August 06, 2018

Give us a “Family and Friends' Facebook” and a “No Man’s Land Facebook”

Sir, John Thornhill “Several proposals for “fixing” Facebook are flying around; none looks wholly convincing. Maybe Financial Times readers have some smarter ideas.” “How to fix Facebook” August 6. Here follows a response to that challenge:

If I use Facebook strictly with my friends and families, fake news, or obscene behavior would not be a major issue, since I have quite a clear idea who in my circle would want to engage with that, and I have therefore my own powers to contain it.

The problem is when suddenly a third unknown, or by me uninvited party gets access to my circle, in order to peddle us a news or an opinion, in which he has an interest and quite likely we don’t.

So one alternative would be to have a family and friend Facebook, in which the only thing third parties could do was to advertise products and services, not post opinions, nor of course try to sell us political pamphlets. Would I be happy with such a Facebook? If the number of those ads, in consideration to my limited attention span, were limited to two or three per hour why wouldn’t I? 

Then there could be an open access Facebook to which any person, not a family and friends circle, can subscribe to and that would resemble the current Facebook. A sort of “Throw anything you want at us” Facebook.When on it, we would all be quite clear with that we will be fed fake news, and odiously polarizing opinions, and that in all essence we are on our own, running under fire, in no mans land. 

Would such split hurt Facebook’s profits? Not necessarily but, if so, it would also reduce the general risks for Facebook (and alike) to be subject to fines, since it would be much harder to hold it responsible for any misbehaviors occurring in the No-Mans Land’s Facebook. 

That said, to also diminish the amount of “odiously polarizing opinions”, something that behooves us all, Facebook should try developing algorithms that, using the whole web, tries to establish and then keep out, those who are looking mostly for some monetary enrichment. That could get about half of the polarization profiteers, the other half being of course much harder to identify, since they are mostly looking for political enrichment.

Talking with a knowledgeable friend he expressed curiosity about how much Facebook used linguistic experts when trying to identify fake-news or other bad behavior. He’s got a good point, though my first reaction was, in this world with constant changes in how we express ourselves, how on earth do we identify a qualified linguistic expert? And if Facebook is able to identify a qualified and diversified linguistic expert team, with perhaps Oxford professors, hip-hoppers and young street wise kids, how do you get them to work together and keep them united? 

And how do you in general avoid fake-news experts being gamed? Perhaps randomly picking fake news identifiers out of a large universe of volunteers, and changing these every couple of minutes, paying them well for their few moments of dedication could be an alternative. An Uber for Fake-News hunting? Sir, it’s a hard knock web!

PS: Sir, what do you think Facebook’s experts would say about the Basel Committee’s news: “That which is perceived risky, is more dangerous to our banks than that which is perceived safe”? True or Fake?