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Facebook agreed to censor "anti-state" content in Vietnam

ben profile image Ben Halpern twitter logo github logo ・1 min read  

Reuters: Facebook agreed to censor posts after Vietnam slowed traffic

“We believe the action was taken to place significant pressure on us to increase our compliance with legal takedown orders when it comes to content that our users in Vietnam see,” the first of the two Facebook sources told Reuters.

How do you feel about this?

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Nothing new. Facebook has a history of supporting dictatorships and undermining democracy the world over. They helped Duterte take over the Phillipines, both passively and actively. They've caused similar problems in Libya, Myanmar, and India. Their carelessness (or maliciousness, it's hard to know) allowed their platform to be used by Cambridge Analytica to attempt to interfere in our election, but although they claim innocence, Facebook has been notoriously slippery about the matter. They've participated in unethical psychological studies, and collected and sold personal information you don't even provide them explicitly, even that of your friends.

Facebook is a company that has found a way to profit from undermining world democracy and human rights through egregious privacy violation (effective espionage), censorship, and collusion with bad actors. Their main income is from collecting, aggregating, and selling your data, and the data of everyone you know that you provide to them. When you have an account with them, or use any of their products, you are continually supporting their efforts.

 

Facebook has a history of supporting dictatorships and undermining democracy the world over.

What a change it has been since we have praised Facebook for its role as a herald of democratic revolutions. Have we forgotten about the Arab Spring in the Middle East, the Egyptian revolution, the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, the Occupy Wall Street Movement in the US, the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, the Extinction Rebellion Movement in the UK, the Sudanese Revolution, and the multiple Movements in Hong Kong?

Do you notice absences in the list above? No notable movements in China, because Facebook is blocked there. It is questionable that Facebook want to become the free ISP and gatekeeper of the developing world to the Internet, but at the same time, the democratizing power of Facebook is undeniable.

The history is much more complicated than "Facebook is an evil accomplice to dictatorships against democracy." If that's the case, dictatorships do not need to resort to restriction of access to coerce Facebook into such concessions. The ultimate culprit here is the Vietnamese government. Facebook is still a victim of state violence. Let's stop blaming the victim just because it's not perfect.

 

Actually, based on their active and willful role in what I described, they're no "victim". When ethical companies are ordered to do unethical things, the answer is simply "no". No other answer is forgivable.

I'm well aware of Facebook's history, but their crimes against the free world are nothing to be overlooked. Provably, they are one of the largest corporate enemies of data privacy in the world today, and they're only too willing to play along with censorship schemes. Their democratizing power is deniable, because it is tainted by a willful compliance with schemes of censorship, surveillance, strategic misinformation, and psychological manipulation. They help create illusions of democracy to conceal and prop up totalitarian regimes.

I've been following this for many years, and hoping Facebook was just the well-meaning-but-misunderstood victim that many would like them to be. But they aren't. Their bad faith is proven time and again. They get caught involved in unethical scenarios far more often than your average social media firm, and that's a point we should take seriously.

There are many who aren't comfortable with the idea that their platform of choice is a bad actor on the world stage, and that the only ethical response is to leave said platform. Whether that applies to you, I'll leave you to quietly decide for yourself. But one must be careful not to stumble into confirmation bias to protect oneself from uncomfortable truths. Just because Facebook chose to passively allow positive political movements to use their platform, namely everything you mentioned, that does not excuse the undermining efforts that they haven't only allowed, but specifically aided.

I don't pick on Facebook because I'm some chronically outraged armchair warrior who just hates social media companies. I've looked at the facts over the years - I even posted links to several excellent sources - and can only conclude that Facebook is a bad actor whose "improvements" are limited to gaining skill at covering up for their (increasingly subtle) malice. I went from an avid user, to an inactive one, to eventually deleting my account but saying little, to actively educating people about Facebook's history. That was a journey that spanned years.

I went from an avid user, to an inactive one, to eventually deleting my account but saying little, to actively educating people about Facebook's history. That was a journey that spanned years.

I have walked the same road. I used it avidly, then deactivated my account, tried alternative platforms, tried to advocate for alternative platforms, as you probably have done. I try my best to keep up with the field of privacy-preserving technologies, such as distributed systems, cryptography, and open web standards. But I have found it not working, as much as I want it to. The following is out of my exploration for why.

When ethical companies are ordered to do unethical things, the answer is simply "no". No other answer is forgivable.
There are many who aren't comfortable with the idea that their platform of choice is a bad actor on the world stage, and that the only ethical response is to leave said platform.
Just because Facebook chose to passively allow positive political movements to use their platform, namely everything you mentioned, that does not excuse the undermining efforts that they haven't only allowed, but specifically aided.

I hope you know that Kantian moral absolutism is not the only valid ethical standard. FYI, there was a craze about this topic when Prof. Sandel started Justice, maybe the first viral online open course at Harvard.

I invite you think about other stakeholders in this situation than Facebook and the Vietnamese government. For example, the existing users in Vietnam, who may lose many connections they have gained on Facebook; the businesses in Vietnam reliant on the Facebook ads for their promotion, without which they may not turn a profit; the employees of those businesses as well as of Facebook, who may lose their jobs if Facebook abruptly stops service there. This is a classical trolley problem situation, and why the Vietnamese government has chosen this strategy. You can refuse to pull the switch and let the trolley run its course, but don't expect that to be "the only ethical response".

I do not intend to dispute or excuse the regressive actions of Facebook. I recognize the power of absolute ethical codes, many of which I subscribe to personally. But I invite you to consider for a moment the Bentham, utilitarian side of the situation, in a what-if scenario.

What if, as you want, Facebook suspends its service from Vietnam? Or indeed, if it does not cave, and is effectively blocked by Vietnam, like China does?

A very easily imaginable scenario is that WeChat would swiftly move in the Vietnam market, like it did in China. Unlike Facebook, which for all its complicity, is still regulated by the US laws, with the First Amendment being the most permissive speech law in the world, WeChat is regulated by Chinese laws, which is more stringent than Vietnam. Moreover, WeChat has the experience in China, to build a platform permissive enough for commerce to thrive, while nipping any notable dissenting aggregations in their buds. The Vietnamese government would not only can delete posts, but also have direct access to the content of any group chat, prevent dissenting posts to be posted at all, and pinpoint the users posting dissenting contents to take actions against them in real life.

