't happen today.

But regulation as a public utility might work.

Wouldn't the point of breaking those into separate companies be to _prevent_ them from hooking into the same backend?

What if they break FB, IG, Messenger and WhatsApp in to separate companies. They also spin out Facebook Ad Solutions Inc. or whatever it’s called to sell ads to all those separate companies along with anyone else who wants to display FB ads. This isn’t to say that this is what will happen, but it’s one potential.

If they are broken up like this Google could sell ads to be shown on those platforms too.

I strongly disagree. Political advertisement successfully worked long before internet existed yet alone Facebook. Voters still live in houses, walk on streets, drive cars on roads, use public transit, watch TV/Netflix/YT/whatever. There are still many ways to reach them. Even if other channels are more expensive it doesn't make Facebook a monopolist.

Standard oil was still a monopoly even though the cart and buggy was still around.

People no longer receive daily, or even weekly, deliveries of newspapers. They no longer crowd around the living room radio, and increasingly avoid the television, which increasingly has neither a cable connection nor rabbit ears.

Like it or not, the world has changed.

The world has changed, but not that much. People do have mailboxes, mailing addresses and receive letters at least once in a while. Again, they drive cars, use public transit, walk on streets, etc. The real life still here, far not everything has moved online. And even for that online part Facebook is not a monopoly.

Influential online company? Absolutely. Monopoly? No.

>People do have mailboxes, mailing addresses and receive letters at least once in a while.

Nothing they receive in their mailbox holds their attention long, the attention market is dominated by digital media.

>Again, they drive cars, use public transit, walk on streets, etc

With headphones in or bluetooth paired. Who the hell reads a billboard? Who pairs their cellphone with their car, or owns headphones? Damn near everybody. Just try to buy a new car without Bluetooth.

Old propaganda distribution channels are dead men walking, and everybody knows it. Unless you're advertising a chicken wings and cleavage bar at the next exit, you're a damn fool for paying for a billboard.

I can name at least three of the snowflake data billboards, I know c3-iot is hiring, and espetus has two billboards (one in San Mateo and one at the 101/80 junction). And I mostly ride the 280, and don't eat that much meat.

Times Square billboards still sell for thousands of dollars a day. Do you have any evidence for your beliefs?

I don't pay any more attention to ads on facebook than I do to ads on billboards, or flyers in the mail. It all goes in the trash figuratively or literally.

My brain has been effectively trained to pattern recognize advertising and filter it out, as it is so ubiquitous and so very rarely actually useful.

Old propaganda distribution channels might be dead men walking, but the new ones are just as much (anecdotally).

With that reasoning an old paper yellow pages means no one can have a monopoly on digital yellow pages or a horse and cart means no one can have a monopoly in the car business.

People aren't saying that you can't do any marketing without Facebook, but if Facebook is letting others use their targeted advertising and not you, they've just increased your advertising costs by thousands of percent, giving Facebook the ability to selectively grant massive advantages to specific groups.

That's the problem here, yes, there are still mail based catalogue companies, but if you're not online, you're at a massive disadvantage.

I just read the App Annie 2019 app report this morning, and the 3 most used apps in Singapore in 2018 were Whatsapp, Instagram and Facebook. Though I didn't check for US stats I'm sure they are similar. That is effectively a monopoly.

>That is effectively a monopoly.

Monopoly on what exactly?


The network effect is unaccounted for by current antitrust legislation, which is pathetically outdated.

Pretty genius strategy, she’ll also gain support from traditional media companies which have been battling Facebook lately.

Especially because they were $100 limited-reach ads. So she got lots of notice from ~no investment.

Except she can run ads on google or Twitter or Snapchat or reddit to her Medium blog. If Starbucks kicks you out you can still get coffee elsewhere. If Comcast kicks me out I have no other choices for internet.

Facebook bills itself as a communications platform which follows rules which this didn’t violate so this is more akin to a newspaper refusing to run an ad which criticized them or a bar evicting someone who politely disagreed with the owner. Even if they successfully avoided regulation as a monopoly I would not be surprised if this led to people suing them for content which they didn’t take down on the theory that once you make arbitrary editorial decisions you’re responsible for everything.

At the very least it would also give pause to all of the media companies whose content has made them so much money, since you’d have to ask which other areas would be meddled with. That doesn’t need to be a legal process to have an impact on their business.

> or a bar evicting someone who politely disagreed with the owner

Is this supposed to be an example of something unreasonable?

Of course a publican can ask anyone to leave their bar for any reason or not reason at all, as long as it's not because of a protected characteristic. I think that's extremely reasonable.

True, but all of these small-business/relatable analogies break down because fb is a monopoly. It would be unreasonable if a polite disagreement with one person excluded you from 90% of bars in your state/country.

It's more like getting kicked out of the most popular bar, where 90% of your friends go. Sure, there are other bars, but you want to go to the one with your friends.

