November 6, 2017 I wrote “We have crossed a threshold where technology Facebook et al are potentially facilitating fixed elections and genocide. It’s time to act. We have all seen the widespread interference in elections by state actors and vested interests; the rise of angry politics in the USA, UK and elsewhere, channeling discontent and splitting society; the spread of fake news; the reduction in trust generally and support for criminal or terrorist based activities; and so, the list keeps getting longer. Last week however I felt a threshold was crossed that needed to be exposed. Apparently, violence against the Rohingya Muslims has been fuelled in part by misinformation spread by Facebook which is now used as a primary news source by many people in the country.”
Fast forward to the present. Last week we saw the unspeakable tragedy of a terrorist attack in Christchurch, NZ in which the perpetrator uploaded a live feed of the mass murder. The response from Facebook (and google and twitter) was unacceptably slow and as a result the images are still available and being viewed by millions of users.
Over the past year we have seen Facebook making all manner of promises to clean up their act; but the reality is they have protected their advertising revenue at the expense of security. I note today that Facebook are now moving to a private, encrypted network claiming that this is what their users really want. John Naughton in the Guardian comments, “This columnist, . . . interprets it as a recognition by St Mark that the exponentially increasing costs of “moderating” Facebook content will eventually become unsupportable. But if much of that content morphs into encrypted messaging then, all of a sudden, Facebook can no longer be held accountable for it – and much of the cost of “moderation” evaporates. So the pivot is a way of getting a huge PR win while saving a ton of money.”
Facebook has proven they are incapable of self-governance. The only way to fix Facebook is to break it up. We have a precedent with the breakup of Microsoft and we need legislators to act NOW. Clearly, we do have a problem because it’s unlikely the current US administration will act, and therefore the EU will have difficulty in acting alone. However, the EU could lead the way by legislating for the Facebook platform to be opened-up. Instead of becoming an encrypted, private platform the EU could facilitate a standards effort and legislate to require open interfaces to allow third parties to provide a distributed network of independent collaborating platforms.
The NZ atrocity should be a trigger to action. Facebook has been given time to fix itself and has failed to act. Now is time for legislators to act.