White House Asked Google & Facebook To Change Their Algorithms To Fight ISIS; Both Said No

from the overreaction dept

Earlier this year, we wrote about how ridiculous the federal government’s view of Silicon Valley seemed to be, in that they had this weird belief that by nerding a little harder, we could somehow “disrupt” ISIS. The thinking seemed confused, and somewhat typical of people who don’t understand technology or how Silicon Valley works. It’s “magic wand” thinking. People who don’t understand technology tend to view technology as a sort of magic — and thus, they assume it can do anything. And, right now, a bunch of those people in the White House want that magic wand to make ISIS disappear from the Internet.

Buzzfeed’s Sheera Frenkel has a great detailed report looking “inside” the administration’s attempt to have Silicon Valley help in the fight against ISIS. The main focus of a (not very secret) meeting held on Wednesday seemed to be entirely about fighting ISIS propaganda with American propaganda. As if that ever works. And, from the sound of it, the meeting was equally clueless about why ISIS propaganda is effective, while American propaganda flops.

?They wanted to figure out how to fight ISIS online, how to understand the psychology of those who support ISIS, and they invited almost no one who speaks for those of us in the Arab world, and from Arab communities, who have everything to lose from ISIS? growing popularity,? said one Arab attendee, who estimated that less than 10% of the attendants were of Middle Eastern descent. ?They don?t understand this community. That has been proven time and time again with their tone deaf messages. Why hold an event like this where there are ten white men outnumbering every Arab??

Instead of taking on the real challenges and understanding why ISIS propaganda is effective (or even recognizing that it’s likely not nearly as effective as they fear), the White House officials went for the pointless superficial plan: maybe try to make Google and Facebook change their algorithms to play up anti-ISIS stuff and play down pro-ISIS stuff. This is a profoundly ignorant idea, and thankfully one that both companies told the White House was not in the realm of reasonable:

Tech executives who have met with the Pentagon team told BuzzFeed News that some of their requests have been ?jarring.? In at least one case, the Pentagon spoke with several companies ? who asked not to be named as a condition of discussing the meeting with BuzzFeed News ? about tweaking their algorithms to promote certain types of content. Both Google and Facebook have made it clear that they would not make changes to their algorithms to bury results supportive of ISIS.

?That?s something that is always brought up in meetings. And it shows how little they understand us,? said the Google representative. ?This is a pandora?s box we won?t open, because if we answer a request by the U.S. government to feature one search result over another what?s to stop other countries from requesting the same? What?s to stop each country from tailoring the search results of their citizens to their agenda? It?s not a path we are willing to explore.?

Of course, to be fair, Google already cracked open that Pandora’s box when it allowed its search results to be impacted by copyright takedown requests.

Even so, as the quote above notes, even suggesting this to companies is profoundly pointless. Not only is it a bad idea for the precedent it sets, it’s unlikely to work at all. It’s magic wand thinking of desperate people who don’t want to actually confront the real reasons why ISIS has been successful.

Oh, and of course, the decision to force Apple to hack into the iPhone isn’t helping matters at all if the federal government wants Silicon Valley to “work” with the government on this issue.

?It?s like, you?ve been asked to partner up and dance with the bully at school who keeps trying to trip you in the hallways,? one attendee told BuzzFeed News after the event. ?And even though you want to learn to dance there isn?t a lot of trust to build on.?

An attendee from the government side told BuzzFeed News by phone, ?We need help, but it?s like, one part of government keeps fucking this up for other parts of government. We can?t seem to get it right.?

We keep hearing from the White House how Silicon Valley has to stop treating the government like an adversary, and the only proper response to that needs to be: you first.

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Companies: facebook, google

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Comments on “White House Asked Google & Facebook To Change Their Algorithms To Fight ISIS; Both Said No”

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40 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Government efforts in a nutshell

An attendee from the government side told BuzzFeed News by phone, “We need help, but it’s like, one part of government keeps fucking this up for other parts of government. We can’t seem to get it right.”

You’ve got one part of the government insisting that torture is a horrendous crime and never excusable… and then another agency engages in it and completely guts their ability to effectively protest against the practice.

You’ve got one part of the government saying that slavery and murder is not acceptable, ever… and then another agency comes by and shrugs both off in the name of a ‘trade’ agreement.

One agency insisting that encryption is a valuable thing and protects the public from criminals… and then another agency(or even the same one) comes along and insists that no, only criminals are protected by encryption, and it’s a terrible thing that risks the public.

Hard to get much done when your ‘co-workers’ are sabotaging your efforts left and right like that, I pity the handful of honest government workers in that position, as it can’t be easy.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Government efforts in a nutshell

It’s one thing to get mixed up on something minor, but ‘Torture is bad’ for example is the sort of thing you’d think wouldn’t come up in that situation, with all parties agreeing that yes, torture is indeed bad.

It’s understandable that within a large government(or any group really) you’d have people taking opposing stances and working at odds with each other, but to screw up the big stuff, the really important stuff… that takes a stunning level of incompetence and/or idiocy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Government efforts in a nutshell

Nope, just evil & agenda’s.

Government is nothing but one huge agenda driven machine and it will never be anything other than.

When government does something, it was intentional. People keep trotting out that line… never assume malice when stupidity will suffice. When it comes to government you should always assume malice, because it is the only way to help beat back the corruption that shows up when people accept it for just being stupidity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Government efforts in a nutshell

It’s almost as if the government isn’t one monolithic entity moving in concert, but rather a million individuals each with and pushing their own agenda for their own gain…

It’s almost as if there’s no hierarchy in the government. No “Office of the President” or anything like that. Like individuals in the government can do what ever the hell they want with no central control. Yeah, I see what you mean.