I'd say it's more like getting kicked out of a library for being a republican and therefore not being allowed to ever enter any library in the country again.

How is facebook preventing you from using a different social network (another library)?

The reason I used the library analogy is that at least where I live, library's are only run by the state.

And literally the whole point of this conversation is that Facebook has a monopoly on locally targeted online marketing, they're not stopping you from advertising on Myspace, what's stopping you from advertising on Myspace is that it's pointless.

Sure, technically Facebook doesn't have a 100% perfect, totally clean monopoly with literally no competitors, but that doesn't mean that them owning a significant majority of the targeted local advertising market isn't a monopoly problem and shouldn't therefor be legislated against.

A better analogy would be a bar owner evicting someone who politely disagreed with them, while simultaneously allowing a fascist group to drink, telling punters who complain about them he just serves drinks and will serve them to anyone who he legally can do.

Unreasonable in the sense that even if it’s legal, ejecting someone who wasn’t causing problems is likely to strike many people as overbearing even if they share the owner’s politics. Facebook being arbitrary hurts them because everyone else has to wonder whether something they care about will be next.

Clearly, FB, the multibillion dollar international behemoth that is the go-to platform for communicating to other human beings and makes their money patrolling said communictions isn't quite comparable to your local retailer that's selling widgets. But we don't even need to get to the realm of social and political responsibility to see the problem with FB's behavior in this case - try taking FB at their word: "We removed the ads because they violated our policies against use of our corporate logo. In the interest of allowing robust debate, we are restoring the ads."

Yes, these ads are not in FB's best interest, and they do not have an obligation to do business with any/all potential customers. The problem, of course, arises on two fronts: first, when FB twice approves an ad they themselves claim violates their policies; second, when FB claims to be a promoter of robust debate in reaction to critical press.

> Why shouldn't Facebook take down the ad that's calling for a break up of their Company?

For the same reason that TV stations should have to run ads for candidates that advocate for greater taxes on TV stations.

Facebook operates in a stable environment created by the US' democratic governmental structure. In their role as communication channel, they have an obligation to preserve the process that created the environment in which they arose.

I work in tech and while I might quibble with the wording, there's not one point that I feel is wrong on substance. They have bulldozed competition. They have profited from private information. They have tilted the playing field in their favor.

Ironically, I would have thought this last point was the most arguable. Then Facebook took down her ad. ... Sigh. FB so predictably short sighted sometimes.

The answer to questions 1, 3, and 4 is 'because free speech' (not to be confused with the 1st amendment).

Once a business is large enough to substantially affect which messages can get attention, if they restrict certain messages, they're restricting speech - speech is no good if you can't get anyone to hear you. Facebook isn't big enough to entirely stifle a message, but they can substantially reduce its reach. That's the problem with corporate control of ads and communication - they act as a filter on which ideas they'll let through.

That answers question 2 - if it's a small store, the person can place the ad in plenty of other places, and it'll still get enough attention. But if the store happens to own 80% of all ad space in the town...

Edit: I should clarify - this is all about ethical should/should not, and (as remarked by the child comment) not meant to imply there currently exists a legal basis to force Facebook to run the ads. It's important not to confuse what the law is, with that we'd like it to be.

Your post should not be downvoted. You make good points and even if someone disagrees with them the points do have merit. In the U.S. we regulate political television ads by not allowing stations to refuse to run them. It seems appropriate to think that the same should hold for a company like Facebook. As you say it does have the power to stifle speech and thus society does have a compelling interest in this area.

I believe, but am not certain, that there is no legal basis at this time to force Facebook to run such ads but their actions indicate that perhaps there should be. If for no other reason than to avoid the Streisand effect they should not have banned the ads. It’s a bad public image at a time when should be cultivating public goodwill. But perhaps they’ve calculated that this isn’t necessary.

It's different because Facebook isn't selling coffee, they're selling a "community platform" and publicly insist they support free speech. Warren is demonstrating not "this is a terrible coffee, contrary to the company's claims" but "this is a terrible platform for freedom of speech, contrary to the company's claims".

IF you believe representative democracy, though perhaps fatally flawed, is the best system of government we as humans can muster THEN demonstrating the forum for debate is flawed is more essential than roads and water.

I think Facebook has every right to take down the ad calling for breakup of Facebook.

This would suggest Facebook supports censorship

It's an ad, not organic content posted by users. If the latter were blocked, I could see it as censorship.

Should <insert name of television or radio station> news be required to run ads that are critical of itself?

Users aren't paying Facebook to host their content. FB have zero obligation to continue doing so. They are well within their rights to censor perniciously and arbitrarily.

Yeah, they probably censor child porn, and other things, too. Don't you support censorship?

If Facebook wants to lose it's safe harbor protections, then yes, it has the legal right to censor content.

I doubt that Facebook wants to lose those protections though.

