back to article No, no, you're all wrong. That's not a Kremlin agent. It's someone with 'inauthentic behavior'

It takes time for society, and the law, to catch up with technological advances. But based on this morning's hearing at the US Senate Intelligence Committee, the law is rapidly catching up with the main purveyors of what we have all come to call "social media." It's been six years since Facebook went public; five since Twitter …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hit the 'Reset' button

    All Facebook HIVE data warehouses need to be 100% purged.

    Then lets start over and see what happens second time around.


    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Hit the 'Reset' button

      Go a step further and purge all their servers/computers not just data warehouses and have them really start over. I'm not even sure that would work as it's too deeply ingrained into the money machine as then the data would be really fresh.

      1. macjules Silver badge

        Re: Hit the 'Reset' button

        Or better, "From now on Facebook and Twitter can only use Azure servers". Why worry about data purges when you can let Microsoft lightning do it for you?

        1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

          Re: Hit the 'Reset' button

          "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."

          1. Stevie Silver badge

            Re: Hit the 'Reset' button

            Reboot the internet to clean out all the 4chans.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Hit the 'Reset' button

      Starting over is useless if we can just go and do the same thing all over again.

      We need official guidelines to start over with, and legal (maybe penal) sanctions if those guidelines are not respected.

      As for efficiency, stating that your statistical analysis machine prevents 85% of anything is meaningless without proof. Show me what it blocked, and what it let through, then I'll decide what the percentage actually is.

      FaceBook needs to be held to account on this, and that means oversight. I know FB doesn't like it, it thinks it is a company and no company likes external review (hell, most don't even like internal review), but like it or not, you're dealing with Society and what you do (or don't do) has an impact that Society has the right to know about.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Foreboding Forecast?

    One does get a sense that governments all over are beginning to gun for Facebook, Twitter, Google. In my opinion their current business models are taking the companies on a road to corporate disaster, it's just a matter of when it becomes unsustainable in the face of regulation, laws, fines, and special taxes.

    It would be especially ironic if companies so fond of the word "trending" fail to respond to the likely changes in the legal environment within which they operate. Yet so far they sound like they're trying to ignore the increasing levels of government criticism, determined to not change at all, adamant that change is not required.

    However, they have to greater or lesser extents admitted that change is required. Hence measures such as AI moderation. But clearly these are simply short term technological bluster because it isn't working and they're not going to work well enough soon enough. They not even keeping up with the trends in their users' activity (e.g. incitements to murder / genocide) that cause newsworthy events (the incited murders / genocide) that they themselves then report by scraping stories from other people's websites. Doesn't say much for their vaunted analytics, does it? At some point they're going to have to admit that they cannot adequately moderate the objectionable content, or prevent users creating more of it, or even spot it happening in the first place.

    So then what? Take the rap, pay the fines, and carry on? Sounds unlikely. Force users to provide legally admissible ID (e.g. bank details, validated through a credit card transaction?) for accounts so that users take the rap in court instead? Sounds like the only way to survive. It also sounds like a good way of disappearing entirely if one is not offering a substantively useful service, because who really wants to have to pay for a myriad of frivolous messaging services when only one is needed?

    I can see Google surviving such a transition, because they actually offer useful services (search, maps). Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat? Likely not, especially if Google got its act together and did a decent messaging app and stuck with it for more than 6 months.

    Question is, would Google then survive the resulting monopoly / anti-trust investigation? Probably not. They're already losing on that front anyway.

    Interestingly I've not mentioned Amazon, Apple or Microsoft. Perhaps there really is a long term future in selling something tangible to paying customers for an honest profit, instead of syphoning off the advertising business.

    1. An nonymous Cowerd

      Re: Foreboding Forecast?

      according to the BBC financial news this morning, there was an empty chair at the meeting described in this article, the empty chair was supposedly reserved for "Google"

      - too busy to come?,

      - traffic bad??,

      - didn't get the email???

      or is it related to this 'old news' from a Kremlin linked news source eh, El'Reg?

      1. iron Silver badge

        @ An nonymous Cowerd

        If you had actually read the article you commented on you would know all about the empty chair.

    2. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

      Re: Foreboding Forecast?

      "Take the rap, pay the fines, and carry on? Sounds unlikely"

      Not as unlikely as you may think. There is a common economic practice in business called "Managed Externalities". At its basic level it involves passing costs out of your business to some third party. For example, you might engage a courier to deliver all your internal mail as running the deliveries yourself is more costly (or you might outsource your IT call centre to a cheap, off-shore company...).

