Has Facebook Merely Been Exploited By Our Enemies? Or Is Facebook Itself The Real Enemy?

from the everything's-turning-up-facebook dept

Imagine that you're a new-media entrepreneur in Europe a few centuries back, and you come up with the idea of using moveable type in your printing press to make it easier and cheaper to produce more copies of books. If there are any would-be media critics in Europe taking note of your technological innovation, some will be optimists. The optimists will predict that cheap books will hasten the spread of knowledge and maybe even fuel a Renaissance of intellectual inquiry. They'll predict the rise of newspapers, perhaps, and anticipate increased solidarity of the citizenry thanks to shared information and shared culture.

Others will be pessimists—they'll foresee that the cheap spread of printed information will undermine institutions, will lead to doubts about the expertise of secular and religious leaders (who are, after all, better educated and better trained to handle the information that's now finding its way into ordinary people's hands). The pessimists will guess, quite reasonably, that cheap printing will lead to more publication of false information, heretical theories, and disruptive doctrines, which in turn may lead, ultimately, to destructive revolutions and religious schisms. The gloomiest pessimists will see, in cheap printing and later in the cheapness of paper itself—making it possible for all sorts of "fake news" to be spread--the sources of centuries of strife and division. And because the pain of the bad outcomes of cheap books is sharper and more attention-grabbing than contemplation of the long-term benefits of having most of the population know how to read, the gloomiest pessimists will seem to many to possess the more clear-eyed vision of the present and of the future. (Spoiler alert: both the optimists and the pessimists were right.)

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and this is just where we're finding ourselves when we look at public discussion and public policy centering on the internet, digital technologies, and social media. Two recent books written in the aftermath of recent revelations about mischievous and malicious exploitation of social-media platforms—especially Facebook and Twitter—exemplify this zeitgeist in different ways. And although both of these books are filled with valuable information and insights, they also yield (in different ways) to the temptation to see social media as the source of more harm than good. Which leaves me wanting very much both to praise what's great in these two books (which I read back-to-back) and to criticize them where I think they've gone too far over to the Dark Side.

The first book is Clint Watts's MESSING WITH THE ENEMY: SURVIVING IN A SOCIAL MEDIA WORLD OF HACKERS, TERRORISTS, RUSSIANS, AND FAKE NEWS. Watts is a West Point graduate and former FBI agent who's an expert on today's information warfare, including efforts by state actors (notably Russia) and non-state actors (notably Al Qaeda and ISIS) to exploit social media both to confound enemies and to recruit and inspire allies. I first heard of the book when I attended a conference at Stanford this spring where Watts—who has testified several times on these issues—was a presenter. His presentation was an eye-opening, erasing whatever lingering doubt I might have had about the scope and organization of those who want to use today's social media for malicious or destructive ends.

In MESSING WITH THE ENEMY Watts relates in a bracing yet matter-of-fact tone not only his substantive knowledge as a researcher and expert in social-media information warfare but also his first-person experiences in engaging with foreign terrorists active on social-media platforms and in being harassed by terrorists (mostly virtually) for challenging them in public exchanges. "The internet brought people together," Watts writes, "but today social media is tearing everyone apart." He notes the irony of social media's receiving premature and overgenerous credit for democratic movements against various dictatorships but later being exploited as platforms for anti-democratic and terrorist initiatives:

"Not long after many across the world applauded Facebook for toppling dictators during the Arab Spring revolutions of 2010 and 2011, it proved to be a propaganda platform and operational communications network for the largest terrorist mobilization in world history, bringing tens of thousands of foreign fighters under the Islamic State's banner in Syria and Iraq."

And it wasn't just non-state terrorists who learned quickly how to leverage social-media platforms; an increasingly activist and ambitious Russia, under the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, did so as well. Watts argues persuasively that Russia not only assisted and sponsored relatively inexpensive disinformation and propaganda campaigns using the social-media platforms to encourage divisiveness and lack of faith in government institutions (most successfully with the Brexit vote and the 2016 American elections) but also actively supported the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computer network which led to email dumps (using Wikileaks as a cutout). The security breaches, together with "computational propaganda"—social-media "bots" that mimicked real users in spreading disinformation and dissension—played an important role in the U.S. election, Watts writes, helping "the race remain close at times when Trump might have fallen completely out of the running." Even so, Watts doesn't believe Russian propaganda efforts alone would have tilted the outcome of the election—what it did instead was hobble support for Clinton so much that when, when FBI Director James Comey announced, one week before the election, that the Clinton email-server investigation had reopened, the Clinton campaign couldn't recover. "Without the Comey letter," he writes, "I believe Clinton would have won the election." Later in the book he connects the dots more explicitly: "Without the Russian influence effort, I believe Trump would not have been within striking distance of Clinton on Election Day. Russian influence, the Clinton email investigation, and luck brought Trump a victory—all of these forces combined."

