The fundamental laws of Facebook

Screenshot: Business Insider

Facebook asked for users’ email passwords, then “unintentionally uploaded” people’s contact lists without asking for separate permission, according to Business Insider.

Stop trying to explain these violations one at a time. A pattern is increasingly obvious.

To that end: here are the fundamental laws of Facebook, which will explain not just this violation but all future violations:

  1. Facebook’s algorithm is supreme. All policies and engineering efforts serve the algorithm.
  2. The algorithm thrives on engagement. It will always evolve in directions that increase engagement. This imperative is stronger than all other forces including morality, humanity, shame, and logic.
  3. The algorithm generates revenue through targeted advertising, but this is an effect, not a cause. It is the algorithm, not the advertising, that rules all.
  4. Facebook management’s job is to more effectively serve the algorithm. All “decision-making” is actually in further service to the algorithm.
  5. The algorithm wants data. All of Facebook’s workers must increase the data available to the algorithm.
  6. All user information, regardless of the purpose for which it was originally collected, is data for the algorithm. That includes security phone numbers, email passwords. Of course this also includes “private” messages between users.
  7. All other applications, regardless of whether Facebook owns them or not, are also data sources. All Web sites and apps exist to serve the algorithm’s appetite for data. Connections among applications that ostensibly increase convenience actually exist to open up new channels for data collection.
  8. Facebook collects user data from “partners,” but shares back only profile information. Facebook’s data hoard belongs only 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.
  12. Government moves slowly. The algorithm evolves quickly. Speed wins.
  13. Any human intervention required by the algorithm will be slow and ineffective, and the humans will be poorly paid and traumatized. These humans represent friction and must eventually be eliminated.
  14. Hate speech, streamed shootings, and other violations of human dignity will continue, because the ingenuity of evil is the only force more protean and powerful than the algorithm. Facebook will respond by amending the algorithm to calm public outrage, but such amendments will never fully block evil content.
  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.
  17. The algorithm will continue independent of the devices people use. Regardless of whether mobile phones give way to virtual reality, audible conversations, or retinal implants, the algorithm will be there.
  18. Facebook will never understand why you don’t just give up and trust the algorithm. Resistance is futile.

The next time there is a data violation, public statement, or “scandal” at Facebook, see if these rules don’t explain it.

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  1. Regular readers of this space (or my book) may be wondering: why have I written this post almost entirely in the passive voice?

    Two reasons.

    1. Natural laws tend to be in the passive voice “Energy can neither be created or destroyed.” I wanted to sound like that.

    2. Passive voice sets up uneasiness in the mind of the reader. “Who is doing this stuff? Why? What is happening?” Normally that is a bad thing. In this case I intentionally wanted to create that sense of no one being in control.

    Don’t use passive voice — unless it suits your intentions.

  2. The Facebook Algorithm is considered to be the highest corporate guarded secret in the world. An Indian Technology firm claims that they have hacked the system and have it. They are offering to sell it to the highest bidders. Is this possible?

  3. I’m not a fan of Facebook – never have been and only use it because of one company I work with doesn’t have any other platform. I have an alias, use an email address that’s only for FB and have every security thing turned on or off, depending. And still… I get friend recommendations for people I know based on email addresses stored on my computer that FB should NEVER know about unless they’re trolling through my computer/apps looking for them. Against my direct wishes and settings.

    I hate this thing.