      Externalities can, however, be used for much darker purposes, such as in the case of pollution where companies rely on environmental programs and charities to clean up their mess rather than pay for it themselves.

      In one case a certain Airline had suffered a number of fatal crashes over a period of time and were hauled up by aviation authorities to explain themselves. It turned out that the airline had failed to install all of the safety equipment and perform the safety checks they should've. Their excuse was the cost involved vs the "low incident" of crashes. The Courts disagreed and set astronomical fines for each and every life lost or injury inflicted due to the failing of safety procedures - the idea was that the airline would find it cheaper to see to safety than to pay the fines.

      Instead, the airline used externalization to solve the problem - they raised flight fares to cover the potential cost of paying the fines and blamed "new legislation" for the price hike.

      Its entirely possible that FB and co. will simply raise their advertising rates for the same reason and thus externalize the entire problem. Given that they have already failed to externalize the moral issues to legal process and/or user behavior I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them take this path, or possibly even charging the users a nominal fee and covering it up as a "premium, no advertisements or unsolicited material" style account.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Foreboding Forecast?

        @Bernard M Orwell,

        Yes, that is a possible tactic, but it is likely to be of limited success in this case.

        First, there is a limit to how much the advertisers will pay for online ads; at some point TV and magazines become more cost effective and online ads pointless. No one will pay 10cents for one targeted ad for an item with a 5cent margin, because they're 5cent down on the deal.

        So the social media companies cannot screw the advertisers for every penny they've got because the advertisers have free will and choice, and possibly brains.

        Second, as it's government rather than courts setting the taxes, fine levels, etc, they're doing it to get a change in behaviour. And they will keep ramping it up until it's successful. Courts merely impose the current legal penalty for non compliance, they can't change what that penalty is.

        So a government can change the dimensions of externalisation such that it is unsustainable, or threatens one's personal liberty. You can't externalise a jail term.

        For example here in the UK, management are personally criminally liable for health and safety failings, in sufficiently severe cases. And that ultimately is how it could end up with this problem. Who then would want to be the CEO of a social media company as they currently operate if one bad tweet could send you to jail?

        OK, that's all currently hypothetical, but do the social media companies' directors, CEOs and chairs really want to even risk getting anywhere near a situation where that's the kind of laws government enacts? Are they willing to bet their lives on it?

        If a government wants to go that way, there's not a whole lot the companies can do about it. Note that even now, even in the USA, Web companies are criminally liable for content related to sex trafficking. The Communications Decency Act was amended this year. If that isn't a clear signpost of what may be to come if the social media companies don't get serious, I don't know what is.

        One of the problems of crossing rubicons is admitting to oneself that that's what's happening. Admit that, accept that something fundamental is disappearing into the past, and one may survive. Currently the companies aren't doing that.

        I think that a large part of the reason why is because these companies tend to have odd corporate constitutions that prevent the majority of shareholders actually having a say in how the companies are run. The founding shareholders, the ones with the voting shares, I think are planning on cutting and running when the going gets too tough, perhaps transferring the company cash pile into some other venture (something that they can probably do because they have all the votes), leaving the ordinary shareholders holding junk stocks in social media companies that have been legislated out of profitability.

        Call me cynical, but from their point of view this doesn't look too bad as an exit strategy. It's easy to do, it involves doing nothing significantly costly now, and it's a clean getaway.

        1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Foreboding Forecast?

          Thanks for the superb answer to my hypothesis; you have many valid points and observations there. The only area I'd take some issue with is this:

          "You can't externalise a jail term... [] ...For example here in the UK, management are personally criminally liable for health and safety failings, in sufficiently severe cases"

          It's rare, if ever, that this is the case. The underlying concept of a Public Liability Company (PLC, LLC in the US, as defined in the Incorporation Act 1926) is to remove/mitigate the personal liability of individual investors, owners and employees of a company and make the company as a whole liable. The intended effect is that, with less at risk, investors will invest more capital making corporations stronger and better.

          A PLC doesn't need to externalize a jail term, because, being non-corporeal, it will never face one - only fines. This, alongside financial externalization, means its nearly impossible to actually punish a PLC as a whole and even harder to hold a CEO accountable for the actions of the company itself.

          Only since 2014 has the law begun to really consider personal liability of individual employees, under something called Deferred Prosecution Agreements, but these can be used as a form of externalization in and of themselves allowing a PLC to say "Oh! that wasn't us that did the Bad Thing, it was this specific employee, the bastard! Let us hand them over to you...." - A good example of this was the LIBOR fraud a few years back where specific employees were identified by the banks involved and handed over to the law.

