Facebook has a trust problem.
The issue is fake news, and Facebook’s reaction to it.
People believe, and now there’s some evidence, that Russian operatives bought at least 3,000 dark ads which were seen by 10M people, 4.4M before the election. The aim was to seed discontent by showing over-the-top, extreme ads. Let’s dive into what all this means.
Dark Ads explained by Buzzfeed:
“Dark ads or posts are commonly purchased on social networks as a way to reach very specific audiences. The messaging is typically targeted at a particular demographic and the posts delivering it aren’t visible on the advertisers’ timelines or pages after they’ve been shared. They’re especially useful in politics, where advertisers can create scores of highly targeted ads meant to be shown to specific segments of the electorate.”
“Why do you allow ads like these to target certain demographic or interest groups?
Our ad targeting is designed to show people ads they might find useful, instead of showing everyone ads that they might find irrelevant or annoying. For instance, a baseball clothing line can use our targeting categories to reach people just interested in baseball, rather than everyone who likes sports. Other examples include a business selling makeup designed specifically for African-American women. Or a language class wanting to reach potential students. These are worthwhile uses of ad targeting because they enable people to connect with the things they care about.”
The problem is that this system gets abused.
The reason why Facebook claims that don’t catch them all, is that the system to too automated and too big. They get ~8M reports on ads PER DAY. That’s right, Facebook is an automated machine. The engineers work on the machine, and then the machine makes decisions. They’re still not sure how many ads were shown for the US election or recent elections around the world. This is actually the #1 concern is AI: it’ll get too complex to fully understand and control.
“It’s not that Facebook can’t solve these problems, it’s that Facebook can’t solve these problems and maintain its operating margins… If the NYT can protect us from these attacks on our democracy, with $64M of annual free cash flow, then Facebook can figure it out with $12B of free cash flow. Again, this isn’t about ability, it’s about commitment (resources, margins).”
I feel like this deserves a mic drop.
Last week, Facebook committed to hiring 1,000 people to help screen ads. It’s a start. But what else could they do?
Facebook isn’t the only one either: Google, Youtube and Twitter also spread fake news. The latest from the Las Vegas shooting.
As an aside, I agree with Facebook’s general stance on foreign ads on American politics:
“The right to speak out on global issues that cross borders is an important principle. Organizations such as UNICEF, Oxfam or religious organizations depend on the ability to communicate — and advertise — their views in a wide range of countries. While we may not always agree with the positions of those who would speak on issues here, we believe in their right to do so — just as we believe in the right of Americans to express opinions on issues in other countries.”
Listen to the show to hear our response to all of this. Matthew kind of goes off, which is fantastic.
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Fake News Show Notes
Mark Zuckerberg’s Fake News Problem Isn’t Going Away by Max Chafkin and Sarah Frier, Bloomberg
No Mercy / No Malice: The Worm Has Turned by Scott Galloway, L2
Obama tried to give Zuckerberg a wake-up call over fake news on Facebook By Adam Entous, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg, The Washington Post
Mark Zuckerberg Can’t Stop You From Reading This Because The Algorithms Have Already Won by Charlie Warzel, BuzzFeed
As Facebook Reveals Dark Posts, Twitter Keeps Them Hidden by Alex Kantrowitz, BuzzFeed
Facebook Can’t Say For Sure Whether Russians Bought Election Ads In France And Germany by Craig Silverman, BuzzFeed
Mark Zuckerberg’s Trust Problem by Jessi Hempel, Wired
Zuckerberg’s Preposterous Defense of Facebook by Zeynep Tufekci, The New York Times
Facebook gives Russian-linked ads to Congress by Dylan Byers, CNN
Hard Questions: Russian Ads Delivered to Congress by Elliot Schrage, Facebook
Facebook will hire 1,000 and make ads visible to fight election interference by Josh Constine, TechCrunch
Google, Facebook, Twitter And YouTube All Promoted Hoaxes About The Las Vegas Shooting by L.V. Anderson, Digg
Trustworthy Networking by Ben Thompson, Stratechery