Of course they do, but it looks bad politically.

There are a lot of things that it is perfectly legal to do, which you probably don't want to. Especially if you are a public company.

> Why shouldn't Facebook take down the ad that's calling for a break up of their Company?

Because allowing fb to do so would tend to allow people with power to get more power.

This is bad because concentrations of power will act in their own interest, not the public interest.

I think this was very well played by Warren. You are probably technically correct but it is what their campaign wanted to have happen, so they have good talking points around the control Facebook can assert around the globe, at scale, at will.

> Why shouldn't Facebook take down the ad that's calling for a break up of their Company?

This is surely not the first time someone posted an ad hating facebook, but they do take down all ads that use facebook's name and logos. This makes sense and it's totally normal (and probably automated), though her campaign team probably planned to use the takedown for political gain. By allowing this one, Facebook is doubling down on her game, i would say it is smart move on their part.

From a purely strategical perspective I think Facebook probably did the calculus and realized that the negative press of not running her ads would far outweigh the damage it could do to her campaign. There's a good chance that Warren would have taken them to court, she wouldn't have had a case, and she would have known that, but the publicity for her platform would have totally been worth it. If I was Facebook I'd be essentially "playing dead" with respect to Warren, her entire strategy depends upon positioning herself as David, battling against Facebook's Goliath, for the good of the country. It's a good strategy, people will respond to that story-line, but only if it's interesting, which requires Facebook and the rest of FAANG to fight back, if it's just Warren shouting into the void it'll be boring. Eventually they'll have to respond, but if she doesn't get enough traction with the story he candidacy might be derailed before they have to and it'll all go away.

Should Comcast let me send/post advertisements for a competing ISP using my Comcast Internet service?

It’s different because Facebook has massive power to influence the National conversation by choosing which content to block or not block. Your local neighborhood store does not have such power, ergo, it’s reasonable to treat Facebook differently from the way we might treat a store.

I think it's a intellectually dishonest to try draw a parallel between a local store that has a reach of hundreds (maybe thousands), and a platform that reaches and influences the world-changing (or at least country-changing) decisions of over a billion people.

From a strict business perspective, of course you're right: an independent business that offers a subscription product should be allowed to terminate ongoing uses of that product that it doesn't like.

But from a social and political perspective, FB censoring ads like this makes them look very, very bad, and basically proves the point that they have way too much control over what news and information reaches a troublingly-large number of people.

If the "store" was a newspaper, and it refused to report parliamentary debate on its impartiality...

It's not illegal, but does prove its partiality.

This is a paid advertisement. More like if a newspaper refused to run an ad encouraging you to boycott the newspaper. Which they probably would. A good newspaper would then report on the refusal to run the ad, and the recriminations that followed.

But not if they were the only newspaper, or the newspaper with more than half of the market, because that would make it look like a monopoly abusing its power.

In Europe, public service broadcasters (like the BBC) have no problem giving time to politicians or others who call for the dismantling of public service. If they didn't that would look really bad.

Nobody is calling Facebook immoral for taking down the ad. However, this is a string argument against Facebook being a neutral platform who just want to connect people and should be left alone from regulation.

They're a nigh monopoly and what happened reinforced that point. Thus, they can't claim they shouldn't be treated and regulated as a monopoly with a straight face.

> How is this any different from a person walking into a store and asking to place an ad inside the store calling for breakup or shutting down of said store? What store owner would ever allow such a thing?

I think this is a valid point, but it depends on the community the store is in and what it's selling.

What if it's in a town that just had a school shooting and is selling fully automatic rifles? The store owner doesn't have to allow it, you're right, but I can understand why the store would come under fire (see what I did there?)

But my point is you need to ask your self an important question: should the gun shop owner's right to run a store and earn a living outweigh the demands (a safer community, perhaps?) of the people living in that community, especially if it's a large majority of that community? The answer for me is very clear.

Facebook haven't been going around shooting people, but they have clearly shown themselves to be a very nasty piece of work and I'm personally unsure what value they add to society as a closed, proprietary monolith.

Now think about what Facebook has been doing wrong, and what more wrongs could be planned behind its closed doors, and ask your self the above question: is this for the betterment of society or only the small group of hyper-rich stakeholders?

No, Facebook should not be forced to keep the adverts up. It's their network after all, but the adverts should prompt them to ask themselves the same above question about their own actions and existence, and work with society, not against it, to resolve the problems being presented.

These adverts should open a dialogue, not simply be silenced.

(And on a side note: it's actually quite unsettling to see only a few big ad networks in existence and they can control who gets to advertise what... not good.)

I honestly don't think you should even be taking this comparison seriously at all. It'll just open up this side of the argument to straw man attacks.

One is a store that sells things to customers, another is a company that has productized at-least 1/7 of the Earth's population...

Both are doing something that should raise questions, within their own minds, as to whether they're benefiting society, especially after public outcry.

