back to article Why aren't you being arbiters of truth? MPs scream at Facebook, YouTube, Twitter

No matter their protestations, the big tech firms will always be asked to do more to tackle the manifestations of society's problems on their platforms. And yesterday's four-hour evidence session in front of British parliamentarians was no different. In an intense hearing – for which the members of the digital, culture, media …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Understanding is a three-edged sword

    Understanding is a three-edged sword. My side, your side and the truth.

    There is a very fine distinction between "truth" and party line. Half of the people who scream at F***book about the truth probably mean the party line. THEIR party line.

    1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Understanding is a three-edged sword

      Unfortunately, the avalanche has already begun. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.

      1. MichaelBirks

        Re: Understanding is a three-edged sword

        Zathras says, "::wheeze::Yes::wheeze::".

    2. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: Understanding is a three-edged sword

      Only half?

    3. Skwosh

      Re: Understanding is a three-edged sword

      Yeah! What is truth man? We create our own reality. Let's level the playing field. We have these stupid laws about what newspapers and broadcasters can publish – old-world dead tree thinking – nanny-state anachronistic rubbish that tries to crimp the ability of the very wealthy to dominate the _so_called_ democratic process by hijacking the media with _so_called_ propaganda? The wealthy should be able to use their money to swing as many elections as they like – and if they want to keep it secret then why not – it's their money after all. Fu*k yeah! Because, you see, the truth is a triple edged sword man – so who's to say what is and is not propaganda? Let the market decide I say – better yet, let the marketing departments decide. Let's just drop all these naive _so_called_ 'laws' about _so_called_ 'publishing' – why shouldn't newspapers and Sky and Fox and everyone else just be able to run any old sh*t they like? So long as it brings in the punters and doesn't offend the advertisers what's not to like? It's just business right? Newspaper proprietors and media barons everywhere would rejoice. Election time would be particularly lucrative. Keeeeeeerching. Lots of lovely campaign advertising money for them and their shareholders – which I'm sure would all trickle down nicely and give a big boost to the economy too – everyone wins!

    4. Oh Homer Silver badge
      Alien

      There is no truth

      There is only that which has already been proved false. Everything else is merely conjecture, waiting to be proved false.

      See Karl Popper's theory of critical rationalism.

      As for whether private entities should be, in essence, forcibly deputised by the government and conscripted into policing their customers, whether it be censorship or other punitive measures, obviously the answer has to be no, for the simple reason that it's a violation of democratic due process.

      That doesn't mean that miscreants should be allowed to run amok, it just means that policing should be done by the actual police, not vigilantes.

      The culmination of these principles means that I should be allowed to publicly state, for example, that I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, without fear of legal reprisal, but if I claim that something provably false is true, and this claim results in demonstrable harm, then I should reasonably expect to be challenged and, if successful, punished. By the police and courts, not vigilantes.

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: There is no truth

        Says someone claiming it as though that is a truth.

        It's like math or logic. You are welcome to throw it out with the bath water. But in doing so. Don't expect others to take you seriously.

        There are a few things that we can be certain of in life. That something can be observed, in this case as true or false, may be taken as an assumption, but it is one we must accept.

        1. Oh Homer Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: "an assumption ... we must accept"

          That's contrary to the most fundamental principle of science, which asserts that all assumptions must not only be challenged, but that it's a matter of due diligence to do so.

          Dogma is for religion, not science.

      2. veti Silver badge

        Re: There is no truth

        if I claim that something provably false is true, and this claim results in demonstrable harm, then I should reasonably expect to be challenged and, if successful, punished. By the police and courts, not vigilantes

        A good principle, but how does it translate into real life? What is "provably false"? What if you had no way of knowing, when you made the claim, that it was "provably false"? What is "harm", and how do you demonstrate it?

        Example: if I publish a mugshot of a 13-year-old girl with the caption "Ugly crack ho sucks for bucks", is that "provably false"? If the girl in the picture subsequently kills herself, is that "demonstrable harm" from my posting? - how do you separate it from the 100 other bullies all posting the same thing, from her boyfriend dumping her and her teachers overloading her?

