Home » Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Social Media » Facebook Is Still In Denial About Its Biggest Problem

Facebook Is Still In Denial About Its Biggest Problem

1 October 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

It’s a good time to re-examine our relationship with Facebook Inc.

In the past month, it has been revealed that Facebook hosted a Russian influence operation which may have reached between 3 million and 20 million people on the social network, and that Facebook could be used to micro-target users with hate speech. It took the company more than two weeks to agree to share what it knows with Congress.

Increased scrutiny of Facebook is healthy. What went mainstream as a friendly place for loved ones to swap baby pictures and cat videos has morphed into an opaque and poorly understood metropolis rife with influence peddlers determined to manipulate what we know and how we think. We have barely begun to understand how the massive social network shapes our world.

Unfortunately, Facebook itself seems just as mystified, providing a response to all of this that has left many unsatisfied.

What the company’s leaders seem unable to reckon with is that its troubles are inherent in the design of its flagship social network, which prioritizes thrilling posts and ads over dull ones, and rewards cunning provocateurs over hapless users. No tweak to algorithms or processes can hope to fix a problem that seems enmeshed in the very fabric of Facebook.

. . . .

On a network where article and video posts can be sponsored and distributed like ads, and ads themselves can go as viral as a wedding-fail video, there is hardly a difference between the two. And we now know that if an ad from one of Facebook’s more than five million advertisersgoes viral—by making us feel something, not just joy but also fear or outrage—it will cost less per impression to spread across Facebook.

In one example, described in a recent Wall Street Journal article, a “controversial” ad went viral, leading to a 30% drop in the cost to reach each user. Joe Yakuel, founder and chief executive of Agency Within, which manages $100 million in digital ad purchases, told our reporter, “Even inadvertent controversy can cause a lot of engagement.”

Keeping people sharing and clicking is essential to Facebook’s all-important metric, engagement, which is closely linked to how many ads the network can show us and how many of them we will interact with. Left unchecked, algorithms like Facebook’s News Feed tend toward content that is intended to arouse our passions, regardless of source—or even veracity.

An old newspaper catchphrase was, “If it bleeds, it leads”—that is, if someone got hurt or killed, that’s the top story. In the age when Facebook supplies us with a disproportionate amount of our daily news, a more-appropriate catchphrase would be, “If it’s outrageous, it’s contagious.”

. . . .

“Facebook has become so central to how people communicate, and it has so much market power, that it’s essentially immune to market signals,” Dr. Benkler says. The only thing that will force the company to change, he adds, is the brewing threat to its reputation.

. . . .

Mr. Zuckerberg acknowledged in a recent Facebook post that the majority of advertising purchased on Facebook will continue to be bought “without the advertiser ever speaking to anyone at Facebook.” His argument for this policy: “We don’t check what people say before they say it, and frankly, I don’t think our society should want us to.”

This is false equivalence. Society may not want Facebook to read over everything typed by our friends and family before they share it. But many people would feel it’s reasonable for Facebook to review all of the content it gets paid (tens of billions of dollars) to publish and promote.

“Facebook has embraced the healthy gross margins and influence of a media firm but is allergic to the responsibilities of a media firm,” Mr. Galloway says.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG understands the controversy, but disagrees with conventional wisdom about its seriousness.

Complaints about Facebook are similar to earlier complaints about the internet – anybody can say anything they want to say.

Do Facebook users really compare a paid advertisement to a posting and give more credence to an advertisement because someone paid Facebook to distribute it? PG doesn’t think so.

If anything, PG tends to be a bit more suspicious of advertisements in any medium because the ideas contained in the advertisement were presumably not able to rise to a higher level of visibility without someone paying money to cause the publication to give them more visibility.

The idea that people are so stupid that large organizations, whether governments or private companies, are obligated to protect them from bad ideas (whatever that means) is pretty much the ultimate in slippery slopes.

If people don’t like what they see on Facebook, they’ll stop visiting Facebook and go elsewhere. Alternatives are a click away.