The Vietnamese government would also be able to nurture an army of propagandist accounts on the new platform, and over time, influence people so much so that they stop trusting the concept of political organization itself. It would be able to make people doubt democracy.

Isn't that a bigger danger to democracy? And you wouldn't know. Because as far as you are concerned, Facebook is out of Vietnam, and it is ethical.

They get caught involved in unethical scenarios far more often than your average social media firm, and that's a point we should take seriously.

I agree. We should definitely take the problem of freedom and human rights in the world seriously. But to let the compromises of Facebook eclipse the actual problem of state infringement on human rights is unwise. Facebook is more than, but still, a canary. The flip side of the average social media firms not caught in unethical scenarios is that they have not been attributed to triggering entire democratic revolutions either. No other social media firms have such a contentious reputation with the governments. No other firms have continued to engage with the governments despite such a contentious reputation.

In the end, I am surprised I agree with the villain, the authoritarian regimes, but I have to give them this point: we cannot give up any battleground when it comes to platform of speech. Be it Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, LINE. This is the rule of politics. This is why Bernie Sanders ran on the Democratic platform even though he's an Independent, why AOC joined the Democratic caucus even though she's a Democratic Socialist, why Neo-Nazis flocked to the Republican campaign, and why de-platforming works against them. I posit that privacy advocates should not self-de-platform.

No other social media firms have such a contentious reputation with the governments.

Do you mean like Wikipedia and the Internet Archive, to name two examples?

I think our disagreements are at a fundamental ethical level, though, so the rest of this isn't really worth debating further.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia does not have as contentious a reputation with governments as Facebook, and it does not continue to engage with governments on contentious terms.

Wikipedia does not have a reputation of inciting revolutions. It documents revolutions, but does not create them. China has blocked Facebook since 2009 following deadly riots in Xinjiang, linking Facebook to the riots. China has blocked the Chinese Wikipedia since 2015, then other languages in 2019. Only the latter got widely reported because Wikimedia Foundation published an announcement.

The Wikimedia Foundation does not directly engage with foreign governments which block access to Wikipedia, as far as I know. Only Jimmy Wales went to a Chinese conference on the Internet in his personal capacity. Even though Wikipedia is large, the Wikimedia Foundation is small and powerless against the power of a foreign state.

 

It is questionable that Facebook want to become the free ISP and gatekeeper of the developing world to the Internet

For the time being, Google/Youtube have managed to secure that role, at least the gatekeeper part.

 

I mostly feel glad that I stopped using Facebook products, and I’m really worried about the outsized power Facebook has over potential policy re: internet regulation around the globe.

 

I am glad that Facebook is powerful enough to be in the position to shape the potential policy re: Internet regulation around the globe. Same for Google and Apple. Absent them, it would just be a pandemonium of governments tearing the Internet apart.

 

I think that Facebook has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not have its users best interests at heart, and that it prefers to be on a permanent apology tour rather than devote real effort to fix underlying issues in data usage and public trust. I think there’s reasonable room for argument about whether Google and Apple are better suited to the task, but any study of facebooks history should make one wary of their intentions and capabilities.

If anything, Facebook is the most resistant to the authoritarians, because authoritarianism requires breaking connections between people, which goes directly against Facebook's mission. Facebook is only more visible whenever it makes concessions, exactly due to such a glaring contradiction.

Meanwhile, Google and Apple make compromises with authoritarian governments in their supply chains and operating system services with little public attention, but to no less detriment of the citizens under oppression. I do not posit that Facebook is less complicit than Google and Apple, just that Facebook is no more complicit.

In the wild jungle of international politics, no one can look like they "have [their] users best interest at heart". Within the border you have the law of a nation. Across the border, maybe not all bets are off, but a great many are. Marx dreamed of a global Union of individual workers, which ended up in Communist disasters. Trolley problems everywhere. I do not posit that Facebook will solve the freedom of Internet problem. I only posit that absent Facebook, the problem is definitely worse.

I’m really not interested in arguing with you about Facebook good vs Facebook bad via abstract assertions. I’ve looked at the record and fervently disagree that Facebook has proven effectively resilient against authoritarianism and fascism. I expressed my opinion about Facebook in response to a specifically worded question about a particular news story regarding their actions. You were the first to bring up google and apple in this thread. Not sure why you’re stanning Facebook in my mentions. I don’t think debating the current reality we have versus your headcanon of what a world without Facebook might look like us either useful or entertaining. I think Facebook has been irresponsible and continues to be, and I’m glad not to use their products. YMMV /shrug

I’m really not interested in arguing with you about Facebook good vs Facebook bad via abstract assertions. I’ve looked at the record and fervently disagree that Facebook has proven effectively resilient against authoritarianism and fascism.

I don't either. My point is not "Facebook good". My point is there are more to the context of the records you have looked, which I think you should care about. I don't disagree that "Facebook has [not] proven effectively resilient against authoritarianism and fascism". Being the "most" doesn't mean effective. But if even the "most" is not effective, then what is? I am sorry I appeared confrontational. I want to invite you to think what's beyond the criticism. I have deactivated my Facebook accounts, used various alternatives, tried to get others off, to no avail. I have since become curious about what it actually takes to dethrone Facebook, only to find it a much bigger problem than privacy and technology.

I don’t think debating the current reality we have versus your headcanon of what a world without Facebook might look like us either useful or entertaining.

Because pertaining to the people in Vietnam and Facebook, this is exactly the pressure the government has put on them: with Facebook or without Facebook. Since you do not like the compromise Facebook has made, what do you think will happen if Facebook does not compromise? Will Vietnam government stand down and remove restrictions? Will Vietnam government keep the block and prop up a local competitor? How will it affect other competitors such as WeChat or VK, arguably not ethical either?

We agree that "[Facebook] does not have its users best interests at heart". In the case of Facebook not compromising, what will happen to Facebook users in Vietnam? What action is more in their interests than Facebook is currently doing?