Where Watts's book focuses on bad actors who exploit the openness of social-media platforms for various malicious ends, Siva Vaidhyanathan's ANTISOCIAL MEDIA: HOW FACEBOOK DISCONNECTS US AND UNDERMINES DEMOCRACY argues that the platforms—and especially the Facebook platform—is inherently corrosive to democracy. (Full disclosure: I went to school with Vaidhyanathan, worked on our student newspaper with him, and I consider him a friend.) Acknowledging his intellectual debt to his mentor, the late social critic Neil Postman, Vaidhyanathan blames the negative impacts of various exploitations of Facebook and other platforms on the platforms themselves. Postman was a committed technopessimist, and Vaidhyanathan takes time to chart in ANTISOCIAL MEDIA how Postman's general skepticism about new information technologies ultimately led his younger colleague to temper his originally optimistic view of the internet and digital technologies generally. If you read Vaidhyanathan's work over time, you find in his writing a progressively darker view of the internet and its ongoing evolution, taking a significantly more pessimistic turn around the time of his 2011 book, THE GOOGLIZATION OF EVERYTHING (AND WHY WE SHOULD WORRY). In his earlier book, Vaidhyanathan took pains to be as fair-minded as he could in raising questions about Google and whether it can or should be trusted to play such an outsized role in our culture as the mediator of so much of our informational resources. He was skeptical (not unreasonably) about whether Google's confidence in both its own good intentions and its own expertise is sufficient reason to trust the company—not least because a powerful company can stay around as a gatekeeper for the internet long past the time its well-intentioned founders depart or retire.

With ANTISOCIAL MEDIA, Vaidhyanathan cuts Mark Zuckerberg (and his COO, Sheryl Sandberg) rather less of a break. Facebook's leadership, as I read Vaidhyanathan's take, is both more arrogant than Google's and more heedless of the consequences of its commitment to connect everyone in the world through the platform. Synthesizing a full range of recent critiques of Facebook's design as a platform, he relentlessly characterizes Facebook as driving us to shallow, reactive reactions to one another rather than promoting reflective discourse that might improve or promote our shared values. Facebook, in his view, distracts us instead of inspiring us to think. It's addictive for us in something like the same way gambling or potato chips can be addictive for us. Facebook privileges the visual (photographs, images, GIFs, and the like), he insists, over the verbal and discursive.

And of course even the verbal content is either filter-bubbly—as when we convene in private Facebook groups to share, say, our unhappiness about current politics—or divisive (so that we share and intensify our outrage about other people's bad behavior, maybe including screenshots of something awful someone has said elsewhere on Facebook or on Twitter). Vaidhyanathan suggests that at one point our political discourse as ordinary citizens was more rational and reflective, but now is more emotion- and rage-driven and divisive. Me, I think the emotionalism and rage was always there.

Even when Vaidhyanathan allows that there may be something positive about one's interactions on Facebook, he can't quite help himself from being reductive and dismissive about it:

"Nor is Facebook bad for everyone all the time. In fact, it's benefited millions individually. Facebook has also allowed people to find support and community despite being shunned by friends and family or being geographically isolated. Facebook is still our chief source of cute baby and puppy photos. Babies and puppies are among the things that make life worth living. We could all use more images of cuteness and sweetness to get us through our days. On Facebook babies and puppies run in the same column as serious personal appeals for financial help with medical care, advertisements for and against political candidates, bogus claims against science, and appeals to racism and violence."

In other words, Facebook may occasionally make us feel good for the right reasons (babies and puppies) but that's about the best most people can hope for from the platform. Vaidhyanathan has a particular antipathy towards Candy Crush, which you can connect to your Facebook account—a video game that certainly seems vacuous, but also seems innocuous to me. (I've never played it myself.)

