Facebook has been having to issue a fair number of apologies lately. Nothing new here: Facebook’s Ad Scandal Isn’t a ‘Fail,’ It’s a Feature, says Zeynep Tufekci in the New York Times. “What does it take to advertise on Facebook to people who openly call themselves “Jew haters” and want to know “how to burn Jews”? About $10 and 15 minutes, according to what the investigative nonprofit ProPublica recently uncovered.”
Apologies were issued, but let’s do the math. “The Zuckerberg principle of management is push to the extreme, see what you can get away with, and then apologize and try to shift attention elsewhere. It has apologized for Beacon, psychological testing, faulty ad sale metrics, India strategy that smacked of colonialism. I think you get the point,” writes Om Malik. “Being open and transparent is not part of its DNA. This combination of secrecy, microtargeting and addiction to growth at any cost is the real challenge. The company’s entire strategy is based on targeting, monetizing and advertising.”
Nor was the latest bout of anti-Semitic advertising the first or only one. Lest we forget, Videos (posted to Facebook) teach would-be Palestinian attackers ‘how to stab’ a Jew, showing detailed instructional guidance on how to stab Israelis, methods for maximum bodily damage, and ways to create deadly weapons to carry out attacks.
And that was 2015. Guess enough time had passed to try again. Why not? Facebook – as well as Twitter and Google – are more or less left to police themselves and in case you missed it, Google and Its Partners Will Issue Refunds to Advertisers Over Fake Traffic. Wasn’t the first time. Doubt that it will be the last. As for tech policing itself, bottom line is: they don’t want to – and they don’t have to.
Forest through the trees and a factor that no one is looking at or as far as we know, considering: every industrial age has been led by alpha males. Tech is quite different. It was led by so-called pirates and back room boys, who are traditionally beta males. Betas and alphas are quite different. Alphas are driven by money, power and acquiring ‘stuff.’ We see that in betas as well, but their basic drivers are different. Why did Zuckerberg focus on The Facebook? Because a girl dumped him. Why did Bill Gates leave Microsoft and focus on the Gates Foundation, which has led to his acquiring far more wealth and possibly attention than did his stint at Microsoft? Because no matter how big Microsoft grew and how far its reach, people loved Steve Jobs more. Jobs was the icon, not Gates.
Not that tech betas are your typical betas. They’re worse: these backroom betas are geeks, and prior to the rise of the tech industry, were considered undersocialized misfits who belonged behind closed doors. Make no mistake about it: the backroom betas have an axe to grind. And given the reach of tech – Facebook now has over two billion users, which is a third of the world’s population, for those of us playing the home version – they’re taking it out on the world, and taking one of Silicon Valley’s favorite mantras to a new level: ask forgiveness, not permission – then try it again at a later date.
Wash, rinse, spin, repeat. Try it often enough – with enough lag time between attempts – and people may just stop noticing.
The Betas and AI
It could potentially get even worst than the current surveillance and lack of privacy. Writes Maureen Dowd in the New York Times (Will Mark Zuckerberg ‘Like’ This Column?), “the (Sheryl) Sandberg admission (“We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way — and that is on us”) was also game, set and match for Elon Musk, who has been sounding the alarm for years about the danger of Silicon Valley’s creations and A.I. mind children getting out of control and hurting humanity. His pleas for safeguards and regulations have been mocked as “hysterical” and “pretty irresponsible” by Zuckerberg.
“Zuckerberg, whose project last year was building a Jarvis-style A.I. butler for his home, likes to paint himself as an optimist and Musk as a doomsday prophet. But Sandberg’s comment shows that Musk is right: The digerati at Facebook and Google are either being naïve or cynical and greedy in thinking that it’s enough just to have a vague code of conduct that says “Don’t be evil,” as Google does.
Well, that’s long gone, seemingly along with a code of conduct.
We Are the Product
“The trouble is Facebook’s business model is structurally identical whether advertisers are selling shoes, politics or fake diet pills, and whether they’re going after new moms, dog lovers or neo-Nazis,” says Tufekci. “The algorithms don’t know the difference, and Facebook’s customers are not its users. Rather, as this latest incident should remind us, we are Facebook’s product. Our attention and eyeballs are sold to the highest bidders, whatever they may be peddling.”
Something to keep in mind as the beta uberlords go deeper and deeper into AI. How can companies that can’t even sort out algorithms be responsible with AI? If the way they have been behaving is any indication of where they may be going, may be high time to reign them in and – can’t resist – give new meaning to the term beta blockers. With AI, “oops: just ain’t going to cut it. Especially in the hands of people who’ve clearly demonstrated that sometimes a cigar isn’t merely a cigar.
As Musk told (Maureen Dowd) when he sat for a Vanity Fair piece: “It’s great when the emperor is Marcus Aurelius. It’s not so great when the emperor is Caligula.” We know where the very powerful beta boys stand, and Caveat Emperors as we go onward and forward.