I agree with the same privacy principles as you do. For us, we have alternatives. I only invite you to think about the users who may not be so strict as us. Indeed, their mileage may vary. But is that something so light we can shrug off?

Hey. I’m sorry. I’m not reading this. I thought I made it clear that I’m not really interested in debating with you in this venue and I’d appreciate it if you stop coming into my mentions. Every time someone expresses an opinion online it’s not an open invitation for argument or to be corrected. Thanks.

 

I wouldn't trust a company to shape global policy whose primary source of revenue is advertising data. That goes for both Facebook and Google.

I wouldn't place unconditional trust in any of the agents shaping global policies. On the other hand, you cannot resign to placing no trust in any of them. Advertisement is one of the lesser evils among the business models of players of global policies, which can include slave labor, child labor, polluting resource extraction, and war. I usually trust Facebook and Google less than democratically elected governments, but more than authoritarian regimes.

 

Are you an FB evangelist or something? 😂😂

First I apologize if this appears in the mentions of the OP. I am sorry this might be long again.

I have first hand experience of a life in a community without Facebook, and I know that is not an improvement over a compromised Facebook. I do not use Facebook myself, but "without" and "do not use" are not the same. I do not advocate for using Facebook; I do advocate for Facebook to be present.

Thank you for the measured reply! :-) I do agree that Facebook's being around is the better outcome, but that doesn't absolve them of the blatant disregard of personalized data. How a platform ends up getting used (election interference, stalking, etc.) isn't entirely in their hands but they continue to turn a blind eye to everything except money. I haven't seen this personally, but on some respectful podcast I heard that they continue ignoring complaints again ads based on human trafficking but they are swift to shut down wellness products that claim to have curative effects.

All in all, when there's a discussion, it's not a given that one of the parties has to be right and the other has to be wrong. They can both be right or both be wrong. Peace! :-)

on some respectful podcast I heard that they continue ignoring complaints again ads based on human trafficking but they are swift to shut down wellness products that claim to have curative effects.

I think I have heard about something like that elsewhere too. This shows that "they continue to turn a blind eye to everything except money" is an overstatement, isn't it? At least they are enforcing a standard on medical ads.

But why the discrepancy? I think it is because developing a test for human trafficking is way harder than for overpraising medical ads. For such a test you need high sensitivity (low false negative), high specificity (low false positive), and some ways to recover from false positive (should block but left on) and false negatives (should be on but blocked).

For medical ads, Facebook can just run anything claiming medical curative effects through the FDA database (or the local medicine admin database), which is very sensitive, anything not on there is not legit. That leaves only false positives, and Facebook recovers from that easily with complaints.

For human trafficking, where do you start? They can code their language in any of "travel agency", "international recruitment", etc. There's not a database for legit travel agencies or recruiters. Any test probably has both low sensitivity and low specificity. You know, Facebook not only sees complaints from the NGOs, but also others, which may come from malicious business competitors. You basically need a lawsuit to verify each of the complaints. If Facebook is aggressive in blocking, then the false negatives will become complaints too, adding more backlog to the system. The false negatives are normal travel agencies who not only did nothing wrong, but are customers!

Maybe Facebook can team up with an NGO, trusting it to tell human trafficking ads from travel agency ads. But what precedent would that set? What's your standard for trusting an organization to censor ads?

Similarly, Baidu stirred a large controversy in China because its medical ads led to the death of a patient, and they were accused of negligence. Since then they've worked on improving, but it's still not great, why? Because the medical oversight system in China is not good in the first place.

The legislature has to step up. We are only looking to Facebook because the legislature and the government has left a blank here. Maybe there can be a database of all legit travel agencies and recruiters. But how much would that hinder market competition? Is there a balance in there, like only requiring international agencies to register? What checks needs to be in place to prevent rent-seeking? How much do you trust your government to regulate it in the first place? These types of questions are what leads to a solution, but clearly cannot be answered by Facebook.

It's not about the algorithm. Apparently, Facebook likes to play dumb even if the ads are visibly offending and have been flagged multiple times. Sure, some problems are perhaps impossible to solve algorithmically (content moderation, for example), but it's the lack of total integrity we're talking about here.

Anyway, the whole idea makes me sick. 🤮🤮

FYI on human trafficking, the situation may not be as horrible as portrayed by the media, as reported in this long investigative piece by Vice.

 

It's a realistic concern, not just concerning Facebook but all the Big Tech companies. Twitter and YouTube being the other two bad faith actors in this arena. I have given up using Facebook and Twitter, but YouTube is unfortunately still a platform that I use, mostly due to lack of viable alternatives. The Alt-Tech platforms are much better concerning freedom of expression and human rights - shall we say less utilitarian and more fundamentalist when it comes to this. However, their content is not great yet.

Ultimately, I think a few high profile law cases will sort out whether Facebook is a platform or a publisher. If they are a platform, then they really cannot censor content on their platform - least of all in line with government censorship requirements, which lays to rest all the blurred distinctions between public spaces and private tech companies being a private platform so they can 'do what they like'. They cannot, least of all if they become the enforcers of government censorship.

If they decide to be a publisher, on the other hand, then they can moderate content on their platform, but then they cannot claim to be a platform that takes people's civil rights seriously. Then it isn't a space where you share your own photos and personal news with family and friends, it's more obviously a clickbait linkfarm geared towards milking advertisers and appeasing authoritarians.

 

This isn't completely Facebook's fault. A totalitarian government infringing on free access to information will eventually put major pressure on those companies that provide the information.

However, Facebook's primary interest is retaining users, and the Vietnamese government was forcefully preventing that by shutting off access to Facebook's servers.

I agree with the article when it states that this sets a dangerous precedent for other nations seeking to censor information.

Therefore, this was an extremely difficult decision for Facebook with no clear upside: comply with Vietnamese law and retain users and traffic, but give other countries the precedent of doing the same thing Vietnam did; or, lose the entirety of Vietnam traffic and users. At least that's how I see it. Whether this was the right or wrong decision for their business model will manifest itself in their shareholders.