Given his antipathy towards Facebook, you might think that Vaidhyanathan's book is just another reworking of the moral-panic tomes that we've seen a lot of in the last year or two, which decry the internet and social media much the same way previous generations of would-be social critics complained about television, or the movies, or rock music, or comic books. (Hi, Jonathan Taplin! Hi, Franklin Foer!) But that's a mistake, primarily because Vaidhyanathan digs deep into choices—some technical and some policy-driven—that Facebook has made that facilitated bad actors' using the platform maliciously and destructively. Plus, Vaidhyanathan, to his credit, gives attention to how oppressive governments have learned to use the platform to stifle dissent and mute political opposition. (Watts notes this as well.) I was particularly pleased to see his calling out how Facebook is used in India, in the Philippines, and in Cambodia—all countries where I've been privileged to work directly with pro-democracy NGOs.

What I find particularly valuable is Vaidhyanathan's exploration of Facebook's advertising policies and their effect on political ads—I learned plenty from ANTISOCIAL MEDIA about the company's "Custom Audiences from Customer Lists," including this disturbing bit:

"Facebook's Custom Audiences from Customer Lists also gives campaigns an additional power. By entering email addresses of those unlikely to support a candidate or those likely to support an opponent, a campaign can narrowly target groups as small as twenty people and dissuade them from voting at all. 'We have three major voter suppression operations under way,' a campaign official told Bloomberg News just weeks before the election. The campaign was working to convince white leftists and liberals who had supported socialist Bernie Sanders in his primary bid against Clinton, young women, and African American voters not to go to the polls on election day. The campaign carefully targeted messages on Facebook to each of these groups. Clinton's former support for international trade agreements would raise doubts among leftists. Her husband's documented affairs with other women might soften support for Clinton among young women...."

What one saw in Facebook's deployment of the Custom Audiences feature is something fundamentally new and disturbing:

"Custom Audiences is a powerful tool that was not available to President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney when they ran for president in 2012. It was developed in 2014 to help Facebook reach the takeoff point in profits and revenue. Because Facebook develops advertising tools for firms that sell shoes and cosmetics and only later invites political campaigns to use them, 'they never worried about the worst-case abuse of this capability, unaccountable, unreviewable political ads,' said Professor David Carroll of the Parsons School of Design. Such ads are created on a massive scale, targeted at groups as small as twenty, and disappear, so they are never examined or debated."

Vaidhyanathan quite properly criticizes Mark Zuckerberg's late-to-the-party recognition that perhaps Facebook may much more of a home to divisiveness and political mischief (and general unhappiness) than he previously had been willing to admit. And he's right to say that some of Zuckerberg's framing of new design directions for Facebook may be as likely to cause harm (e.g., more self-isolation in filter bubbles) than good. "The existence of hundreds of Facebook groups devoted to convincing others that the earth is flat should have raised some doubt among Facebook's leaders that empowering groups might not enhance the information ecosystem of Facebook," he writes. "Groups are as likely to divide us and make us dumber as any other aspect of Facebook."

But here I have to take issue with my friend Siva, because he overlooks or dismisses the possibility that Facebook's increasing support for "groups" of like-minded users may ultimately add up to a net social positive. For example, the #metoo groups seem to have enabled more women (and men) to come forward and talk frankly about their experiences with sexual assault and to begin to hold perpetrators of sexual assault and sexual harassment accountable. The fact that some folks also use Facebook groups for more frivolous or wrongheaded reasons (like promoting flat-earthism) strikes me as comparatively inconsequential.

Vaidhyanathan's also too quick, it seems to me, to dismiss the potential for Facebook and other platforms to facilitate political and social reform in transitional democracies and developing countries. Yes, bad governments can use social media to promote support for their regimes, and I don't think it's particularly remarkable that oppressive governments (or non-state actors like ISIS) learn to use new communications media maliciously. Governments may frequently be slow, but they're not invariably stupid—so it's no big surprise, for example that Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen has figured out how to use his Facebook page to drum up support for his one-party rule, which has driven out opposition press and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

But Vaidhyanathan overlooks how some activists are using Facebook's private groups to organize reform or opposition activities. In researching this review, I reached out to friends and colleagues in Cambodia, the Philippines and elsewhere to confirm whether the platform is useful to them—certainly they're cautious about what they say in public on Facebook, but they definitely use private groups for some organizational purposes. What makes the platform useful to activists is that it's accessible, easy to use, and amenable to posting multimedia sources (like pictures and videos of police and soldiers acting brutally towards protestors). And it's not just images--when I worked with activists in Cambodia on developing a citizen-rights framework as a response to their government's abrupt initiation of "cybercrime" legislation (really an effort to suppress dissenting speech), I suggested they work collaboratively in the MediaWiki software that Wikipedia's editors use. But the Cambodian activists quickly discovered that Facebook was an easier platform for technically less proficient users to learn quickly and use to review draft texts together. I was surprised at this, but also encouraged. Even though I had my own doubts whether Facebook was the right tool for the job, I figured they didn't need yet another American trying to tell them how to manage their own collaborations.

