Friday, March 10, 2017

Let the Facebook investigations and antitrust suits begin

Just this week, three people I know, including my niece, had their Facebook pages summarily shut down without warning. In my niece's case, she was in the middle of writing a post when her entire page disappeared. My wife tried to access her page to continue a conversation and got a message saying it was "no longer available."

When my niece contacted Facebook administration to find out what happened, she said she was told she would have to send them a copy of her government-issued ID and a photograph of herself to get her account restored. Facebook is apparently doing a sweep, because the same thing happened to two other acquaintances, both of whom say they were told they would have to send a photo ID of themselves to get their pages back.

Now I know there have been problems with people hacking or duplicating other people's pages on Facebook, but what is Facebook doing with all of these photo ID's that they're apparently collecting from people? I don't think I'd send my ID to God-knows-who, maybe halfway around the world, for them to use as they please. And considering Facebook's track record, I have to wonder about the timing in the case of my niece, who had made several politically charged posts this week including making fun of the International Women's Day marches.

This development comes as Facebook is going ahead with their much-criticized policy of slapping labels on what they've deemed to be "fake news" based on judgments from some very dubious sources. From Breitbart News:
Facebook has begun to mark content that may be false with a tag reading “disputed” as part of their promise to crack down on “fake news.”

In December of last year, Facebook promised to take a hardline stance against “fake news,” partnering with partisan fact-checkers such as Politifact, Snopes and ABC News to police content on the platform. Recode reports that Facebook recently began implementing their new “fake news” measures by marking stories that may be false as “disputed” while linking to articles by Politifact and Snopes.

Currently, in order to flag a story as fake, a user must report it or Facebook’s algorithm must detect it. The story will then be sent on to Politifact and Snopes who will investigate and determine whether the story is incorrect. Only when the two fact-checkers agree will the story be marked as disputed.
As I've argued before, this activity seems ripe for generating some very large antitrust settlements. Of the more than 1 billion Facebook users, some 60 million of them are businesses, and many of them use social media as their major or sole form of marketing. Some of those are for-profit media organizations that publish articles and try and draw an audience, the size of which determines their advertising revenue. If Facebook is going to start creating an unfair playing field for media companies by promoting the ones it likes and labeling or blocking the ones it doesn't, that to me sounds like a textbook antitrust violation. By giving the likes of ABC News the power to judge articles by potentially competing news organizations, it's setting up the conditions for a monopoly.

Think about it. I'll be interested to see what happens the first time Facebook marks as "disputed" some article from a Capital Press-type niche publication about wolves, or GMOs, or the EPA's involvement in What's Upstream, or the travails of a mink farmer, or some other politically thorny issue.

As for me, I've been in the process of moving a lot of the commentary and observations I've done on Facebook over to this blog and am continuing to look into alternative social media outlets as more of a long-term strategy. If I suddenly disappear from Facebook, you can come here to see my posts. They're not getting my photo ID.

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