Release date: October 2018
Review, short version: Thumbs up for FRONTLINE, thumbs down for Facebook.
Review, long version:
The Facebook Dilemma, a two-hour FRONTLINE documentary, aired on PBS in October 2018.
I recently watched it.
FRONTLINE, on air since 1983, describes itself as a “long-form news and current affairs series.” I find their programs to be very well-done, professional, and most importantly – credible.
I also found this one to be sickening.
It should have come with a warning:
I can’t determine which part of the program made me the sickest, so here are just a few:
The Facebook robotic talking heads, who were so adept at toeing the company line while disavowing any responsibility for putting profits above peoples’ lives; for Facebook’s involvement in our recent and future elections; and for their continued enabling of the spread of inaccurate information and deliberate misinformation.
These employees have titles like Vice President of Social Good, Vice President of Global Policy Management, and Product Manager for News Feed Integrity. Those titles all translate into: Zuckerberg/Sandberg Ass Kisser.
The numerous people from all over the world – the U.S., Egypt, Ukraine, the Philippines, Myanmar, England and elsewhere – who raised their hands and tried to tell Facebook about the consequences of its failure to acknowledge problems and fix them. Here are a few of their statements:
“I tried to talk to people who are in Silicon Valley, but I feel like it was not being heard.” – Wael Ghonim, Arab Spring activist
“You see years and years and years of people begging and pleading with the company, saying, ‘Please pay attention to this,’ at every channel people could find, and basically being ignored.” – Zeynep Tufecki, UNC Chapel Hill
“I think the main response from Facebook was, ‘We’ll need to go away and dig into this and come back with something substantive.’ The thing was, it never came.” – David Madden, Tech entrepreneur
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, in the documentary and elsewhere:
- “At Facebook we have a broad mission: We want to make the world more open and connected.”
- “We are focused on privacy. We care the most about privacy. Our business model is, by far, the most privacy-friendly to consumers.”
- “I don’t have that specific answer but we can come back to you with that…Again, we don’t know, I can follow up with the answer to that…I can get back to you on the specifics of when that would have happened.”
- “Lean in!”
The Man Himself, Mark Zuckerberg, who somehow manages to say – to us, to the media, and yes, even to the U.S. Congress – stuff like the following with a straight face:
- “Our mission: Making the world more open and connected.”
- “We’re a technology company. We’re not a media company.”
- “At Facebook, of course, we believe that our users should have complete control of their information.”
- “We’re not going to share people’s information, except for with the people that they’ve asked for it to be shared.”
- “So if you believe, like I do, that giving people a voice is important, that building relationships is important, that creating a sense of community is important, and that doing the hard work of trying to bring the world closer together is important, then I say this: We will keep building.”
Are you feeling sick yet?
Sick because you know – as I do – that since The Facebook Dilemma aired last October, nothing has changed.
Oh, sure – the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been poking a stick at Facebook for the past year over the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other screw-ups – at least, those Facebook has been caught at.
This past April numerous media reported that Facebook said it expects an ongoing investigation from the FTC could result in fines ranging from $3 billion to $5 billion:
Since Facebook’s estimated worth is $500 billion, that fine doesn’t seem like much more than Zuckerberg’s lunch money.
And in June we learned that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is joining the FTC to step up the government’s scrutiny of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Facebook:
The New York Times story said that Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), chairman of the House Judiciary’s subcommittee on antitrust, plans a set of hearings, testimony from executives from top companies, and subpoenas for internal corporate documents over the next 18 months.
Of course, we’re seeing how well House Democrats have been doing with hearings, gathering testimony, and getting results from subpoenas:
The New York Times article went on to remind us, “If you’re big enough to be drawing antitrust heat, you’re big enough to have a lot of lobbyists, lawyers and employees in congressional districts all around the country.”
“A lot of lobbyists”? According to OpenSecrets.org – which drew the information from the Senate Office of Public Records – in 2018 Facebook spent $12,620,000 just on lobbying:
Back to The Facebook Dilemma, which clearly is OUR dilemma.
There is no doubt that Zuckerberg, Sandberg et al will go on thinking that rules are for fools, and will follow their own rules despite all the saber rattling by Congress, the FTC, DOJ, other agencies and regulators.
And what are those rules? They’re…
Not yet afraid of the damage Facebook is doing?
Then be afraid of this:
This is a new term for video that’s been doctored to show the same person but saying different words.
It uses AI – artificial intelligence – and it’s called “AI-manipulated media.”
This Zuckerberg video was created by two artists and shows a computer-generated image with an impersonator voicing Zuckerberg saying, “Imagine this for a second: One man, with total control of billions of people’s stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures…”
The artists uploaded the deepfake to Instagram, and in June the video was seen around the world.
It’s not a perfect replication of Zuckerberg, but it’s close.
Close enough to fool the people who believe that anything they see on Facebook is true.
Because if it was fake – Facebook would take it down, right?
Facebook does not prohibit false information from being shared on Instagram or its main Facebook service.
There will be more deepfake videos. The technology will get better, the videos and voices of higher quality.
We’ll see deepfake videos of world leaders, of politicians in our 2020 election. We’ll reach a point where we can no longer discern what’s deepfake and what’s real. As one expert put it, “A deepfake could cause a riot; it could tip an election; it could crash an IPO.”
Facebook knows deepfakes are misinformation.
And misinformation does not violate their policy.
Earlier I talked about Facebook saying it expects an ongoing investigation from the FTC could result in fines ranging from $3 billion to $5 billion.
On July 12 it happened:
On July 12 this also happened: