back to article For Facebook, ignorance is the business model: Social net is shocked – SHOCKED – that people behave badly

No one at Facebook had any idea anyone might use its ad tools to target "Jew haters," said COO Sheryl Sandberg earlier this week. Of course not. Facebook, like its rival Google, thrives on the income of ignorance and contrition. To prevent money laundering, financial institutions must comply with know-your-customer laws. …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Thrives on the income of ignorance'

    Thrives & Thrives... Facebook & Experian in bed together too, wonderful!




    * You Are the Product - No human enterprise, no new technology or utility or service, has ever been adopted so widely so quickly. The speed of uptake far exceeds that of the internet itself, let alone ancient technologies such as TV or cinema.

    * Facebook ‘a business with an exceedingly low ratio of invention to success’.

    * But that’s not what the man (Zuk) is really like. He was studying for a degree in computer science and – this is the part people tend to forget – psychology.

    * The reason Thiel latched onto Facebook with such alacrity was that he saw in it for the first time a business that was Girardian to its core: built on people’s deep need to copy. ‘Facebook first spread by word of mouth, and it’s about word of mouth, so it’s doubly mimetic,’ Thiel said.

    * ‘Social media proved to be more important than it looked, because it’s about our natures.’ We are keen to be seen as we want to be seen, and Facebook is the most popular tool humanity has ever had with which to do that.

    * The fact is that fraudulent content, and stolen content, are rife on Facebook, and the company doesn’t really mind, because it isn’t in its interest to mind. Much of the video content on the site is stolen from the people who created it. 725 of Facebook’s top one thousand most viewed videos were stolen.

    * This is another area where Facebook’s interests contradict society’s. We may collectively have an interest in sustaining creative and imaginative work in many different forms and on many platforms.

    * Facebook doesn’t. It has two priorities, as Martínez explains in Chaos Monkeys: growth and monetisation. It simply doesn’t care where the content comes from. It is only now starting to care about the perception that much of the content is fraudulent, because if that perception were to become general, it might affect the amount of trust and therefore the amount of time people give to the site.

    * A neutral observer might wonder if Facebook’s attitude to content creators is sustainable. Facebook needs content, obviously, because that’s what the site consists of: content that other people have created. It’s just that it isn’t too keen on anyone apart from Facebook making any money from that content. Over time, that attitude is profoundly destructive to the creative and media industries. Access to an audience – that unprecedented two billion people – is a wonderful thing, but Facebook isn’t in any hurry to help you make money from it. If the content providers all eventually go broke, well, that might not be too much of a problem. There are, for now, lots of willing providers: anyone on Facebook is in a sense working for Facebook, adding value to the company.

    * In 2014, the New York Times did the arithmetic and found that humanity was spending 39,757 collective years on the site, every single day. ‘almost fifteen million years of free labour per year’. back when it had a mere 1.23 billion users.

    * If I want to reach women between the ages of 25 and 30 in zip code 37206 who like country music and drink bourbon, Facebook can do that. Moreover, Facebook can often get friends of these women to post a ‘sponsored story’ on a targeted consumer’s news feed, so it doesn’t feel like an ad. As Zuckerberg said when he introduced Facebook Ads, ‘Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail...

    * Facebook already had a huge amount of information about people and their social networks and their professed likes and dislikes. After waking up to the importance of monetisation, they added to their own data a huge new store of data about offline, real-world behaviour, acquired through partnerships with big companies such as Experian!

    * These firms know all there is to know about your name and address, your income and level of education, your relationship status, plus everywhere you’ve ever paid for anything with a card. Facebook could now put your identity together with the unique device identifier on your phone.

    1. Ivan Vorpatril

      Re: 'Thrives on the income of ignorance'

      "Much of the video content on the site is stolen from the people who created it. 725 of Facebook’s top one thousand most viewed videos were stolen."

      Interesting that the entire anonymous cowards post is stolen from John Lanchester's review.

      1. Comments are attributed to your handle

        Re: 'Thrives on the income of ignorance'

        Considering the content is prefaced with "Extracts:" I'd hardly jump to "stealing".

  2. jake Silver badge

    How many people believe Sheryl?

    I, for one, believe she's full of shit.

    Of COURSE they knew, it's how they make money! Furrfu!

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: How many people believe Sheryl?

      Slightly more complicated.

      The moment F***book, Tw*tter, etc starts to police their populace properly they will run afoul of the CDA which gives them neutral publisher protection.

      So, rather unsurprisingly, they have very little interest in doing so.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How many people believe Sheryl?

        They may have very little interest in doing so, but the way various legislatures are beginning to think could mean that they become legally responsible for the content. This is beginning to happen even in the USA.

        They'd have to take an interest then, but I think that their current business model would then be dead. There's no practical way for them to police all the content accurately.

        For them to be able to have no role in policing content they'd have to be able to pass the buck, give it to the Police to deal with.

        It's kind of what they do right now, but it's useless; it's too hard to find out who a user actually is. Hence the annoyance of law enforcement agencies and politicians all over the world.

        However, suppose they could give the Police the legal name, address and bank account number of a user who'd uploaded some frightful shit. That'd keep the police happy - a simpler prosecution process - and all this talk of social media companies being held responsible for the content would simply melt away.

        It means an end to the freetard ad funded business model though.

        With the legal and political pressure to "Do somehow about illegal online content" increasing, it is inevitable that at some point the legal environment for social media companies is going to become incompatible with their current business model. It's probably a matter of when, not if.

        Given that, the company that can roll with that, change their business model and adapt will be the one to survive. Going non-freetard sounds risky now, but at some point becoming a paid for, ad free, zero analytics and zero tracking business will be the only way to stay in business.

        1. MonkeyCee Silver badge

          Re: How many people believe Sheryl?

          "They may have very little interest in doing so, but the way various legislatures are beginning to think could mean that they become legally responsible for the content."

          I think there is agreement across a range of political views that the way internet communications companies are regulated needs updating with legislation based on something like current technology rather than the laws covering telegrams, letters and the post office being extended to email and internet packets.

          Whether any legislation produced will improve or worsen the situation is up for grabs. Both straight comms companies, like the beloved cable companies in the US, and the social media giants will be lobbying hard to get things written in their favor. And we all know how well politicians do tech....

          Just to be clear, the postal service and banking sector get used for illegal activities all the time, and they are not assumed to have to police things entirely themselves. The PO will ask you not to send drugs or knives in the mail, but won't search each package to ensure they aren't in there.

      2. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: How many people believe Sheryl?

        Adverts != Publicly posted content.

        They're paid to show the adverts, and so must be legally liable for those in the same way a newspaper is.

        And if they can't afford to vet all adverts they show then they can't afford to be in business.

        It's a basic cost of being an advertising agency. Just ask Bell Pottinger.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: How many people believe Sheryl?

          "Just ask Bell Pottinger."


          1. Not That Andrew

            Re: How many people believe Sheryl?

            Well, you could ask Bell at his shiny new PR agency in London, or Pottinger in the chunk of Bell Pottinger he carved off, now based in Singapore. Both the rats left the ship when they saw the chickens were coming home to roost.

      3. Not That Andrew

        Re: How many people believe Sheryl?

        The moment they started taking money to promote posts they became publishers.

      4. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: How many people believe Sheryl?

        .... neutral publisher protection.

        The dumbest idea in a long history of dumb ideas. Do nothing and get away with everything or do your best and get royally screwed for what you missed.

        What steaming moron came up with that idea?

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: How many people believe Sheryl?

          A "common carrier" is not a publisher. More like a news vendor, but a blind one who can't actually read the headlines.

          Facebook should never have been able to claim that status. The moment they started making any differentiation between posts, they blew that cover clean off.

  3. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge

    A long and considered response is called for...

    But I'll stick with "T'was ever thus".

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: A long and considered response is called for...

      Yet you got a downvote for what is essentially the real history of mankind.

      So have an upvote from me.

      Because yes, not just people behave badly, but MOST people behave badly.

  4. SVV Silver badge


    "but it woz the computer wot did it"

    Sorry folks, you take the money to publish this stuff. If you can't be arsed to look at what you're publishing and it turns out to be vile hate spreading crap then the responsibility lies squarely with you, the publisher.