        What difference does it make if, instead of a 13-year-old girl, the picture is a 61-year-old woman? What if it's Theresa May?

        Simple rules are easy to state, but then the lines are too easy to blur. The devil is in the detail.

        1. P. Lee Silver badge

          Re: There is no truth

          >A good principle, but how does it translate into real life? What is "provably false"? What if you had no way of knowing, when you made the claim, that it was "provably false"? What is "harm", and how do you demonstrate it?

          > the devil is in the detail

          Oh no it isn't. The devil is in the worldview - the idea that we can control the environment sufficiently well to police it reasonably. We can't even do this well in the playground with children who aren't given the rights we give to adults.

          A large part of the reason for allowing free speech is that policing it is really difficult and leads to oppression when you try.

          The problem is that the big internet corporates' centralised platforms provide a central point of control. This is very attractive to politicians whose central purpose is "to protect you." Especially as corporates started exercising editorial control over the content, shaping the political environment by covert means, politicians now covet their influence even more.

          We should resist not only the politicians' attempts to leverage these control points we should also resist the centralisation of power which creates this scope for abuse.

  2. RyokuMas Silver badge
    Holmes

    "the politicians accused the companies of hypocrisy, failures in their duty of trust to users, and of caring more about ad revenue than...

    A thief expects everyone to steal.

    And full marks to AC for the B5 reference... :D

    1. James 51 Silver badge
      Alien

      I thought it was the truth that was three edged sword.

      1. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

        I thought it was the truth that was three edged sword.

        "Three sides to every story.

        "There's your side, there's my side and then there's the truth."

        -- Loverboy, "Dangerous". (Giving away my age a little.)

      2. Teiwaz Silver badge

        I thought it was the truth that was three edged sword.

        Here's a vorlon answer.

        'there is no truth without understanding'

        It was used twice. Deathwalker and Interludes and Examinations, both times 'Understanding'. I've a tendency to remember it that way too, if we dug into the psychology behind that mis-remembering we might track down the why of fake facts. As Pratchett often noted, people are usually happier when they don't have to engage their brains.

        Heres a good Kosh page for B5 fans http://www.midwinter.com/lurk/ftp/Kosh_Quotes.txt

        N.B. We should have a talk like a Vorlon day....

        1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Quote

          N.B. We should have a talk like a Vorlon day....

          You are not ready for such an event.

          Back to the subject.

          Who decides the the truth?

          Is it the party MPs? how about the billionaire owners of print or television media?

          Or how about using education to teach people that other people will lie to them especially in order to advance their own cause, and the best way to seek out the truth is not to listen only to what one side says, but to listen to all sides then make up your own mind.

          But thats far too difficult... just get the plebs to chant "4 legs good, 2 legs bad"... until we decide 2 legs are better...

          1. Teiwaz Silver badge

            N.B. We should have a talk like a Vorlon day....

            You are not ready for such an event.

            Requires one to think more and speak less, of course humanity isn't ready...

            1. Mycho Silver badge

              Requires one to think more and speak less, of course humanity isn't ready...

              Good.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Using almost inflammatory language, the politicians accused the companies of hypocrisy, failures in their duty of trust to users, and of caring more about ad revenue than weeding out fake news."

    Would it be inflammatiry if I suggested that the politicans be accussed of hyprocrisy and failures in their duty of trust to voters, and of caring more about lining their own pockets than representing their constituents?

    1. Toltec

      Hmm a whiff of

      "This wasn't good enough for the MPs, though, who variously said they were "astounded" and "staggered" at what they deemed an abdication of responsibility."

      The irony is strong with this one.

  4. Richard 81

    Get thine own house in order.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why?

    simple really. It all comes down to Money, Mulah, Dosh etc.

    Fake News and Sensationism generates more clicks and therefore more AD revenue than boring stuff.

    These Social Media Companies are beholden to Wall St, 90day shortterminism and all that.

    So in order to meet the expectations placed on them by ANAL(ists) in Wall St they need clicks and Ad revenue so they need more sensational news stories/trending than the competition.