Like Watts's book, Vaidhyanathan's is strongest where it's built on independent research that doesn't merely echo what other critics have said. And both books are weakest when they uncritically import notions like Eli Pariser's "filter bubble" hypothesis or the social-media-makes-us-depressed hypothesis. (Both these notions are echoes of previous moral panics about previous new media, including broadcasting in the 20th century and cheap paper in the 19th. And both have been challenged by researchers.) Vaidhyanathan's so certain of the meme that Facebook's Free Basics program is an assault on network neutrality that he mostly doesn't investigate the program itself in any detail. The result is that his book (to this reader, anyway) seems to conflate Free Basics (a collection of low-bandwidth resources that Facebook provided a zero-rated platform for) with Facebook Zero (a zero-rated low-bandwidth version of Facebook by itself). In contrast, the Wikipedia articles on Free Basics and Facebook Zero lead off with warnings not to confuse the two.

In addition to the strengths and weaknesses the two books share, they also have a certain rhetorical approach in common—largely, in my view, because both authors want to push for reform, and because they want to challenge with the sunny-yet-unwarranted optimism with which Zuckerberg and Sandberg and other boosters have characterized social media. In effect, both authors seem to take the approach that, as we learn to be much more critical of social-media platforms, we don't need to worry about throwing out the baby with the bathwater—because, really, there is no baby. (If we bail on Facebook altogether, it's only the frequent baby pictures that we'd lose.)

Even so, both books also share an unwillingness to call for simple opposition to Facebook and other social-media platforms merely because they're misused. Watts argues persuasively instead for more coherent and effective positive messaging about American politics and culture—of the sort that used to be the province of the United States Information Agency. (I think he'd be happy if the USIA were revived; I would be too.) He also calls for an "equivalent of Consumer Reports" to "be created for social media feeds," which also strikes me as a fine idea.

Vaidhyanathan's reform agenda is less optimistic. For one thing, he's dismissive of "media literacy" as a solution because he doubts "we could even agree on what that term means and that there would be some way to train nearly two billion people to distinguish good from bad content." He has some near-term suggestions—for example, he'd like to see an antitrust-type initiative to break up Facebook, although it's unclear to me whether multiple competing Facebooks or a disassembled Facebook would be less hospitable to the kind of shallowness and abuses he sees in the platform's current incarnation. But mostly he calls for a kind of cultural shift driven by social critics and researchers like himself:

"This will be a long process. Those concerned about the degradation of public discourse and the erosion of trust in experts and institutions will have to mount a campaign to challenge the dominant techno-fundamentalist myth. The long, slow process of changing minds, cultures, and ideologies never yields results in the short term. It sometimes yields results over decades or centuries."

I agree that it frequently takes decades or even longer to truly assess how new media affect our culture for good or for ill. But as long as we're contemplating all those years of effort, I see no reason not to put media literacy on the agenda as well. I think there's plenty of evidence that people can learn to read what they see on the internet critically and do better than simply cherry-pick sources that agree with them—a vice that, it must be said, predates social media and the internet itself. The result of increasing skepticism about media platforms and the information we find in them may also lead (as Watts warns us) to more distrust of "experts" and "expertise," with the result that true expertise is more likely to be unfairly and unwisely devalued. But my own view is that skepticism and critical thinking—even about experts with expertise—is generally positive. For example, it may be annoying to today's physicians that patients increasingly resort to the internet about their real or imagined health problems—but engaged patients, even if they have to be walked back from foolish ideas again and again, are probably better off than the more passive health-care consumers of previous generations.

I think Vaidhyanathan is right, ultimately, to urge that we continue to think about social media critically and skeptically, over decades—and, you know, forever. But I think Watts offers the best near-term tactical solution:

"On social media, the most effective way to challenge a troll comes from a method that's taught in intelligence analysis. To sharpen an analyst's skills and judgment, a supervisor or instructor will ask the subordinate two questions when he or she provides an assessment: 'What do those who disagree with your assessment think, and why?' The analyst must articulate a competing viewpoint. The second question is even more important: 'Under what conditions, specifically, would your assessment be wrong?' [...] When I get a troll on Facebook, I'll inquire, 'Under what circumstance would you admit you were wrong?' or 'What evidence would convince you otherwise?" If they don't answer or can't articulate their answer, then I disregard them on that topic indefinitely."

