Facebook, false advertising, and the cost of doing business

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook won’t block political ads with lies in them. Facebook has changed its policy on — lets call it what is — false advertising. Zuckerberg characterizes this as a “free speech” issue.

This is misdirection, a smokescreen. It’s utter bullshit.

I refer you to what I wrote earlier this year, after another trust violation, about the fundamental laws of Facebook. It’s not completely about money. Here are the rules from that post that apply

1. Facebook’s algorithm is supreme. All policies and engineering efforts serve the algorithm.

4. Facebook management’s job is to more effectively serve the algorithm. All “decision-making” is actually in further service to the algorithm.

9. Manual “one-off” hackery is inelegant. The only reason to indulge in it is to evade public criticism that could eventually harm the algorithm.

10. Friction slows the algorithm. Friction includes user opt-ins and safeguards — insofar as possible, these must be eliminated or stashed in an incomprehensible welter of security settings that few users will ever touch.

11. Regulation is friction. Facebook would rather pay fines, lobby, delay, and write op-eds than accede to regulation that would slow the algorithm. Facebook lawyers, lobbyists, and management serve the algorithm by blocking and delaying regulation. Regardless of their actual statements, the true reason for their work is that nothing must slow the algorithm.

15. The algorithm loves lies and fakes. Minor, cosmetic changes to the algorithm, loudly proclaimed by management, don’t change that.

16. Mark Zuckerberg will apologize. This is part of his service to the algorithm.

18. Facebook will never understand why you don’t just give up and trust the algorithm. Resistance is futile.

If, like Facebook, you operate under the theory that friction is evil, then you want to clear away everything that impedes the machine-driven operation of Facebook. That includes checking political ads for lies. It’s not about free speech. It’s not really about profit. It’s about the algorithm.

It’s not just Facebook. All business hates friction. And regulation = friction.

Uber argues that its drivers are not employees, they are contractors. This is because treating them as employees would be inconvenient, and therefore costly. It argues that adding this friction would mess up its perfect, algorithm-driven system.

Airbnb would rather not have to comply with hotel-based policies and taxes. Friction again. Don’t interfere with the automated algorithm, it would mess things up.

Exxon and BP would rather not deal with the environmental consequences of drilling for, refining, and transporting fossil fuels. They interfere with our need for oil and gas. They slow things down. Friction again. Don’t interfere with business.

Drug and “supplement” companies really don’t want to deal with costly clinical trials, quality control, and cost controls. Their products generate plenty of profit when integrated into the American health-care system, and when pricing can float to wherever feels right. This feel natural to them. They deal with enough regulations as it is. Their profits depend on reducing any further friction.

Financial companies would prefer not to comply with capital requirements. Hedge funds count on the “carried interest” tax loophole. Airlines can make more money if they squeeze in more seats and charge you for extra room. Car companies would like to be free of fleet mileage average requirements. Meat companies want to feed their animals the cheapest feed and fight infections from overcrowding with antibiotics. Don’t regulate. It just gums up the works.

Capitalism is always more profitable without regulations — in the short run. In the long run, unregulated business carries risks which we all end up paying for in living in a more crowded, louder, less safe, and riskier world.

Here’s the deal folks. Regulation to keep things from being more awful is the cost of doing business.

TV stations make a profit even though they need to check ads for false advertising and decency — its’s the cost of doing business on the public airwaves. It’s why the FCC and FTC exist. Why should Facebook be immune? Because it interferes with the algorithm?

Seat belts, pollution controls, health inspections, contractor policies, sales taxes — they are all the cost of doing business. You live in this society, you have to operate by the rules. America isn’t socialist, but it’s not free-for-all capitalism either. The rules, together with innovation, are what make this place livable.

Some regulations are stupid. Some are just “red tape.” (Try working with a government contractor as a sole proprietor and you’ll see.) I’m not saying every regulation is a good idea. We need to be thoughtful about this, because regulation carries a cost for innovators.

But don’t tell me it’s a free speech issue. Just because Facebook would find it inconvenient to check political ads for lies doesn’t mean we should let them go. I can’t drive 120 miles an hour on the freeway with no seatbelts, because that’s dangerous. So are unchecked political ads.

Demand accountability and regulation. Algorithm be damned.

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  1. You were putting it very mildly here. AOC was not that gracious with him yesterday.

    I believe that Zuckerberg’s ignorance and unwillingness to tame the monster he created might lead to consequences still being underestimated even by digital experts. It’s a bit like the frog in the water as its being heated up.

    We’ve all been in the marinade for so long. And some of us still use his machine for their own benefits. That’s becoming more of an ethical dilemma each day. We are headed for the iceberg aka the “other” berg.

    At least on paper Zuckerberg is also a jew. I believe he has done Judaism a bigger disservice than anyone else in the last 75 years (including any Israeli politician). His machine is used daily to spread anti-semitism based on lies and falsehoods. He’s sitting in his office and counting his beans.

    It might be helpful to force regular FB employees (not the poor cleanup crew) to watch some of the content on “their” platform. Employee morale would drop to below what can still be measured. You can’t just go there each day, do your work, take your paycheck and then pretend you have nothing to do with anything. No, these people are all enablers. Years ago they could have easily corrected the negative outcomes of FB. Today the beast is out of the bottle and people might just move on to the next platform that let’s them have it. We’ll have to hunt them down in the last corners of this planet. Those platforms are a reaction to FB and therefore I blame FB for their existence as well.

    I said on November 8th 2016 that I blamed Zuckerberg for Trump’s election. He let it happen on his campground. He has not faced any consequences so far except for a few flights to Washington D.C..

    I hope that this will eventually change. As a first step we might need to sprinkle a little friction on that machine. Unfortunately congress is way too busy with itself right now. Plus the senate doesn’t want to pass anything that looks like the house is actually doing it’s job. And the head honcho benefits from this giant gaslighting machine. Until that changes we will not get beyond a hearing here and there. Things will continue to deteriorate.

    1. Well put, except that we’re not as alert as frogs. Given any opportunity, they jump out of the water as soon as it starts heating up. We wait until the planet is on fire and then are still reluctant to take any action that might affect our comfort or our perceived ‘freedom’ or lower our ability to consume and pursue ‘happiness.’

  2. Reading Klaus above … sounded interesting until the para on “Zuckerberg is also a jew” – WTH*ll does that have to do with anything?

    Incidentally, many would make the case that this kind of talk ought to be censored.

    What is less troubling than the fact that FB doesn’t censor the things we think it ought to…

    … Is that there is an audience for the crap we think ought to be censored.

    The almighty algorithm is reflecting what humans seem to want to consume by feeding more of it to those consumers. Even lies (from every side in my observation), be they advertised or not.

    Is it Facebook that is to blame? Or, is it our culture and what standards we as individuals live to?

  3. Don’t forget the other role for regulation…the incumbent businesses use it to lock out new entrants. In this case, friction is their friend.