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Something weird is happening on Facebook (politicalorphans.com)
741 points by incomplete 24 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 263 comments



With those comment counts, something dodgy is obviously happening.

The interesting question here is whether Facebook is somehow accidentally amplifying it. Certainly it is not in Facebook's interest to allow this kind of data harvesting. If it hurts you to think that Facebook somehow isn't maximally evil, at least consider that this is data that could be only Facebook's. Allowing somebody else to harvest it is money straight out of Facebook's pocket.

So, given FB should not be complicit, what mistake could they be making to allow the system to be haunted? The obvious guess is that they have a feedback loop in the ranking algorithm. It values comments very highly as a signal of good engagement, but they weren't prepared for "content" that is this good at eliciting low effort comments and have wide appeal demographically. As long as one of these reaches a critical mass, it'll be shown to tens or hundreds of millions of people just by any engagement feeding even more engagement.

Is there anything less obvious?


> The interesting question here is whether Facebook is somehow accidentally amplifying it.

> Certainly it is not in Facebook's interest to allow this kind of data harvesting

Mark Zuckerberg has been quoted through leaked documents to be a strong purveyor of "engagement" at nearly all costs. I don't think giving Facebook the term "accidental" is appropriate anymore. Their desire for engagement trumps the health of their network. I'll dig through my favorited submissions for the WSJ article.

Edit: That was easy: https://archive.md/GQFLq

People are rarely motivated by evil, but they are motivated by opportunity to which an outcome can be perceived as pure evil by the people it affects most.


Engagement is a really dirty word to me nowadays - the attention economy comes with all sorts of really bad side effects. We’ve turned almost all conversations into an ad in order to sell more ads. It’s you vs 100 people with a doctorate in psychology at any given time.


Agreed. I've actively taken steps to combat it, only use my phone in black and white mode, and removed all apps. Stick to my PC for general browsing and my phone use as gone down to 30 minutes a day (mostly calls, messages with the wife, and email).


same here


Here's a funny thing: I did most of the things you did, but I kept going back to twitter et al using my browser. The biggest change, though, was removing my ad blocker. Being confronted with tons of garbage ads forced me to stop using these services faster than the minor inconveniences like deleting the app.


Hey....now that's Adblock usage I somehow overlook.

I remember can't browse IG more than a couple minutes on a phone because there is an ads for every 5 pictures, but I can browse it mindlessly on my PC with Adblock installed, because the experience is so clean.

Maybe they knew all along. :p


Facebook isn't "cartoon villain" evil, it's "paperclip maximizer" evil.


And the "paperclip maximizers" are IMHO the worst...


Turns out paperclip maximizing is a good strategy to win at capitalism.


It's absolutely in Facebook's interest to allow this kind of viral garbage. It feels like engagement, gives people a way to engage socially in seemingly harmless questions. (I'm not at all convinced these are some dastardly data gathering scheme - many of the viral questions don't have meaningful answers.)

It would be so, so simple to stop these. Just de-prioritize posts with too many replies, or replies from people you don't know, or.. anything. The virality of these things sticks out like a sore thumb. Facebook is choosing to not stop them.

Then again as we learned recently Facebook is choosing not to stop all sorts of things on their platform. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28512121


I’m sure some are but most are just trying to build a large following with this cheap viral garbage. If 1% of the respondents “Like” the page and share their stuff later then that’s quite a good audience builder


> many of the viral questions don't have meaningful answers.

They do, at large scales. Also some of them could pass for password recovery questions.


I've seen one that asks the last 3 digits of your phone number. Not sure how useful that one is but it could probably positively ID someone with a reasonably unique name.

My feed has become littered with these things because my friends are replying to them. Which encourages me (or, rather, the hypothetical FB user) to reply to my friend(s).


Added to correlational hints as to my location, it would clarify six of ten digits of my phone number.

There are probably other clever ways to skeeve the other four, and I cannot say for certain if some digits of those other four are situationally impossible. Certainly some combinations likely are, like 0911, and 0000.


If you already have a list of possible real numbers 6 of 10 sounds like it could narrow it down a lot.


I always thought that FB is somewhat complicit (not out of evilness necessarily).

I see a lot of "viral" posts - some like those mentioned in the article, but also a ton of odd woodworking, cooking, and "resin art" videos. The videos are quite repetitive and not really interesting so I wonder if they are maybe hidden ads, but they are not marked as such, and it is not clear what they are selling. (Well maybe they are trying to sell resin, which is really expensive.)

Anyway, it seems like they are different kinds of posts on FB. Some stay close to their point of origin, and only rarely get shown to other people who have not liked a page or are friends themselves. And other posts which, if somebody commented on or interacted in any way with them, get shown to their friends and friends-of-friends.

After running a charitable cause / political FB page for a while, I'm convinced that internally there are actually different categories of posts - ones that are shown to followers, and ones that are allowed to float or go viral. I really wonder what the mechanism is to get into the floating category. It doesn't seem to be based on quality, nor on money spent. Maybe it is some interaction metric that somebody learned to game?


> I see a lot of "viral" posts - some like those mentioned in the article, but also a ton of odd woodworking, cooking, and "resin art" videos. The videos are quite repetitive and not really interesting so I wonder if they are maybe hidden ads, but they are not marked as such, and it is not clear what they are selling.

As someone who got caught up in some of those videos when I was in complete "mindlessly browse facebook" mode, my guess would be they are optimized for "engagement", nothing more, nothing less. They are just interesting enough that you want to know how the end result looks while harmless enough to appeal to a maximally broad audience.


How are the people making the videos making money though, or why are they doing it if not?


They grow a Facebook page they can then use to push sponsored content, sell it off to the highest bidder or use it to brag about how they’re a successful content creator and sell a course on how to be as “successful” as them.


It's still possible to share things just for the sake of sharing


Have you seen these videos? I agree they look like they have been "optimized for engagement"... I guess someone could be doing that just for fun, that's your theory?


Engagement is just second order advertising, because it makes people spend more time on the ad platform.


A quick point I’d make is that it may not be a mistake (from facebooks perspective) to allow others to exploit a given system as long as they’re gaining enough value from it to outweigh that. If whatever is being exploited doubles how much they can charge for ads, they might accept some of their data being stolen until they could find a way to have their cake and eat it too.


They recently started showing friends’ response comments first, so you can easily see those of your friends out of the 116,000 replies. The rise of these in my feed seemed to correspond with this feature.

Disclaimer, am infrequent FB user and this may have been around for longer than I realize.


> Allowing somebody else to harvest it is money straight out of Facebook's pocket.

Facebook has roughly 3Bn active users per month. Let that sink for a moment because that's more than a third of the world.

I'm pretty sure Facebook (as in Mark, or the employees) do not have the slightest idea of what is going on Facebook.


It has been this way for years, so it's definitely no accident. Posts that elicit more comments absolutely end up getting ranked higher by The Algorithm™.


> The interesting question here is whether Facebook is somehow accidentally amplifying it.

Someone somewhere found a way to exploit what FB's engagement metrics do. Is it 'accidental' that FB amplifies things if their system is designed to do exactly what it does when gamed?


One thing that's nearly impossible to appreciate about social media platforms, even small ones, is their scale. Both in terms of users and content.

FB see about 5 billion items posted daily. Or about 58,000 per second Most of those simply die unread. Our Internet has become a write once, read never medium...

If an item is to be picked up by amplification algorithms, it needs some indicia of relevance or significance. Broadly, that comes from one of 3 propeties:

- Content itself. Keywords, hashtags, URLs, other profiles linked.

- Social graph. Followers and readers of the submitting account, and their own followers.

- Engagements and interactions. Any likes, comments, or re-shares, with their own attributes as well (content, social graph, engagement.