  5. LDS Silver badge

    China government has a strong incentive to police contents, Facebook has not

    The former knows policing content is critical to its own survival.

    The *berg know their survival is built upon letting any income opportunity come in, even the ugliest ones. Their whole business model is built upon that, it's quantity, not quality.

    Once caught, they will make up some excuse, and then business as usual.

    The only hope is people start to understand online ads don't work.

    1. Richard Jukes

      Re: China government has a strong incentive to police contents, Facebook has not

      But they do work.

      I spend 60k a year on adwords, 18k for someone to admin it. And it brings in a lot of work.

      If people are using googling to search for something then there is a good chance they want to buy it.

      Not so much with banner adverts though.

  6. Teiwaz Silver badge

    implausible deniability

    Maybe too difficult to police what the multi-herd of milk-cows post in their self-contained paddocks - hardly on who they are actually doing real business with.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    O'Brien just called from '84, he wants his dystopian police-state back

    If Facebook is forced to police all contents according to subjective rules and guidelines (they have tried and invariably get it wrong) imagine what will happen when the Police start doing it.

    People will be arrested, fined perhaps even imprisoned for making unpopular comments, likes, dislikes and links. The chilling effect writ large.

    That will never happen right?

    The list is long my friends.

    The only good news is that kids are abandoning Farcebook in droves. They are clearly smarter than their parents.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: O'Brien just called from '84, he wants his dystopian police-state back

      Seriously. What's worse than government controlling speech? Government in partnerships with megacorporations controlling speech. Unfortunately, it looks like the modern progressives have learned from their pre-WWII predecessors - you keep big business around to do your dirty work and then use them as an ablative shield when people finally figure out that they live in a police state. The dissidents have already politely sorted and presented themselves for reeducation, internment, or execution. The Germans are already halfway there, but of course they have experience.

      You don't make the world better with force - Americans keep trying this and it keeps backfiring spectacularly. You make it better by engaging with people who are wrong (like racists) one at a time. You make it better by living as a better person yourself and setting an example for others. Anger and violence - even righteous anger and violence - only beget more anger and violence. Be this guy:

      1. Calimero

        Re: O'Brien just called from '84, he wants his dystopian police-state back

        No, it is an incomplete, forceful, and unfair judgement - rather look at the nature of the problem.

  8. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Not a new problem

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” - Upton Sinclair.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "“It is difficult to get a man to understand something,..salary depends on..not understanding it.” "


  9. Suburban Inmate

    Essential addons if you must swim that open sewer

    FB Purity, and some form of ad blocking like uBlock. Sorted.

    I just have it set to "friends feed" to keep in touch with people, rarely ever look at "Pages feed".

  10. chivo243 Silver badge

    Duh gee George

    I'm not sure we shoulda have done dat...

    What did the Justice Department do with Google's $500 million? Who reaped those benefits?

    1. Richocet

      Re: Duh gee George

      I read somewhere that the court and the lawyers agreed to donate it to a bunch of legal organisations including law schools of prestigious universities. There was concern that this was not a very equitable distribution of the money.

      I can't remember where that was posted.

  11. Calimero

    Human Nature and AI-completeness:

    A big couple of human-machine blend that tech giants continue to exploit towards their own demise - frightfully, though, I fear it will not happen in my [chickenly] space and short lifespan.

  12. Snowy


    They take no responsibility for ads then complain that people block ads!

    1. Rob D.

      Re: Funny

      That would be the difference between responsibility and revenue then.

  13. Hammond

    Does Click Fraud Make The Search Engines & Social Media Too Much Money To Police It?

    Is this the real reason social media and the search engines seemingly cannot control rampant click fraud? There is simply too much money to be made if it is allowed to continue. There are billions of dollars being pocketed by 'looking the other way' and ignoring the facts. It just doesn't pay to follow the rules anymore when the largest players in the industry allow fraud to happen and continue to do nothing about it. Is it finally time to become good at click fraud ourselves to still be able to compete? What a shame.

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