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Can Facebook Be Fixed? Should It Be? (nytimes.com)
37 points by furcyd 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments





Social media with an ad-based business model inherently incentivises maximizing engagement in both time and intensity. The time incentive leads to addiction. The intensity incentive leads to promoting hyperbolic content. (The latter almost always leads to divisive, angry content.)

Breaking that incentive structure is tough. It would mean substantially re-building the company, perhaps down to its business model, corporate organization and management. (It almost certainly requires breaking WhatsApp and Instagram off as separate companies.)


Media with an ad-based business model inherently incentives maximizing engagement in both time and intensity. The time incentive leads to addiction. The intensity incentive leads to promoting hyperbolic content. (The latter almost always leads to divisive, angry content.) Breaking that incentive structure is tough. It would mean substantially re-building the company(ies), perhaps down to its business model, corporate organization and management.

Fixed a couple typos.

To be literal though, I agree with your point but I find a massive irony in News having the same inherent flaws as social media while also leading the charge against Facebook etc. It's all rotten.


> I find a massive irony in News having the same inherent flaws as social media

News is broadcast, i.e. few to many. If the New York Times or Wall Street Journal or RT say something insidious, everyone has a chance to call them out on it.

Social media is closer to P2P. Content is selectively targeted over the social graph. Platforms' ad models further microtarget along ideological lines. This makes it difficult or even impossible to know what someone in another domain is seeing, which makes responding in a timely manner practically impossible.

(Also, mass media is nowhere close to social media when it comes to the prevalence and intensity of addiction.)

TL; DR The problems mass media has with addictiveness and hyperbole are amplified on ad-driven social media platforms.


Facebook is a "Public Square"? Please. Call a spade a spade... it is a "Walled Garden". If you don't like how the roses are starting to smell, well, step outside the gates, no one is keeping you in:

https://www.facebook.com/help/224562897555674


Facebook is tracking you online, even if you don't have an account

https://www.newsweek.com/facebook-tracking-you-even-if-you-d...


Writers for broadsheet newspapers always seem to draw parallels with ye olde timey things that even their oldest readers probably haven't seen take place in decades.

That being said, the "public squares" in many big cities are almost exclusively the domain of scammers, pickpockets and the insane. So maybe the parallel does make sense.


It's a place where your family is, it's an OAuth provider depended upon by a bunch of apps, and it's hella popular as a contact page for individuals as well as businesses.

"If you don't like it, leave." is more like a religious mantra than a serious normative argument at this point. Did we mention the trackers?


The entire town is deciding to hang out in this walled garden. If I want to go to the effective town square, currently it resides within facebook's walled garden.

Personally, I just don't go, and so I miss out on the benefit I would get, but that is the price to pay at the moment.


Between the title and the first paragraph, there is a prominent 'like on Facebook' button, so the subtext is pro-Facebook no matter what is written in the article.

Or maybe it underscores the point that using Facebook is an uncomfortable requirement for many people and businesses, no matter how much they might hate it?

IMO there is very little need for the friends mechanism on Facebook. I think you should just add people you are interested in, and they add you if they are interested in you, and there should be no confirmation whether you were added or not. That way there is less of the toxic clique behavior possible where you unfriend or refuse to friend someone, no popularity contest or friend counts, and the current behavior of seeing friend-only posts would still function if you mutually added each other. The way it is designed seems to me to invite drama and is a big problem. Please change it, Mark!

Seems pretty similar to the Twitter model, which still produces plenty of toxic behavior

Yes, minus follower counts and the ability to see followers/follows. There is no practical reason I can see to have those features. I consider Facebook to be a useful public utility like a modern white pages and I wish the design was just a little different.

Someone needs to create a new social network that will import the data blob that Facebook creates when users request all their data.

In fact, this new social network will automatically request all your data, download it, and import it for you if you enter your Facebook credentials.

Double fact, this new social network runs on top of a blockchain and you keep the keys and from this point forward, you control access to your data and all future data added to the site.