Given that signal for a naked submission is so thin, any indication of additional relevance is likely glommed on to, and a set of rapid initial engagements might be a sign of high-value content ... or of a bad-faith mutual-admiration-society cabal (MASC). Even on sites such as HN, a little early engagement on a submission goes a long way.

Note that a group of freinds engaging with one another's content will look a lot like a MASC, though in most cases the significant distinction will be posting volume. It's rare for a person to consistently post more than 10--30 items a day, and much above that tends to get seen as annoyingly verbose by others. Promotion and amplification accounts can post many tens, hundreds, or thousands of items, hoping one will take off. Their goal isn't engagement but manipulation, they have cheap content-creation processes (stock bits, redistributed content from other sites, randomly-generated crud), and can afford to be profligate. Until the system actively penalises based on submissions without significant uptake, that's going to be the case.

Why this is happening is anyone's guess, though in general, cultivating a capitive audience has value, whether for conventional advertising or propagandistic purposes. It may be that the accounts are intended for direct use or will be farmed off to other buyers or uses later.

Gaining profiling information on follower demographics and influence points would also be part of this.

Given political cycles, odds that this is prepatory for the US 2020 campaign seems a plausible explanation.


It's useful for FB to let an outside agency to getting backdoor data because it keeps them distanced from whatever outcome that group comes up with, with plausible deniability that FB "didn't allow" that group to mine their data.

That's worth a lot if FB have a shared agenda.


>Certainly it is not in Facebook's interest to allow this kind of data harvesting.

How so? They benefit directly from it without having to do any of the hard work and they can put the blame on someone else if the whole thing blows up. Seems like the perfect crime.


"Allowing somebody else to harvest it is money straight out of Facebook's pocket."

In that metaphor, Facebook owns the soil and they sell the harvest by charging for promoted posts and other forms of engagement purchasing. If this engagement truly drives election outcomes the way the post hypothesizes, the demand side will come back every time there's an election anywhere. Let's hope Zuck and co understand how closely this piece of their revenue is tied to democratic engagement ;)


Isn't the obvious answer to stop scraping (or, at least try)? The author states that the value here is collecting data (not money from ads or something) and Facebook's APIs don't allow for the kind of analysis they'd need to build profiles. Article specifically talks about using Python to scrape profiles (presumably using a logged in account).


How does some tiny org harvesting some data harm FB? Will FB sell fewer ads because some third party extracts mother's maiden name, make of first car, home state, and whatever else is revealed in response text? Will the third party org serve ads to those people outside of FB? Or, will they use that information to hone a FB strategy, potentially meaning a net increase in the number of ads bought AND giving FB enough distance that it wouldn't be an actionable scandal when it was inevitably discovered (like with Cambridge Analytics)?

I really don't see much actual downside for FB in allowing this kind of data collection. The people (like myself) who are disgusted with FB and think FB is a profoundly negative force that is strangling local journalism, toxifying the discourse, and stroking rage are already against FB. But most people just don't care (and may actively appreciate those effects) and won't change their behavior in response to FB allowing another likely election-outcome-altering disinformation campaign to do recon work. And FB knows that. As long as Zuck feels safe from regulation, he's not going to stop, address, or reduce any non-CSAM thing that would threaten growth or time-in-app.


> It values comments very highly as a signal of good engagement, but they weren't prepared for "content" that is this good at eliciting low effort comments and have wide appeal demographically.

Fecebutt was built on content like this. On LiveJournal before it, this kind of personality-quiz stuff was also rampant, but personality-quiz apps and this kind of meme-question stuff dominated Fecebutt from the time it launched the "Facebook Platform" in 02007 for many years, maybe even until they banned personality-quiz apps last year.


This could be more benign than the article makes it out to be. Growing a content business in 2021 requires you to understand Facebook's algorithms and what will get your post amplified. Instagram famously only shows your posts to 10% of your followers by default [1]. The trigger points for your post to reach wider require certain engagement quotas, and if you're designing your post to get more comments then it'll hit them faster. Often accounts do these kinds of posts because their profile is about selling a single thing (like a book they wrote) or are dropshipping and focused on the marketing side. The real thing they want to get in front of users is the link in their bio.

I think the real issue here is that it's impossible to tell the benign from the malignant. Is that cute mom blog going to start hawking ivermectin? What is my comment revealing about me that I don't authorize? There's no Better Business Bureau for Facebook pages. Maybe there should be.

1. https://www.thelovelyescapist.com/2018-instagram-algorithm/


What value does BBB bring to the world?

Any “rating” organization whose value proposition is evaluating others and does not employ vast legions of laborers to continually test and retest their subjects is obviously a scam.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Better_Business_Bureau

Not to mention the obvious conflict of interests when an organization gets paid by the test subjects to grade the test subjects.


What you're asking is a whole other topic, and one I'm not familiar enough with to weigh in on. I don't have any data on how effective such an organization is...only its role, and I'm not aware of any organization filling that role for Facebook pages today...except maybe Facebook, which is obviously a problem for the same reasons you point out about the BBB because the incentives aren't quite there.


1.4 million comments on a single post? Holy crap! I was previously wondering on Reddit, what kind of vapid self-importance compels people to comment in threads that already have over 100-200 comments—when new ones go straight to the bottom and no one sees them afterwards. But this is on scale of some mental illness, unless I seriously misunderstand something about Facebook comments.


My guess: on FB, it steers your post to your friends, so you aren't talking to the 1.4M so much as chatting with your friends about a meme that 1.4M people are also chatting with their friends about.

Just a guess, though. I don't actually FB.


I've noticed that whenever I end up on a Facebook page for some local business I'm adding on OpenStreetMap. Comments that do nothing more than @mention people publicly. It just seems weird to do that.

Facebook is a weird place if you don't have an account. And of course, whenever you scroll down for some details (and hopefully a link to that business' proper website) you get slammed in the face with a dialogue box that asks you to create an account or login, so my engagement with Facebook usually ends there.


> Comments that do nothing more than @mention people publicly. It just seems weird to do that.

It's grown to be a more common way to share something with a friend. Less clicks than sharing in private messages, and also more inviting to conversation — which would be shared not only between you two, but also open to other friends like yours. Mostly those @mentions and conversations are very casual, like "me: @friendName -- @friendName: OMG this is so @frank -- frank: I'm in this picture and I don't like it". All of which makes perfect sense for mindless positive chit-chat.


Facebook shows comments from your friends highlighted in your feed.

So if one of your friends comments with the one millionth comment, you can end up seeing the post and your friend’s comment In your feed. So while no one can read all comments - your friends are likely to see yours.


And then y'all can communicate in thread too. So it's a little microcosm.


So it's actually sharing with added notes, like quote tweets. Indeed makes a bit more sense now, with this piece of knowledge.

(Perhaps once upon a time I'll end up also finally figuring out how the hell comments on Tumblr work. Not that I'll have practical use for that anymore.)


I've seen a lot of this recently, both on the types of posts in the article and on the posts of controversial / extremist right-wing politicians like MTG.


>I was previously wondering on Reddit, what kind of vapid self-importance compels people to comment in threads that already have over 100-200 comments—when new ones go straight to the bottom and no one sees them afterwards.

It works in similar way as here. The post have 145 comments (right now) and yet I'm adding another one.


Nah, replies I can understand. Top-level comments, not so much. Plus on Reddit they tend to be of pretty much no informational or entertainment value, essentially just ‘Oh yeah man!’ quipped into the void of the bottom of the comment section.


this ;)


Your friends will see your comment in fb, so there is an incentive to comment even when there is already millions of other comments.


Don't worry - their comment response to the meme page is annoyingly broadcast into the timeline of every one of their friends.


Because the culture is somehow to post (and even up-vote) vacuous comments to begin with.

Almost always when I find myself in Reddit comments because something's interesting I wish it were HN, and am shocked a lot of the time that people have time for such drivel. Duolingo too. Yes. Me too. Haha. Nice work buddy. Looks good. No. This is lame. Lol. Why? What's the point?

But then, we can take this further, there's more thought in our comments, and on HN in general, but ultimately not any 'point' either. (Obviously there's the occasional hugely noteworthy comment on HN, but then I'm sure there is on Reddit too, albeit fewer pro rata.)



From what I see, people tend to tag their friends in these massive threads.


It is mindblowing to see so many people socially active!


I wouldn't consider engaging in FB comment threads to be social nor active.


My FB feed is lousy with these sorts of things. My family & friends seem to enjoy answering questions like "What was the first concert you attended?" I don't think it's for advertising purposes because I have not noticed any improvement in the accuracy of targeted ads. I don't think it's for political purposes because that is much easier to figure out without these oblique questions.

One group who would benefit from detailed life style profiles are life insurance companies. More detail is better for setting accurate premiums while remaining competitive with other life insurance companies.

Edit: I almost forgot to mention a really popular one I've seen a lot of lately: "Have you ever had a DUI ? I'll wait." It's unbelievable to me that people would answer this question, but it definitely something insurance companies would like to know because their records don't go that far back into the paper age. A lot of people answer something like "No, but I should have."


I've long wished for an opportunity to filter my feed, so that I only see what people post themselves. But I guess fb force these things down my throat because no one actually posts anything anymore, except big life events like weddings or announcing a child. So people would realize fb is dead when it comes to keeping in touch with friends and family.


Facebook is dead as far as I'm concerned because I tested it. I quit all groups and unliked all pages. My feed just became ads and posts from friends. I have a couple of friends who like to post, but the vast majority don't post anything. It's a ghost town.


This is interesting.

Perhaps Facebook are partly encouraging the clickbait weirdness to give the continued impression to those that are still using it, that there is something to use.

Over the last 4 years I found Facebook an entirely useless vehicle for customer engagement, instagram was marginally better but after the change that got rid of the time based sorting, it became useless as well.

It wouldn't surprise me if Facebook has become a ghost town, inhabited only by those who have become addicted to the posts that feign engagement i.e. somebody is asking ME a question! I am important, I want to be heard. It might just be a complicated scheme to keep the share price high. It doesn't necessarily have to be something nefarious.


I shit down my Facebook recently after my interactions with it became unhealthy.


I agree that sounds unhealthy


It’s a pretty weird place these days. There are a few friends who get like 7 trillion likes if they post that their baby farted, but many many other friend posts have literally 0 or very few likes.

At some point I stopped commenting or Liking any post which already has more than ~10 Likes or comments. In some sense it feels really strange to me that people bother to engage with content where their engagement is essentially invisible within the crowd.


Try take a look at this browser extension [No affiliate]. I can filter out a lot of stuff. https://socialfixer.com/


Not that it would change FB's mess of an algo, but you probably can achieve some results with uBlock's custom filters, which are mostly written in CSS selectors. Find out the classes that shared posts get and slap them in the filters. There are also the ‘:has()’ selector and the search-by-text ‘has-text()’ selector to filter parent nodes by child nodes' content.


Train the algorithm! Just exit Facebook as soon as you encounter one of these.


You can also just click the X in the upper right corner and say "hide all from <page>"


I did that aggressively for at least months before I ultimately deleted my account (in 2017), because it didn't make any difference, there was just a new 'page' to hide that I never wanted to see or expressed any interest in seeing in the first place.


I hid every page, person and group on my Facebook except maybe 3 or 4 whom don't post much or are enjoyable.

It works. I can't even remember what normal Facebook looks like. I've lived like this for the last 5 years.


LAD Bible leaves, LAD Bible UK takes its place. Quizzes, Games, and Funnies leaves, Fun, Games, and Quizzes takes its place, world without end, amen.


> My FB feed is lousy with these sorts of things. My family & friends seem to enjoy answering questions like "What was the first concert you attended?" I don't think it's for advertising purposes because I have not noticed any improvement in the accuracy of targeted ads. I don't think it's for political purposes because that is much easier to figure out without these oblique questions.

Hyper dystopian take: Gathering data to be able to create real-seeming narratives for fictional profiles to push political agendas.


> "What was the first concert you attended?"

That's literally a security question for a bank password reset.


That's not a good example, which is why I added the DUI question. I've noticed most of my friends have stopped answering security type questions as they've been warned.


I’ve seen the DUI question in my feed in the past week, along with several other examples from the article.


And if your answer isn't a random string of three words, you're a good mark.


I've been snoozing those people for 30 days...not because I'm angry with them, but because it's the ONLY signal Facebook exposes to adjust things. Perhaps if they see a steep decline in my feed based on this stuff, they'll adjust (but I doubt it).

I've had a couple ofpoints int he past where I've broken my graf hard enough for the The Algorhythm to break down and it's kinda interesting. A combination of 'we don't know you well enough, we'll throw this synchronized knitting competition at you' and 'huh, you've reached the end of your endless feed...press refresh...please?'


"I don't think it's for political purposes because that is much easier to figure out without these oblique questions."

Personally, I cannot imagine a better way to build an in-depth profile of millions of voters.


Some other interesting questions they should pose:

- What's your mother's maiden name?

- What street were you born on?

- What was your first car?

- What's your childhood's best friend's name?


These do get shared, but usually in meme form where you turn your birthday into your "Werewolf name" and are encouraged to share in the comments. Because you're sharing in an altered, amusing form, you don't stop to consider someone can reverse your birthday from it.


My birthday is literally already on my Facebook "about" page though, and shown to all my friends whenever it comes around, so they can post on my timeline.


But that doesn't automatically make it available to 3rd parties that have no connection to you.


"Being an American is a privilege few have. Let's share our American issued social security numbers!" <Over photo of a bald eagle>


My understanding is that a portion of the SSN is based on the ZIP of your birthplace. I'm sure some clever person could come up with a way to use birth location + a checksum that would reveal an SSN without actually typing it out.

I'm thinking something like, "Add up all the individual numbers of your SSN and figure out what Founding Father you are!" Use some statistics to ensure that lots of people get good ones.


Used too, But anyone under the age of 20 will have a random SSN [1]

1: https://www.ssa.gov/kc/SSAFactSheet--IssuingSSNs.pdf


The first 5 digits are directly correlated to DOB and birthplace, the last 4 are mostly random. https://www.pnas.org/content/106/27/10975 There's a pretty interesting study done on this.


I presume there are a lot of non-Americans with SSNs: I have one from working in the US on a working visa.


Oh, I've absolutely seen these come up.

"Tag your mother if you love her", "tag your childhood best friend", etc.


- Your teacher in 1st grade (seriously, if anyone knows, please tell!) - Favorite fictional character - First pet


First pet name, born city, childhood nickname are the first 3 questions of Windows 10 local user installation.


Social platforms amplifies all of our human qualities, and our interaction habits. Since old ages, people were striving to seek attention and show their work [1] [2]. After reading this book [3] indistractable, I started to reflect on how our educational systems are not designed to prepare students to live in this digital age, yesterday it's FB, today it's TikTk and tomorrow there will be something else. FB is just one Pawn in this game.

I know that siding with FB is one of these topics that are very controversial in HN, but I am not finding excuses for the practices of these companies, my point is that our kids will live in a different age than the one we lived in, educational systems should keep up with these challenges and find innovative way to prepare people to efficiently manage that.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mu%27allaqat [2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_ancient_Rome [3]: https://www.nirandfar.com/indistractable/


"Oh no the Skinner box we built to exploit and manipulate people is being used to exploit and manipulate people!"

"But why is that-"

"Because OTHER people are doing it!"

"Oh no!"


Facebook is not ohnoing anything here. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if their algorithm boosts posts encouraging this kind of low-effort engagement.