It doesn't matter what the store is: people should always be questioning themselves and their actions and deciding if they're for the good of all.

That's all I'm trying to say.

Two words spring to mind: Streisand effect.


Because Facebook has a monopoly.

What’s their monopoly on? Serious question. Too many people like using fb so we break them up? lolwut.

Is fb actively stifling competition? Is there a market failure?

Having a monopoly is not illegal. Using your monopoly to do things you can't do if you're not a monopoly can be illegal depending on the circumstances.

This is probably the biggest myth about US antitrust law. It seems to be almost universally believed, but is very clearly false. See, for instance, what happened to Alcoa.


And Warren's proposal aims to change exactly that.

> Is fb actively stifling competition? Is there a market failure?

They bought two of their competitors and copied the features of a third. None of that may meet the definition of "stifling competition," but it's a strategy that did neutralize potential competitors.

With 29% of the world's population logging in to FB at least once a month (2.23 bn "monthly active users" / 7.7 bn), and receiving algorithmically target messages from Facebook and its advertisers, there is tremendous potential for abuse.

> Is fb actively stifling competition?

If they're suppressing the debate, then yes, they are. When it comes to political speech, the democratic governance process is definitely a competitor.

> Is there a market failure?

As long as Facebook is the go-to platform for political advertising and they use their position as the market to influence market positions, then yes, there is a failure. Imagine if the NYSE chairman picked the stock winners every day, not because he's a prophet, but because he literally decided, in advance, who's going to get to move shares today.

> What’s their monopoly on? Serious question. Too many people like using fb so we break them up? lolwut.

Yes, basically. Or at least, they have a partial monopoly on social media.

> Is fb actively stifling competition?

They've been buying competitors. That's classic monopolistic behavior to stifle competition.

> Is there a market failure?

Pretty damn close. Even Google couldn't moose its way in.

I'm pretty sure "partial monopoly" is an oxymoron.

Google doesn’t like to actively compete though. It’s always been very quick to discontinue products, shrug its shoulders, and say “nevermind”.

It would be interesting to see Google release some sort of decentralized open source social networking software connected to Google Play. Something like Android, but for social networks. I could see FB being bothered by that.

Snapchat? TikTok? Discord? Reddit?

Facebook has a monopoly on Facebook.

Sure, they have competitors. But there are no close equivalents with substantial market power.

Their monopoly is on discourse and dissemination of information.

I'm going to sound a bit paternalistic and anti-capitalist here, because I am. Facebook is no longer just a company, it's an institution that should definitely be regulated. It enables the rapid dissemination of societally-impactful information that may or may not be true. There was plenty of fake information on facebook around the 2016 election that influenced uneducated/uncritical/unintelligent voters' opinions of the candidates. Having content curation guidelines that are informed by non-facebook entities almost certainly is needed, imo.

> It enables the rapid dissemination of societally-impactful information that may or may not be true.

This is the exact reason why Russia blocked (or at least tried to) block Telegram, and why Facebook is banned in China.

They own the majority means of discourse and dissemination of information? Newpapers? Television networks? Come on. That's not even close to true.

What percentage of the population can write for a newspaper or appear on TV?

When I say dissemination, I'm not just talking about elites. If the average Joe wanted to reach out asany people as they know and tell them something, tell me how they should do it?

And before someone comes and says that I want to police free speech, no. Not at all. I simply want curation which means a set of processes that are followed for certain categories of speech, and the labeling of potential speech as incorrect or untrue. I don't want to lock anybody up for posting fake news (though wouldn't mind if they were banned)

You're doing a fine job right here. But Twitter seems to be a far better option than Facebook for that kind of scenario.

Average Joe has a facebook account with a network of friends. They do not have a twitter account let alone any followers (Facebook DAU: 1.5 billion; Twitter DAU: 126 million)

Fair point, looking at Facebook as a platform and product I think it has far greater impact than Twitter.

Newspapers and Television networks have SUBSTANTIAL government regulation and oversight not present in Social Media. If you want to put Facebook on that level that those media types are competition, you need to accept that Facebook now gets greater FCC oversight.

Those other things you list...newspapers, television, networks...they all have a Facebook page and distribute their content through FB.

These traditional forms of media are scrambling for likes/comments just as much as the next influencer.

No business would fail if it didn't have a Facebook page. It's not necessary.

Now compare that with Google -- most businesses need to be listed on Google or they will lose significant amount of business. Facebook is nothing by comparison.

Being popular doesn't make something a monopoly.

>Being popular doesn't make something a monopoly.

No and you don’t need to be a monopoly to violate antitrust laws and engage in anti competitive behavior.

> Serious question.

I dont believe you. You know exactly what is Facebooks monopoly.

Your argument is that you’re 100% correct and “you don’t believe” others could have a different opinion.

