Lack of a proper mechanism for emergency escalation
Though we are grateful to hear that the case was brought to your personal attention, Mark, it is hard for us to regard this escalation as successful. It took over four days from when the messages started circulating for the escalation to reach you, with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, being reached in the meantime.
This is not quick enough and highlights inherent flaws in your ability to respond to emergencies. Your reporting tools, for one, do not provide options for users to flag content as priority. As far as we know, there are no Burmese speaking Facebook staff to whom Myanmar monitors can directly raise such cases. We were lucky to have a confident english speaker who was connected enough to escalate the issue. This is not a viable or sustainable system, and is one which will inherently be subject to delays.
Reticence to engage local stakeholders around systemic solutions
These are not new problems. As well as regular contact and escalations to your team, we have held formal briefings on these challenges during Facebook visits to Myanmar. By and large though, our engagement has been limited to your policy team. We are facing major challenges which would warrant the involvement of your product, engineering and data teams. So far, these direct engagements have not taken place and our offers to input into the development of systemic solutions have gone unanswered.
Presumably your data team should be able to trace the original sources of flagged messages and posts and identify repeat offenders, using these insights to inform your moderation and sanctioning. Your engineering team should be able to detect duplicate posts and ensure that identified hate content gets comprehensively removed from your platform. We’ve not seen this materialise yet.
Lack of transparency
Seven months after the case mentioned, we have yet to hear from Facebook on the details of what happened and what measures your team has taken to better respond to such cases in the future. We are also yet to hear back on many of the issues we raised and suggestions we provided in a subsequent briefing in December.
The risk of Facebook content sparking open violence is arguably nowhere higher right now than in Myanmar. We appreciate that progress is an iterative process and that it will require more than this letter for Facebook to fix these issues.
If you are serious about making Facebook better, however, we urge you to invest more into moderation – particularly in countries, such as Myanmar, where Facebook has rapidly come to play a dominant role in how information is accessed and communicated; We urge you to be more intent and proactive in engaging local groups, such as ours, who are invested in finding solutions, and – perhaps most importantly – we urge you to be more transparent about your processes, progress and the performance of your interventions, so as to enable us to work more effectively together.
We hope this will be the start of a solution-driven conversation and remain committed to working with you and your team towards making Facebook a better and safer place for Myanmar (and other) users.
With our best regards,”
I was hopeful during the Arab Spring. The promise of a grass-roots digital uprising was inspiring. I don’t feel that way anymore. We’ve all been duped. Google and Twitter will also probably come under investigation. Hopefully these organizations will sincerely begin to live their principles, adopt a pay-per-use format, or agree to institute internal and external oversight. Or, as Google claims, “Don’t be evil.”
Considering Facebook’s irresponsible and complicit violation of individual data, why aren’t businesses running from Facebook? Should you run? Mozilla and Pep Boys have announced that they’re pulling their spending. But that’s about all I could find. Businesses in general are giving Facebook a pass. “We at Clorox stand by Facebook as an essential partner in building our brands,” said Eric Reynolds, CMO. AT&T, Proctor & Gamble, Verizon, PepsiCo have all decided to stick with Facebook.
Perhaps these companies differentiate the relationship an individual has with other users rather than individual users and brands. More likely is that these companies believe that demonizing Facebook is wrong because it could have been any platform, any user base. More likely, and hopefully, Congressional hearings will create real accountability–“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
It’s too early to see if the #DeleteFacebook movement will find traction. It feels lightweight–if 50 million users quit there’d still be another billion regular users from around the world, in places where social communication is important. There are too many people who don’t feel an affront to the Cambridge Analytica controversy. There are too many people who say, “Go ahead and take my data, I don’t have anything to hide.”
To its credit Facebook has already taken action. Last week it announced that it would remove ad targeting options that rely on consumer data from outside companies.” Given Facebook’s dominance, they probably don’t need outside data for ad targeting.
For businesses, Facebook will continue to be another means of extending their brands with connected consumers. Facebook branding helps a business create a holistic view and connection of their consumers. Well-told brand stories improve loyalty among target demographics. The Cambridge Analytica controversy will pass–it will not dent Facebook’s dominance.
Ultimately, business owners will have to come to terms with privacy and personal data issues on their own–reconciling the risk and reward and return. For me and many others it business owners it leaves the question: Is it better to work with the devil that you know than the devil that you don’t?