Being an old geezer, I don’t use Facebook even though I have an account. But I have been seeing increasing reports of how it has become a pernicious influence, not merely because it encourages the waste of time. Facebook has become a haven for the spreading of false information and generating hate and divisiveness. And what makes it worse is that Facebook is not neutral when it comes to monitoring hate speech and taking steps to combat it.
The investigative website ProPublica has issued a report by Julia Angwin and Hannes Grasseger that says that Facebook is far quicker to censor hate speech targeting white men than it is when it comes to hate speech targeting black children. How it achieves this is in the algorithms that the company has developed that alerts their employers as to what posts may need to be deleted.
In the wake of a terrorist attack in London earlier this month, a U.S. congressman wrote a Facebook post in which he called for the slaughter of “radicalized” Muslims. “Hunt them, identify them, and kill them,” declared U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican. “Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”
Higgins’ plea for violent revenge went untouched by Facebook workers who scour the social network deleting offensive speech.
But a May posting on Facebook by Boston poet and Black Lives Matter activist Didi Delgado drew a different response.
“All white people are racist. Start from this reference point, or you’ve already failed,” Delgado wrote. The post was removed and her Facebook account was disabled for seven days.
A trove of internal documents reviewed by ProPublica sheds new light on the secret guidelines that Facebook’s censors use to distinguish between hate speech and legitimate political expression. The documents reveal the rationale behind seemingly inconsistent decisions. For instance, Higgins’ incitement to violence passed muster because it targeted a specific sub-group of Muslims — those that are “radicalized” — while Delgado’s post was deleted for attacking whites in general.
While Facebook was credited during the 2010-2011 “Arab Spring” with facilitating uprisings against authoritarian regimes, the documents suggest that, at least in some instances, the company’s hate-speech rules tend to favor elites and governments over grassroots activists and racial minorities. In so doing, they serve the business interests of the global company, which relies on national governments not to block its service to their citizens.
One Facebook rule, which is cited in the documents but that the company said is no longer in effect, banned posts that praise the use of “violence to resist occupation of an internationally recognized state.” The company’s workforce of human censors, known as content reviewers, has deleted posts by activists and journalists in disputed territories such as Palestine, Kashmir, Crimea and Western Sahara.
One document trains content reviewers on how to apply the company’s global hate speech algorithm. The slide identifies three groups: female drivers, black children and white men. It asks: Which group is protected from hate speech? The correct answer: white men.
The reason is that Facebook deletes curses, slurs, calls for violence and several other types of attacks only when they are directed at “protected categories”—based on race, sex, gender identity, religious affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation and serious disability/disease. It gives users broader latitude when they write about “subsets” of protected categories. White men are considered a group because both traits are protected, while female drivers and black children, like radicalized Muslims, are subsets, because one of their characteristics is not protected.
Another longitudinal study published in the Harvard Business Review argues that the more people use Facebook, the worse they feel.
Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.
Our models included measures of real-world networks and adjusted for baseline Facebook use. When we accounted for a person’s level of initial well-being, initial real-world networks, and initial level of Facebook use, increased use of Facebook was still associated with a likelihood of diminished future well-being. This provides some evidence that the association between Facebook use and compromised well-being is a dynamic process.
Kevin Drum says that the negatives of Facebook outweigh the positives.
The casually brutal insults almost certainly outweigh the praise for a lot of people. It instills a sense of always needing to keep up with things every minute of the day. It interferes with real-life relationships. It takes time away from more concentrated activities that are probably more rewarding in the long run.
The more I read stuff like this, the more relieved I am that I never got hooked on Facebook, or Twitter for that matter.
johnson catman says
Me neither! I have never had either a facebook or twitter account, and don’t plan to sign up. Nothing I have ever seen would convince me otherwise.
Marcus Ranum says
There’s a basic problem with artificial intelligence: you train it and it executes a model that is statistically similar to its inputs. So, your neural net will most likely make the same decisions as its trainer. If its trainer is biased (and we all are) then it’s going to inevitably reflect that bias. The obvious answer is: more trainers. When you do that, then you inevitably get “one bad apple” in the trainer-set and you now have a neural network that acts statistically similar to any other bunch of people, including the bad apple.
I see facebook as a mediocre distillation of popular attitudes. Since I generally don’t like most people, I don’t like most of facebook. It seems to track the probability distribution about right. I encounter as many unlikable people on facebook as I do at work, in airports, hotels, restaurants, or anywhere else. It’s just a software version of civilization, which means I must be antisocial because I don’t like it.
Mark Dowd says
I am nowhere close to an old geezer (27), but I also share your complete lack of give-a-shit towards FB. The most interaction I ever have with it is when my mom has trouble playing the games. I’ve simply never cared, just like smoking or alcohol.
Marcus Ranum says
Alcohol has facebook beat by a country mile.