Yeah. Other parties get data, FB gets cold hard cash. I bet they're quite happy with those terms.


That the author is peddling the absurd “Russians hacked muh servers” popular myth makes the comment all the more poignant.

Social networks tolerate fake traffic because it increases their perceived value. The real crime is the fictive usage and engagement metrics they use to set ad pricing.


The "popular myth" is sourced to both independent security firms and multiple U.S. intelligence agencies, and isn't a partisan issue: https://www.wired.com/2017/03/marco-rubio-says-hack-attempts...


My understanding is that the only group that ever got access to Hillary's servers to do forensics was a service that Hillary paid directly and is absolutely not "independent".


Oh it most definitely is a partisan issue. I'll wait for your evidence for if any votes were changed in machines, the only thing that could truly be construed as "hacking" a election.


But that's not what anyone was saying. You're making up an easier position to defend. What about the claim that was actually made in the article?

> target misleading messages based on material stolen in the Russian hack of Democratic National Committee servers


Well, I prefer to victim-blame the idiots who shell out astronomical sums of money for ads; based on these fraudulent "statistics".


The problem is that we don't know how, how, or why (although, of course, the near-nultimate "why" is likely profit.)

Facebook is a publicly traded company. It may have novel negative externalities, but we're largely comfortable with its impact: maximizing shareholder value. When Facebook manipulates us, we feel we can hold it accountable as an institution. We're wrong, but we're complacent. With these mystery accounts, we're out of our depth. We do not know "cui bono," and that's eerie.


I've been wondering what those posts are about, I keep seeing them in my feed, and they're always answered by the same 60+ year old relatives.


Many of those questions are used as 2FA as well.


Those I understand, but I'm wondering about the "What's your perfect fall day" or "How old were you when you got your first job" questions that don't seem like they'd yield answers to security questions.


It's not about security questions, the implication that the author doesn't make explicit is that "how old were you when you got your first job" probably says more about your economic well being and possibly your political leanings.


Well the article notes that some amount of user demographic info is revealed simply by interacting with the post, regardless of the information provided by the respondent.

Secondly, this is almost like the email phishing paradox: to an educated user it seems like the number of people who respond with relevant information would be extremely low, but if the attempt costs you basically nothing and you get something useful 1% of the time, you're still winning.

"My perfect fall day is my memory of Aunt June when we lived in Connecticut in the 70s, before she passed away." In itself something like that doesn't seem useful, but there's a good amount of information in there if someone can correlate it with other details about your life.


According to the article, anything related to your age or where you live is a pretty good indicator of what your voting preferences are. The article cites "90% accuracy" if your answers can be used to reasonably guess those facts.

Additionally, if your profile is public (the default still, I believe) is made available when you comment, I'd guess there'd be follow-up scraping going on to collect more details that are then used in conjunction with whatever your response was.


Those are thrown in there to make the general asking of these types of questions considered normal.


Magician calls that mis-direction.


"What's your perfect fall day" does not strike me as a good security question

"How old were you when you got your first job" actually does seem like a good security question for many people. You're unlikely to forget it, after a while not many other people will know it, and it's a single number (whole number, most likely) so it's easy for a computer to parse (and hard for you to mess up by leaving out / adding too much detail).

Depending on what you respond to on social media, and depending on if you've got any accounts that use this as a security question, you might want to go back and force the account to use a new question ;)


The main issue I see with the “age of first job” question is that there aren’t actually statistically that many likely answers to the question, especially if you have basic information on a person. Compare to make and model of first car, which has a lot of possible options and only slightly correlates to life situation.


The author implies, but doesn't make explicit that they think things like "age when you got your first job" are more about inferring socioeconomic indicators about the individual than fishing for password clues.

And honestly I bet age of first job probably is a decent indicator of certain economic factors.


Make and Model of cars are used on credit verification in USA - like historical address, it's likely linked to some previous credit activity.


I tend to think these are reactions to some of the "warnings" memes that are passed around lately (as-in: "don't answer these memes because they're collecting security question info") . . . the goal of these affiliate postings is not to gather security question info. It may not even be a cambridge-analytica-type of data-collection for a "personality test". I think it's more of an effort to build affiliate pages in FB that are highly ranked (because they have such high engagement numbers) - - so that that ranking can be used LATER, to push ads. Probably political ads; ahead of the next midterms.


60 year-old here. Thanks, broseph!


Some of these questions are similar to those questions you would see in an identify verification challenges. What is your first car, pet name, city you were born in. I am not saying this is the "only" answer, but could be one of them.


The article directly addresses this point and claims that the password is worthless, while somehow also claiming that the data they can scrape about you after you interact with them is where the money is made.


The same type of people answer these as the people who get an email from Amazon or Home Depot about a product they bought with a question like "What are the dimensions" and they answer "I don't know".

And for all time, everyone else is like WTF did you even answer the question if you don't know, it's not like your friend asked you in person, and that is the story of 80% of Q&A's on every product. *SIDE RANT OVER!


The emails Amazon sends (or used to send) to randomly selected prior purchasers of a product when there’s a new unanswered question have a subject line along the lines of “David is asking you if xxx, can you help him?”

They’re deliberately made to look like personal appeals to the individual specifically, and I don’t blame people for not understanding that it’s disgusting growth/engagement hacking.


THANK YOU. That explains those maddening "I don't know" answers perfectly.

I'm usually reasonably good at imagining the mechanisms behind stupid engagement-hacking phenomena like that, but the question of why people answer questions on Amazon product pages with "I don't know" has stumped me for years.


JerryInVA1948: Hi it's Jerry's wife again. We never measured it, so I don't know. Sorry!


My speculation: The exact same thing that happens with reddit accounts used for astroturfing... People will 'build up' a profile over the course of several months, reposting popular posts from months/years ago, etc. They're actually quite easy to spot, an account with high posting points and low comment points is usually one of these. Then, when it's nice and ripe, they will sell it to a troll farm which uses it to push a particular agenda. We saw this happen quite a bit in 2015-2016, and again starting in early 2020 (though it never really stopped).

But, in this case, the product is the 'network' rather than individual accounts. Something that appears this 'organic' and 'homegrown' is a very valuable tool for a widespread disinfo campaign.

Or, it could simply be the magician gang that makes viral posts of gross food. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/creators-countertop-spaghetti...


Questions like this one from the article are also very common on /r/AskReddit:

> Without naming the state you are from, what is it famous for?

Hard to tell if that's intentional data gathering or just someone innocently copying a common data-gathering question format from Facebook though.


The generic "without directly revealing PII, provide some detail which ML algorithms can use to determine the PII with a high degree of accuracy" is pretty clearly a product of intentional data gathering. The fact that is might get copied and organically spread is just a bonus.

This also goes for "the first letter of your last name plus the date of your mother's birthday are your <pop culture tag>".

Oh and all the cutesy little image processing tools like "what would you look like older/younger/as a different gender/if you were a cartoon" are there to train facial recognition algorithms.

Yet even supposedly sophisticated people fall for these.


Taken to any extreme, this could easily be extended to "don't ever engage with anyone or anything for any reason whatsoever." Is there concrete evidence any of this is happening?

If not, this just reads like a recipe for paranoia. What we've seen of ML really _isn't that good-_ my phone has full access to anything I've ever typed and its predictive keyboard rarely actually predicts what I'm going to say.


>s there concrete evidence any of this is happening?

Cambridge Analytica?

Doesn't even matter if there's any truth behind the science. If the personality profiling works, they can apply their MODEL from the 270k responses they DID get, against every single other user's public profile information, and get a high-likelihood result.

Does that mean they can tell exactly what MY personality type is? (as much as that may or may not be a valid "thing") - - I doubt it. But can they locate a region on a map where around 180,000 of 200,000 residents fit into a particular personality type, and then target ads to that region with a degree of better accuracy than "random"? Absolutely.