Now, I've stated only the business side of it so far. Ethically and for PR, this was absolutely the wrong decision. This will lead to a further diminishing of Facebook in the public eye, and I believe will have the effect of users in tightly-regulated countries moving to other platforms for fear of what happened in Vietnam to happen to them.

And as many others are stating, this gives massive leverage to Facebook as a political tool. The Internet itself is intrinsically unbiased: information exists not as people's ideas and words, but as bits in a machine. When you impose censoring mechanics on the Internet, it obviously detracts from its value as a means of distributing information. By limiting people's ideas and access to free information, as Facebook is now doing, it gives nations more power than ever in imposing ideologically dangerous regulations on their people.

 

I believe will have the effect of users in tightly-regulated countries moving to other platforms for fear of what happened in Vietnam to happen to them.

In tightly-regulated countries, either there are no other platforms to move to in the first place (blocked without even a chance for negotiation), that other platforms are already more tightly-regulated than Facebook (local platforms fully under governmental control), or that they are more vulnerable than Facebook against such coercion (emerging small platforms that can be blocked when reaching a threshold).

The Internet itself is intrinsically unbiased

The Internet is intrinsically biased towards openness and freedom of association. That's what makes censorship especially standout on the Internet.

it gives nations more power than ever in imposing ideologically dangerous regulations on their people.

Nations have the same power before and after this. The whole debacle started with Vietnam blocking access to Facebook, which is already a more powerful move than allowing a compromised Facebook.

 

Keeping users connected, market position, ad money flowing VS losing all that by taking a stand. For a business (a vehicle designed to make money), the decision is pretty much inevitable.

You might think Facebook cannot really lose their market position, but it is entirely possible that Vietnam could go the way of China (block non-nationalistic software) or who knows, maybe even use China's alternative to FB. So perhaps this path is still the lesser evil.

Issues like this bring another concern to mind. The problem of scale. Do you think that The Facebook (the earlier college-only version of FB) would have faced these problems? Senate hearings, civil rights violations, election tampering, etc. These kinds of problems only happen when the user base is sufficiently large. Since it is now connected to so many people across many different contexts, it can be wielded by anyone with influence or know-how for their own purposes, to potentially great impact. That includes terrorists, oppressive governments, or a random hacker who figures out how to scrape all your friends' info to spearfish them.

So the bigger question is, how could you design a technology that, when scaled, could not be used as a weapon? (By the way, this is the same question that critical infrastructure services face in large cities.) Frankly, I do not think it is possible. Technology is simply a tool. Whether it damages or repairs depends on who wields it. Instead, I believe a better course is to distribute and federate services. Not just technically (something tech companies already do for best service), but in ownership of operations. At least that way, there isn't a single entity in charge. A single entity that can be influenced or infiltrated. A single point of failure.

 
 

Great article and I agree with it.

I didn't really delve into the details of distributed and federated. And we have already seen the cracks of existing implementations, but also the successes. For example, email. One email service can be compromised (some of them, perhaps easily) and its users data exposed or censored, but it is intractable to compromise EVERY email service on the internet. I agree that data remaining private even to the service provider is still mostly unsolved by email currently.

The article is actually quite interesting in that it proposes an approach which separates the data from the service. Users own their data and provide permission to services to use limited data for the service functionality. If the user decides to change services, they can withdrawn consent from the old one. It would even be possible to design a service that can't see the data itself but can still perform its services based on the data ("function shipping" architectural pattern as opposed to "data shipping"). I've been looking for this approach (user-owned data) to gain traction for a while. The most prominent effort I have seen is Tim Berners-Lee's Solid project. Seems still a ways off from being end-user viable.

There is less than zero incentive for existing services to adopt this and push it forward. It would be a breaking change to their entire business model. I think it is going to take a new generation of services designed for user-owned data in order for the internet to transition.

Personal observation: this service paradigm highly parallels functional programming where data and functions are separate and independently composable.

Also user-owned data still has potential privacy pitfalls in who is storing it. Solid for example has public services available or you can store it on your own machine (albeit with a process that is currently out of reach to average users). You still have to have trust in who is storing it, which could be misplaced. Public services can change ownership/leadership and therefore policies over time. If user-owned data became a really popular thing, even trusting your local machine could be a challenge. For example, how much do you really trust Windows 10 with your privacy now? Don't you think if user-owned data became popular, they would write code to look for it to add to their metrics?

Some level of trust will still be a factor.

data remaining private even to the service provider

FYI, and to quote Computing Over Encrypted Data

the holy grail of security, computing over encrypted data, or more aptly defined in the literature as secure computation


an approach which separates the data from the service
this service paradigm highly parallels functional programming where data and functions are separate and independently composable

What I am afraid is that this may never be "end-user viable". Data and functions may be independently composable, but use cases are not. For example, Apple has weakened the file system abstraction in iOS in favor of each application for a use case, and people love it (I love it too). Another example is machine learning, where data is deeply participating in defining the function, with each still distinct for different use cases.

For functions to be independent, the data it operates on needs to be an abstraction. But we cannot understand abstractions by intuition. For example, Haskell has discovered Monad to an abstraction over iteration, side effect, non-determinism, and asynchronicity. But these use cases are so distinct, we still have to understand them separately on our way to understanding the abstraction.

I believe this perspective of use case is more useful, as in reality what's challenging Facebook is not Wordpress, Mastodon, or Micro.blog, but WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Podcasts, subscribed newsletters like Substack, game communities like Discord, and professional communities like LinkedIn, StackExchange, GitHub, and dev.to. I don't think normal people care much about the abstractions which can arise behind all these, such as the WebSub standard.

The solution, in my opinion, has to be laws. GDPR. It's how we have regulated banks for centuries, and how we can transfer money and contracts across systems of different agencies even countries. But that's also exactly what's forcing Facebook to censor in this case. Because that's what law is: law is politics. This is a political battle. We have to recognize that until the whole world is politically liberated, the Internet cannot be truly free with mere technological tricks.