No offense but why are you on this forum? Do you seriously expect others to conform to your opinions?

The arguments why Facebook is a monopoly are well-known. Feel free to disagree with them, but Im not going to waste my time explaining things to you that surely you already know.

One example of trolling is when someone posts into a thread a 'truth' while calling others liars, then not providing any evidence of that 'truth' when asked.

So either you are trolling, or you'll be so kind as to actually post the arguments for why Facebook is a monopoly so we can ensure we're discussing under a shared context.

That sort of attitude goes against the spirit of discussion imo. Makes for very uninteresting reading :(

I'm trying to figure out what I can get at Facebook that I can't get anywhere else.

A mass of active 'real' users

their users

On what exactly?

From what I can tell, Facebook did not take down all the ads Warren posted calling for the breakup of Facebook, there were specific ads which got flagged for use of the Facebook logo.

So it seems to me that Warren’s team when fishing for ads about breaking up Facebook which would flag in the automated system, and then ran to report about it.

It smells like a setup.

The whole thing is a set-up:

Small businesses are just as likely to block you negatively advertising about them on their platform as large ones, so Warren showing she’s blocked doesn’t tell us anything about Facebook’s size or practices compared to businesses in general, and thus doesn’t tell us if they’re a problematic monopoly. How many businesses let you use their service to argue against them?

Not even the news, collectively much less individually, accurately reports content on the news — and they’re the ones held forward as examples of a self-policing industry serving society.

The only way to conclude that Facebook abused their position here is if you already believe that; otherwise, it really doesn’t seem like anything unusual happened.

This seems like acting really aggressively, then whining when you get expected and normal pushback: a common bullying tactic from children.

> Facebook confirms it took down Elizabeth Warren's ads about Facebook, but is in the process of restoring them.

> FB spox: "We removed the ads because they violated our policies against use of our corporate logo. In the interest of allowing robust debate, we are restoring the ads.”


The terms of service suggest that any ad that discusses Facebook is ripe for removal. Her point stands and is expanded by the selective enforcement of their ToS; is this the platform for public discourse that we want for ourselves and do we want any such platform to be this powerful?

To be fair, I have in the past had ads automatically 'removed' in approval process which use the logo that have nothing to do with FB, just happen to use the logo. Same with 'March Madness.' They have automated approvals which catch use of the logo.

That is a fair point. I assume that they have different rules for the likes of Warren than they have for you. It is feasible, though, that this was caught in an algorithm and Facebook declined to volunteer that fact.

I work almost exclusively for politicians, specifically buying ads online (a lot on FB). It would be a new development to me if there is a tiered/segregated approval for political ads. Perhaps now that you have to sign affidavit, but it feels like the same outsourced process as normal where it's mostly automated process.

I thought Warren’s demographic loves having top down moderation-heavy social networks?

It depends. There are specific things that FB has done that makes their censorship unwelcome in many leftie circles - e.g. the real name policy is seen as transphobic by many, and their "indecent content" standards as sexist. They have also removed comments such as "all white people are racist" as hate speech.

But yes, I would say that most of her voters want different priorities in online censorship, not less of it. It will be interesting how she navigates that - "social media marketplace that isn't dominated by a single censor" is vague enough that Voat could put it on their front page as an endorsement (and they just might, if only for the sake of trolling).

Is what you think of Elizabeth Warren informed by what Elizabeth Warren says and does?

Only when they moderate people they don't like.

Clever strategy by Elizabeth Warren. The ads might be effective in promoting her platform by themselves. And if the media report on the apparent irony, or FB takes them down, that gives her more publicity. FB's actions may cause a Streisland-like effect as well.

> The ads were limited in size and reach, with each costing under $100, according to disclosure details listed online.

Indeed, it's incredible how cheap it was.

It's not clever when you consider most people aren't supportive of it. There's definitely a classist kind of fury right now, aimed a little bit at 'big corps' and 'the rich' - but I seriously doubt it extends to such moves.

Most people that use Facebook probably like it, pretty much, and don't suffer any visible consequences of their ostensible loss of privacy.

Similar for Google.

I think a smarter approach would be some regulation that hit home, particularly on privacy etc..

I can assure you that there are many working class people who have a problem with Facebook.

In fact, every time I see a discussion on Facebook and privacy in non-techie FB communities, it's surprising how negative people feel, and how many say that they would stop using it altogether, if they didn't have some connections there they cared about. It's basically lock-in via social graph, and don't think people are stupid enough that they don't notice.

That large groups of Americans have some 'concerns about privacy' is nowhere near enough impetus to think that they want Facebook and Google to be 'broken up'.

HN readers mostly live in bubbles, and 'breaking up Facebook' is definitely one of the things Republicans just hope the Dems will run on, because it's not going to fly.

Consider for a moment how separating Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook is going to fundamentally change privacy anyhow?

This is a political calculation by Warren: she needs to stake out her claim, make some noise, throw some red meat to the Dem primary voters, and take away the noise in the press about her registering as an Aboriginal while living in Texas.

It'll do well for her now, but it's not a winning formula for the general election.

Breakup Facebook rhetoric is so counterproductive. It achieves nothing. It solves no problem.

The country has real problems. “I don’t like Facebook” isn’t even remotely one of them. I won’t be voting for her, that’s for sure.

This is a very short-sighted interpretation of the "break up Facebook & co." campaign. It is not about Facebook per se, but about the surprising power of tech giants - do you use Google? How about the internet?

Don't think this is a real issue? How about looking at some of the other "real" problems she's addressed in her platform before outright dismissal? The kind of impulsive, single-issue voting you're implicitly advocating for here is exactly what the country does not need.

Yes, I use Google and the Internet. What's the problem?

To contrast this with healthcare. I can understand diabetics not being able to afford medication for example, or people without the means to afford life sustaining treatments.

Facebook buying Instagram? I don't understand what's wrong with that.

While real problems are largely ignored, stupid stuff like this takes up all the airtime and moves a sizable amount of votes. Democracy is just a way of keeping the masses docile.

Have you actually seen the proposal? It's not specifically about Facebook, they just happen to be a good example of market failure that she wants to prevent.

I read her blog post. I don't see anywhere in her post that gives one concrete example of a negative impact on consumers.

She gives the example of Amazon.com forcing diapers.com to sell diapers at a lower price as a reason for why we need to prevent acquisitions. But getting products for cheaper prices benefits consumers... The small business founders got rich and consumers got cheaper diapers. I'm not seeing any problem with that.

She claims Amazon is anti-competitive because they promote their own products on their own website. Websites aren't railroads. Consumers can choose any website by typing in the address in their web browser. Consumers can switch search engines and shopping websites. That was not the case with railroads or phone networks - because for reasons that should be very obvious you can't have a million different railroad lines and telephone wires. Unlike the web, they were physically mutually exclusive.

If a company provided superior service and prices to Amazon consumers can easily choose to use them.

You might find a problem with that arrangement when you need to buy something that Amazon doesn't or won't carry, and there's nobody else in town (because they can't survive on such products alone). Or as a manufacturer who makes a new and better product compared to something that they have, but who can't find a sales channel for it. Or as someone who is unhappy with some of Amazon's practices - say, how they treat their employees.

And competition doesn't just show up out of thin air - you need a healthy free market for companies to get to the point where they can challenge the market leader. If you allow the monopolist to dominate the market, they will never get there, and there won't be anything for consumers to easily choose from.

In general, concentration of power is dangerous. Few people dispute this with governments - it's not like we wait for them to become authoritarian, we write constitutions that have arrangements that deliberately cripple their ability to do so (separation of powers etc). Why should it be any different for large corporations, when we know from history that monopoly abuse is the most likely outcome?

You might find a problem with that arrangement when you need to buy something that Amazon doesn't or won't carry, and there's nobody else in town

Why would Amazon not selling something prevent someone else from selling it?

Market concentration causes huge problems - outsized lobbying power, increased wealth concentration, potential for judicial abuse, unbalanced power dynamics (e.g. between youtube and it's content creators, or Amazon and its sellers) and so on.

What many fail to realize is that Facebook employees who approve/disapprove of ads are not high up and also do so at a very fast pace. They follow the guidelines and are humans, thus subject to some subjectivity. Any advertiser who has done a lot of advertising on Facebook knows that one day an ad can get approved and the next day a duplicate ad is not. The decision was overturned in Warren's case. This is just making FB out to be much more nefarious than they probably are (in this particular scenario).

Without a doubt. Plus, the rule of "You can't use FB's logo" is not to stop people criticizing FB. It's to stop fraudulent advertisers from pretending to BE Facebook.

some of the things we have had censored by fb (even after appealing) 1. illustrations of cupid on valentines day, genitals covered, for nudity. 2. illustrations of a (non sexually provocative) mouth when the logo of our product was a mouth. 3. illustrations (not photos) of people of various body types and ethnicities, not sexually provocative, showing skin but no genitals, nipples or buttocks, with flowers and boxes of chocolates, as a 'love comes in all shapes and sizes' valentines campaign. 4. essentially any image that might insinuate that a woman is capable of feeling pleasure. 5. a friend's ig project intended to promote education & wellness about women's bodies, in a non-sexual way (e.g. did you know that a clitoris has x thousand nerve endings?), with no images. 6. pixelated images on red backgrounds with a 'censored' stamp on them (put up after others were censored) ... the list goes on and on, to the point where we have considered launching a website just to showcase the stuff fb (and other faangs) censor. ... meanwhile ig is filled with essentially soft porn (not to mention images of guns together with bags of money, which in my value system is much worse). ... so I, for one, am laughing my head off at all this. they more than had it coming.