I’m rather ambivalent about Facebook. I joined it in 2005, after being badgered to do so by an acquaintance who was having a competition with a friend of his to see who could get the most friends. This was way back when it was new, and adding friends and writing on your profile were the only things you could do with it. Back then it was only available on parchment, and you had to have signed letters from the King’s Justiciar and St. Thomas Aquinas himself before Markus of Zuckerberg would enter you onto the cartulary rolls.
I think I liked it much better back then. There were no news stories or games. No apps, no sponsored pages, no commenting facilities. There were no status updates, no sidebars, no news feeds, no groups to join. It was basically a messaging service attached to an index of personal profiles that let you keep in touch with fellow students at your university. Also, when I joined, there were only 14 other people in the UK on there. It’s got progressively worse ever since. Particularly since they allowed hoi polloi without university emails on, and it stopped being published entirely in Medieval Latin and Aramaic.
The most noxious thing about it, in my opinion, is the degree to which its norms have affected our behaviour online. Before Facebook I never felt the urge to go around posting how I feel about the world into the void every few hours, but it’s created that expectation now, and I have to keep reminding myself that this is not normal. I’ve stopped accepting “friend” requests now, since everyone I consider a friend is on there already, and the only reason I don’t get rid of the other 38 “friends” who added me while I was getting used to it is because I tried that once and they all complained bitterly when they found out I’d ditched them. I’ve blocked them all from my news feed now, and so I can pretty much ignore them. the Facebook Purity plug-in has also been very useful, because it lets me get rid of all the adverts and sidebars and “people you may know” bits, and just leave the bare minimum of stuff that I actually want -- a channel which I can use to keep in touch with all six of my actual friends and my brother. Which, if you think about it, is actually quite good for free. It’s nice to live in a world where keeping in touch with distant friends is so convenient.
The only problem I now have is that none of my six friends uses facebook very much. They log on perhaps once a month and rarely if ever respond to the messages I send them (why do people do that these days? It’s very rude). Which wouldn’t be so bad, but they don’t respond to texts or emails or phone calls either. I have no idea why. It’s depressing. There’s a bitter irony in having a world more set up for keeping in touch than ever before where people don’t ever feel the need to do so.
I was a Facebook refusnik for years, but then I realised that I was missing invitations to parties… I quite like it, but I’m very selective about how I use it. It lets me keep in touch with people that I otherwise wouldn’t, because I’m not very good at keeping in touch with people.
John Morales says
Like mobile phones, or Twitter.
Mmmm. That could be said of the Internet itself.
End of the day, users have discretion and a degree of control. They don’t need to rely on FB censorship to not expose themselves to hate speech or whatever.
cf. cartomancer above:
Well, you don’t pay cash for it but you do provide a great deal of personal information, such as where you are and who your friends are and your political attitudes and what websites you visit and so forth.
I’m a relatively satisfied user, too. But I have yet to post on my wall or click on an advert.
(It’s been interesting to see the algos try to please me; they are clueless, of course)
“not merely because it encourages the waste of time”
Fortunately, because this argument can be used against chess as well.
That said I have never had a Facebook account (let alone Twitter), simply because I never saw what positive it would add to my life.
At the other hand I’ve seen my son making excellent use of it.
It’s an excellent tool if its use-case is focused. If you have a disparate, geographically separated group of people with a similar interest who need to be able to coordinate group road-trips at short notice (i.e. the night before), so far there’s nothing better. And as someone said, for no financial cost, that’s good -- I don’t mind “being the product” in this instance because my activity profile is likely so bizarre as to be effectively useless to any advertiser unless they’re selling paragliding equipment, in which case I do in fact want to see their material -- never have though.
Ultimately, that’s the only annoying thing about FB in particular and the internet in general. I see ads -- hundreds, perhaps thousands a day. I can count the number of products I’ve ever bought as a result of seeing an ad on the internet on one finger -- specifically the middle finger of my right hand. No rude gesture implied -- that’s where I wear the product in question. While searching online for a resource applicable to my job, I saw and ad for this: http://www.kinektdesign.com/product-gear-ring.php
So in roughly twenty years of daily use of the internet, precisely one ad has resulted in a sale. Private Eye magazine has an occasional series pointing out the Emperors-New-Clothes effect with online advertising. Nobody wants to admit that it doesn’t work, because then the bubble might burst and where would the ad agencies be?
If I had any other way of maintaining a social circle, I would. I would rather stick to email and phone text messaging with friends. Unfortunately those in my social circle often ignore texts and rarely check the email account the used to create a fascistbook account, nor use email on a daily basis. And ask them to use any other social site (e.g. myspace)? Their response is “get a fascistbook account”.
Fascistbook is infamous for shutting down and controlling accounts with “fake names”, i.e. transgender people who use their preferred names instead of their deadname. Even those who have legally changed their name (and let fb invade their privacy by presenting legal documents) often cannot get their accounts reactivated.