Watts's heuristic strikes me as the perfect first entry in the syllabus for media literacy in particular and for criticism of social media in general.

In sum, I think both MESSING WITH THE ENEMY and ANTISOCIAL MEDIA deserve to be on every internet-focused policymaker's must-read list this season. I also think it's best that readers honor these books by reading them with the same clear-eyed skepticism that their authors preach.

Mike Godwin (@sfmnemonic) is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at R Street Institute.


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 5 Jun 2018 @ 12:19pm

    Is Facebook Itself The Real Enemy?

    Well it sure as shit ain’t our friend…

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  • icon
    MonkeyFracasJr (profile), 5 Jun 2018 @ 12:26pm

    adding gas to a fire...

    TLDR.

    Summary?

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 12:31pm

    Vaidhyanathan suggests that at one point our political discourse as ordinary citizens was more rational and reflective, but now is more emotion- and rage-driven and divisive. Me, I think the emotionalism and rage was always there.

    We know political discourse has always been an emotionally charged endeavor, we don't have to guess. Just look to the published papers of any of the founders of the US or well past those even. The only thing that has changed recently was that we elected a president who divides the country more than any other in recent memory but likely not more than any other president.

    Your friend forgets the past in his assertions. Social media isn't making anything or anyone worse, it's just facilitating instant communication. Some people have always been more vocal than the rest and now we get to hear them, for better or worse, more readily and often than before. That's neither good nor bad. Trying to place the blame for humanity's faults on social media is hugely misguided.

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    • identicon
      JEDIDIAH, 5 Jun 2018 @ 5:11pm

      Crazy Teeps

      Facebook just makes it easier to see how stupid the people you think you identify with really are. It's a bit like like being able to read minds. You quickly understand why teeps in a lot of sci-fi stories are kind of nuts.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 12:31pm

    We have met the enemy and he is us

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 12:35pm

    Facebook, GOOGLE, and too many corps to list are Enemy Weapons.

    GOOGLE, for instance, gives NSA "direct access" according to Snowden. -- GOOGLE "supports" EFF, Godwin, Masnick, and a thousand other "opinion makers"! Believe nothing persons "supported" by The Enemy say.

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  • icon
    discordian_eris (profile), 5 Jun 2018 @ 1:04pm

    Synthesizing a full range of recent critiques of Facebook's design as a platform, he relentlessly characterizes Facebook as driving us to shallow, reactive reactions to one another rather than promoting reflective discourse that might improve or promote our shared values.

    All FB does is allow people to talk very similarly to how they might in meatspace. Just go to a coffee shop, barber shop, a bar or anyplace people congregate and discuss the issues of the day. You hear the same crap you would read on FB, the same rumors (ie 'fake news') and see the same reactions as people use emoticons to express. The biggest change is allowing people to silo themselves in echo chambers as they can exclude those not of like mind.

    "This will be a long process. Those concerned about the degradation of public discourse and the erosion of trust in experts and institutions will have to mount a campaign to challenge the dominant techno-fundamentalist myth."

    The lack of trust in experts and institutions is almost entirely the fault of Republicans starting in the 80's. Reagan was excellent at spouting BS that sounded plausible to his base, such as the black welfare queen with 8 kids, and all on the dole. Republicans just refined and expanded that mission in the 90's. Whitewater anyone? A large part of this seems to be him shifting the blame from the American right wing propagandists to Twitter and Facebook.

    I'm near certain that if he wants to get things 'back to normal', someone will have to do what the Japanese pilot in Tom Clancy's Debtof Honor did.

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    • identicon
      JEDIDIAH, 5 Jun 2018 @ 5:15pm

      I find your lack of lack of faith (in authority) disturbing.

      No. The fact that experts have let us down on a frequent basis is the reason for the lack of trust in experts. They are often wrong and contradict themselves. If you have access to alternate sources, you can see how full of shit they are.

      The Internet is the ultimate means for enabling this. It gives you access to an entire planet full of alternative "official" sources as well as individuals with feet on the ground personally experiencing what's being reported about.

      Seriously, in this group the hate-on for "experts and institutions" hit you in the face like a batch of horseradish in a blender.

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  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 5 Jun 2018 @ 1:20pm

    Technology is the Sword of Damocles

    Watts argues persuasively that Russia not only assisted and sponsored relatively inexpensive disinformation and propaganda campaigns using the social-media platforms to encourage divisiveness and lack of faith in government institutions (most successfully with the Brexit vote and the 2016 American elections) but also actively supported the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computer network which led to email dumps (using Wikileaks as a cutout).

