Paved With Good Intentions


Full disclosure: I feel this story to be a huge nothing burger. I should say, I feel its contents to be sometimes overblown, sometimes misleading and at other points utterly meaningless. The story itself, though, may be one of the most important of my lifetime and could affect the future as far as the eye can see; not for its revelations but its utility.

The so-called Facebook whistleblower is making a lot of friends on Capitol Hill. And she’s a natural for the part — not only due to her talent for preparing congressional testimony at a moment’s notice, but because she’s one of them. Frances Haugen, who spent her time at Facebook censoring factual information about the corruption of the Biden family during the 2020 campaign, is now concerned that the platform has gone too far. But fear not, she has the answer — government oversight.

It should be no surprise, then, that the “Facebook papers” come to us in the form of disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress, fully redacted by Haugen’s legal counsel. And they have received plenty of attention. A consortium of 17 US news organizations has reviewed the redacted versions of the documents received by Congress, certainly more than reviewed the incriminating communications of the president’s son. Whatever dirt there is to be had, one can be assured it’s been excavated.

For its part, Facebook has pushed back on Haugen’s assertions, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg issuing a 1,300-word statement suggesting that the documents are cherry picked to present a misleading narrative about the company. It is with immense pain and torment that I acknowledge the potential truth of his statement.

All the same, there are legitimate problems that have been amplified by this data dump. There are also misleading narratives. We’ll touch on the main points before exploring the big picture.

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Human Trafficking

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This is perhaps the most serious of the issues raised. The headline is that Facebook has known about human traffickers using its platform since 2018, although I would challenge that assertion. Common sense would lead one to suspect that traffickers have taken advantage of Facebook for quite some time, thus it’s hard to imagine Facebook itself wasn’t aware of this issue. But for documentary purposes, an investigation was done in 2019 revealing as much.

According to one internal report from September 2019, a Facebook investigation found that “our platform enables all three stages of the human exploitation lifecycle (recruitment, facilitation, exploitation) via real-world networks. … The traffickers, recruiters and facilitators from these ‘agencies’ used FB [Facebook] profiles, IG [Instagram] profiles, Pages, Messenger and WhatsApp.”

Other documents chronicled how Facebook researchers had flagged and removed Instagram accounts purporting to offer domestic workers for sale, and outlined a variety of steps the company has taken to address the problem, including removing certain hashtags. Sadly, accounts offering shady domestic worker services continue to thrive, although many are removed on a daily basis. In the current game of whack-a-mole, the moles reproduce faster than the hammer can move. Artificial Intelligence may change that in the future, but it is certainly a problem for now.

While this is absolutely a serious issue that must be treated as such, there is not much of a ‘revelation’ to be had here, unless confirmation of rampant human trafficking could be considered revelatory. Facebook needs to step up its efforts to eradicate human trafficking from its platform completely. Unfortunately, criminals can be clever, especially when there is a lot of money to be made. This game of cat and mouse will continue for the foreseeable future.

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More Censorship Needed….Everywhere!

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Chief among Haugen’s complaints about Facebook is their shortage of censors worldwide.

Internal Facebook documents and research shared as part of Haugen’s disclosures highlight gaps in Facebook’s ability to prevent “hate speech” and “misinformation” in countries such as Myanmar, Afghanistan, India, Ethiopia and much of the Middle East, where coverage of many local languages is inadequate. Those words have been put into quotations because Facebook has not demonstrated itself to be an objective arbiter of factual information, thus its definitions of “hate speech” and “misinformation” cannot be taken at face value.

By the numbers: Facebook’s moderation teams are comprised of 15,000 people who review content in more than 70 languages working in more than 20 locations around the world. Of course, Facebook supports more than 100 different languages globally, so there are 30 remaining languages who have yet to be graced with Ms. Haugen’s supreme informational wisdom.

For example, in India, which represents Facebook’s largest user base, Facebook for several years did not have “hate speech classifiers” for Hindi or Bengali, two of the country’s most popular languages spoken collectively by more than 600 million people in India. In an internal presentation on anti-Muslim hate speech, Facebook researchers wrote, “Our lack of Hindi and Bengali classifiers means much of this content is never flagged or actioned.”

