Where Countries Are Tinderboxes and Facebook Is a Match
April 22, 2018 8:53 PM   Subscribe

 
Oof. Some of that bot work is done really poorly in terms of methods. Read with caution.

The bots are annoying but no one has any evidence that they do more than muddy the water in such environments.
posted by k8t at 9:12 PM on April 22, 2018


my friends have reported increased bot activity on their TL, but tbh the only action i see is on tumblr, but only via paid posts.

if you can get into it, what are the criteria that makes the bot research not as robust as they should/could?
posted by cendawanita at 9:38 PM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, across the Gulf of Thailand:

Facebook was supposed to open up societies like Cambodia. But it’s doing just the opposite — with disastrous consequences for its fragile politics.
When Facebook first came to Cambodia, many hoped it would help to usher in a new period of free speech, amplifying voices that countered the narrative of the government-friendly traditional press. Instead, the opposite has happened. Prime Minister Hun Sen is now using the platform to promote his message while jailing his critics, and his staff is doing its best to exploit Facebook’s own rules to shut down criticism — all through a direct relationship with the company’s staff.

Facebook has also dramatically reduced the reach of independent media in Cambodia after it decided last year to silo off their content as part of a controversial experiment. The company said this month it would make similar changes to News Feeds for users worldwide.

Facebook has styled itself as a neutral platform for information. But its role in spreading propaganda and fake news, as well as its relationship with the Cambodian government, shows how easily that neutrality can be exploited by autocrats.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 10:40 PM on April 22, 2018 [11 favorites]


The bots are enough to make Hong Kong nostalgic for the 50 Cent army. At least those are real humans.
posted by frumiousb at 12:13 AM on April 23, 2018


It is difficult to collect Twitter data in order to make assertions about any sort of prevalence. This organization's collection method was one of the cheaper/worse ones. It wouldn't pass muster in an academic venue. Even my undergrad students collect better.
posted by k8t at 1:47 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


Once again, marketing and politics are why we can't have nice things.

Or Twitter.
posted by Samizdata at 3:32 AM on April 23, 2018


I read this article in the light of strikingly similar comments made, at a different scale, by Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Met Police here in London. She holds that there's a correlation between Facebook-mediated beef and the truly shocking recent spike in youth violence hereabouts — some sixty murders since the beginning of the year. She believes, in short, that there's a direct and measurable connection between social-media posts and retribution slayings.

Yes, I would like to see peer-reviewed data analysis on a lot of these claims. Yes, causality will always be difficult to unpack in circumstances like the ones we're discussing. Yes, communal and interethnic violence existed long before Mark Zuckerberg was a notion of a sketch of a breath of a zygote yet to be. All of these things are true, and yet my gut tells me that the heedless, careless architects of social platforms will have a lot to answer for morally when the history of our era is finally told.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:03 AM on April 23, 2018 [14 favorites]


his staff is doing its best to exploit Facebook’s own rules to shut down criticism — all through a direct relationship with the company’s staff

That's the power of selling out!
posted by flabdablet at 4:19 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


"Meanwhile the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different cultures and races, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation."

I find myself quoting Douglas Adams more and more frequently lately. Where's my towel?
posted by SPrintF at 5:10 AM on April 23, 2018 [25 favorites]


The headline article on Sri Lanka is pretty compelling as a picture of the harm caused.

It's certainly congruent with my experience of Facebook and radical views (pro-Assad, in my [ex-]friends list).
posted by ambrosen at 5:14 AM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yes, I would like to see peer-reviewed data analysis on a lot of these claims. Yes, causality will always be difficult to unpack in circumstances like the ones we're discussing.

One approach would to use random internet blackouts as a treatment, and see if times/areas where there are internet blackouts have less violence or whatever. That can't get to facebook itself but aren't there also times when twitter is down?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:35 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


Facebook is a closed platform/"channel"/garden. It is not interoperable with any other platform.

Platform agnosticism and interoperability are the solution here.

That's what makes the www work.

HTML, too, when page authors actually adhere to it.
posted by yesster at 6:42 AM on April 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


Facebook is a closed platform/"channel"/garden. It is not interoperable with any other platform.

Platform agnosticism and interoperability are the solution here.

That's what makes the www work.

HTML, too, when page authors actually adhere to it.
posted by yesster at 10:42 PM on April 23 [1 favorite +] [!]


Something something Mastadon. Decentralized or don't use it. Or, yes, get ready for authoritarianism.

I wonder how many more democracies have to die before the world gets their head around this idea.
posted by saysthis at 7:19 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yet, at the same time, in many developing countries, Facebook is the Internet. Or, in another way, Facebook is a de facto media company, not just a tech company anymore. Or, in another way, will decentralisation be the key, or a new mode of online activity that doesn't pursue algorithmically forming a cohesive user profile above all other considerations?

I don't know. In the meantime, in a country like Philippines where Facebook is the gateway to the internet, and with its own large expatriate and overseas worker community where a platform like this is invaluable to maintaining the diaspora:

What Happens When the Government Uses Facebook as a Weapon?

In the Philippines, political trolling is an industry – this is how it works
posted by cendawanita at 7:37 AM on April 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


Or, yes, get ready for authoritarianism.

I wonder how many more democracies have to die before the world gets their head around this idea.


The evidence that Facebook causes democratic backsliding— a thing that is seriously studied in a rigorous way— is an open question at this point. I’m not sure what this hyperbole is for.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:40 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


How about instead of "causes democratic backsliding" we say "enables/accelerates democratic backsliding"? Genuinely curious.


