To the best of my knowledge I have never promised Facebook anything or accepted any of Facebook’s Terms of Service or acknowledged Facebook’s “Rights and Responsibilities.” But just because I have been uninterested in belonging to Facebook doesn’t mean Facebook has been uninterested in subsuming me (and all other humans on our planet) in its grand social project. (See Pericles of Athens: “just because you are not interested in politics does not mean politics is not interested in you.”)
Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, posted an “update on information operations on Facebook” yesterday. Stamos acknowledges that Russian interference in last year’s election included about $100,000 worth of Facebook ads (which I assume is the tip of the iceberg). He also acknowledges that “we know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform,” but he does not yield the high ground, asserting that “we believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse, and require advertisers on our platform to follow both our policies and all applicable laws.” OK, Mr. Stamos, let’s back it up a bit. You “require”? I think you didn’t. I think you and Mark Zuckerberg did not make that “requirement” a high enough priority. I am glad to hear that Facebook is “exploring several new improvement to [y]our systems for keeping inauthentic accounts and activity off” Facebook. If you are serious about spending some real money to keep Russian troll farms away from our next election, that’s great. I suspect that you and Mr. Zuckerberg did not do enough to protect our election last year because of a particular blind spot: you feel overregulated. You are mistaken. We can and should debate how to implement net neutrality and how to keep the internet and social media from becoming even more dystopian than current trends portend. But the bias of Silicon Valley that “we are a whole lot smarter than government, let alone the masses, and the world is best off when we pay minimal taxes because we will choose philanthropic projects that are far better than what government would come up with.” Maybe that’s partly true, but Silicon Valley’s success in evading regulations (and Congressional paralysis and tech illiteracy, to be fair) led to a disastrous outcome last year. I am not referring to the victory of Trump so much as the grossly suboptimal investment in real time in technologies and human-engineer-power that could have kept trolls, bots, and other “inauthentic” activity at bay. Does your “suboptimalness” bother you yet, Mr. Zuckerberg? Do you have the “bandwidth” to deal with the serious problem on your hands? Are you willing, despite continuing underregulation of your remarkably profitable enterprise, to look at a picture that is possibly even bigger than the glorious philanthropic initiatives you have doubtless planned? Do you actually have enough social imagination to lead Facebook where it needs to go?