If advertisers think their reputations are harmed by their advertisements appearing on Facebook, they will pull the ads. At present, a large number of advertisers think their reputations are just fine on Facebook and are willing to continue to pay Facebook for visibility.

If the experts are correct that Facebook’s reputation is being commercially tarnished by what is appearing on its site, advertising or something else, we’ll see it in the number of visitors and the number of advertisers on Facebook. If visitors and advertisers continue to appear, we’ll know the experts are wrong. Again.

 

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Social Media

30 Comments to “Facebook Is Still In Denial About Its Biggest Problem”

  1. Interesting . . . Facebook wouldn’t let me “boost my post” to support my campaign on GoFundMe, to collect cremation donations for a friend who died, and his family…something to think about before I can confirm if I agree (Russia or not), but maybe a little “lifting the veil”. #BfromKC

  2. “with influence peddlers determined to manipulate what we know and how we think.”

    Oh, you mean like advertising and marketing and political campaigns, Wall Street Journal?

    You mean free speech? Why does the WSJ have a problem with that? Or is it just the type of speech the WSJ doesn’t like.

    I mean, Hillary bragged about having the support of many world leaders. Isn’t that interfering with our political process, too?

  3. Wall Street Pravda.

  4. I have to agree with PG’s take here.

    If Facebook becomes something advertisers and regular users come to dislike, they will leave.

    No one is forcing anyone to use Facebook.

    As time goes on, I find myself spending less and less time on it personally (not that anyone misses my 6 posts per year).

    Much like the rest of the internet, it has become a collection of self-indulgent trash with a few bits of useful information sprinkled about.

    People have always seemed quite capable of finding what they like on their own and will likely continue to do so.

    I don’t see it as any different than turning on cable TV “news” and being told how many face lifts celebrity X has had or what actress is pregnant or whatever other crap I don’t care about.

  5. I couldn’t disagree with you more, PG.

  6. I didn’t need Russian interference to get me to not vote for Hillary. It came to me naturally. Likewise I didn’t need Russian interference to get me to vote for Trump. Hillary Clinton made me vote for Trump. Unless “they” can come up with irrefutable proof that votes were directly altered by Russian hackers, this whole “Russian interference” thing is a red herring created by the Democrat Party.

  7. “Facebook has become so central to how people communicate, and it has so much market power, that it’s essentially immune to market signals,” Dr. Benkler says.

    I keep reading about how central FB is to communication, but don’t see much to back it up. For whom is it central? How many? What do they do with it?

    How many others don’t even bother with FB? Do they use some other form of communication? Are those forms not used by FB users?

    The danger for FB will come as they exert more control over what people post. Their political involvement will put them in the political crosshairs. When they allow ads and posts favoring one side, but stop those favoring the other, they make enemies.

    Maybe they think they are smart enough to know which way the political winds will blow in the future. Maybe they think they are smart enough to direct them. But then, they might want to look at their recent forecasts to see how smart they really were.

    • “When they allow ads and posts favoring one side, but stop those favoring the other, they make enemies”
      It’s already happening, but because FB is such a behemoth, anecdotal evidence doesn’t go very far.
      And while FB offers people the lure of 15 minutes of fame and an adoring ‘circle’, new users will continue to outnumber those who become disillusioned and leave.

      • People leaving won’t matter. People come and go everyday. The threat to the information networks comes from government.

        Government action against internet providers is always a danger. FEC commissioners have been trying to control political speech on the internet for years. Various state legislators have been trying to enact bullying laws that encompass the internet. There is a strong movement to disallow free speech on campuses all over the country. In 2014, the Senate Udall amendment moved through committee.

        Internet ads from Russians have some in Congress calling for more control. Others talk of a new era of monopolies where the monopolists controls information flows like the old railroad guys used to control transportation.

        Note how the internet providers are bowing to the demands of governments all over the world. Facebook just blocked the posts of a New York based Chinese political opponent of the regime on the orders of the Chinese government.

        Governments are already acting against Facebook, and many here would like the same thing.