Index that against voting records; (which is what the "fake election audits are for" why else do you think they started with Arizona which blew in an unexpected direction for them? Also Kobach's efforts in 2017 were probably actually a data-collection operation for the GOP) - and you have a good map for how to target campaign spending in the next election. I also assume the Census data is abused in this way, (by whichever party is in-power at the time).

"dont ever engage with anyone or anything for any reason whatsoever" is fine and dandy.

And it's like a Zombie Apocalypse: you can protect yourself from being bitten. But you can't protect yourself from the consequences of everyone else being bitten and turning into zombies and coming after you in such great numbers, that you don't have enough ammunition stockpiled for all the headshots you'll need. (That's my analogy for "people infected with racist (and etc) disinformation are gonna vote a certain way, whether you take in that disinformation or not.")


> "don't ever engage with anyone or anything for any reason whatsoever."

On Facebook. Yeah probably a good idea and not really paranoid considering Fuckerberg's history.

> What we've seen of ML really _isn't that good-_

... Yet.

And, after Brexit and Trump we've seen the difference a few percentage points can make. Add another point every couple years as the tech improves and you're mad not to be paranoid.


Do you have any actual proof that this is used for data mining and not because it's an engaging, fun question?


I think this misses the point. Even if what he said has never happened, your mind should be trained to never engage with things like that to begin with. The very first thing that should occur to you is "I'm about to upload a picture of my face on the internet. That's not a good idea. I won't do that." Same with entering personal information.


Why should I care, though?

"What state are you from" seems like pretty innocuous information. I'll readily mention that I'm from Seattle if it's relevant to the conversation or asked directly, and I tend to think of myself as being on the more paranoid / pro-privacy side of things.

All the big players already have my address because I gave it to them, and a stalker should be able to work that information out pretty easily because I post in the Seattle sub-reddit and otherwise engage a lot with Seattle topics.


You'll happily mention it, and a human can find it if they look through your profile. ML will have a much harder time in comparison to going through some comments, all in a similar way, on a post where everyone is saying something about their state.


Yeah, but... what's bad about that? Why should I be opposed to ML knowing I'm from Seattle?


That's just a variant of the "nothing to hide" argument.


Did you have some sources for your original claims? As it stands it sounds like just another conspiracy theory so some data would be nice!


But I'm voluntarily providing the information. "Nothing to hide" is about involuntary surveillance.


> seems like pretty innocuous

That's how they get you. It's a trap!


Yeah, but... what actually IS the trap? What bad thing happens because of this?


NOTHING; individually.

This is the way statistics work.

The threat is an aggregate threat. What happens when 150k people respond to a post.


There are multiple "the point"s.

Yes, teach your kid to be careful with their data.

But also, how many outfits are actually doing this, or is this currently a theoretic concern? If people are doing this, what are their goals? Are they meeting them?

Are there less obvious examples of the same thing?

I'm sure you can keep going with more points.


If you just don't ever engage then even if the concern is not over a theoretical threat, you'll never have to worry either way. This isn't a "citation needed" kind of issue. "Do you have a source for it not being a good idea to provide personal information to strangers?" Bizarre.


The most commonly known proof that such tactics are used is that Cambridge Analytica used social quizzes and games to gather data. https://www.politico.eu/article/cambridge-analytica-facebook...


I would argue that's quite different from when some influencer asks what state you're from without telling what state you're from. Quizzes and games give data in a much easier format compared to this. It's just a trick to engage people and people like to laugh with stereotypes so they happily oblige. Analyzing all this unlabeled text data to find out what state someone is from seems hardly worth the effort, it's not like that's valuable information.


That may be. I’d expect these tactics to evolve, but like most people I’ll only know for sure if it blows up in a big scandal.


They didn't use the quiz to collect the data, no. They used the OAuth permissions granted to them when you connected with Facebook to collect that data.


Ah, sorry. I didn’t realize that.


That kind of thing is a gold mine for data harvesting. Automatically: for each comment from a certain state, go through their commenting history to map opinions on whatever you care to search for on a state-by-state level. Way cheaper and faster than phone surveys, and also gives a radically higher value slice of the population (than those who would pick up the phone to answer a survey). And that's probably the least nefarious thing someone could do with that data.


Or just look them up on SnoopSnoo, it'll pull in those things and give you a decent estimate of their personal details.


Fuck zodiac signs.

Tell me what kind of car you plan to buy next!


A hovercraft


A tank


I've never understood this logic. Very few subs limit posts by karma and those that do certainly don't require the insane amounts of karma that these bots are farming.

I know I don't go back through someone's post history before voting on their comments and I don't really care about their aggregate karma values.


Indeed, there's more to it than that. I haven't gone in-depth, so this is my very pedestrian understanding...

The very secretive spam filter has cut-outs for 'high value' accounts - this isn't really documented formally, but it's pretty obvious that posting limits are essentially nonexistant for 1M+ users, either by design or because they're well known to the mods...

The value of the high-karma accounts is that they're much more likely to be accepted for moderator applications. Get enough mods on a default sub, and you basically control the universe. That's very difficult, so the much easier way is to create legit-looking fringe subreddits with names like "newstoday" or "politicallyuncensorednews". Get enough of your smurf accounts to upvote those, and you can get to rising for /all. Get enough real bites and you might even get it to the front page.

I haven't really looked into this stuff for a few years, because it's frankly depressing. So my understanding will be a little off what the most recent networks are doing.


That's why I think the best thing any (all) of us can do is to report and block every single page that's doing this.

Unfortunately, I don't have 1M+ users; so I doubt this message will get out or make any difference.


Before the advent of the current crop of social media, online forums would post your post count and sign up dates. Posts from someone that has a brand new account and low post count were HIGHLY scrutinized. In some cases, needing mod approval before becoming visible.

My assumption is troll farms are buying accounts with karma to try and do an end around such a system. It wouldn't be hard on reddit/hn/or other vote based social media locations to pay extra scrutiny, even automated, against brand new accounts. By using established accounts, it makes astroturf detection harder to do. Now every account is potentially an astroturfer.


It just takes one person to do that though and say "you made a new account for this you troll?" before everyone gets it.


That would work if the moderators of various subs weren't part of it, quite a few subs will hand out temp. bans when you "accuse someone of shilling". Even if the account was created the day a story went public, didn't post anything until weeks later when the story hit reddit and never backed up its attempts to discredit one side of the conflict.

Some fun oriented subs will however happily ban spam bots that just automate imgur reposts if you point one out early enough.


I have a 100% legitimate, human operated reddit account and I am constantly shadow banned by default on subreddits (i.e. my comment shows for me logged in, but is hidden when viewed in private window). I am sure it's not based entirely on karma, but karma and account age are definitely large factors


Is there a difference in your post's reach on Reddit if you have 1,000 karma vs. 1,000,000?


I wouldn't be surprised if some of their shadowban logic was more lenient on accounts that had a lot of karma, to avoid high-profile embarrassing mistakes? Just a guess.


Luckily for Reddit it can only be highly embarrassing if people actually notice and raise a stink, which shadowbanning is designed to avoid. The shadowbanned user may just naturally get sick of the lack of interaction and leave the site, like this top /r/worldnews moderator with 14mil Karma who has been shadowbanned since July last year: https://old.reddit.com/user/maxwellhill


It would be interesting if their shadow-ban logic actually gave users upvotes at random for posts.


they're not shadowbanned. Where did you get that idea from?

This is what the profile of a shadowbanned user looks like for everyone but the user:

https://www.reddit.com/user/Soggy_Bed6887


Lol. That's the supposed Gislane Maxwell account, right?


I don't see how banning a high karma account would be embarrassing? I didn't even know that people cared about karma on Reddit.