If you control the keys, its your data. If you don't control the keys, its not your data.


Why does this need a blockchain in it? It seems to me that you are adding steps that amount to “keep your data safe and nobody can have it”.

Why do you want a 'new social network'? As in a place where you're primarily signaling to strangers or acquaintances, as opposed to, say, just a way to have actual relationships with people who you actually want to have a relationship (plus events, of course)? It feels like what's missing from Facebook isn't simply data privacy, it's a fundamental premise about relationships and discourse, but I'm curious if I'm missing something.

What would you call that "way to have actual relationships, etc."? It's a social network. Just one of a different kind.

I think Facebook understands that very well, or at least Zuckerberg does, and that's why they're taking that turn towards community, reflected in their new mission statement and new initiatives.

People don't give Facebook enough credit sometimes, and I'm saying that as someone who almost never uses their services. They know what an ideal social network would be. Now it remains to be seen if they can pivot the current behemoth into that ideal in a viable, profitable way. Short of that, they'll probably get "disrupted" sooner than later.


So now you have your password locked in an ultra secure safe, as well as tattooed on your forehead?

Why tattooed on your forehead?

My turn for blockchain confusion: wouldn't that make it impossible for you to remove your data from the network? Although I suppose it'd all be hashed for the blocks. And then you'd overwrite it with nothingness. And the nothingness would be hashed. Then okay. But. Is the integrity provided by blockchain worth the overhead of the blockchain (which gets bigger and bigger and bigger)?

Looking at what seems like the other extreme, my favorite model of social media has been 4chan. So simple. So pure. So free. From a privacy standpoint, it's vastly superior to Facebook or Twitter. No accounts. (Well, traditionally.) Everyone automatically anonymous. You're your ideas in the moment, not an accountable, traceable, and politicized entity. You aggregate around common interests and talk. No karma-farming. No idea-shaming downvoting; the only thing that can diminish what someone said is someone else saying something in return or a mod banning. And, to minimize overhead and increase privacy further (although archiving bots diminish this), all threads are temporary. Everything I love about it stems from these features (it sure isn't most of the people on it), and everything I dislike about other social media sites stems from their features contrary to those.


The way blockchain is currently implemented, a distributed ledger for currency necessitates having a chain that grows bigger and bigger. But one could have a distributed ledger which doesn't keep a record since the beginning of time. The ledger could only be valid for, let's say a week, and everything before then is just lopped off. It would still be large, but it wouldn't be gigantic.

If it's a public blockchain, there's no guarantee that any individual actor isn't just keeping the older data. Same story for a private blockchain.

There might be ways to "remove" data like your parent comment mentioned, but they would probably require making the sharing process a lot more convoluted.


> Why tattooed on your forehead?

It's still on Facebook - any privacy concerns being assuaged by throwing it in the safe would be useless.

> Looking at what seems like the other extreme, my favorite model of social media has been 4chan. So simple. So pure. So free. From a privacy standpoint, it's vastly superior to Facebook or Twitter.

That really depends on your goal with your social media account - if you have no desire to be identifiable or make connections, that works, but if you're trying to build a social circle that doesn't work at all. Really, it's all about goals, and why you're online.


>if you have no desire to be identifiable or make connections, that works, but if you're trying to build a social circle

That's true. I don't really use most social media sites (or... really, anything) for that.

Actually, though, it seems easier for me to do that on 4chan than, say, on HN. Think about it: we talk, we like each other (???), and we decide to form a more durable connection -- let's add each other on Discord. On 4chan, it would be Anonymous revealing their Discord handle to Anonymous. On HN, it would be shrimp_emoji revealing their Discord handle to SketchySeaBeast. I've just doxxed my Discord self to the entirety of HN, and I've also given my new friend, SketchySeaBeast, a window into of all of my historic opinions that I've posted on HN, which are neatly catalogued in my profile. Terrifying. (Although this is a non-problem if A.) either 4chan or HN allowed DMing or if B.) I used an intermediate, anonymous Discord account as a proxy to my real one, and the ease with which you can register such an account is a credit to Discord.)

