Facebook gets a bad rap, former exec says, but we should break it up anyway

Alex Stamos, former CSO of Facebook, is interviewed by Recode's Kara Swisher
Alex Stamos, former CSO of Facebook, is interviewed by Recode’s Kara Swisher during the Collision conference in Toronto. Jeremy Kaplan/Digital Trends

“Sartre said ‘Hell is other people.’ Well, Facebook is other people.”

In other words, the problems Facebook has become known for: The rise of hate speech, the trolling, the comment threads that seem to come from the underbelly of society? Yep, that’s hell right there, and frankly, why would you expect things to be different? That’s what people do.

That’s not our opinion, however: That’s Alex Stamos nailing the issue with Facebook squarely during a chat at the 2019 Collision Conference with Recode co-founder Kara Swisher. His opinion should carry some weight: Stamos is the former chief security officer (CSO) at Facebook, and while he’s no longer directly in touch with leadership at the social media giant, he’s probably should be. Stamos is something of a defender. He thinks the site has gotten a bad rap.

“I don’t think Facebook has ruined democracy,” he told a packed crowd in Toronto. “Facebook is misunderstood.”

Indeed, the issues we’ve seen at Facebook aren’t new, he pointed out. They are just getting a lot more public attention these days. Take the Russian election-hacking scandal, for example. That’s hardly the first time politicians have taken advantage of the reach and power of social media, he told Swisher. Barack Obama’s campaign used microtargeting and data on Facebook to crush Republican opponents in 2012.

“That was the first election that was thrown by Facebook,” Stamos said. The big difference, in his eyes: Many journalists liked the outcome of the Obama election better. Hold on, Swisher said: It’s not so black and white.

“There’s a big difference between the Obama team and a group of Russians in [Saint] Petersburg manipulating people,” she said, pushing back. His point holds, however: People have been using social media to manipulate crowds for years, and will continue to do so. The Russian playbook from the 2016 election is out there, he said, and there’s a real risk that the 2020 election will be influenced by a similar campaign, whether by the Koch brothers or George Soros or whomever.

“Pick your billionaire,” Stamos said. “It’s easy to say we want to stop the Russians. It’s a lot harder to say we want to stop some sort of political super-PAC.”

Earlier in the day, Ev Williams — the co-founder of Twitter — offered a far more optimistic view of social media, though he’s not sure what it looks like exactly. “There is a better version of social media to be invented,” Williams said.

For Stamos, the problems are systemic: The way Silicon Valley rewards developers and programmers doesn’t encourage socially conscious development so much as profitable building. And Facebook itself? Sure, the site gets a bad rap, but it might be time for change, he said.

“I think there are legitimate antitrust arguments for breaking up Facebook and breaking YouTube from Google,” he said.

Again, Stamos said he’s no longer directly in touch with leadership there. But he probably should be.


Hackers conduct prolonged cyberattack against phone network, says security firm

A security company says a prolonged cyberattack against global phone networks, where hackers have apparently collected data related to phone conversations and even the physical location of the device, has taken place.
Social Media

A new Senate bill would fundamentally change the internet as we know it

A new bill in the U.S. Senate could cause the internet as we know it to cease to exist by holding major tech companies like Facebook or YouTube liable for anything posted on their platforms. 

Facebook’s content moderators break their silence on terrifying work conditions

Content moderators for Facebook are overworked and overstressed to the point of unhealthy results. Last year, a moderator collapsed at his desk while on the clock and died of a heart attack. 

What is Libra? Here’s what you need to know about Facebook’s new cryptocurrency

Facebook released a white paper announcing its new cryptocurrency, Libra, which it intends as a way to enable more people around the world to process online payments. Here's how the new blockchain technology works.

Tesla screens may support YouTube with next software update

Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced today at E3 that the infotainment screens will support YouTube video streaming very soon. This most likely lines up with the latest software update that is expected later this year.
Social Media

Instagram is back up after being offline. Here’s the latest on the outage

Instagram finally came back online Thursday afternoon after an outage that lasted just over an hour. The Instagram outage was one of several that hit at the same time, including a several-hour failure at the PlayStation Network.

Adobe concocts an A.I. that can detect — and reverse — manipulated photos

The company behind the software that's often used to manipulate photographs may help make it easy to spot a fake photo. Researchers at Adobe recently created an artificially intelligent program that can recognize fake photos of faces.
Social Media

Facebook’s comment-ranking system aimed at taming the dumpster fire

Even by the standards of the internet, Facebook comments are famously awful. Now Facebook is introducing a new comment ranking system to attempt to tackle this problem by promoting quality comments and hiding low quality ones.
Social Media

Kim Kardashian can get a deepfake taken off YouTube. It’s much harder for you

YouTube took down an incredibly realistic — and fake — video purporting to show Kim Kardashian West discussing a shadowy organization called “Spectre” and mocking her fans for violating copyright.
Social Media

Maybe you missed something, so here's how to take another look at that Snap

The people you follow on Snapchat are important to you. If you get frustrated when you're trying to look at a friend's Snap or Story and it disappears, here's how to replay a Snapchat message or post.
Social Media

You can delete Snapchat messages in a snap with these simple tips

If you've ever sent a message to someone and wish you could delete it, Snapchat has a feature you'll like. Yes, it lets you delete messages you've already sent. There are some limitations, though. Here's how to delete Snapchat messages.

Brush up on your makeup skills with YouTube’s new augmented reality feature

YouTube will soon let users try on makeup while watching popular makeup tutorials through augmented reality. Viewers will be able to actually try on the makeup products the online tutorials are showcasing and promoting. 

Congress already wants to block rollout of Facebook’s cryptocurrency

It only took a few hours after Facebook provided details of its Libra cryptocurrency on Tuesday for lawmakers in Congress to tell the social media giant to pump the breaks. Facebook was asked to stop development until Congress weighs in.

YouTube could make big changes to children’s content amid federal investigation

YouTube is considering major changes to its recommendation algorithm amid an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission into how it handles videos aimed at children. The investigation is in its late stages, and is in response to…