    Is there any evidence available in the public domain to support the allegations of Russian disinformation and propaganda campaigns during the US 2016 presidential elections and or the Brexit vote?

    FYI FBI never examined the supposedly hacked DNC servers. FBI never had physical possession of the DNC servers. FBI took the word of Crowd Strike a private technology firm hired by DNC rather than have its technicans forensically examine the servers.

    https://www.thenation.com/article/a-new-report-raises-big-questions-about-last-years-dnc-ha ck/

    Even so, Watts doesn't believe Russian propaganda efforts alone would have tilted the outcome of the election—what it did instead was hobble support for Clinton so much that when, when FBI Director James Comey announced, one week before the election, that the Clinton email-server investigation had reopened, the Clinton campaign couldn't recover. "Without the Comey letter," he writes, "I believe Clinton would have won the election."

    Your (Watts) supposition that - if it wasn't the Russians alone it was also J Edgar Comey FBI that helped hand the 2016 US presidential elections to Trump is defective as it completely dismisses decades of US government malfeasance/misfeasance/nonfeasance that has directly undermined the consent of a great many of the governed.

    Such as the following non-inclusive list:

    US government socio-economic policy for the past 50 years is directly responsible for the return of the Gilded Ages and the ever widen chasm between the haves and have nots by tilting the economic playing field in favor of the wealthy using the "law".

    Were the Russians responsible for the America Cares Act (aka Obama Care)?

    Were the Russians responsible for lying the nation into a wholly elective war in Iraq in 2003?

    Were the Russians responsible for the sadistic programs of incognito/incommunicado kidnapping, indefinite detention without charge and torture?

    Did the Russians bailout bankers and corporations in 2008 to the tune of $25 trillion US dollars?

    Have the Russians turned the once land of the free into an indentured servant staffed penal colony?

    Are the Russians responsible for the creation of the total surveillance state?

    In running with Mr. Watts narrative you completely discount the 63 million Americans who cast a vote for Trump.

    Their motivation in voting Trump over Clinton had everything to do with their diminishing standards of living (in fly over country) their increasing debt burden and seeking to over turn the US government status quo in which they have become politically emmasculated.

    Mr. Watts narrative dove tails very nicely with the smear Trump (does he need any help?) in any way we can disinformation/whisper/innuendo campaign that has been running since 2015 and raises questions as to whether Mr. Watts is writting as a private individual or an intelligence community asset?

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 2:03pm

      Re: Technology is the Sword of Damocles

      Dependance on technology would be the sword. Not the tech itself. If we have a Carrington Event level solar storm or man-made EMPs producing the same effect, we would lose 90+% of our modern countries. Our advances as a species have always been tempered by disasters that set us back again. The best parts are generally saved and reused in the next iteration. If we don't make it off earth this go around, we will have many other chances. It would be easier to wipe out all life on earth than to ensure just humanity is eradicated. Some have used all of the tech available to insulate themselves from potential disasters.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 1:35pm

    Nice way to sell your book, Godwin (wow, the irony stings)

    Not surprising, fearmongering has always been profitable. Sad to see Techdirt join the new "RED SCARE- PART 2 THE SEARCH FOR MORE PROFIT" newspeak, but I guess you gotta pay the bills eh?

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    • icon
      Mike Godwin (profile), 6 Jun 2018 @ 7:52am

      Re: Nice way to sell your book, Godwin (wow, the irony stings)

      Wait, what book am I selling? At any rate, I think I made clear that I disagree with a number of things in both books.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 1:39pm

    HACKERS, TERRORISTS, RUSSIANS, FAKE NEWS

    WORD BINGO!

    did I win? Can I have some of that sweet, sweet SPN money?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 2:03pm

    Russian influence, the Clinton email investigation, and luck brought Trump a victory—all of these forces combined."

    I'm waiting for someone to respond with "That's not true! Luck had nothing to do with it! We colluded our asses off to get that result!"

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    • identicon
      JEDIDIAH, 5 Jun 2018 @ 5:18pm

      Crawl out of your bubble sometime.

      It wasn't luck. The "most qualified candidate" ever ignored the rules of the game and directly insulted a good chunk of the electorate.

      I was a little surprised (because of the pervasive media narrative) but not shocked. I know enough about history and politics to not buy into either party being full of themselves. I also know a few deplorables.

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      • identicon
        Thad, 6 Jun 2018 @ 9:43am

        Re: Crawl out of your bubble sometime.