        • As a non-American, I’m always amazed at the cultural power of ‘free speech’in the US.
          I grew up in an era when we were told ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’
          Now, it seems as if the magic label of ‘free speech’ validates the communication of precisely anything.
          I have no problem with people expressing their beliefs, but I have a huge problem with people spreading lies disguised as truth and propaganda disguised as ‘public opinion’.
          You have laws against fraud and libel, yet logically aren’t those crimes based on the principle of saying whatever you want? And isn’t that ‘free speech’?
          Or does free speech lose its glitter when money is involved?

          • Now, it seems as if the magic label of ‘free speech’ validates the communication of precisely anything.

            I don’t know what “validate” means in this sense. However, I do know there is no requirement that Americans demonstrate their speech is valid. Nor is there any requirement their speech conforms to what someone else thinks is valid.

            I have no problem with people expressing their beliefs, but I have a huge problem with people spreading lies disguised as truth and propaganda disguised as ‘public opinion’.

            Free speech in the US encompasses that. One can speak, and someone else can have a problem with it. They can even express their displeasure with the original speech. People have zillions of problems with what others say. We know because they say so. Freely.

            Or does free speech lose its glitter when money is involved?

            Glitter has nothing to do with it. While one is free to speak, there can be consequences of that speech. The fact that speech is employed in a criminal endeavor provides no immunity.

            The First Amendment to the US constitution says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

            Other nations may choose to let whomever is currently in charge determine what they can say. We don’t trust the people in charge to make those decisions.

            • I understand it’s part of your constitution, as is the right to bear arms, but why does it have to be an ‘either/or’situation?
              Why can’t people have freedom of speech that isn’t 100% ‘free’? Or, if you’re not prepared to give up on 100%, then why are the consequences of abuse not punished as vehemently in every instance as cases that involve money?
              Or better yet, why is compromise so impossible?
              You may not trust your government to be the arbiter of such a compromise, but that’s the whole point of living in a democracy – you can vote them out if they mess up.

              • Well, the simple answer is we don’t want to live like that, and don’t really care if other nations want us to. We have no reason to care how they want us to live.

                But, in less simple terms…

                Abuse of free speech? What’s that? Who defines abuse? I suspect it means I say something someone else doesn’t like. When people don’t like what we say, we choose to let them live with their displeasure. There is little speech today that someone doesn’t find offensive or abusive.

                And compromise? Compromise with whom? Why? Who is sitting on the other side of the table from the US, and wants us to change for them? Who are the people who want the US to change its constitution to please them?

                One of the most important aspects of free speech is free political speech. One can only vote out government officials if information about them can move freely.

                Political speech is a primary target of those who want to restrict speech. Officials are quite happy to restrict free speech to enhance their own election prospects.

                We don’t trust government officials to determine what we are allowed to say about them.

                • You may be right. I’m not American, I’m Australian. All I know is that a couple of years ago a 14 year old boy, one of yours, was hounded to death by a group of teenagers who objected to him coming out as gay. That boy committed suicide. His tormentors showed up to the funeral and basically said they were glad he was dead.
                  As far as I know, those little monsters suffered no consequences for their…free speech.
                  On a philosophical level, there is a difference between free from and free to.

                • I agree there is a huge difference between “free from” and “free to.”

                  Today we see many trying to suppress free speech because they want to be free from hearing opposing opinions. They want to be free from ideas they don’t like. They want to be free from reading ideas they don’t agree with. They want to be free from anything that does not conform to their beliefs. Even if they don’t hear the speech, they want to be free from knowing it is being spoken.

                  They tell us expression of ideas they don’t like is abuse of free speech, and they are uniquely qualified to tell all the rest what should be suppressed.

                  This is exactly why the US Constitution guarantees free speech. It is to protect us against the people who want to suppress the speech of others so they can be free from it.