At this rate they’d probably censor that song from Chicago (the musical) too if someone posted it.

All those people laughing at her proposal, they have no clue that this lady understands tech perfectly well, and sees the problem of centralization in tech industry more clearly. In an interview at SXSW, she addressed to the people working for Big Tech companies, and said that break up will actually make their work more interesting. This is really not some ordinary politician.

That's some excellent bait and Facebook fell for it:

1. Put up a tiny anti-FB campaign that's not gonna reach anyone on FB

2. FB bans it because their reviewers have to adhere to the rules set by upper mgmt

3. Now you're the victim -> Backlash for FB

4. FB restores the ad

5. Now you're the victim AND the winner

6. The story spreads amongst anti-FB circles, where it was originally meant to hit, with a massive impact (for little money)

Whether they planned for this outcome or not, I think it has merit to highlight whether you're able to criticize Facebook on Facebook, and whether using the Facebook logo int his case - associated directly with criticism/a review of Facebook should be considered fair use; and not just for someone in the political light but for average Janes and Joes, who has someone else in this thread pointed out most everyone couldn't get away with or have the rules 'bent' for them.

Thats overreach on her part too, however. do her voters realize what this means about her relationship with the press after she gets elected? or maybe she is rehashing trump's entire tirades about corrupt media etc.

I’d imagine her relationship with the press would be positive. FB is actively at odds with mainstream media.

Tangentially related -- according to Eric Weinstein, Facebook also banned Zero Hedge so you can't share ZH stories anymore. (https://twitter.com/EricRWeinstein/status/110529167842277376...)

Not sure if this is smart by Senator Warren, or just campaign bluster.

The side of me that thinks it's smart, thinks that by asking for a lot (break up of tech giants) she may be able to notch a win that isn't so aggressive (data privacy regulations) It also "breaks the ice" for the argument for when she brings it up on the campaign, it won't be so shocking.

The side of me that thinks it's dumb, thinks that she's misreading her audience, in that most people could give two shits about privacy, and in fact really like these platforms. She may be overplaying the "progressive" hand, and as a result may be perceived as "too radical" to be elected by purple states.

Regardless, I think her presidential aspirations are doomed. She's a woman, smart, successful, outspoken, Harvard educated, progressive and from "the most liberal" state in the country. All these things are toxic to Republicans.

Pretty classic provocation and overreaction

Amazon bans sales of Trump's "Break up Amazon to MAGA" hats

This was done algorthmically. No doubt about it.

Does it matter?

Sure. That algorithmic rule is to prevent people from pretending to be FB or pretending to have FB's authority in ads (the you can't use the fb logo rule). It wasn't meant to target critics of FB.

There seems to be such a simple solution here that would solve the problems without even needing to breakup companies: require companies offering user generated content for free, to host such content under 'copyleft' licenses, unless users explicitly opt out, and provide simple/API means of access and submission. Copyleft meaning that anybody could freely copy and use the user-generated content from these sites, so long as they themselves also enabled anybody to freely copy and use that content.

Content (and other incentives) from users that are opted in would be treated identically to those that opted out. The opt out option is mainly for sites like YouTube where somebody might rely on the site for income and want to voluntarily allow YouTube to publish their video under a restrictive license.

The idea is simple - get rid of the network effect. When content is provided under copyleft licenses, anybody could effectively create a social media system where users could see messages from e.g. Facebook and also post messages that would be cloned to Facebook, yet not on Facebook.

The possibilities here are endless and it would pose a relatively small regulatory burden on companies. And most important of all - it would actually probably work. The network effect works like gravity. Even if you break something apart, it will sooner or later come together again even if under a different form.


The biggest problem I see is a problem that any idea that could work, will never be considered. Big tech is driving big bucks to politicians. As recently as 2012 the FTC's bureau of competition submitted to the commissioners a lengthy analysis that recommended suing Google for conduct that had, and would continue to, cause "real harm to consumers and to innovation." The commissioners, majority Democratic appointees (not a partisan jab, but rather emphasizing that this is an institutional/establishment issue - not a partisan one), chose not to pursue the case. [1]

[1] - https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/reich/article/Break-up-F...

Would US be able to breakup non-US tech companies, and if no how would it prevent tech companies from moving outside the US? Some of them have enough money to buy a small country or build a huge seasteading city.

Tech companies haven't moved from San Francisco to Sacramento, in the face of multi-million-dollar house prices in the Bay Area.

I find it hard to believe they're incapable of that, yet capable of what you propose :)

I think I'd rather see it regulated, then broken up.

How are you even going to break it up?

And how do we know it won't just be a matter of time before another single, central social network takes hold?

Social Networks have this property where they are only useful when other people are also on the same one as you. To me, this property will just guarantee that we would end up back in the same situation.

So it would seem smarter to me to just regulate it, so we can limit the bad, and enjoy the good.