 

Facebook or Yahoo (not sure which one) when operating in France had to comply with French law prohibiting the promotion of Fascism and its symbols, despite the fact these are allowed in the USA. Thus, all swastikas and similar had to be removed from their pages, viewed from France, and from the rest of Europe (I guess) as those are prohibited here universally.

Last time I checked, Facebook was a commercial company that had to abide by the laws of sovereign states if Facebook or any other foreign company intends to operate in their jurisdiction.

Vietnam fought for its independence and paid dearly for its freedom. I would find concerning if Vietnam was forced into something by Facebook, as Facebook has no saying in how the Vietnamese govern their country. Judging from recent history, no Western intervention in "evil" states brought any good to these states and especially to their citizens, leaving their homelands wracked and in worse condition than before.

Stop bringing freedom and you save plenty of lives. Unless you plan to liberate those people by killing them. Or perhaps, the price is small if paid by lives of children that are not yours. I do not know...

  • Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

  • Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.

  • —60 Minutes (5/12/96)

source

Or perhaps the Vietnamese government (God knows why) think that collateral damages are not worth it. Those backward morons!

Meme

Finally, I believe we should avoid politics on a technical platform since discussing politics leads to controversy and flame wars.

 

No social media website should be allowed to be a biased political tool.

 

A social media website is by definition a biased political tool: social means political, and political means biased; media is a tool.

 

It depends on whether the social media tool is a platform, or a publisher. If it's just a platform, it should not be biased, and also not a political tool. If it is a publisher, then it will be biased. That means from a technical standpoint, you would get garbage data from that social media website. As a silly example, let's say Twitter or YouTube censor all the mentions of the Tom Hanks Disease. Now you do a sentiment analysis of how people feel about Tom Hanks Disease. Because of the systemic bias in the social media platform, you cannot build an accurate model with reasonable results for the sentiment analysis. Now imagine that those in charge of the platform enforces thumbsuck user guidelines which are not in line with a country's constitution or even its legal framework, and then hides behind 'oh well it's a private platform we can do what we like'. Next, they enforce the government's guidelines on Tom Hanks Disease, but without the checks and balances that even a government has. To boot, they do this on top of their own often unclear and contradicting user guidelines. The Big Tech platforms are rife with examples of censorship in this regard - this despite the platforms perhaps having had a history of positive political action and organisation occurring on them. They have changed. They are not the same platforms any longer, thanks to the ideologically minded people who are now in charge of their terms and conditions. Certainly, media is a tool, but in such a case it's not a particularly useful tool if you want to inform people or encourage critical thinking. It's a tool for manufacturing consent, and as such I have no use for it from either a technical standpoint due to the biased data I obtain from it, or from a personal standpoint where I would prefer to err on the side of natural rights and the marketplace of ideas. We've heard of fake news - well, now we have fake social media too, ironically largely because of the clampdown on supposedly fake news on these platforms.

a platform, or a publisher

Where do you draw the line? New York Times has a big and diverse op-ed section. I don't think the line is clear enough for the distinction. For me they are one and the same: tools connecting members of a community together.

It's a tool for manufacturing consent

Any community is a manufactured consent: members consent by participating, and the community maintains consent by shunning. Therefore, tools for building communities, be they BBS, IRC, Discord, Facebook, must indeed manufacture consent.

it's not a particularly useful tool if you want to inform people or encourage critical thinking

The tool most credited with critical thinking, academic journals, are heavily regulated by publishers and then by peer reviews. An unregulated marketplace of idea is biased towards the reckless, the deceitful, the zealous, and most scarily, the intolerant. This is the Paradox of tolerance, described by Karl Popper in his The Open Society and Its Enemies as a fundamental threat to the integrity of an open community.

The line is drawn exactly between publisher and platform. The New York Times is not a platform, it is a publisher. Something like your phone contract is not a publisher, it is only a platform. NYT is held liable for the content of its pages, because it acts as a publisher and therefore assumes responsibility for what it allows on its platform. Your mobile phone platform does not assume responsibility for a private conversation between contract holders, because it does not have an editorial board that decides what stays and what goes.

Academic journals are hardly examples of critical thinking, precisely because they are heavy regulated by publishers and peer reviews. Serious academics eschew them for exactly that reason, along with the reason that they move too slowly to get to a point of publishing, that's why other platforms like Arxiv exists.

This is more about the legal definitions of platforms and publishers, as I understand it, and within the American jurisdiction, though, so you are right to point out that there may well be logical contradictions there. Plus, I am not a legal expert so I may even be summarising it incorrectly.

It's a good idea to take another look at the paradox of tolerance as Karl Popper phrased it. He did indeed make exception for freedom of expression, "as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise". The part about not tolerating the intolerant comes in when they start suppressing speech, or "are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument". That is when the intolerant start censoring, like Facebook and other platforms have done and therefore revealed themselves to be the intolerant bigots.

NYT is held liable for the content of its pages

The usual liabilities which apply to newspapers are defamation, libel, slander, and reckless false advertisement. All of which apply to Facebook.

Moreover, the Op-Ed, invented by NYT, is for publication from authors with "no institutional connection with The Times," expressing views "[very frequently completely divergent] from our own." What's more, you can send your own articles to be published as "letters to the editor".

NYT is surprisingly similar to Facebook.

Your mobile phone platform does not assume responsibility for a private conversation between contract holders [emphasis editor's]

You cannot broadcast to hundreds or thousands of your friends and followers with your SMS either. If you set a Facebook post to be public, then its public. Even if you set a post to be readable only by friends, it still is not private.

arxiv

Please inform yourself of the moderation policy of arXiv.

The part about not tolerating the intolerant comes in when they start suppressing speech, or "are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument". That is when the intolerant start censoring [emphasis editor's]

Popper warns about "censoring" as well as "[irrational] argument". "[Rational] argument" is not a high standard, but it is not as low as "any argument" either.

Yes, I agree with you: NYT is currently regarded very similar to Facebook. That is the point, but there hasn't been a decisive court case to determine whether Facebook should in fact be treated like NYT (ie a publisher), or just a platform (ie those libel and slander charges would be private civil cases holding the authors accountable as opposed to holding Facebook accountable).

