UK Hosts Theatrical Facebook Hearings On 'Fake News'… Undermined By Creating Fake News Itself

from the good-for-show,-not-good-for-truth dept

As you may have heard, the UK Parliament put on quite a show on Tuesday in what it claimed was an attempt to go after Facebook for its “fake news” problem. Of course, in the process, the hearings themselves created some fake news that undermined the entire point. To be clear, upfront, Facebook does have many issues that should be taken seriously. But this hearing did not get at those, and actually showed how, when political grandstanding is the focus, it’s quite easy to create “fake news” in the process. Still, boy, was that hearing theatrical. It was apparently the first time since 1933 that the UK Parliament had representatives from other countries participate in a hearing, and so there were nine other countries present, including Canada, France, Belgium, Brazil, Ireland, Latvia, Argentina and Singapore. On top of that, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made the bad decision of refusing to participate in the hearings, giving the Committee the opportunity for this classic photo op:

Facebook’s VP of policy, Richard Allan appeared instead, and despite even him admitting that it didn’t look great that Zuckerberg wasn’t in attendance, he is actually someone who would probably be better positioned to answer actual substantive questions about Facebook’s policies in these areas.

But that would only matter if the inquisitors were interested in discussing substantive policy matters. And it did not appear they did. They were there for the grandstanding, repeatedly blaming Facebook for reflecting back human nature and all its foibles. There were questions about what Facebook was doing to protect democracy — which I don’t think is actually Facebook’s job (indeed, seems like that’s the government’s job, no?). But, of course, the main highlight of the show was the organizer of the hearing, MP Damian Collins, who you’ll recall seized a bunch of documents, under questionable circumstances, from a US business exec who was visiting the UK.

The “documents” were supposed to be the star of the show, and Collins dropped the apparent big bombshell during the hearing: Facebook had, he claimed, actually been alerted to an attempt by Russian’s to mess with the site all the way back in October of 2014. As summarized by Wired:

Collins cut right to the heart of the documents during the hearing. In October of 2014, he said, a Facebook engineer notified the company that entities with Russian IP addresses had been using a Pinterest API to pull out three billion data points a day from the Facebook friends API. Collins wanted to know what happened after that information was brought forward.

“Was that reported or was it kept, as so often seems to be the case, kept within the family?” he asked.

Ooooh. Intrigue.

Except… it was bullshit. Facebook revealed the redacted emails in question and it showed that while an engineer had initially raised concerns that it appeared that Russian IP addresses were using the Pinterest API access to get lots of data, further investigation showed that he was wrong. The initial email says that the person is seeing calls from “Russian IPs” and is having the Site Integrity team investigate, though it’s quickly followed up with a note that “those might not have been Russian IPs after all, we are digging.”

Then, on the very same day — indeed, just a little over two hours after the initial alarm of Russian IPs — the person emails that it was a false alarm.

If you can’t see that, it says:

Ok, thinks are not as bad as they seemed, apologies for the trash. There was a series of unfortunate coincidences that made me think the worse.

1/ We verified that the endpoint has not been “leaked” and calls seem to be coming all from Pinterest servers.
2/ We verified that the volume of calls per day is actually around 6M successful and 40M failed due to invalid access.

In short, it wasn’t 3 billion data points and it wasn’t Russia. Also, it wasn’t abuse of the system. And yet, the way Collins raised the issue, he suggested that Facebook was aware that Russians had abused the API to access 3 billion data points and then kept it secret. In other words, Collins’ explanation of what happened was 100% incorrect and misleading. It was misinformation. Or, as some like to call it: fake news.

And while it will not be, this should be the lesson that the folks who held this hearing should learn: there are all sorts of ways to make incorrect claims. Some of them on purpose. Some of them by accident. Some of them because of confirmation bias of what you want to be true. And expecting Facebook to magically understand what is what… is insanity.

So, not that MP Damian Collins will respond to me (perhaps I should set up a dramatic photoshoot of an empty chair with his nameplate), but I’m wondering. Does he think Facebook should block all the stories reporting on his false claim about them supposedly “hiding” news of Russians abusing the API to extract 3 billion data points? Or would that, you know, be crazy?

