Mark Zuckerberg glided through first senate committee hearings on Tuesday 9th April 2018 like an AI given a bunch of old Atari games and mastered them to superhuman level in 24 hours. He blew his questioners, Red and Blue, away like a series of slow moving pixels. But Zuckerberg is no Demis Hassabis and Facebook is no DeepMind. The Senate committee hearing demonstrated reasonable grounds for an amendment to abolish this unrepresentative club of incompetent analogues who are clueless to the dangers lurking in the digital world.
What we witnessed was a roomful of press watching senators in Washington, D.C., at event not unlike a police line up trying to identify the suspect. Only the elected officials had no idea of the crimes Zuckerberg might have committed. They don’t read legislation because they don’t have the attention span or they have not done sufficient research to understand the complexity and range of issues involved. Why should they read about digital technology, social media, data mining, AI and information collection? The US senators cracked their knuckles, a bit stiff from all that dragging on the ground, and winged it. They asked the kind of lazy, half-assed questions your old uncle whose technical knowledge terminated with the jukebox and pinball machine would have asked. On one level their performance makes for highly amusing reading. On another level if you’re not horrified by their performance, then you need to rethink what is at stake.
Facebook isn’t just an online advertising company turning a pretty profit for their shareholder by hawking information to anyone with a pet rock business seeking to expand theircustomer base, or some Third-World hellholes seeking to gather a lynch mob. Facebook is the gateway drug to a serious addiction; they work to maintain their sticky pages with the intention of causing you to feel painful withdrawal whenever you leave the special community with all of your ‘friends’ who share your interest in slitting the throat of your neighbors.
Facebook is also the major social media platform in many countries where the population has been under the yoke of strongmen dictators for so long they have mistaken the yoke for a normal shirt collar. What dictator could resist the temptation to create communities of ‘friends’ who support your ethnic cleansing and genocide or a platform for a repressive regime to control and guide the thoughts of its citizens? Facebook made it easy for them. Or you want to mess around with another country by egging on the worst instincts of one side or another, hey, why not hire a platoon of gamers and computer nerds to help? The new digital community has gathered by murky political operatives. These click farmers are examples of the entry of a new digital agricultural age. They work for pizza, gold stars, and hotel vouchers.
There are 2 billion people using Facebook. What happens to all of that information collected about information you? It’s sold. You are sold. What your like, read, desire along with your prejudices, biases, and plans are recorded. Where does the information go? To that big iCloud vacuum cleaner bag. Facebook has created a digital climate change in this bloated information atmosphere; one they harvest, control, trade and own. Like the other climate change, this one threatens humanity with a long drawn out political winter. That’s a pretty serious charge. Explain. Zuckerberg’s little digital empire has invaded, captured, done business in 150 countries. Facebook is in business with some of the worst elements on the planet. Zuckerberg is a more polished than Donald Trump. For different reasons, each one is exposing us to major political risks.
Political thugs with street smarts figure out what Congress still doesn’t understand. All that prevents Facebook from further consolidating its empire and overcoming limitations the current hardware capacity to process all that information, is the development of AI. Once the Facebook system is much smarter, efficient it can be optimized to rig the institutional infrastructure found in any political setting.
What happens when country after country has installed the Potemkin village and all of its citizens believe it is real?
With the staggering, mind boggling amount of information already collected, how can anyone think that it is only has a commercial value. The political implications of Facebook as a platform is staring Congress in the face. Hello, the Russians in the 2016 American election gamed the platform. How many Facebook employees are assigned to focus on terrorism. Two hundred. Let that register. For the whole world. 200 people. As for state inspired terrorism it is obvious this is inadequate.
The Burmese generals gamed the platform.
Facebook has shown itself in bed with some bad actors. Take a look at the picture above when you think Facebook is just another company. Afterwards these men who shot and buried by elements of the Burmese military. Facebook didn’t pull the trigger. But Facebook allowed for an enhanced atmosphere of hatred making it easier for others to do so.
The insularity of Zuckerberg is breath-taking. He talks about Facebook reforms. Ha. And ha again. Most of the world’s been down that dead-end road. In much of the world outside of the United States, dictators rattle on about reforms until people roll their eyes and fall over dead from waiting.
Reform is a political process that requires experts, cultural, historical, and regional sensitivities. It other words, it takes a lot of very smart people who draw from a deep well of expertise to draft, test, implement, adapt and review changes to policy. Most of the time reform is a delay tactic or what is served up as reform is another way to disguise the rent-seeking.
That leads to me to wonder? Remind me again of where I can find the Facebook handbook on the separation of social, economic and political policies; how they are coupled, when they are decoupled, and the levels and context in which they are ‘imposed’ in a given nation-state? Who are the specialists, the equivalent of the civil servants, who have studied the specific regions, know the languages, the current political players, the tensions and conflicts, and the history of minority repression and other human rights violations, and provides for a failsafe procedure when those with ill-intent attempt to game the FB platform?
Zuckerberg is clearly outside of his depth. But that doesn’t matter. Like General Custer at the battle of the Little Longhorn, he assumed the natives will be easily defeated. Unlike Custer, Zuckerberg was right. He hadn’t underestimated the senate committee. He likely over prepared for all kinds of attacks. Before the senate committee, though, he weathered the battle as all of the natives who surrounded him came armed with cream puffs. If you examine the battlefield. The only dead were the brain dead who asked zombie like questions. Score that as a Zuckerberg victory: cream puffs and zombies were no match for someone with a California surfer’s knowledge of the larger world beyond the wave he sees from the shoreline. It was up to a House Committee a day later to shoot a number of straight arrows. Zuckerberg ducked as the senate committee must have softened him up to think these bozos know less than an intern.
The House committee also had a chance on Wednesday 10 April 2018 to ask tough questions of Zuckerberg in a separate hearing a day after the Senate committee failed to do its job.
Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, threw a number of punches at Zuckerberg showing the prize fighter may have impressed others with his golden gloves, the fact was he didn’t know the game all that well: “As CEO you didn’t know some key facts. You didn’t know about key court cases regarding privacy and your company. You didn’t know that the FTC doesn’t have fining. You didn’t know what a shadow profile is. You don’t know how many apps you need to audit. You don’t know what other companies were sold the Kogan data, even though you were asked that yesterday. You don’t even know how many kinds of information you’re logging.”
As for Zuckerberg’s reflections on what Facebook got wrong, Scott Peters, a Democrat from California, had this exchange:
Peters: What about things they got wrong?
Zuck: I need to think about that more.
That was Zuckerberg’s fallback position as the arrows rained down: I need for time or AI will fix it. The members of the house committee demonstrated that Zuckerberg was clueless about important issues central to the operation of Facebook.
And that’s why you should be concerned.