The Facebook Controversy: Privacy Is Not the Issue


The actual threat is that the facts and social structures on the internet are being corrupted inside the carrier of con men, political demagogues, and thieves. Cambridge Analytica’s wholesale scraping of Facebook person records is familiar news now, and we are all “amazed” that personal statistics are being shared and traded on a massive scale. But the real problem with social media isn’t always the harm to individual users whose records become shared. Still, the state-of-the-art and, once-in-a-while, subtle mass manipulation of social and political conduct through terrible actors facilitated deceit, fraud, and the amplification of lies that spread effortlessly via societal discourse at the net.


Any privacy pretense changed long ago while we usually use the free carrier version of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others. Did the Senators who listened to Mark Zuckerberg’s mea culpa last week assume that Facebook, which does not do anything for its offerings to users, was truly imparting a public service without spending a dime? Where did they think its $11 billion in advertising sales came from, if not from promoting advertisements and personal records to advertisers?

Let’s discover the actual difficulty. The tangible harm due to identity robbery and the loss of personal monetary facts are growing troubles. However, they normally aren’t due to our use of social media platforms, where we proportion many records—but hardly ever our credit score card or Social Security numbers.

The controversy about Cambridge Analytica that landed Zuckerberg before Congress, in reality, started brewing over a year ago. It became a problem no longer about privacy but about how Cambridge Analytica positioned massive quantities of private data, frequently from Facebook, into its so-referred to as “psychographic” engine to persuade behavior at the character stage (see When the Big Lie Meets Big Data, published right here in March of 2017).

Cambridge Analytica worked with researchers from Cambridge University who advanced a Facebook app that supplied a loose persona check, then proceeded to scoop up all of the users’ Facebook data plus that of all their pals (for this reason, leveraging the actual users, who numbered less than a million, to reap the data of extra than 80 million human beings). Using these statistics, Cambridge Analytica labeled every man or woman’s character consistent with the so-called “OCEAN” scale (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) and normal individually focused messages to attraction to anyone’s character.

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Neither subpoenas nor investigative journalists were needed to discover all this—most of it became publicly revealed via Cambridge Analytica’s chief, Alexander Nix, in an advertising presentation that obtained extensive distribution on YouTube. Cambridge Analytica (owned in part through Robert Mercer, an early pioneer in artificial intelligence who has been a financial backer of Breitbart News and other right-wing reasons) had already executed work for the Trump Campaign, and Nix became searching for greater business.

The real chance revealed by using the Cambridge Analytica scandal is that the information and social systems of the internet, on which we increasingly spend our time and through which increasingly of our non-public and social connections flow, are being corrupted in the service of con guys, political demagogues, and thieves. Russia’s troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, employs fake personal money owed to post divisive messages, purchase political ads, spread fabricated snapshots, or even arrange political rallies.

The hazard of incorrect information is not just political; it’s also far business. Major internet advertising and marketing customers recognize that the “pay according to click” model is defective. Competitors can set up bots (or even human campaigns) to click on their advertisements, riding up their fees and casting doubt at the cost of an advertising and marketing campaign. The corporation Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities and organizations to cause them to seem more famous than they are. The fans are fake, cobbled collectively in an automated fashion via scraping the social media network for names and snapshots.

Until Zuckerberg decided to testify before Congress, there was scant proof that Twitter or Facebook was disturbed about this. Still, some machines are gaining knowledge of the equipment that can be used to perceive fake money owed or activity.

In 2015, a University of Maryland professor, Jen Golbeck, determined an inventive real-time approach for figuring out faux social media accounts. She discovered that a consumer’s Twitter or Facebook buddies range follows a famous statistical distribution known as Benford’s Law. In a conforming statistics set, the regulation states that the primary extensive digit of numbers is a “1” approximately 30 percent of the time—six instances more often than a 9. The phenomenon that is massive is called the physicist Frank Benford, who illustrated it with the surface regions of rivers, avenue addresses, numbers appearing in a Reader’s Digest difficulty, and many other examples.

In other phrases, if you looked at (say) one thousand Facebook users and counted what number of pals each had, roughly three hundred of them would have friend counts inside the teenagers (1x), 100–199 range (1xx) or 1,000–1,999 variety (1xxx). Only five percent might have counts starting with a 9: 9, 90– ninety-nine, 900–999, nine,000–nine,999.

Golbeck discovered that most Facebook, Twitter, and other social media follower and friend counts accompanied Benford’s Law. On Twitter, however, she found a small set of one hundred seventy money owed whose follower distributions differed markedly from that regulation. In her 2015 paper, she wrote:

“Some debts had been unsolicited mail. However, most had been a part of a network of Russian bots that published random snippets of literary works or quotations, regularly pulled arbitrarily from the middle of a sentence. All the Russian accounts behaved the same manner: following other debts in their kind, posting precisely one inventory picture image, and using a special inventory photo because of the profile image.”

Golbeck advised me that she and others published lists of energetic Russian bots on Twitter three years ago, and they are still active as of January of this year. Twitter does not seem to care. More to the point, a meticulous cleansing of person statistics would have the financially deleterious effect of reducing its consumer base; in Silicon Valley, enterprise plans begin and give up with a large and constantly growing person base.