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Comments on “UK Hosts Theatrical Facebook Hearings On 'Fake News'… Undermined By Creating Fake News Itself”

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G Ima Soo-Prize says:

Nothing worries you more than Truth of Silicon Valley emerging.

As I wrote Monday. Took you 3 days to come up with a slightly tricky slant.

You should be going "OOOH, YEAH! DISH THE DIRT!"

But instead you’re sneering / downplaying. As always.

Now, fanboys will claim that Techdirt / Masnick are often critical of Silicon Valley and its "surveillance capitalism", BUT NO. — Silicon Valley are commercial fronts for NSA / CIA. Always remember that Snowden said Google gives NSA "direct access". — I’M critical of it, always Masnick excuses / downplays when not cheering the stock rise and dividends from monetizing YOUR privacy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Nothing worries you more than Truth of Silicon Valley emerging.

Since Techdirt is so obviously a reeking cesspool of fake news, and site readers ignorant and ungrateful of all the wisdom you’ve bestowed on the community warning and educating TD readers of such, why do you even bother to keep coming back day after day, let alone for years on end? How long are you going to keep beating this dead horse?

ECA (profile) says:

Anyone for Shakespear??

“They were there for the grandstanding, repeatedly blaming Facebook for reflecting back human nature and all its foibles.”

AGREED.. Many sites on the net are reflections of those that use it..PERIOD..and if you let humans be HUMAN…we are all idiots.
Expecting the best of humans is like asking your dog to SIT, for the first time, and he STARES at you or walks away, or goes up and pisses on your leg..

HOW may persons THINK, that other persons UNDERSTAND THEIR LANGUAGE IF THEY RAISE THEIR VOICE??? Screaming ARE YOU DEAF just dont work..

WHAT is this…?
A bunch of parents, release their kids onto an open field… AND THINK they can control anything?
DEMOCRACY? is everyone saying everything..and the gov. trying to figure it out.

DEAR Gov. Are you worried about.. Who/what can undermine your sovereignty? unless someone can prove/show that your Gov. is stupid as hell.. I dont think there is much to worry about.
Unless they have records and pictures of you in the bathroom with a 12 year old kid(maybe not your grandson)..

Back on subject..
Fake news.
How long has it been around, and who uses it?
I can create a list, but it started when God created Man, and his brother. And only 1 women.
they created it when they made the bible, Jewish or Christian..
They created it when Man kind learned how to create WAR..(who won?)
There is still Bunches of FAKE news, and Fake history. But how to clean this crap up..

This is like finding Truth and/or cant have both most times.

Who is using/creating this??

Corps dont really like the internet, because of a few reasons..
“Those Stores/shops/Ebay/…/…/… ARE CHEAP AS HELL..”
“WE didnt think of it first..”
“We dint Force the Gov. to Stop it, we cant compete”
“Damn, they found our old tech, thats as good as what we sell now”

Politics uses it..
On news, in papers, on posters..Everywhere..
Lies, lies, fabrications, exaggerations, Finger pointing, and TONS more words to cover and expunge what you may see. hear..

Pick a Christian/Jewish/Muslim/../…; group/sect/…
When ever you hear, “I’m right they are Wrong” there seems to be a problem.

We start early, with all the dreams and fantasy we give our children..WE dont want to explain things to them that ?? shouldnt know? We dont know?? We shouldnt know..
Which tends to mean we fill them with BS, until we Think they are smart enough??
So, we raise idiots and never explain to them, anything, until its abit late…We dont train them to BE BE smart, TO BE ANYTHING…

And just Cause..there was a reason for the Civil was for the Jobs for the White North people.. The Slaves int he South made selling to France Cheap for the south, and no jobs in the North.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'What a lovely trap you've set, think I'll NOT step in it.'

On top of that, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made the bad decision of refusing to participate in the hearings, giving the Committee the opportunity for this classic photo op:

On the contrary, I’d say he did the right thing in refusing to play along with the farce. They didn’t want him there to answer honest questions, they wanted him there for purely PR purposes where they could ask stupid and/or misleading questions and then play ‘gotcha’ if he answered one ‘wrong’ or admitted that he didn’t know offhand.

Sure refusing to go allowed them to get an idiotic ‘but where’s Mark?’ photo, but compared to being grilled for the entire thing and the pitfalls he’d have faced during that I’d say he came out much better refusing to show.

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