        It wasn't luck. The "most qualified candidate" ever ignored the rules of the game and directly insulted a good chunk of the electorate.

        While I think Clinton's use of "basket of deplorables" was foolish, arrogant, and just kinda dumb, I'm skeptical that it swung the election.

        Anybody who says "Well I was going to vote for Hillary Clinton, until she said 'basket of deplorables', and then I decided to go with Trump instead" is lying.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 2:36pm

    I think this is a great take on things, but I wanted to address one portion:

    >But here I have to take issue with my friend Siva, because he overlooks or dismisses the possibility that Facebook's increasing support for "groups" of like-minded users may ultimately add up to a net social positive.

    Groups are definitely a new positive, but I would argue only with some good moderation. If you spend any amount of time on some *cough* certain sites, you would see that what they refer to as 'containment boards' don't work. They serve to allow things to fester and eventually spread. Reddit has this as well. The influence of certain boards or subs act as echo chambers and let anti-social actors become that much more bold or deluded and start spreading it to the site at large. If you were on Reddit during the entire /r/fatpeoplehate thing, you will remember how much of a problem it was site-wide. When they were banned there was a backlash, but it subsided and now those problems aren't pervasive anymore.

    I still feel groups are good, but they require some kind of moderation. Yes, that can be arbitrary, but I think arbitrary moderation is better than laissez-faire naive beliefs in the inherit good in people.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 3:56pm

      Re:

      How are groups around political opinions on Facebook any different from any of the political activist groups that have always existed, from way before the Internet became a thing?

      The history of revolutions is replete with echo chamber political groups, where the main differentiator, other then political position, was the willingness to use violence against those that disagreed with them.

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

      • identicon
        JEDIDIAH, 5 Jun 2018 @ 5:21pm

        Free speech is non-negotiable. Political violence is unacceptabl

        That's where the real line is: action. Until there is action, there is nothing to reasonably suppress. You run into the problem of who sets the rules. Any form of institutionalized censorship will lead to tyranny.

        All would-be tyrants are the same regardless of the label they want to give themselves or hang on others.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 8:24pm

          Re: Free speech is non-negotiable. Political violence is unacceptabl

          STATE VIOLENCE is unaceptable, if political violence where unaccepable there could never be revolution, the united states and many other countries would not exist and change would be inpossible

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 8:30pm

      Re:

      So your solution is violence. Not don't feed the trolls but don't let the trolls speak.

      Good Jorb, Trumpmatic follow your leader

      In case you didn't get that reference, it was to Hitler and he shot himself, in the head.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 3:36pm

    Facebook is even more the enemy of the average Joe Citizen as the various Three Letter Agencies regardless of country of origin.

    The reason is because the general intelligence agencies aren't targeting average Joe Citizen outside of generalized misinformation campaigns, and these are only possible because Facebook is their weapon of choice.

    Facebook MAKES themselves that weapon of choice because they sell advertising based on deep data information on each and every user without screening any of that advertising for truthfulness, violation of applicable laws (such as discrimination laws), legitimacy of origin (shell companies putting out PR spins or libelous content), etc. After a while it becomes difficult to check facts when the lies and misinformation drowns out the reality. The concept of the victor writing the history books applies here.

    If this information was never taken and stored, let alone mined, then these *repeated* Facebook privacy violations wouldn't be a Thing.

    https://phys.org/news/2018-03-facebook-history-privacy.html

    Quite frankly, any promises to improve from Facebook shouldn't be believed. They should be *properly* regulated, broken up, and any repeat of their bullshit (and Google as they're almost as bad) should be criminalized with the corporate officers held directly responsible for these decisions. Any invasive tracking from any advertising agency should be criminalized.

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

  • identicon
    bshock, 5 Jun 2018 @ 3:49pm

    Why "or"?

    It seems quite plausible that Facebook is the enemy and has been exploited by our enemies.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 4:44pm

    Re: policymaker's must-read list

    Might want to add _Snow_Crash_ to that list, since it foretold most of this twenty years ago, including the mind hacks that cause people to drop dead. What? You don't think the school shooting epidemic is an engineered outcome?

    It would be nice if the policy makers knowing anything was relevant. It would suggest that a few of them actually give a shit. But they don't, and it isn't. At least not enough to justify the premise that the DNC and RNC are separate institutions.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 6:59pm

    Here is your enemy, right here

    Take a look at this tweet.

    https://archive.is/8fSG0

    Take a look at that list.
    Take a look at what they are demanding.
    Take a look at how they justify it.
    Take a look at what they are calling it.