    I don't (never have, never will) use any of these highly addictive anti-social media sites so I could be wrong.

    1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      and yet,

      here you are . . .

      on a site that, for some, is a manufacturer and distributor of fake news

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why?

        I was wondering who would be the first to show that the difference between TheRegister and Facebook is only one of numbers of users and size of servers!

        You get today's free cookie.

  6. Chris G Silver badge

    Wailing mob

    Judging by the reporting of what the MPs were saying, am I right i thinking this junket was sponsored by the Diddly Wail?

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Wailing mob

      That bastion of truth and honest reporting ?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wailing mob

      And mumsnet.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Arbiters

    Macht Frei.

  8. Elmer Phud Silver badge

    Other big business is different, somehow.

    Other industries that have a large impact on people seem to be able to 'sign a pledge' or 'keep to a code of conduct' and the like -- so why do MP's want to legislate on social media while basically letting others get way with anything as long as there is a pointless slogan tacked on.

    'Drinkaware'

    'Gambleaware'

    Anything to do with money and directorships?

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    WTF?

    How would they know?

    I can't remember the last time I heard a politician make a truthful statement.

    Talk about out of touch with reality. They can't possibly have any concept of how they appear to anyone capable of logical thought. Maybe Facebook et al should have just held up a mirror and said nothing.

    1. Archtech Silver badge

      Re: How would they know?

      "I can't remember the last time I heard a politician make a truthful statement".

      Isn't there a law against it, or something?

    2. LeeE Silver badge

      Re: How would they know?

      "I can't remember the last time I heard a politician make a truthful statement."

      If a politician says something in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, is it still a lie?

    3. find users who cut cat tail

      Re: How would they know?

      > I can't remember the last time I heard a politician make a truthful statement.

      And your approach is certainly helping the matter.

      If you a priori think -- even expect -- that politicians always lie, just some say more pleasant and some less pleasant lies, then guess what is the only kind of politicians you get. Any telling the truth will end up in the ‘telling unpleasant lies’ bin and doomed.

  10. David Nash Silver badge

    Truthiness

    Is there a rule that traditional media must tell the truth? I mean subject to libel laws, etc are they allowed to lie?

    How would Twitter be different?

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: Truthiness

      David - my understanding is that traditional media are classed as publishers so are responsible (mostly) for what they print and are therefore subject to libel laws, etc. Twitter, Facebook and the rest are not considered to be publishers, but something else (platforms, channels, etc.) and so have no responsibility for what appears on their sites. If you want to sue someone for libel it has to be the original poster.

      I think that this is enshrined in US law. I'm less certain about UK law, but UK Gov could bugger their business model at a stroke by passing laws to classify them as publishers. The great British public wouldn't be happy, though.

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: Truthiness

        The traditional media fact check all the stories they publish, printing anything which might result in legal liability is carefully worded while still getting whatever bias they think will sell the most.

        Usually it works, but often still results in a court case - usually the paper revenue well covers any payout should they lose.

        Politicians 'moral panic' has nothing to do with extremism, Russian interference, or any other collection of myths and playground tattle passed about, but the ability of the average voter to connect with others and become politically active. Much better people send the traditional letters to their MPs, who can either fail to do something or bin it. The only 'concerned members of the public' they want to listen to are groups with party stamp of approval (usually some moral crusade fringe group).

        From union militants to the Greenham Common women, the politicians hate people muscling in on their turf, just don't want to share the trough of the public purse with others, or worse still, someone with a public conscience realising the tap to the swill vat is too generous and reducing or stopping the flow.

        "This is the problem, Mr Milner," Ian Lucas said to Facebook's UK policy manager Simon Milner. "You have everything. You have all that information; we have none of it because we can't see it."

        We're still on the data fetish thing again

  11. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Big Brother

    "Social media titans take heat over kremlebots and fake news"

    This bullshit is going to run and run.

    Also, Trump has Russian Ties, the US is totally legally in Syria, in order to impose regime-changing zones, Ukraine is dying for democracy and it's only a matter of time before the budget is balanced.