Anonymous Coward says:

Assumed monopoly

What’s up with US gov. mentality of the assumed monopoly over key technologies (encryption, search/feed algorithms, drones)? They never seem to realize that other govs can use it to and behave like this will always be the case.

Remember how the US gov behaved during the brief period of atomic bomb monopoly and how quickly that behavior changed when the monopoly was gone? Yeah.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Assumed monopoly

They still behave like that towards countries without access to nukes. hence the bombing civilians with drone strikes and targeting hospitals with airstrikes. The whole “they hate our freedoms being code for they hate being bombed into oblivion without a declaration of war, just constant surprise attacks”

Rekrul says:

The thinking seemed confused, and somewhat typical of people who don’t understand technology or how Silicon Valley works. It’s “magic wand” thinking. People who don’t understand technology tend to view technology as a sort of magic — and thus, they assume it can do anything.

The lack of understanding about technology cuts both ways. There are many things that people assume are impossible simply because the existing software doesn’t allow it.

For example, the maximum key repeat speed in Windows XP is quite slow. All the advice on the net says that you can speed it up by editing the registry, but you HAVE to enable FilterKeys, otherwise Windows will ignore the registry settings. Yet the key repeat speed is a limit built into Windows. If one knew how to patch Windows to change this limit, you could speed up the key repeat speed without using FilterKeys.

People are so used to working within the limitations of the existing software that they forget that many software limitations are artificial.

Why don’t I want to use FilterKeys? When I enabled it, it had some undesirable effects on my system (it appeared to freeze on the desktop for a fairly long time while booting).

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:

You’re still using Windows XP? I hope you’re not on the internet with that box.

Because even though there are still plenty of antivirus programs and anti-malware programs for XP (MS themselves even still provides a monthly download of the Malicious Software Removal Tool), without the ever watchful gaze of the almighty Microsoft, no computer on the planet can be trusted.

How did anyone ever function before the sainted Microsoft had a direct line into everyone’s system???

Anonymous Coward says:

Smoke and mirrors

Who needs to filter everyone’s search results when you can use Facebook and Google’s massive database of personal information to target standard terrorist profiles? Photos tagged by facial recognition, friends, likes, posts, browsing history, etc.

There’s no fourth amendment protection since it’s all third party data.

sigalrm (profile) says:

Re: Smoke and mirrors

Who needs to filter everyone’s search results when you can use Facebook and Google’s massive database of personal information to target standard terrorist profiles? Photos tagged by facial recognition, friends, likes, posts, browsing history, etc.

There’s no fourth amendment protection since it’s all third party data.

technically correct, it’s all subject to the 3rd party doctrine…If Facebook and Google were willing to give it up voluntarily. Which they aren’t.

Unlike a cell phone companies CSLI data, which has value in terms of troubleshooting, diagnostics, future cell site placement, etc but otherwise isn’t otherwise of particular interest to them. So they’ll hand it over to law enforcement if asked nicely.

The information you list for Facebook and Google is one of their primary sources of income. It has immense commercial value to them, and they protect it accordingly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course, to be fair, Google already cracked open that Pandora’s box when it allowed its search results to be impacted by copyright takedown requests.

So how long before the White House and government officials get the idea that asking didn’t work so they will try the DMCA route?

Because often a question leads to the mental workings of the questioner, one has to ask this as a valid question. Not because it is what the DMCA is for but rather because of the results of one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Semi off topic, but close. Why does the US care about ISIS? Serious question here. Why is ISIS our problem? If we were not fighting them, would they bother with the US? Iran is fighting ISIS (and has a lot more to fear from them than we do.) We don’t like Iran, why would we want to fight someone who is fighting Iran?

Why are we involved at all with ISIS? There are lots of bad groups out in the world that we are not fighting. Why fight ISIS and not them? Why fight any at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Why are we involved at all with ISIS?

Bill Clinton said, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” That was a pretty famous saying, or an infamous one —depending on your perspective— so it got repeated a lot. A whole lot. When it got repeated, a lot of times the quotes got dropped, and we wound up with just “is is”. Then, I’m not sure which came first and which came second, but the space got pushed out and it got transmogrified with ALL CAPS…

The rest, as they say, is history.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The US government created, trained supported and funded ISIS solely to fight against Assad in Syria. Much like how Al qeada was created to fight against the soviets in afghanistan. IT has turned out the exact same way shockingly.

Obama had to waive a provision that made it illegal for the white house to provide support to terrorists groups just recently. can’t have what you have been doing illegaly for years come out, unless of course you make it legal.

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/updated-obama-waives-ban-on-arming-terrorists-to-allow-aid-to-syrian-opposition/article/2535885

aristotletalks (user link) says:

really?

Us propaganda doesn’t work, i couldn`t help myself from stop reading. Frankly i’m too tired to respond properly, especially reading the comments like why should you even fight isis.. or wait help other people? As if the right decission would be to drop american foreign policy and turn your back when for once you’re actually needed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Here is a crazy thought maybe have the the white house stop rewriting laws that makes them funding ISIS legal. Simply stop funding, supporting and training ISIS related groups to combat ASSAD in the hopes they will not turn on their American handlers.

Of course that would remove the excuses they use about removing people’s rights in order to fight the terrorism they created.

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