And I mean, questions (even open ones) were meant to be answered. someone must be looking into this?
posted by some loser at 10:10 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


Some premises, which might be idiosyncratic and ultimately are just hunches:

- we shouldn't be using Facebook etc. because their motives are directly counter to the best interests of their users

- using social media under your real name is still probably fundamentally a trap, actually

- the problem with Big Social sometimes overlaps with the issue of the spread of misinformation and hate, but it ultimately distinct

- decentralization doesn't in itself fix those problems

- "bots" are currently overrated as a cause of these problems, as opposed to good old organic horseshit

- "bots" are a harbinger of the increasing technologically-mediated unreliability of information to come

- a lot of these demons are already out of the box, so instead of just fretting about the state of the playing field people who aren't the far right should consider how we can catch up in terms of playing the game to win
posted by atoxyl at 10:10 AM on April 23, 2018


In order to defeat the monsters, we must become them?
posted by some loser at 10:12 AM on April 23, 2018


Perhaps some media literacy training might help Facebook users around the world to put a lot less trust in Facebook.

What if Facebook sponsored stories in local soap operas worldwide where the good guys are endangered by false Facebook news stories claiming that they eat babies, or whatever. The fake news turns out to have been planted by some enemy/evil twin. The obvious moral would be: don’t trust this stuff.
posted by monotreme at 10:41 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


In order to defeat the monsters, we must become them?

Well, no, I don't think the way for us to win is necessarily exactly the same as the way for them to win. But I think there's a weird tendency to expect solutions to come via authorities which are not really, permanently on our side, or which are likely to be of limited effectiveness.
posted by atoxyl at 12:18 PM on April 23, 2018


Yet, at the same time, in many developing countries, Facebook is the Internet

Once upon a time, Bell Telephone was the telephone in the US.
posted by rhizome at 2:23 PM on April 23, 2018


The printing press had a similar impact. Think about the intensification of religious violence and extremist ideas that swept across Europe in the couple of centuries after the printing press took off. Somebody smuggles a load of pamphlets into a city or a ruler's court, and next thing you know Calvinists and Catholics are slaughtering each other in the streets, rulers who call for calm and toleration are being deposed, and destroying the Other seems like a worthwhile goal.
posted by clawsoon at 3:25 PM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


The evidence that Facebook causes democratic backsliding— a thing that is seriously studied in a rigorous way— is an open question at this point. I’m not sure what this hyperbole is for.

I almost quoted tons of the people in this thread but I didn't. Also, sorry that came off hyperbolic, but frankly, I don't think it's an overstatement.

"Decentralization" itself doesn't fix anything, that's true. And while it's obvious that there's no direct, provable correlation between Facebook and democratic backsliding, consider the vector - it's real-name, opaque, unaccountable, exists purely to make a profit, runs on algorithms that can be gamed by bots, and susceptible to influence peddling at one point. There is no "press 0 to speak with a human" unless you know a guy inside and can use the backchannel. There are two ways to hijack Facebook, bots and backchannel, and both favor those with money, power, and access. It also knows everything about you. Tell me how an authoritarian eventually doesn't take advantage of those choke points to suppress dissent?

No system with fewer choke points has ever existed or been so massive. Facebook, no monopoly on violence, but you plug a government in, boom, now the government knows everything about you. If Facebook doesn't cooperate, eventually the government tries exactly what Russia is doing with Telegram now or what China did with Google in the aughts (and then Facebook and everything else), and why creepy countries are now demanding local storage plus 6 months of user data storage, and why in more and more places around the world you need an ID to buy a prepaid SIM card. The fact that Facebook isn't more evil has everything to do with the fact that they're headquartered in California, a jurisdiction where the locals are by and large anti-authoritarian and have the laws and economic clout to back it up.

In the long run this is unsustainable. Yes, it's true, internet access is controlled by "backbone servers", but that too is unsustainable. I don't know much about network security, but I know they can pull the plug whenever they feel like it.

That has to be solved. People are thinking about solutions, and those are just hardware, stuff like decentralized social networks, cryptocurrency, and the dark web are software solutions to the same problem. The options aren't great at the moment, yes I sound like a techno-anarchist freak right now, but the fact that currently only national governments and giant corporations that need their approval to make money are the gateways to most of the internet, and the fact that it's trivial to compile all known facts about people at the click of a mouse, are huge vulnerabilities that, at some point, will probably be abused. That's a legit worry, and laws can't be the only answer.

Alternatives need to exist. They do in rudimentary forms, and the sooner they get popular, the better for all of us.
posted by saysthis at 5:20 PM on April 23, 2018


Incidentally I was trying to find something else Facebook related, and I found (what I think is) the first MetaFilter post on TheFacebook in 2005.

The comments have aged pretty well, but this one is probably the most prescient: "It's much more about stalking and allowing yourself to be stalked"
posted by mostly vowels at 5:27 PM on April 23, 2018


Perhaps some media literacy training might help Facebook users around the world to put a lot less trust in Facebook.

What if Facebook sponsored stories in local soap operas worldwide where the good guys are endangered by false Facebook news stories claiming that they eat babies, or whatever. The fake news turns out to have been planted by some enemy/evil twin. The obvious moral would be: don’t trust this stuff.
posted by monotreme at 2:41 AM on April 24 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


Yes please!!!!!!! Dear Hollywood, you don't have to wait for Facebook!
posted by saysthis at 5:32 PM on April 23, 2018


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