Just that high karma accounts are marginally likelier to be subreddit mods or whatever? Again just a baseless guess on my part.


When I was in school (+6 years ago) I had classmates that were in the business of building and selling Facebook pages.

This was before Facebook started showing the history of the page's title changes over time.

As students who were broke and had lots of time on their hand they'd basically post all day a variation of cultural references, leading questions, polls, memes etc..

Anything that would drive the subscriber count up, which is the most important metric for how much they can charge for a page.

I'm guessing the posts that got 1.4 million comments is just that but on steroids.


It's becoming increasingly clear that social media needs to be more strictly regulated. How to do that in a free society is a difficult question. OTOH, if we take too long to figure this out, it may be too late. In fact, it may already be too late.


What regulation would help here?


Taxation on services that are known to be detrimental to human health. These taxes can be spent on public health resources (counseling and so forth).


The problem is, those who need the counseling (to recover from overdosing on their echo chamber) won't seek it.


That sounds like a very pragmatic, and politically-neutral idea, that would be portrayed as a "far-left nanny-state Marxist doctrine." . . .


It might have been possible in the 1950s, but the modern "death of authority" phenomenon has ensured that no central regulation of social media can ever be imposed by the consent of the governed.

The government would literally have to pull wires out of walls to stop Facebook and whatever inevitably follows it.


> For context, compare the layout and content on an authentic blog like Scary Mommy with the spam, ads, and brain-numbing botspeak you’ll encounter on a MediaVine blog like the A Typical Mom. The difference is easy to spot.

The ads seem much worse on Scary Mom. What am I missing?


I came here to ask the same...


My favorite is questions that appear to be roundabout ways to gather your password reset questions.

Like "Your stripper name is: Your Favorite Color + Name of Your First Dog!". Never fails to get tons of responses.


So, there’s a network of popular accounts that are posting questions and harvesting the comments to psychologically analyse Facebook users and later politically target them and their social networks with disinformation that’s tailored to their psychological grouping? That’s what I gleamed.


> "Sure, that first post won’t accurately predict your birth year..."

Actually it would have, in 2019. 66 + 1953 = 2019, subtract your age, and you get your year of birth.


The real question is, how do we discourage interaction with these bait posts on a scale that matters?


Block all the originators of them. I've been doing that for a week or so now, and facebook is slowly getting better. (first I left all groups myself - facebook is a terrible way to keep up with you hobbies as there is no good way to see everything). Facebook is becoming more and more pictures of real events in my friend's life - actually social media, and less and less politics, memes, and pictures that were funny the first time 10 years ago...


I'm skeptical of claims that just blocking or unfollowing the right accounts is the solution to the problems od social media. I'm skeptical of the claim even as an individual, but at scale, it's nonsense. Facebook has world class engineers and scientists optimizing their platform to manipulate the masses and increase engagement. It's their entire business model. Telling people to "just block" accounts they don't want to see will never overcome that.


You are right to be skeptical. I spend a lot of time blocking all the garbage people are sharing on Facebook. Things have gotten a lot better since I started, but it is far too much effort. Some of my friends spend way too much time looking for things to share instead of sharing pictures of their kids, looking at pictures of my kids and then going on to live a life. These are real friends that I do want to track so I can't block them.

Slowly facebook is learning that it needs to show me pictures of my friend's kids - even friends are rarely interact with though. Mostly because I've blocked everything else the algorithm might show me.


> Slowly facebook is learning that it needs to show me pictures of my friend's kids

You seem to be misunderstanding Facebook's goals. They don't care about showing you pictures of your friend's kids. They are using your friend's content to dangle a carrot in front of you to keep you clicking on what they want you to click on. If you've stopped clicking on ads and promoted posts, it's because they haven't yet learned what they need to show to you keep you clicking, but they will! They're dedicating all of their engineering efforts to keep people clicking.


I'm working on this with a browser extension. It's very early still and mostly focused on reddit, but I have plans to use machine learning/NLP to make it a bit smarter and for it to roll out for use on Facebook too.

http://healthy.surf


It's a really interesting question. What makes people so eager to respond? I keep seeing friends and family (especially family, older generation) answering these obvious spam questions all the time.


My guess: they're lonely and bored at home, and starved for conversation.


Well you can take the approach that one TikToker’s mom took: comment on the post and say it’s datamining.


I once saw an official Facebook blog post about some change to the T&C, with 80,000+ comments on it, most of them one of those meaningless copy-pastes about how they don't consent to Facebook using their data. More comments were appearing every second.

Every 20th post or so, someone would be saying something like "Stop it you idiots, this stupid copy-paste doesn't do anything, you can't declare your rights like this." Then a bunch more copy-paste comments would appear before the next person telling the idiots to stop.


Would the segment of users who respond to content-free posts like these have much of a reaction to a comment saying that?

I don't mean that as a snarky dismissal, but a sincere question. I know that plenty of people, especially among digital-natives, have instant negative reactions to being reminded of data collection. But the type of user answering "what was your first car" or "what do you call your grandchildren" do not strike me as having much overlap with the groups that are cynical about social media platforms.


I don't really think it's a legitimate or scalable way to inform people. On a smaller scale it could help people in the local social network to be aware of what those posts are doing.

Another thing to do is to tell people "they're trying to use this information to get into your bank account". That will make them stop really fast. But as far as scalability goes, I don't think there's a way.


No individual can.

If we all agree (and I mean, a large number of people) to fully quit Facebook; or at the very least - report and block every single one of these sites and postings, I think that would be a great deterrent.


>This multi-billion dollar industry has to be getting revenue somewhere else.

Wait, how do they know this is a multi-billion dollar industry in the first place?



I stopped reading when the article repeated the thoroughly tired and debunked talking points about Russians stealing DNC server materials...


I was torn on this one. I do agree with you, in that, if we can't trust them on stuff that was obvious in June of 2017, how can we trust the "facts" we can't check? However, this is at least an interesting hypothesis. The particulars are probably wrong, but all sorts of different parties might try "campaigns" like this for all sorts of different reasons. (Although GOP might not be my first suspect for dastardly clever schemes...)

The most likely possibility seems that we have algorithms fooling algorithms with no humans in the loop. Sure, there might not be enough "real" (i.e. a real human purchasing a real product) revenue sloshing around here to make the whole effort worthwhile. However, there might be a poorly configured dashboard somewhere that makes it appear as if that's the case... Meanwhile FB laughs all the way to the bank.


I find this propaganda in the weirdest of places. I was reading a physical book about artificial intelligence written by a CEO in the industry and it had multiple references to Russiagate (and stated as fact, of course). It had nothing to do with the subject matter and was mentioned off-hand, same as it is here.


First comment:

> Generally speaking, people should become more and more wary of memes.

I suppose memes which explicitly attack other memes had to emerge at some point.


Not sure if AsianHustleNetwork (AHN) really falls into what's being described in this article, but it's one of the more insidious FB communities I've run across, in terms of members being milked for affiliate revenue.

The content is overall wholesome and useful, but I'm assuming most members (both contributers and passive viewers/clickers) don't realize that they're lining the owners' pockets with their clickthroughs, along with whatever personal data is being collected through Facebook.


Clicked on the Cambridge Analytica story Vox ran that you linked. As quoted the author of the piece states "It’s not clear to what extent Cambridge Analytica helped".


The recorded sales-pitch with their CEO Nix that the BBC aired, revealed that effort as largely a Political Scam operation. The guy was supposedly the CEO of an AI research firm - but he was offering services to send underage prostitutes around to politicians to attempt to entrap them for extortion purposes.

Whatever Cambridge Analytica actually DID, it was probably 90% snake-oil; (leveraging on the "AI" hype in the industry).


> Yes, a question-post invites more engagement than a simple comment, but there’s something else at work here.

