Facebook's 'Screaming, Whiny Humans' Make It Hard to Control

The platform is having its 'Frankenstein moment,' Kevin Roose writes for 'NYT'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 22, 2017 2:57 PM CDT
Facebook's 'Screaming, Whiny Humans' Make It Hard to Control
How much is Facebook able to control what's going on under its purview?   (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Facebook is still wrangling with revelations it let advertisers target anti-Semitic followers—part of what's led to what Kevin Roose calls the platform's "Frankenstein moment." Writing for the New York Times, Roose says the "series of scandals" hitting Facebook, which has "created something it can't fully control," reminds him of the part in Mary Shelley's novel when Dr. Frankenstein realizes the same, noting: "I had been the author of unalterable evils, and I lived in daily fear lest the monster whom I had created should perpetrate some new wickedness." And Roose documents an intimidating list of current Facebook "evils": Russian-steered ads, censorship accusations in Myanmar, unwitting assistance to human traffickers. Roose notes he doesn't think any of this stems from "malice" on the company's part—just that Facebook seems ill-equipped to handle the enormity of these issues.

"It's a technology company, not an intelligence agency or an international diplomatic corps," he writes. And its sheer size makes it an unwieldy beast to tame, with one of the platform's former ad execs summing it up thusly: "If you're at the helm of a machine that has 2 billion screaming, whiny humans, it's basically impossible to predict each and every possible nefarious use case. It's a whack-a-mole problem." What Facebook will need to do, in Roose's opinion, to start to make fixes: invest in joint AI-human moderator teams to control "bad actors," get to know the countries it operates in better, and install a "risk department" that looks more carefully at new products and features. "The company can't dodge responsibility for the world it has helped to build," he notes. "In the future, blaming the monster won't be enough." Roose's op-ed in full here. (Read more Facebook stories.)

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