  8. Facebook: AOL for the 21st century.

  9. I miss the facebook that used to let me keep up with my friends’ lives, but it hasn’t been that facebook for a long time. It’s too concerned about monetizing. The things my friends “like” (but haven’t chosen to “share”) show up in my newsfeed, so I assume the same is happening to the things I like, therefore I rarely “like” anything. The pages I want to follow are throttled so I only see a small percent of their content but I have others that I don’t give a tinker’s damn about shoved at me, encouraging me to like them, so they can presumably throttle those pages (all so they can squeeze them into “boosting” their posts.) The result is that I used to go on Amazon multiple times a day. Now it’s maybe twice a week. Sometimes less. Talk about being your own worst enemy.

    • There are setting controls that determine what content you post is allowed to show up in other people’s newsfeeds by default, and you can also control what kinds of posts show up in YOUR newsfeed. And then there are post-by-post controls to override the default settings. Facebook allows a ton of granular control regarding who can see what you post.

  10. Facebook Is Still In Denial About Its Biggest Problem

    What? That Mark Zuckerberg is a dick?

    Z has the Jobs attitude: What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine, too.

  11. with some of the comment I see on things… I do kind of believe some people need to be protected from believing some of this stuff…. but as a comedian once said…. you cant fix stupid……so let them have at it.

    I have had to mark several sites that post things as ones I dont want to see. I didnt really want to block my friends that were liking these things, but I really didnt want to see some of the crap they believed.

    This approach has been effective for me.

    • “I do kind of believe some people need to be protected from believing some of this stuff”

      once you start “protecting” people from “some of this stuff”, speech stops being free – and anyway, there are other people wanting to “protect” people from hearing *your* stuff. The only place to draw the line is at freedom.

  12. I think the idea that Facebook needs to be regulated by the government (or self-regulate in the interests of avoiding government oversight) in regards to political speech is quite dangerous.

    I think it is more telling how Facebook censors what you can and cannot see — some people may not call it censorship, but when they degrade the visibility of stuff you want to see (and have explicitly told them this by following the page) and force upon you stuff that you don’t want and essentially block the stuff you do like, that is a form of censorship (not “Big C” government censorship, but certainly small “c” censorship in the same way that libraries used to refuse to put sci-fi and fantasy on their shelves and teachers used to confiscate comic books as “trash”).

    The problem is that this manipulation in favor of the almighty dollar is built into Facebook’s model.

    The other problem is that lots of people just blindly share the material that reinforces their views without doing basic research to see if it is accurate or not. But that is the fault of the users, not Facebook.

    The only reason Facebook endures is that no one has come along to offer the same kinds of services in a way that is easier and more useful to people. (Google+ tried half-heartedly. Personally, I prefer Reddit.)

    • And then, of course, all of the people who someone communicates with regularly would ALSO have to be on that platform. That’s why I’m on FB, to kep up with old friends and acquaintances. They would have to BE on the new platform already before I would switch. I don’t want to have 9 social media accounts that I check. My time is more precious than that.

  13. If advertisers think their reputations are [monetarily] harmed by their advertisements appearing on Facebook, they will pull the ads. At present, a large number of advertisers think their reputations are [good enough] on Facebook and are willing to continue to pay Facebook for visibility [while they cry all the way to the bank].

    There. Fixed that with a dose of reality.

    The idea that people are so stupid…

    I think that a better word would be “non-discerning” rather than “stupid,” and, yes, that’s exactly what the majority of people are, mostly because (as Ferris Bueller said) “life moves pretty fast” and none of us has the time to closely analyze everything that crosses our path.

    P.G. doesn’t think so. If anything, P.G. tends to be a bit more suspicious of advertisements in any medium…

    Advertisers don’t care what P.G. thinks. They care what works. The big corporations are not engaged in a long-term experiment to see if what they’re collectively doing on Facebook will someday work. They’re doing it because they have already found out that it does. That’s why they continue, irrespective of P.G.’s opinion of their ads.

  14. right now facebook for many of us will not allow a status post of more than a couple hundred words, wont take pix, or albums

    it’s been going on for three weeks and the net is filled with complaint about it all

    do we hear from fb, ?

    No,

    They only apparently listen to russian false news with dedication and love while hiding the fact

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