    These are your enemies. They are the ones exploiting social media and abusing users. Learn to recognize them.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 8:15pm

    There are two parties in the US

    One is rich people advocating the murder of not Americans the other is those that advocate the murder of Americans, they both party and laught about the pee trickilling down soaking people.

    I leave it to you to figure out who is who

    facebook is a cancer and along with all "social media" should be disbanded

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2018 @ 11:09pm

      Re: There are two parties in the US

      (...) is a cancer is the new Godwin. Thanks for playing.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2018 @ 2:41am

        Re: Re: There are two parties in the US

        No it's the same nazis that 57 million die to defeat... oops, check prescot bush, bush sr, and bush jr, trumps uncle was involved in operation paper clip, while your at it check operation paper clip it was not mostly egg head, it was mostly SS officers who "spied" on the soviets and basicly ran the OSS/CIA operations in europe, formed the basis of fun people like GSG9 and post war german intelegence and through people like bush sr took over american intelegence and now after bush jr through creations like the depatment of homeland security is not taking over everything, look you have to look at what is actually happening, it's attacks on the weakest the most vunerable citezens, check points at the boarder(vagina please) rape excused and juustified but.. err fuck you thats why, death camps didn't spring up in germany in 1932 eaither, it's the slow boil that has been increasing since the "war on terror" which has been the war of terror in reality, state terror.. on the citezens of the states proclamin to be so terrified, unlimited endless war, it's a fascists dream

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

  • identicon
    Anon I Must., 5 Jun 2018 @ 11:52pm

    This all reminds me of guns. Rather the famous quote of "Guns dont kill people. PEOPLE do."

    So, guns are a tool. Just like electricity which can cook your food or burn your house down, all depending on how its used. Same for the tool of the internet and the tools like social media found on it.

    Not everyone and most of the billions online cant differentiate between how to best and properly use said tools, avoid the bad ones, learn how to check sources and also realize that manipulation and deception can be so easily found in platforms, tools that by virtue were created by and for *people* to use, as tools. And people can deceive you, harm you, or... be real true friends. Or, people can be tools too, lol.

    How about...

    "Facebook doesnt topple evil regimes nor rotten our social fabrics. People do."

    IMO, heres a grand solution to many O problem of the web/social issues as outlined in these books:

    If we required our schools, throughout the world, to continuously educate kids starting from grade K or 1... thru 12 and beyond, first with the basics of being internet and social media "smart" and "safe" and ethics and etiquette, and respect the tool and not misuse it , and to then learn later to easier spot it's deceptions and illusions, etc. Education early, so kids young will know things of these tools and how to use them properly, their uses and misuses , they will learn a foundation that currently so few a % of Adults (!) know NOW, today. And most of us today , whether adult or younger sought that education out on their own, and maybe were interested in the psychology of the internet AKA its users... when empowered with certain tools.

    Give or take 2 or 3 generations and watch things turn for the measurable and noticeable better, when more and more kids are taught early these fundamentals that many of us today had to learn and figure out on our own, just to weed thru the BS and not get duped over instant gratifications from being "friended" or getting "likes" to feel self worth, or be deceived by a owrson or group or advertisement that they should have viewed with healthy and sensible scepticism from the get-go.

    Fucked goverments, groups, policies, advertisements, products, platforms, websites, etc. Are all tools, made by the people "for" the people. So NO, it these TOOLS that fuck shit up. Its the PEOPLE that dont KNOW any better that use these tools in the "burn your house down" kind of way. Or , back to Guns, the way of... they will just SHOOT their own foot AND YOURS cuz *You* didnt know better nor have the (preferably much earlier) education to not stand so close so you dont get your own "foot shot off", too

    Or worse.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2018 @ 2:51am

      Re:

      Can you make an ethical construction of your blurb? if not mandating state education on how to use the internet is likely to have, the opposite effect you intend, can you aticulat principles of freedom, critical thinking and autonomis action?, this is not an idle question, without being expicetly cocgnicent of these things no ciriculum not education will do anything but serve the state, whatever that state happens to be check out Hitlers children

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2O9WB8MRMc

      part 1 of 5

      we are not quite there yet but the bottom of the slope is very very close

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2018 @ 2:26am

    Just rember you are the "dunb fuck" sold to ??

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2018 @ 5:20pm

    Facebook is a shitty company whose business model is selling data of gullible people who think they aren't the product.

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


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