For everyone claiming that Facebook is a monopoly, I have two questions:

1. What do they have a monopoly on? 2. How would Warren’s plan (forcing FB to divest WhatsApp and Instagram) eliminate that monopoly?

I expect that people making the "monopoly" claim are using imprecise language that may vary in precision based on jurisdictional definitions of monopolies, and fb's market share in any given jurisdiction. Laws about monopolies and antitrust exist to prevent or mitigate certain problems that arise when companies have disproportionate power and influence on society. Whether or not fb qualifies as "monopoly", there are many cogent arguments to be made that about its negative effects due to its disproportionate power.

By removing her ad, Zuckerberger gave Warren's idea a couple of million dollars worth of publicity.

Facebook even blocks links to social-media startups like Minds.com for being "unsecure"..

Just curious, how many out there use some type of Facebook ad-blocking solution?

Can’t find canonical sources right now, but the percentage of users of Facebook on mobile is 90%+. Of that, most of them would be using the official app, where traditional ad blockers wouldn’t work.

But ad blocking is enough of a money problem for Facebook that it keeps attempting to beat them through many tricks (spelling words with invisible characters, putting words split into characters and each one in a <span>, etc., to beat pattern matching).

The rare times when I use Facebook, I always login through a browser with an ad blocker (and tracker blockers) on.

Block it via /etc/hosts

My Facbook ad-blocking solution has been to:

1 - quit Facebook

2 - use /etc/hosts to resolve any Facebook-related sites (and other advertising/spam/tracking/malware sites) to

3 - proxy my web requests through privoxy

4 - use the uMatrix and uBlock Origin addons in Firefox that block anything that gets through the rest

But I mostly browse the web through emacs-w3m, which isn't even capable of running javascript so addons such as uMatrix are not necessary.

Needless to say, I almost never see ads.

well Warren now knows first hand what conservatives have been saying for years - FB has no problem censoring those that they disagree with -welcome to the Club

While she views Facebook as too powerful, it is ironic she is happy to provide as revenue to the company.

It's not ironic, this is the entire point she is trying to make. It is impossible to reach a meaningful chunk of the public today without going through Facebook, and they have the ability to filter content as they see fit.

> It is impossible to reach a meaningful chunk of the public today without going through Facebook

One could argue that the point of advertising is not to reach a meaningful chunk of the public, instead a meaningful chunk of a specific demographic.

If that's the case Facebook's position is even more dominant, because of their unique strength at giving advertisers the possibility to target specific demographics.

So the lesson is, don't you dare to be too good and too successful in what you do, otherwise we will do our best to have regulations drop on you like a bag of bricks.

Basically. See US vs Alcoa [0]

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Alcoa

A similar point was actually made about Twitter on Joe Rogan's podcast recently.

Wow she must be getting great ROI because apparently she spent less than $100 according to the ad disclosures. More likely an effort to build a story than her genuinely using fb for political advertising (else wouldn’t she throw more money in? I run ads for my business and 100 bucks gets you a handful of likes)

So is that really going to change if Facebook is broken up?

More importantly, is it going to make for a better web, or is it just going to wind up strengthening the online tracking and advertising industries in the long run?

My own proposal would be to ban tracking and unsolicited advertising altogether -- no matter who does it.

So is that really going to change if Facebook is broken up?

Yes. When was the last time you had a call dropped because you were saying unflattering things about your carrier?

How's breaking them up going to stop that?

Usage policies and how these companies handle what's said about them by their users seem completely orthogonal to whether they're one company or many.

When was the last time a user post/private message was deleted by Facebook that wad saying unflattering things about that company? Let's compare apples to apples.

If my phone call talking trash about my phone carrier is to a reporter getting ready to publish an expose... now we’re apples to apples. Better?

When was the last time your carrier played an ad down the line while you were trying to have a conversation?

Will Elizabeth Warren's antitrust law, or Facebook be more likely to exist 50 years from now in parallel worlds? Facebook itself is being disrupted by Instagram. If it wasn't for the right PM at the right time at Instagram, Snap might have become the dominant social network. Social networks are flimsy entities.

I think you could make the argument that Facebook finally allows for more niche politicians to reach meaningful chunks of niche audiences compared to TV ads. Whether you like them, hate them, or hate one of them, Trump and AOC would not be where they are without Facebook or Twitter. We can only pontificate, but this might also apply to Obama too. Fake news, filtering, and smear campaigns are a phenomenon that existed way before Facebook was created:


Facebook has the most Facebook users.

Alternatively, she's clever enough to expect them to take them down, and thus prove her point.

Not sure about that minor premise...

And she claims that climate change is a problem, yet she exhales carbon dioxide. Very curious.

Boom, got 'em! What's it like to be so much smarter than everyone else?

Well, if Facebook had competitors then there would be no need for the ads in the first place.

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