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Saturday 29 September 2018

Facebook Censorship Shame

For Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, life may be excellent, what with all those billions sloshing around, and so many opportunities to indulge in yet another pointless exhibition of conspicuous consumption. But the deficiencies of the product which has generated those ill-gotten gains keep on being exposed. And what is worse, Facebook gives the impression of not wanting the world to know about them.
As the BBC has reported, “Facebook says almost 50 million of its users were left exposed by a security flaw … The company said attackers were able to exploit a vulnerability in a feature known as ‘View As’ to gain control of people's accounts … The breach was discovered on Tuesday, Facebook said, and it has informed police … Users that had potentially been affected were prompted to re-log-in on Friday”.

There had been a massive data breach, affecting 50 million Facebook users. But, although it had been discovered last Tuesday, it was only three days later that those users found out about it. It might have been thought that matters could not get worse for the company - but get worse they did, as accusations of censorship were made.
As TechCrunch has told, “Some users are reporting that they are unable to post today’s big story about a security breach affecting 50 million Facebook users. The issue appears to only affect particular stories from certain outlets, at this time one story from The Guardian and one from the Associated Press, both reputable press outlets”.
There was more. “When going to share the story to their news feed, some users, including members of the staff here at TechCrunch who were able to replicate the bug, were met with the following error message which prevented them from sharing the story … According to the message, Facebook is flagging the stories as spam due to how widely they are being shared or as the message puts it, the system’s observation that ‘a lot of people are posting the same content.’” The problem was later “resolved”.
But, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here. One, as Paul-Olivier Dehaye has pointed out, “So there the hack has the potential to hit all of those 50M users' friends. Even when estimated conservatively, that must include entire countries, and almost certainly the entire US”. It’s not just about 50 million users, but a lot more. And they sat on it for days.
And two, as the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr put it after the “accidental” censorship of the Guardian and AP, “Facebook will say ‘this is an AI glitch’. And it probably is. (IS IT?) But just think about future consequences. It doesn't matter if it's Facebook's decision...or Facebook's AI's decision. It's still power. It's still chilling”.
Dead right it is: Facebook has the power to censor news that is inconvenient to Facebook. It has around two billion active accounts. So many in the developed world use it. And when it wants to, it can censor what is supposed to be guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Yet some of our popular press - hello Murdoch mafiosi, I’m looking at you - declined to even mention this on their front pages. And that after all the “press freedom” whining.

Facebook’s power of censorship should worry us all. This is a beast out of control.
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jpkeates said...

The amendment prohibits the US government from censorship, it wouldn't prevent Facebook from censoring anything (even assuming Facebook is part of the "press" which it would probably dispute).

More to the point, the first amendment is academic outside the USA. Like "freedom of speech" its use makes no sense in the UK.

Unknown said...

The thing is, you have people demanding big tech companies filter content posted by users but then they get upset when an algorithm gets it wrong. AI is just not capable of distinguishing the nuances of content, and possibly never will be.

As to the First Amendment...

A: It only applies to the US.
B: It only really means that the US government will not interfere - private companies have every right to decide what is or isn't posted on their platform. This has been tested in court many times.

Anonymous said...

And yet in other articles you support censorship on social media, oh sorry censorship of people and views you hate, carry on!

Anonymous said...

Why the surprise?

Tor, for instance, is run by US Navy Intelligence.

Anybody using Facebook and Twitter is open to abuse and hacking.

State "intelligence" agencies have enormous computer power at their beck and call. They can and do hack anybody and anything they choose. The professional hacker in Britain is most likely to be some bespectacled weedy geek from Oxbridge with a social chip on his/her shoulder.

Tim Fenton said...


No, I do not advocate censorship.

But feel free to give some examples.

Anonymous said...

": Ms Waters abused the Twitter T&Cs and was banned as a result. Just rejoice at that news."

So not only do you advocate censorship, you rejoice in it! I'll leave that there . .. ...

Tim Fenton said...


Rejoicing in the stupidity of someone who breaks the Twitter T&Cs, despite being warned, is not advocating censorship. Ms Waters was not censored. She broke the rules and got banned from the platform.

What the Facebook algorithms appear to have done is to stop its users finding out the news about its own data breach. That is censorship, and worryingly so.

There is a difference here.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:26 – it is not censorship of people and views we hate – it is views that are aggressively offensive to the majority and invariably pick on a minority.

Anon 14:45 – Twitter is not a company that is solely out to encourage the world to tell us exactly how things should be, no matter your view; it is there with its metaphorical rod of iron laying down its own interpretation of the law and making and taking it into its own hands.
For example: you may ignore the no smoking signs in the street, in the pub or on the train but do not be surprised if, when you are told not to smoke in my house, you find on lighting up that you have had a bucket of water tipped over your head and my own broomstick beating you around the head to painfully encourage you to get off my property.
If there is censorship that gets you banned on Twitter then, being their ‘home’, they are fully permitted to make the rules and if you do not abide by those rules then they will kick you out. If you don’t like it then start your own variation, but do not be surprised if everyone and their dog ignores it due to the fact that some fools take no notice of the rules you set in place and wish everyone to adhere to...