To that point, I would prefer Facebook to be a platform and not a publisher. Most people disagree with me, including Facebook, who could not care less about your civil rights, they care about selling advertising space. So most people are welcome to use Facebook, but they must heed the warnings that, just like the NYT, Facebook would then be biased and does not serve as an effective public platform or marketplace of ideas in the tradition of a Speaker's Corner, where any speech is allowed as long as it is not illegal. A platform like NYT and Facebook very quickly descends into essentially a propaganda mouthpiece, much like late night comedians quickly got sanitised and institutionalised and stopped being edgy or informative and became yet more instructional agitprop.

The point was not that Arxiv is entirely without moderation. The point was that it's not true that tight regulation and peer review results in maintaining a high level of critical thinking. In fact, it would appear that high levels of critical thinking occur despite of and not because of high levels of moderation. You would find that Arxiv's moderation and publishing process is far less restrictive and more permissive, with only a refereeable by a conventional publication venue requirement. Arxiv's focus of course was to speed up the publishing cycle and not so much to replace the bloated bureaucracy of the publishing industry. It's just an example to illustrate much the same purpose can be served with far less regulation. This means that the tight regulation, and TOS in Facebook and YouTube's case, is unnecessary regarding critical thinking and content quality control and serves another purpose. YouTube doesn't care whether you offend someone's religious sensibilities, but if they can keep their content PG 13 or even better, All Ages, they can sell more advertising space. What's more is they have an excuse to edge off the independent publishers in favour of big pay cheques from other agitprop post-truth vendors like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.

The publishing industry is one of the oldest rackets in the world. See the Sokal Affair, the Grievance Studies Affair, or better yet read an actual peer reviewed, highly regarded and often cited published paper in a field like Critical Theory. Naturally, this sort of disregard for intellectual rigour is more rife in humanities, but tight regulation and peer review besides, it even crops up in science. See the Bognadov Affair and p-hacking.

However, spend a few minutes on Bitchute, Gab or Minds, and then I am inclined to agree with you that in lieu of more rigorous moderation, the quality suffers. It's still early days, though, and it's a matter of time before more quality content creators migrate to the alt-tech world due to the overly strict TOS guidelines of the Big Tech.

The point was that it's not true that tight regulation and peer review results in maintaining a high level of critical thinking. In fact, it would appear that high levels of critical thinking occur despite of and not because of high levels of moderation.

The non-linear relationship between regulation and critical thinking is not a black-or-white "despite of" versus "because of". Critical thinking in a community benefits from rigorous regulation, and suffers from excessive regulation.

Arxiv's focus of course was to speed up the publishing cycle and not so much to replace the bloated bureaucracy of the publishing industry. It's just an example to illustrate much the same purpose can be served with far less regulation.

I agree that academic publishers need improvement.

However, arXiv's focus is not to replace Elsevier because they serve different purposes. The second sentence of the arXiv homepage warns you as much: "Materials on this site are not peer-reviewed by arXiv." Emphasis mine.

This means that the tight regulation, and TOS in Facebook and YouTube's case, is unnecessary regarding critical thinking and content quality control

The Terms of Services of Facebook and YouTube are less tight than arXiv. Let me quote the entirety of the paragraph pertaining to "refereeable by a conventional publication venue":

Unrefereeable content. arXiv only accepts submissions in the form of an article that would be refereeable by a conventional publication venue. Papers that do not contain original or substantive research, including undergraduate research, course projects, and research proposals, news, or information about political causes (even those with potential special interest to the academic community) may be removed. Papers that contain inflammatory or fictitious content, papers that use highly dramatic and misrepresentative titles/abstracts/introductions, or papers in need of significant review and revision may be removed.

None of the content you usually see on Facebook meets this standard. If you hold arXiv to be the best critical thinking community among Elsevier, arXiv, Facebook, and Gab, then you have to think about why arXiv with tighter regulation is better than Facebook.

It's still early days, though, and it's a matter of time before more quality content creators migrate to the alt-tech world due to the overly strict TOS guidelines of the Big Tech.

You cannot hand-wave it with "early days". The "early days" and the seed members are what forms and defines a community. "A matter of time" means a major trend. I do not observe any major trend towards the like of Gab. Instead, creators go to Medium, Substack, Patreon, YouTube Original. For that matter, creators come to dev.to, with a code of conduct.

Critical thinking in a community benefits from rigorous regulation, and suffers from excessive regulation.

Rather, critical thinking benefits from facts and logic. You don't need regulation to stick to facts and logic, you need to foster a community that has critical thinking skills. In other words, a community that encourages teaching people how to think, as opposed to what they should think.

The Terms of Services of Facebook and YouTube are less tight than arXiv

They are also not applied rigorously, given that all users are equal while others are less equal. Even with excessive regulation, when everyone is not held to the same standard, it becomes exceedingly difficult to convince outsiders of the view that the Facebook of today is still the same Facebook of its early days. Facebook is evidently not an environment with a TOS that is designed with civil rights like freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in mind.

You cannot hand-wave it with "early days". The "early days" and the seed members are what forms and defines a community

The early days refers specifically to the time when seed members did define that community. Those seed members have left and are busy leaving Facebook. Why would they leave, if it were true that they still defined that community? Granted, many users who leave Facebook are younger users who prefer Tik Tok and Snapchat, but as a Facebook user from 2004, I no longer use it.

Similarly, the TOS of YouTube, Twitter and Patreon, to name but a few, are not defined by seed members at all. Most of those companies created a busy-job in the shape of "global lead for legal, policy, and trust and safety" officers, with a team of non-essential jobs who define the TOS instead.

This means that Facebook from 2018 is no longer even the Facebook from 2011, where it was already found to be more of a slacktivism phenomenon than meaningful in any practical political sense. This is already past the point of early days, but that trend seems to have continued.

teaching people how to think

To teach how to think means also to discourage how not to think. A large part of teaching is about regulating the classroom.

Facebook from 2018 is no longer even the Facebook from 2011

More state-sponsored political activity is a recognition of the effectiveness of political activity on Facebook, not a refutation. The trend is as Facebook connect more people, it becomes more effective and involved in real world politics.