Fear not, though. Hindi was added in 2018, Bengali in 2020 and Tamil and Urdu just this year. There will be no Muslim feelings hurt in those languages.

The fact is, Facebook has the most robust “hate speech” response system in the world, as anyone who has stated a politically incorrect fact on their platform knows well. Haugen’s chief complaint seems to be that Facebook has yet to cover the entire globe with overgrown hall monitors.

Patience, Frances. They’ll get there.

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Impact on Teenage Mental Health

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This is another topic that demands attention. Much like Big Tobacco decades ago, Facebook appears to be hiding and/or ignoring their own knowledge of the damage caused by their product. But while free people are often free to do self-destructive things in a free country (certainly we don’t need Facebook to alert us that social media addiction is unhealthy), effects on children cannot be an internal matter. Furthermore, when a company chooses to target younger people despite knowledge of harm, it’s in the public interest to learn of their aims. To that extent, Haugen has done a worthy public service.

According to internal documents, Facebook has actively worked to expand the size of its young adult audience even as internal research suggests its platforms, particularly Instagram, can have a negative effect on their mental health and well-being. The societal cost of social media is a 21st century form of toxic slime, and Facebook would like to keep dumping it without repercussions. And for the same reason any other company would like to quietly dump toxic waste: the bottom line.

In addition to a three-pronged strategy aimed at having young adults “choose Facebook as their preferred platform for connecting to the people and interests they care about,” the company focused on a variety of strategies to “resonate and win with young people.” These included “fundamental design & navigation changes to promote feeing close and entertained,” as well as continuing research to “focus on youth well-being and integrity efforts.”

However, Facebook’s internal research, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, claims Facebook’s platforms “make body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.” Its research also found that “13.5% of teen girls on Instagram say the platform makes thoughts of ‘Suicide and Self Injury’ worse” and 17% say the platform, which Facebook owns, makes “Eating Issues” such as anorexia worse.

How many teens have committed suicide with the help of social media vs those dead from COVID-19? Does anyone doubt that social media has done more harm to kids than the virus? If we’re serious about protecting kids, this seems a worthy avenue of investigation.

Spread of Misinformation

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This is the bread and butter of Haugen’s crusade. It’s what she and her allies in Congress care about more than anything: the ability to declare fact and fiction for the masses.

For those who have managed not to be in a coma since January, it’s clear that the primary propaganda tool of the would-be tyrants on Capitol Hill and their partners in legacy media is the boogeyman Jan. 6 “insurrectionist.” The Swamp is milking the event for all it’s worth, shamelessly labeling everyday Americans as “domestic terrorists.”

Author’s reminder: There were no casualties on Jan. 6. There weren’t even any firearms, for that matter.

Yet this is the predictable catalyst for those whose livelihoods depend on the fiction that the fed-up taxpayer poses more of a threat than the corrupt establishment against which he is rebelling. But I suppose it’s easier to chalk up the Jan. 6th protest to misinformation on Facebook, certainly easier than addressing the disconnect between the People and their leaders.

In one SEC disclosure, Haugen alleges “Facebook misled investors and the public about its role perpetuating misinformation and violent extremism relating to the 2020 election and January 6th insurrection.”

One of the documents details a June 2019 study called “Carol’s Journey to QAnon,” designed to see what pages and groups Facebook’s algorithms would promote to an account designed to look like it was run by a 41-year-old conservative mom named Carol Smith. After “Carol” followed verified pages for conservative figures such as Fox News and Donald Trump, it took just two days for Facebook’s algorithm to recommend she follow a QAnon page.

Meanwhile, Facebook responded by assuring everyone that the study was instrumental in censoring Qanon off of the platform, which makes everything okay.

“While this was a study of one hypothetical user, it is a perfect example of research the company does to improve our systems and helped inform our decision to remove QAnon from the platform,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

So stop worrying, Frances! You’re on the same censorious team, here.