Is there?

I've noticed wannabe influencers on Instagram including questions and polls with every one of their Stories. They're doing it to "juice the algorithm" by getting responses. That in turn theoretically gets them featured on the Explore Page or whatever. YouTubers do the same things, ending each video with a CTA question you should answer in the comments.

The Facebook question pages that boomers answer seem to just be doing the same thing, attracting comments and interactions and thus boosting the page.

The bigger question I have is why Facebook thinks I would be interested in seeing in my timeline that my 68 year old aunt has answered "Freddy Mercury" to some question about the best musical act they've seen live.


I've never used Facebook so I can't pretend to know how it works or is laid out, but if I were tasked with creating a "timeline" for you on FB based on what I know, your aunt sharing that her favorite act was "Freddy Mercury" is exactly what I would share with you. What would be more apropos?


If she typed that into a post of her own, sure. But this is more like surfacing every comment of hers on every random blog she reads. Those comments should be shared between her and the blog and its readers, not me.

Also, I've strongly indicated that I don't want to see this content by clicking the "X" every time I see one of these "question reply" posts. That probably hides that Page forever. But the next meme question page reply by my next boomer relative will pop up tomorrow. Facbook isn't correlating the fact that I want to see nothing from any of these clickbait pages.


One variant of this that I've seen lately is some sort of wrong or easily-disproved assertion or challenge. "Bet you can't name an American city with an E!" or "95% of people can't name three European countries. Can you?" It drives engagement not only for people answering the question, but also for those talking about how stupid the post is- either way, it's engagement.


Can I read/scrape all 1M comments on one of these posts, or does it only show responses from friends and/or people who have looser privacy settings?

It'd be pretty interesting to collect and play around with all the same data this affiliate network is purported to be collecting.


some type of ad network of data gathering company is behind it.

its pretty straight forward and easy to do. just promote one post to a certain targeted audience(say women only) then run another campaign targeting a specific region or an age group, now you have another dimension of data. Rinse and repeat a few times and you will have a decent data set that you can then cohort out and show targeted ads to on other ad networks. running tens of thousands of these campaigns will net you a lot of very useful data. since you are paying the platform to promote things, they don't care, its still revenue to them.

the folks behind some of these things seem to be doing pretty well at it too, at least, their social profiles show a very lux life.


I'm curious if the data harvested from this is skewed to older people, and more "naive" people. Most of my techie friends have uninstalled FB (like me), or rarely interact with it. And my smarter friends just don't interact with that kind of clickbait-y post.

I wonder if marketing folks will even notice. Like Google Analytics, which is disproportionately blocked by smarter and more technical people. Marketers cheerfully ignore that, though. Will they even know that they're missing our data?

Is the Venn diagram of FB enthusiastic data-donaters and people who don't block GA just a circle? If so, are public policies and corporate marketing strategies going to be designed to cater to them and not us?


>Properly scrubbed, these answers could probably predict your ’16 and ’20 Election preferences with 90%+ accuracy.

They could probably guess your preference, but prediction is way harder, as shown by the way so few people saw Clinton's loss coming in 2016.


It would appear that the old methods of political polling in places like the US and Australia don't work with the accuracy they used to: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/nov/11/opini...

A similar thing happened with Clinton in 2016 and with Brexit. Political polling has stopped working. It's not clear whether the polling organisations are simply asking the wrong people, or the wrong questions, or that people are no longer as fixed to their opinions as they used to be, or would prefer to hide their preferences.

It would seem to me that a lot of the stranger activity on social media is an attempt to fix that problem.


>It would seem to me that a lot of the stranger activity on social media is an attempt to fix that problem.

To some extent, it seemed like the 2016 results were a response by people who wanted to resist lazy categorization. Granted, it's not hard to be subtler than "deplorables", but I expect some amount of people not wanting to be strategized with.


A good way to get OPSEC data from high-value targets who are smart enough to be quiet on the internet is to go after their wives and children. I'm wondering if someone is trying to cast a wide net here to get information on people.


Speaking of weird things happening on Facebook… I see a lot of official artist pages (usually artists who have been pretty successful a few years ago but no longer are, mostly rappers for some reason) that post A LOT of random “memes” (mostly just stuff stolen from Reddit) that are completely unrelated to their work, usually with very clickbaity captions (tag a friend etc). When you go on their page it doesn’t show up. Most comments seem to be from 2nd world countries (like my own). What’s that about?


My guess is that their marketers are having them post generic memes as engagement sinks and then hiring out click farms to engage with them. Probably with the hope that it will game the Algo to rank them higher when they post something relevant to their business.


Could you give an example? I'd like to see this for myself.


I wonder if it's even worth pondering the various kinds of dumpster fires that happen there?

It's like we're caught watching a tornado hit a garbage pile ... while the 'exit' sign is clear for all of us to follow if we want.

I think the answer to all questions Facebook-related is 'delete' / 'exit' / 'log off' and then to go ahead to Spotify and listen to some Ahad Jamal from 40 years ago to put it in context.


Off topic: I hadn't listened to Ahmad Jamal in years until a couple months ago, and he was a genius. So much creativity, with no sacrifice of lyricism, and an amazing way with silence.


I will repeat it here again. Delete all your friends and content on facebook, and use it as a shell account for logins, events and messenger.

Change starts with you. This is simple.

I have done this 2 months ago. It works great so far. Most people have moved onto IG/Whatsapp already anyways. I know those are also FB owned, but do this as a protest.


Is it possible to set up Facebook to only give you people you know or people you follow on your feed? I'd consider an account if that were true, with the appropriate personal filters on of course given the spying the company does.

It's a totally sleazy company, but it actually provides a valuable service at the same time.


I’m confused. The premise of this post seems to be that this is some malicious attempt to deduce basic geographic data on Facebook users. But doesn’t Facebook let you target ads based on such data already?

Why would I not just pay Facebook directly for such targeting?


The implication is that comments on public posts could be scraped by a third party to build an off-FB psychographic profile, similar to how Cambridge Analytica tried to generate profiles for users by querying data through a third party Facebook app.


I believe the goal is to build a model that correlates public attributes that FB provides with hidden attributes learned from these probes. When the attacker is ready to target users matching specific hidden attributes, they can reverse the correlation into ranges of public attributes that FB will accept for targeting ad campaigns.


Was just talking about this the other night with my wife and how we should just start our own group sharing these baiting questions to see how quickly and largely we can grow it.


It's actually a sentient AI trying to learn about humans. It knows exactly when to post in order to maximize engagement


the same thing happens on Reddit with the AskReddit. they have bots ask simple questions and then the answers I think are being used to train algorithms. Reddit is such that if you scroll on their app in the main feed for long enough it will always be ask Reddit's and they will all be those kind of questions


Cambridge Analytica style targeted political messaging, and retailoring of political formulae to personality/moral-foundations/IQ profiles, in order to create coalitions is the future of political messaging and activism. In many ways, now that the gameboard has changed so drastically, it's unavoidable.

This is how politics works now. It's not (just) Russia, or China, it's every political activism group or lobby that wants to achieve anything. Welcome to the new age.


no different than it used to be, just more sophisticated.


I think there is a qualitative difference.

Previous means of influencing politics involved NGO's and political parties actively working different demographics in order to get them to vote in the organization's interest. These organizations may loosely be considered managerial bureaucracies, whether they are labor unions, or activist NGO's, or political parties. Even large scale media campaigns conducted via mass psychology are essentially managerial or bureaucratic in nature, using mass organizations at a large scale.

The new means of manufacturing consent are not in this character. Rather than acting directly on mass groups using mass organizations, they operate by directly targeting individuals and niche groups leveraging algorithms and digital means. It's different paradigm: mass vs niche, mass media vs targeted media, mass psychology vs individual psychological profiling, large bureaucratic organizations vs smaller technologically enabled teams, the management of people vs the management of algorithms.