Unless you mean, in the Facebook-cultural sense: I have this profile full of my posts and meal pictures, and a friend of a friend sees it and decides that they really like my posts and meal pictures and friend me and thus my network has been expanded. I find that kind of... passive, advertising-based connection-making repulsive and weird, so I didn't even consider that.


No, the data should be continuously mirrored to the alternative network for a while. Without this mirroring, there will be no incentive for users to make the switch.

Uh, isn't the ability to export your data what got Facebook into the whole Cambridge Analytica scandal in the first place?

Not that I know of?

Cambridge Analytica created a quiz that users could take. That quiz asked for permissions from facebook like posting to your feed and seeing your friends list. The problem was that people 1) Don't pay attention to the permissions and 2) the friends list permission gave a LOT of information about your friends.

So if I gave the quiz permission, it also got lots of information from my 600 friends that might not want to give Cambridge Analytica that information.


The full friend data is the only substantial difference I'm seeing between the two (which is quite substantial). The current Facebook API doesn't allow an app to even see friend names unless the friends also authenticate the app.

Basically, with the CA quiz Facebook allowed you to export your data to another site or app so you wouldn't need to put it into that site as you're saying. If you were to instead just upload the entire Facebook archive that seems like you're opening up even more data about yourself to potential abusers as well as some friends data that's in there (I think at least name and phone number?).


>quiz asked for permissions from facebook

the quiz asked the USER for permission. I know you already understand that, but its important not to muddle responsibility.


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Please don't take HN threads further into hell, regardless of how bad another comment is. Instead, follow the guidelines, flag it, and move on. If it's egregious, email us at hn@ycombinator.com to make sure we see it.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


You don't have to be a Facebook fan to appreciate that the New York Times has a vested interest in attacking Facebook and that they publish an inordinate amount of anti-FB articles. We really do see them every day here and they don't add anything new to the conversation.

My favorite comment:

> Zuckerberg’s power seems quintessentially American to me and reveals the fundamental contradiction at the heart of our economic model: compete until you succeed, but if you succeed too much you’re being anti-competitive. Free-market fundamentalists should be rejoicing at the success of Facebook, Amazon and Google. They represent the holy grail at the end of the Darwinian quest. Isn’t this perfection? What could go wrong? There’s no better time to wake up and realize we’re in bed with the Devil. — Mark Holmes, Twain Harte, Calif.

This is what happens when deregulation is taken to the extreme. Facebook is a company that breaks laws, flagrantly violates our privacy, buys or clones all its competition, and offers mere tokens of recompense when people use it to influence elections or coordinate genocide — but also experiences virtually no repercussions for its actions, because it's making investors money.


Free markets and democracies are good at a lot of things, but self preservation is NOT one of them -- in fact, if practiced at the extreme, it is basically guaranteed that a sufficiently large winner-takes-it-all will take over {free-market,democracy} and dismantle it.

That's why you need all kinds of checks and balances and regulations.


The problem with FB is they are too big to impact with regulations. There are too many people who have acquiesced to FB and eagerly handed over all their data without any issues.

What if you take 200 million of their users off the platform? They still have north of 2 BILLION users. That's a huge number of consumers to contend with to get them to willing leave the network or band together to demand better privacy oversight on the platform. Even with additional oversight, nothing is going to happen, period. We are at the point where the only way to change FB is to destroy it completely or break it up into many, many, many smaller parts.

Lastly, the comment by Mark Holmes from California is right, this is capitalism at its best and at its worst. All three companies he mentions spend billions every year to avoid oversight and regulations to continue to monopolize and dominant their industries. Pay a few hundred million in fines? No problem. Come out of any number of privacy scandals unscathed? Sure, no problem.

All three companies should be way more regulated. You can have a free-market and still have sensible government oversight. Our economy shouldn't be untethered capitalism or the over use of government regulations to stifle competition either. There is a balance in there somewhere.





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