Another document, entitled “Stop the Steal and Patriot Party: The Growth and Mitigation of an Adversarial Harmful Movement,” presents an analysis conducted after January 6th suggesting Facebook could have done more to stop the spread of the “Stop the Steal” movement, which is seen as facilitator of the Capitol riots. Or put another way: the swell of discontent among the populace was not remedied with government-adjacent propaganda. Better work on that, I suppose.

There are also “leaked” comments from some Facebook employees on January 6 suggesting the company might have had some culpability in what happened by not moving more quickly to halt the growth of Stop the Steal groups.

Stop the presses: left-wing moderators are angry that Trump supporters were not sufficiently silenced so as to prevent organization.

In response to the so-called Jan 6. documents, Facebook sounded downright conservative, preaching personal accountability in a matter that would please the most ardent Reaganite:

“The responsibility for the violence that occurred on January 6 lies with those who attacked our Capitol and those who encouraged them.”

Facebook is right in this instance. There are laws against vandalism, trespassing into private offices, etc. And there are laws against inciting riots, too, assuming that’s what is actually being said and not a biased media interpretation of a statement. The problem is that the mere mention of Qanon is being treated as incitement.

Regardless of one’s feelings about Qanon–I am not a fan–the type of blanket censorship applied to that movement poses a risk to future movements who dare to challenge official narratives. That imbalance of informational power must be resisted at every turn, as it creates the proverbial Ministry of Truth that allows government to define the very reality around you, then govern you according to it.

It’s a sweet deal for the government, not so much for you.

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In Conclusion

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There are many, many problems with Facebook, problems from which I am not immune. The ability of human traffickers to use the platform, the mental health effects on children (and adults, for that matter) and the general tribalism it promotes are cancers to our society. And those are the minor issues.

Conspicuously absent from Ms. Haugen’s revelatory dump was any mention of the outsized informational power wielded by Facebook. Ironically enough, she’s demonstrating how that power is abused with the selective nature of her “leaks.” Haugen does not mention her own role in censoring perfectly factual information that subsequent studies have shown to have been meaningful among a significant number of voters.

There is no ‘leak’ of studies or conversations among employees about the implications of a social media oligarchy having the power to decimate the megaphone of the leader of the free world. That’s because Facebook’s power isn’t the problem, only the hands in which it lies. The current regime, as bad as they are, still allow the Right to congregate on their platform, albeit with censorship and slander following us at every turn.

Haugen and those aiding her mission are very clever. Under the pretense of whistleblowing or taking on “the man,” Haugen and her crew are able to smuggle more censorship into our discourse with the unalarming scent of legitimate issues. Who doesn’t want to lower the youth suicide rate, after all?

But it cannot be ignored that Haugen’s ‘whistleblowing’ just happens to serve to empower people like herself. There is no talk of the conflict of interest Facebook has in donating hundreds of millions of dollars to leftist political organizations all the while deciding which campaign dirt is allowed to be circulated on its platform. There is no talk of the wildly uneven moderation and regulation of conservative content. Haugen never thought to ponder the dangers of one side of the ideological spectrum taking the world’s biggest informational depository to itself.

This story is far more important than the sum of its parts. If this smuggle-through-customs censorship is successful, our very ability to spread truth will be under existential threat. The underlying theme of Haugen’s crusade is that Facebook is not capable of regulating itself, thereby implying the need for (and at times outright demanding) government intervention.

By all means, let’s take Facebook to task. Let’s repeal Section 230 once and for all so they can stop claiming to be a platform while acting as a publisher. But whatever we do, government must at no time be allowed to determine what information is fit for consumption. Our Founders wanted a strong First Amendment for this very reason. Government does not have a stellar record of making known inconvenient information about itself, be it ours or any other government throughout the whole of human history.

We must defeat corporate tyranny organically. Government tyranny is no remedy. The cure must not be worse than the disease.

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treysoldier

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2 thoughts on “Paved With Good Intentions

  1. You forgot Mrs. Babbitt,you forgot the lady whose time I can’t find who was trampled by people knocked down a stair tower by Capitol police.

    1. This wasn’t about the Jan 6 riot. It was about the Facebook Papers.

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