If Facebook contains more state-sponsored political activity, it is per definition not the kind of platform that is effective in political organisation in raising concerns or opposing that status quo. Your examples cited earlier, among them the Arab Spring and the Jasmine Revolution, are examples of a series of anti-government protests and campaign(s) of civil resistance. Those governments tried very hard to clamp down on these platforms. Egypt shut down the entire internet in that country.

Generally speaking, are social media platforms effective tools in organising political activity? Yes, they may very well be. That is precisely why they contain more and more state-sponsored political activity, and also why they are employing censorship in line with state-sponsored requirements more commonly. That is the concern, not a boon and not a step in the right direction.

In terms of political organization, the government and the anti-government factions have to do exactly the same thing: advertise their positions, garner support, and convert the support into policies. Any political tool as effective as Facebook would eventually be adopted by both sides.

You seem to assume "state-sponsored" is illegitimate. I want to remind you that the Social Security is state-sponsored. The COVID-19 response is state-sponsored. The National Parks are state-sponsored. State is the governance of a large territory. Even the anti-government movements, they want to build a different state, or some different states. A state emerges as long as people in that territory want to communicate and commerce.

You seem to assume that I am in favour of social security. I am not, but that is not the issue here, nor is state sponsorship as such. The COVID-19 response is a mix of state-sponsored and private. Take the WHO for example: It has shown itself to be a partisan political player as well. To clarify: The reason for its lacklustre response is not necessarily because it is state-sponsored. As with Facebook, the reason why it is lacking is because it exemplifies state-sponsored views and responses, while it simultaneously censors opposing views. That is the point of freedom of expression: To protect dissenting views. There's no point to freedom of expression if it merely protects your right and mine to echo sanctioned viewpoints. Similarly, there is no point to freedom of assembly if I cannot protest or organise to protest against sanctioned viewpoints. It is entirely possible for the state to sponsor its viewpoints on a platform like Facebook, while also allowing dissenting viewpoints. It becomes objectionable when, as is the case with YouTube, viewpoints that contradict or dissent from the sacrosanct WHO viewpoints are censored from the platform. Moral objections regarding civil rights besides, a group that does not tolerate dissent is not an effective or efficient group.

Freedom of expression stops at other rights retained by people, as stated in the Ninth Amendment.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

For example, freedom of speech stops at the right to not be harmed, therefore soliciting suicide is prohibited, and medical advice is heavily regulated.

Freedom of expression is also a Natural Right. You don't have freedom of expression because it shows up in constitutions, it shows up in constitutions in order to safeguard your natural rights within some legal rights framework.

The purpose of America's Ninth Amendment is not to limit freedom of expression, or any other right. Exactly the opposite: It is designed so that later generations like you and I cannot construe new amendments that infringe on say the first or second amendments, and in those cases infringe on people's freedom of expression, or their right to bear arms.

Back on topic: If a Big Tech company agrees to house state-sponsored content, while it agrees to censor anti-state content, it becomes a propaganda mouthpiece for the state. It is extremely obvious in Vietnam, but perhaps less so in America where it is merely partisan and not necessarily censoring in favour of the current ruling party of the state there.

How do I feel about this? I would prefer a private company not to censor me or anyone else outside of the scope of our natural rights, but because that is a vague requirement, at the very least not outside the scope of a given country's constitution. Since Facebook is an American company, at the very least it should allow its users in America the constitutional rights of that country. In addition, it should also allow users from other countries like Vietnam the same rights - even if it means getting banned from Vietnam. In fact, if they did get banned from Vietnam under the auspices of protecting people's constitutional rights, that would send a much better message to me than the current optics whereby they just kowtow to any country where they still have people who are unfortunate enough to want to use their bloated php website.

Case in point, what if Facebook is "banned from Vietnam", so as to "send a better message to [you]"?

First, the existing users in Vietnam, 63 million of them (Data), lose their service, causing both significant economic loss and mental stress.

Second, the Vietnam users may find workarounds in VPNs, which are less likely than not to be effective (Study), and subject them to more surveillance.

Third, the Vietnam government may actively direct the citizens to a more controlled alternative. It may be developed in-house, or a vendor product like WeChat. The alternative is bound to be more restrictive and easier to monitor than Facebook.

Vietnam users suffer more than if Facebook stayed with a compromise. Much more. To send you a better message.

Fourth, after Facebook is banned from Vietnam, the media reporting will fade, and people like you would not continue to care about any of the above developments after you have got your "better message". With less international pressure, Vietnam then has all the diplomatic space to double down on censorship and surveillance.

It's not to please me or to send me a message why Facebook should rather opt for civil rights than to take the money and cooperate with a communist regime and therefore enable that regime to trample on the civil rights of its citizens. The lesser of two evils is still evil.

If you care about civil rights, work to pressure the Vietnam government instead of Facebook to get better results. Tell your representative to denounce it. Help Vietnam users continue to challenge the censorship on Facebook. Tell investors to think twice in investing with Vietnam government. It's not Facebook who enables Vietnam, but the lack of international pressure on Vietnam.

 

Media is inherently biased. The argument is that the medium should not be biased.

 

I know people in Vietnam who have experienced this censorship. It is nothing new that Vietnam will do anything to stub out any sentiment against the communists regime. I feel sad for the people who have to live under this oppressive power because every digital outlet they have, such as Facebook, to express their voices and oppositions do not value people over politics.

Regardless, I want to emphasize that the people of Vietnam are not ignorant. They know that communism is hurting the nation. If they saw the opportunity to make a change, they would plunge for it. They are still looking...

Update: the corruption is so bad over there that Vietnam even allowed export to and from China despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

I am in solidarity with you and Vietnamese people fighting for their freedoms. The path is dark and complex.

Update: the corruption is so bad over there that Vietnam even allowed export to and from China despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

As far as I know, around the world only travel has been restricted due to COVID-19, not trade. The WTO has a list of trade restrictions, showing that they are mostly export restrictions on medical protection equipments and medicines, not general trade blockages.

