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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