  12. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    "What is this [spread of misinformation] doing to our children?"

    Won't somebody think of the children!

    1. batfink

      Re: "What is this [spread of misinformation] doing to our children?"

      Astounding. A politician worrying about what misinformation might be doing to the populace. Don't they all do this for a living?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who are they to...

    ...talk. Considering the MPs haven't got a clue. Especially the Digital one. Much like a certain Digital Director at a local government somewhere who hasn't got a clue what they are doing yet incharge of a digital program.

  14. Tigra 07 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    A situation they can never win...

    "Why are you blocking this? Bla bla bla...Free speech..."

    "Why aren't you blocking this? Bla bla bla...Terrorism..."

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Politicians, what did you expect from sociopaths?

    Fire the Irish DPC and create a real Regulator, its time!

    "When it comes to visibility on these platforms, fake news publishers are optimally designed. They push incendiary, provocative headlines that attract clicks within the platform environments...the algorithms work in favour of fake news. While both Google and Facebook like to claim that they want to be 'neutral' platforms that do not discriminate between types of content, the fact is that they are attention businesses that use algorithms to actively manage how information is delivered to users."

  16. Archtech Silver badge

    If only there were some quicker, cheaper, simpler way...

    "...the members of the digital, culture, media and sport committee selflessly flew to Washington DC on the public purse..."

    Er, why? Facebook, YouTube (part of Google) and Twitter. Haven't all of those immense corporations developed clever means of, er, exchanging information across long distances by electronic means?

    Presumably the MPs wanted written transcripts of the conversations. So wouldn't it be better to send written questions and let the corporations reply in writing? Or, if interactivity was necessary, perhaps one (or more) of the corporations could have come up with some way of doing that without anyone flying thousands of miles (and enjoying luxurious hotel accommodation and meals) on the public purse?

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: If only there were some quicker, cheaper, simpler way...

      corporations could have come up with some way of doing that without anyone flying thousands of miles (and enjoying luxurious hotel accommodation and meals) on the public purse?

      Of course not. You expect a Politician to gather up the indignation and sharp intellectual acumen and appropriate language to get their concerns across without a long flight, (with drinks) in 1st Class, an expensive Hotel Room with fine dining (and bar) and chauffered across D.C (just as well).

      Actually, well explains the clear and concise points and concerns they put across during the meeting with the representatives of the corps, and not at all sounded half-cut, 3 sheets to the wind and barely making logical sense.

  17. Archtech Silver badge

    Unbriefed?

    "This is the problem, Mr Milner," Ian Lucas said to Facebook's UK policy manager Simon Milner. "You have everything. You have all that information; we have none of it because we can't see it."

    Hasn't Mr Lucas heard of GCHQ?

    Or maybe even THEY won't let him see it.

    1. Patrician

      Re: Unbriefed?

      I'm wondering why he thinks he should be able to see it?

      1. Ledswinger Silver badge

        Re: Unbriefed?

        I'm wondering why he thinks he should be able to see it?

        An equally interesting question is what a bunch of pea-brained politician and civil servants would be able to make of it. I'd guess there's around two petabytes of Facebook data relating to the UK.

  18. Archtech Silver badge

    Bleeding obvious...

    "Beyond that, Pickles said, it wasn't for Twitter to revoke access because someone had said something untrue".

    Otherwise politicians couldn't have Twitter acounts. Duh.

  19. Archtech Silver badge

    I wonder...

    ... how many tweets, posts, etc. will be produced by accounts "linked to" "US actors" during the upcoming Russian presidential election.

    Because, of course, the US government has NEVER interfered in any way with Russian politics.

  20. Archtech Silver badge

    You mean children don't have to have Twitter accounts?

    "What is this [spread of misinformation] doing to our children?"

    Nothing, unless their parents are irresponsible enough to expose them to it.

    1. BrownishMonstr

      Re: You mean children don't have to have Twitter accounts?

      Me thinks the children will get their information from their parents, who may well be users of the social media. So children may just end up being exposed to lies, but as the lies fall into the parents' viewpoint they might not even realise whether it's the truth or not.

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