 

OK, "agreed to censor "anti-state" content in Vietnam", ahaha, what do you mean? According to me, that if your country has some or too much fake news about the state, governments, what do you think that if your country occurs conflict or something like that from anti-government who make fake news? =))) I love my country, love my governments, I scornful about who anti-state. And do you know that my country reduces Corona Virus very very excellent?? And Facebook helps us too much to popularize for people about prevention COVID. Not only Facebook, but we also have some social media developed by Vietnamese, Lotus, and Grab (very amazing) =)) And information from them may be better than Facebook because it's true, not fake, ok? Know more about my country, understand about us, if Facebook has not agreed to censor anti-state content, don't know that anything happens, I'm not sure about it.
Facebook, I still love it and I love Mark Zuckerberg, his wife, and his company (group) but I don't like the low security or anything about anti-state. Thanks. I'M STILL LOVE MY COUNTRY AND GOVERNMENT, VIETNAM. (Sorry if my English is not good, and sorry if I understand wrong about this news, my English is not good, but I don't like "anti-state", I will not reply your question and not discuss this)

 

"Tech giants" will agree to anything they have to to retain audience. The expectation that they would do otherwise reminds me of the fairy tale of "constructive engagement." I'm fine with "free enterprise" if by that we mean a belief that freedom and enterprise are good for each other. But belief that enterprise will, by virtue of being enterprise, promote freedom over tyranny, is a naive belief at best.

 

I personally don't think the internet should be censored. When certain countries get blocked, the rest of the world misses out on what their smart citizens have to say. I can rant about censorship and Facebook for hours, so I better be careful with what I write here. The only version of Facebook I liked was the first version, when it was "thefacebook.com" back in 2004, and it felt like a small cool club to be a part of (and actually felt private enough). That's when it was also the fastest (I mean, super fast). Pinging the software team (er, person) back then was also easier to do for feature requests.

On a positive note, today marks the day when more people in Vietnam will simply learn how to use Tor, and with any luck, that network will get more relay clients, which it needs for speed.

 

Although I am sad to see the result of negotiation comes to a disgusting compromise endangering political dissent, I am more saddened to see fellow privacy advocates taking a cynical stance against Facebook. I have my own share of bashing Facebook, but in this negotiation, it's Facebook vs the Vietnam government. Bashing Facebook does not hurt the standing of the Vietnam government one bit. However much I dislike Facebook, it is undoubtedly on the pro-openness side of this negotiation.

Early last year, Vietnam accused Facebook of violating a new cybersecurity law by allowing users to post anti-government comments on the platform.

In the months that followed, Amnesty International said at least 16 people were arrested, detained or convicted for such posts. In November, state media reported that five more had been jailed.

What can you do as a tech company against a government which arrests people for speech?

"Early last year" pertains to this report also from Reuters: Vietnam says Facebook violated controversial cybersecurity law

Facebook had refused to provide information on “fraudulent accounts” to Vietnamese security agencies, the agency said in Wednesday’s report.

Facebook had held out for a year, not complying with request from a government. Even though we view Facebook's eventual compliance as complicit, just how hard is refusing to comply?

The information ministry [...] cited a market research company as saying $235 million was spent on advertising on Facebook in Vietnam in 2018, but that Facebook was ignoring its tax obligations there.

They got threats of tax investigation. Did they get threats of arrest of employees? I want to praise Facebook for holding out a year.

In November, Vietnam said it wanted half of social media users on domestic social networks by 2020 and plans to prevent “toxic information” on Facebook and Google.

As much as we want people off Facebook, the government wants that too, but obviously for totally different goals, and different destination services. Do we really want to align with the government like this?

There are abundant reasons to take Facebook to task. But this is not one of them.

 

At one point, 67 human rights groups signed an open letter to Zuckerberg that accused Facebook of “building a walled garden in which the world’s poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services.” Read here

Social Media Platforms also follow the basic principle: " Garbage in and Garbage out"

In India, we are fed up with right wings people who do always communal postings. We have a right-wing orthodox government. However, our constitution is strong and the judiciary is less corrupted.

But your single posting against the government, you can get an arrest and thereafter, you go for long battle to save your self from jail.

Gandhi : " Truth is never universal"

Facebook keeps a good relationship with developing countries' governments for a conducive environment for its growth.

Facebook agreed to censor "anti-state" content in Vietnam. But how Facebook will consider it is anti-government or anti-democratic? Simply, every post is not garbage. It may be anti-government but not anti-democratic.

Recently, Facebook's Internet.org was thrown in the dustbin by the people of India and many other countries.

 

Money > (Privacy | Ethics)

No big surprises here. This is the natural result of a capitalist outlook: do whatever is necessary to turn a profit.

 
 

Thanks for the obvious response; however, if you consider it: I'm talking about Facebook, which is, of course, completely capitalist. They're happy to do whatever they need to to make more money, which includes delivering on dodgy requests from any government, irrespective of the social outcome because if they get banned in the country, they will make less money.

Just like google and Chinese search.

That doesn't really clarify things. Seems more accurate to suggest that Facebook is more capitalist in capitalist countries, and not so capitalist in not so capitalist countries. Which seems to suggest that blaming capitalism for all this is a bit of a stretch and they cannot be completely capitalist any more than they can be completely communist when they do communist things in communist countries. Given another obvious fact that Facebook faces much more competition in capitalist countries, where it has seen a massive decline in users (traffic down nearly 50% over 2 years according to some reports) then it becomes obvious that they do not in fact support capitalist values of individual rights, and private ownership of property or labour. These are values regarded highly in capitalist societies, even to the point of allowing anti-capitalist rhetoric going unchecked. Correct, just like Google and Chinese search, though: These corporations personify greed, along with a host of other deadly sins, and where there is less capitalism afoot, they experience far less trouble just shamelessly looting.

 

Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg's Panopticon. No thanks, I'm sticking to Alt-Tech like BitChute, Dissenter and Gab.

 

Facebook is a business, so it's natural they'd side with the folks in power. Plus Facebook has demonstrated zero spine in its action till now. Can't say I'm surprised.

Classic DEV Post from Jul 30 '19

PublishTo.Dev: Scheduling article publishing on dev.to

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A Canadian software developer who thinks he’s funny. He/Him.