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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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Feb 2016 @ 7:51am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 9:34am

      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...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 29 Feb 2016 @ 9:43am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 10:13am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 12:06pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 1 Mar 2016 @ 5:55am

          Re: Re: Re: Government efforts in a nutshell

          The trouble with the President is he's a lame duck, not a king. There's only so much he can get done when Congress won't cooperate.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    RD, 29 Feb 2016 @ 9:42am

    Clueless Wonders

    Do any of the Clueless Wonders in Washington realize that the most significant source of propaganda about ISIS comes from themselves?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 1:05pm

      Re: Clueless Wonders

      Also that all the meddleing in the middle east by the US government is what has prompted a lot of backlash too. You have the peace talking side of the government being undercut by the espionage side of the house.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 9:55am

    ...the White House want that magic wand to make ISIS disappear from the Internet.

    Is that a euphemism for making ISIS disappear from the face of the earth? Someone please tell them one does not equal the other (in a way they might comprehend, a tough assignment I know).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Digitari, 29 Feb 2016 @ 10:18am

      Re: ...the White House want that magic wand to make ISIS disappear from the Internet.

      you mean the delete key really doesn't work?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 29 Feb 2016 @ 12:52pm

        Re: Re: ...the White House want that magic wand to make ISIS disappear from the Internet.

        you mean the delete key really doesn't work?

        They're looking for the DoWhatIMean key.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    teknosapien (profile), 29 Feb 2016 @ 10:12am

    How did they do it before

    This just has me wondering where the $598.5 billion budget from last year was spent on.
    we dump so much money into the war machine and they have to go to private industry to help them.
    Maybe the wrong people are in charge?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 10:13am

    Pentagon, White House, and Intelligence Community officials took a break from their multi-decade campaign of laying to waste to entire regions of the Middle East last Wednesday to ask for Silicon Valley's help in understanding what could possibly be the reason those terrorists hate our freedoms so much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 10:15am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 10:28am

      Correlation vs Causation

      Arrogance = Blindness

      or

      Arrogance = Deafness

      or

      Arrogance = Blindness + Deafness

      or, is it the other way around?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2016 @ 6:50am

      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"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 29 Feb 2016 @ 10:23am

    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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 12:11pm

      Re:

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

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 12:55pm

        Re: Re:

        I hope you're not on the internet with that box.
        Why? Who cares? The NSA has taken over network administration. That means NSA is responsible for backups, patching, and upgrades.

        Takes a load off everyone else's shoulders. Your tax dollars at work!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rekrul, 1 Mar 2016 @ 7:08pm

        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???

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tom Mink (profile), 29 Feb 2016 @ 10:34am

    Weird Science

    I'm waiting for the previously heavily redacted document to leak that features a postscript from senior policymakers requesting that tech companies provide the algorithm to generate a 1980s Kelly LeBrock

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 11:32am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sigalrm (profile), 29 Feb 2016 @ 4:25pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 12:03pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 12:47pm

    White House loves terrorism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Groaker (profile), 29 Feb 2016 @ 1:18pm

    To most people the Internet is magic -- and we all know that magic can do anything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 1:48pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 2:00pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sigalrm (profile), 29 Feb 2016 @ 4:06pm

      Re:

      We have always been at war with ISIS...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2016 @ 7:01am

      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-t o-syrian-opposition/article/2535885

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2016 @ 2:36pm

    The 9 most terrifying words in the English language are

    "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    aristotletalks, 29 Feb 2016 @ 4:51pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2016 @ 2:19am

    "...stop treating the government like an adversary..."

    Neither Silicon Valley nor any of the rest of us should adopt *that* notion any time soon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 1 Mar 2016 @ 4:14am

    Threat-level?

    When a `terrorist' can be thwarted by Facebook's or Google's algorhythm, he is incapable of posing a threat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2016 @ 6:03am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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