          Judge this as you will, but murky waters it certainly is.

  3. ratfox Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    "stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms."

    That's a reference to Alex Jones, I presume?

    ... But is Alex Jones authentic?

    ... What about Paris Hilton, is she authentic?

    1. Tomato42 Silver badge

      "stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms."

      you mean, exactly what they did during Kavanaugh hearings?

      hypocrisy doesn't even begin to describe what the far right is doing in the US, we really need a new word for it

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        I have one for you : treason.

        Treason to the Constitution, treason to the law, treason to the People.

        1. disgruntled yank Silver badge


          For good reason, the U.S. Constitution employs a narrow definition of treason, and convicting a person of treason is very difficult.

          I find your series implausible. Treason to the Constitution, perhaps, if we consider the Constitution as defining the United States. To the law? Well, the Constitution declares itself the supreme law of the land, so what does that add? To the capital-P People?

          "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court."

          (Article III, Section 3)

  4. ST Silver badge

    Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

    Or at least she's been sending some trial balloons.

    The fact that she is eminently unqualified for that job notwithstanding.

    I think that's frightening.

    1. Trilkhai

      Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

      Given she worked her way to the top, has reportedly had a successful career running huge companies that haven't declared bankruptcy, and appears to stay cool under pressure rather than publicly lashing out — so she's at least more qualified than the person currently holding the position. If he can do it, well...

      1. ST Silver badge

        Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

        Working your way to the top -- read: infinite ambition combined with thirst for power, not declaring bankruptcy and not posting dumb shit on Twitter doesn't make one qualified to be President.

        What makes Sheryl Sandberg qualified to be President? She's COO of Facebook?

        1. ratfox Silver badge

          Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

          What makes Sheryl Sandberg qualified to be President? She's COO of Facebook?

          To reiterate the point above, the current President has made it abundantly clear that no qualifications are required to be President.

          That said, it seems various executives have run for President recently without having ever held office. They generally fail: The last one who actually managed it was Eisenhower, and before that, Hoover. Except, again, the current one.

          1. DougS Silver badge

            Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

            I think once the Trump era is over, his best accomplishment will have been poisoning the well for any future celebrity / business world candidates with no political experience.

            1. c1ue

              Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President


              Trump is the *SECOND* actor as President.

              We already had 2 different father-son pairs.

              Almost a husband wife.

              Looks like a banana republic, walks like a banana republic...

              1. DougS Silver badge

                Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

                Reagan was governor of California, so he wasn't coming in cold straight to the White House. The Bushes and Clintons may have had too much in the way of familial ties, but they all had experience as a CIA chief/VP, a governor, or Senator/SOS so they weren't the same situation as Trump or Sandberg either.

                1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                  Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

                  Reagan was governor of California, so he wasn't coming in cold straight to the White House.

                  Yes, and as governor he was a serious policy wonk - he wasn't primarily a figurehead, as Bush II was, for example. (In Texas, the Lieutenant Governor does most of the actual head-of-executive-branch work.) And before that he was President of the SAG; anyone who doesn't think that's a political position, and a fraught one at that, doesn't understand Hollywood labor.

                  Reagan was not my favorite president by any means, and his mental faculties were definitely on the decline in his later years. But he was one of the more-qualified people we've had in that office, at least by job experience.

        2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          Re: ST

          Apparently declaring bankruptcy and posting dumb shit on Twitter does make one qualified to be President.

        3. Nick Kew Silver badge

          Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

          I know far too little about Ms Sandberg to comment on her suitability for president.

          But your post begs the question: what makes anyone suitable for president, and how many past holders of that post (never mind the present one) have been qualified?

          1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

            Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

            " what makes anyone suitable for president".

            Selection by the illuminati, CFR and the Federal Reserve. Secondary approval by The Bilderberg group and performance monitoring by our Alien Lizard Overlords.

            " how many past holders of that post (never mind the present one) have been qualified?"

            All of them. Except JFK. He failed his probation period.

            [/END channeling_alex_jones]

          2. ST Silver badge

            Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

            > how many past holders of that post (never mind the present one) have been qualified?

            Pretty much every single one starting with FDR. I may not agree with their politics or policies but none of them appeared to be in completely over their heads when they declared their candidacy.

            Yes, Nixon did terrible and stupid things, but he was Vice President before being elected. JFK and LBJ were in the Senate. Carter was ineffective once elected. