Friday, 17 August 2018
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Can Facebook Develop a Conscience?

Can Facebook Develop a Conscience?
11 Apr
7:30

Ads can no longer be explicitly targeted to racial groups, he said, though, of course, the rub is that there are plenty of surrogates for race that advertisers can presumably still use. This led to the absurd observation from Mr. Zuckerberg, in response to a question from Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, that “most of the enforcement today is still that our community flags issues for us when that comes up.” How the community can identify when a real estate ad is appearing only to white people remains a mystery.

Notably, there was no declaration from Mr. Zuckerberg about the pain of racial inequality, nor an apology for Facebook’s role in perpetuating it. To Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, he simply said, “I’m not happy with where we are.” There is an unhealthy detachment — a virtualness — to the destruction caused by Silicon Valley innovations. One can’t help thinking that the ability to reset or reboot a computer has infiltrated companies’ calculations about the cost of disruption and destruction.

Despite the length of Mr. Zuckerberg’s Senate appearance, there was no serious reckoning with what happened in the 2016 election. Instead, there was an insistent focus on the future, which for Mr. Zuckerberg was synonymous with one phrase, “A.I.” In five to 10 years, he promised, artificial intelligence will clean up the mess that is Facebook in 2018.

The problems with Facebook emerge from its lack of a human touch, but Mr. Zuckerberg doubles down on software. On Wednesday, Representative David McKinley, a West Virginia Republican, displayed recent Facebook ads offering opioids for sale without a prescription and addressed Mr. Zuckerberg directly. “Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity, and in so doing you are hurting people,” he said. “Would you agree with that statement?” Mr. Zuckerberg’s response was to concede things were bad but to hold out the promise of the future. “We need to build more A.I. tools that can proactively find that content,” he said.

As long as the discussion was about software — how it works, how it can be improved, how users interact with it — Mr. Zuckerberg holds the upper hand. When the discussion is about values, he is as confused as the rest of us, and takes refuge in the belief that society is nothing more than a series of market-based online interactions, as captured, absorbed and understood by engineers.

Government regulation, in this scheme, is a product of a corrupt, inefficient political system; self-regulation, on the other hand, is a product of people voting with their actions and brilliant engineers devising solutions to meet their needs. A smug interpretation that Mr. Zuckerberg outwitted dopey legislators only plays into the Silicon Valley view that being called before Congress to answer questions is a bug of our democracy, instead of a vital feature.

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