It's two different approaches to power, and hence, two different elite groups. And when you have two different elite groups, you have conflict. It's a new world, a revolution in the making.


Atomized power.


Is there some way to delete/filter/downvote click-bait header lines on HN like this one?


Use the hide button.


How many people choosing random answer would it take to muddy the data to the point it is useless?


I suggest to the author going outside and touching some grass. This is literally paranoia.


Those look like phishing for answers to account security questions.


Something weird is happening on Facebook for a long time :/


isnt this already known as social engineering data collection for hackers for use in later attacks?


That's not what the article is about. It points out that passwords for random folks aren't really worth much, and are probably out there on the dark web for purchase anyway, but the idea that psychographic profiles could be build by a third party that is scraping these comments off public posts.


I don't get it. What do these people would be doing with such data? Ok, they know that a certain Facebook account named John Doe is likely to be a male, between 40 and 50 years old, voted for Trump both in 16 and 20. So what? It's not like you can retarget said account through ads. I fail to see the purpose.


There is extreme value in knowing who your most-prospective marks are. If you had a population of 1,000 people, and had to sell something (read: convince to vote a certain way) to 400 of them, wouldn't you like to know the subset of those people who are already predisposed to your position and just need a little more nudging with a narrowly-tailored meme , instead of making a dartboard attempt against all 1,000?

That was the entire value-add of Cambridge Analytica , whose Facebook-API data-gathering loophole has now been replaced by just engaging suckers via the platform itself and a tiny bit of NLP/sentiment analysis.


I suspect there's also value in avoiding showing some forms of persuasive/propagandistic content to those who are unlikely to be amenable to it. This allows the content to circulate with less suppressive feedback from a target's peers.


You can also avoid targeting people who already support you. Or, in the case of Cambridge Analytica's brexit manipulation, identify those who have never voted before (using hundreds of indicators) and introduce them to politics... Their first information being propaganda from the leave campaign.


There's lots of stuff you can do with the data.

The most obvious one: with the security question type stuff, you can take over other people's accounts.

But collecting data about people is also useful if you're trying to spread an agenda. You can determine what types of messages resonate with an audience. You can group those people and target them separately -- not through ads, but through special interest accounts/groups. You can recruit people to amplify your message. You can even get people to act in real life, i.e. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Research_Agency#Ralli...

If you can identity, categorize, and influence the loudest voices, you can influence public discussion and opinion.


In 2016 it was used to target these specific types of people with outrage. Get them riled up against their opponents and make them more likely to vote for your candidate or issues and more likely to spread your propaganda for you.

AFAIK you absolutely can target (or could target) groups of people based on very specific criteria.


The Cambridge Analytica scandal shows exactly what you can do with this data.

Targeted advertising lets you run a campaign that never could be run before... one where you appear to be something different to different people. If you were trying to seize control of three different warring groups, you could advertise to A, "We'll kill B and C!" , to B, "We'll kill A and C!" and to C, "We'll kill A and B!" which you couldn't do in a stump speech without people figuring out the ruse.

By building a detailed psychological profile of individuals, you can build a model that allows you to tie their responses to these questions with the political messages they're susceptible to. Cambridge Analytica paid a few hundred thousand people to do a quiz where they shared their Facebook likes and answered questions about their personality. CA then used that to build a model that showed "People who live in Slidell, Louisiana and like Dodge Ram trucks will be most receptive to messages about illegal immigration and are generally supportive of state violence". Then they can run that ad to everyone in Slidell who likes Dodge Ram pickups.


Why is targeted political messaging inherently immoral though?

It seems the crux of the issue here is that people are being fooled into supplying data about themselves in a non-consentual manner.

The former has been happening in politics forever and imo the latter has been every tech companies MO essentially for the last decade.


I believe all targeted advertising where you wouldn’t want the ad running on the front page of the New York Times is immoral.


It's a tool.

Tools are not immoral.

Immoral uses of tools are immoral.


You can pull the data off of fb.

FB's targeting tools go to some lengths to only allow you to target by dems on fb and associated properties. These questions, plus profile views, allow you to extract the information for external use. Eg selling a list of <fb id, first car, birth year, favorite color, pet name, etc> tuples.


I think a lot of people are just that stupid.


It's past time to take a step back and consider as a society that the predominant mechanism for communication, hence the distribution of ideas and hence the formation of socially-dependent constructions of self, and belief systems,

are now in the hands of companies like Facebook which by their own admission are driven all but exclusively by the necessary (sic) pursuit of growth via "engagement" at any cost.

This system is not just capable of, but biased towards the amplification of exactly that content which maximizes limbic system engagement, i.e., triggers the sub-cognitive emotional brain.

I.e. that content which enrages, titillates, and otherwise triggers reward centers.

Let's look at that again, stripped to the core.

Our society's primary mechanism for interpersonal communication,

is social networks which by their own description, depend on the purist possible amplification of that content which triggers us the most,

regardless of all other factors, including truthfulness, social benefit, coherency, utility to the commons, you name it, call it anything you like. The good.

Naturally one can individually work hard to use these systems for the good.

But the systems themselves have zero incentive to amplify you when you do; and every incentive to amplify the shit-posting trolls being paid by our enemies foreign and domestic.

That's not hyperbole; that's a simple statement of fact.

The end of this road is like e.g. the climate change that goes unaddressed in part because of these very mechanisms,

approaching more rapidly than we think.

A cognitive error to remember: we extrapolate linearly, and have no native ability to extrapolate exponential outcomes.

The clearly visible end game in the US for unchecked perpetuation of bad-faith high-performing "engagement" on Facebook and its properties, in particular,

is clearly civil war.

Maybe it's cool for a while; maybe it's hot only in moments; but the edge of the cliff is visible and the intense push by bad actors of all kinds to push us off it is palpable.

And the mechanism remains Facebook, steered as it is by an amoral culture which sprang from and is perpetuated by a literally emotionally truncated high-functioning sociopath.

If you think that's wrong, the onus is on you to document how the company's behavior internal and external is distinguishable from one in which that is a precise definition.

I've said it here many times, I'll say it again:

If you work for them, it's time to quit. If you do business with them, it's time to quit. If you think think you can't because <reason>, you're wrong.

The damage to yourself, and to our society, is profound and un-ending.

We remain at memetic war and it is reifying into a culture war on the edge of becoming simply a war.

Don't be part of the problem.

Get off now, and work to get others off, and work to unmake this.


Delete Facebook. By god. How many articles do we need to write to communicate the same sentiment.


Already done, parents are still on there as it's the best way to connect with people they went to school with 50 years ago, as far as I can tell Facebook is burning through the younger ages and it's going to end up a digital retirement home, already well on the way.


This article is more than just "Facebook is bad". It's proposing a specific phenomenon the author thinks it's noticed, and digging into what may be behind it.


My democracy is being destroyed by Facebook. What good did dropping it do me?


I just signed up for an account last year. I unfollowed everyone about six months later. Now I pop on every few days and either see something I'm tagged in or it says 'you're all caught up'. Sometimes it throws an error which is rewarding.

Seems to avoid most of the garbage on Facebook but I can still use it to contact people or hit the marketplace.


"Delete Facebook" is like saying "Delete drugs." The whole reason Facebook is dangerous is because its draw on the human psyche is stronger than that of the average person to resist, and that the people who do engage with it can harm the people who don't. There needs to be a national social media policy the way there is a national drug policy. We need to have the conversation about where we want to be as a country from "full ban" to "fully legal," just like people recognize that a country's drug policy can be somewhere between Singapore's and Portugal's.


To ban, you first need to accurately define what you're banning. How would you define it?


>national drug policy

I'm not sure that's less harmful to society than no policy. It may be causing more people to use.


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