Home News Science&Tech Can you fake Facebook? "We are still making mistakes"

Can you fake Facebook? "We are still making mistakes"

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It is not logical that a commercial company is the referee for important ethical and political issues. That says Nick Clegg, top adviser of Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg. Clegg, son of a British father and a Dutch mother, was Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom until five years ago.

Last year he joined the Facebook top. "In my new role, I hope that Facebook can play a responsible role in the big tech debate. We can get angry about technology or we can find a solution."

Trolls and scandals

"Clegg is not the first to go to Facebook with an idealistic goal, but he will be disappointed," says tech investor Roger McNamee, who says he was "the mentor of Mark Zuckerberg" for a few years. For example, McNamee advised him to decline an offer from Yahoo and to accept Sheryl Sandberg from Google as operations director.

But since 2016 McNamee has been one of the most prominent critics of Facebook. "When I met Mark Zuckerberg, the identity of users was checked to keep trolls out and you could manage your own privacy. He later argued that privacy is outdated. I don't think it's up to Zuckerberg to determine that. "

Facebook has been plagued by scandals in recent years. In 2016, for example, it appears that Russian trolls on the platform tried to spread divisions among 126 million American Facebook users.

In the run-up to the European elections this spring, Facebook promises to make it impossible to place political ads in other member states. But online privacy watchdog Bits of Freedom recently demonstrated that this is still possible. According to Clegg, Facebook's systems can filter text but not photos, such as the 'meme' that Bits of Freedom placed in Germany.

Clegg met with Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren this week who said he was worried: "We have just made agreements with Facebook about how to make political advertisements visible on Facebook, but that is not going well enough."

Facebook recently made a remarkable change by advocating government regulation of large tech companies. According to critics, Facebook is taking flight to be able to influence laws and regulations. "Everything Facebook says is listened to with cynicism," Clegg responds. But "the proof of the pudding is in the eating".

Ollongren: "To be able to make a fist, regulation at European level is needed. We can't wait for that, democracy and elections are too dear to me. So I really want Facebook to do what it can now."


Recently a manipulated video went viral by the American politician Nancy Pelosi. The audio was delayed so it looked like she was drunk. Facebook did not take the video offline and Mark Zuckerberg apologized for this this week.

It is feared that such deepfakes will be used as a tool for disinformation in future elections. Clegg: "I have been a politician for twenty years and there have been countless manipulated videos of me in circulation. Our job is to distinguish satire and criticism from real deepfakes."

Earlier it came out that data company Cambridge Analytica has collected user data from millions of Facebook users via an app. The tech giant gave more than sixty third parties, including Apple, Amazon and Huawei, access to user data. Zuckerberg would have been aware of this early on.

"The problem with Facebook is Facebook. It's hard to fix," says Siva Vaidhyanathan. This American media scientist argues that Facebook is a threat to democracy. "Hate messages and conspiracy theories are more clicked than thoughtful and nuanced messages, while those that are needed within a democracy."

Criticism of livestream after attack

Every day, 2.4 billion users in 110 languages post messages on Facebook. Far too much to check all. But according to Clegg, for example, 99 percent of IS terror is already automatically removed. Still, Daily Beast found over a hundred videos of infamous jihadist preachers on the platform this week.

Facebook wants to connect people but also drives people apart. For example, the murder of the German politician Walter Lübcke has recently been 'celebrated' by the extreme right on the platform. And this spring, the Australian Brenton Tarrant is streaming live how he shot 49 Muslims in Christchurch.

Facebook received strong criticism, but only limited live streaming for users who have already received a position. Clegg: "I understand that people are calling for the live stream function to be simply abolished. But the reality is that you cannot invent technology." He cannot rule out the possibility of such a terrorist act being re-broadcast on Facebook, but predicts that artificial intelligence may detect such videos more quickly in the future.

This spring, Facebook banished "white supremacy and nationalism" from the platform. Nevertheless, research collective Avaaz still found 500 extreme right-wing closed groups. The messages in those groups were viewed about a billion times before they were taken offline.

Facebook has 15,000 'content moderators' who have to remove hate messages and wants to double that number. But that is not enough, Clegg acknowledges. "Even if we had a team the size of the Chinese army, it would not be sufficient. But we have increasingly advanced artificial intelligence."

Critic Roger McNamee: "Facebook believes that you can control a society with algorithms. We are growing towards The Matrix."

No 'clear my history button'

Privacy scandals also continue to play a role. For example, it recently appeared that thousands of Facebook passwords could be viewed by thousands of Facebook employees. "We are still making mistakes and I am not going to pretend that this can never happen again. But we learn from it," says Clegg.

A 'clear my history button', which allows users to delete all their history on Facebook, was announced a year ago but has still not been launched. According to Clegg, the development encounters 'technical problems'.

However, Facebook will also apply the end-to-end encryption of WhatsApp in Messenger and Instagram. But according to Vaidhyanathan, Facebook only wants to avoid the responsibility of hate messages, because Facebook's content moderators cannot see the encrypted messages.

The number of users in Europe is falling due to the privacy scandals. But Facebook is growing in total, by around 8 percent last year. Vaidhyanathan: "If someone leaves Facebook in the Netherlands, fifty will be added in Brazil. With this growth, Facebook will have 2.5 billion users next year."

Moreover, Instagram and WhatsApp are also growing. Facebook will integrate Messenger and the messaging service from Instagram with WhatsApp. Facebook promised not to do that with the acquisition of WhatsApp, and was already fined by the European Commission for breaking that promise.

Facebook has just announced its own payment unit: the libra. This allows users to make payments from affiliated partners such as Uber and Amazon from next year. The Bank for International Payments warns that the libra can lead to 'misuse of user data' and possibly 'threaten financial stability'.

"Of course I understand that people have doubts about our reliability. That is why the libra is housed in a separate company," says Clegg. "We will not and cannot be in charge."

Split up?

Facebook's co-founder, Chris Hughes, recently called in The New York Times to split up Facebook. But according to Clegg, this does not solve privacy, democracy and hate message issues. "That is not a pragmatic solution."

Vaidhyanathan also does not expect this to be a realistic option: "It is more likely that we will see an even bigger, more powerful, more integrated Facebook in the coming years. Facebook wants to become the operating system of our lives. And they are well on their way."

Only another business model, in which Facebook does not earn user data, can turn the tide. But Clegg sees nothing in that. "The market vendor in Bangladesh and the shepherd in Australia now have just as much opportunity to use our means of communication as a wealthy banker in The Hague. And that is what makes Facebook's business model so special."

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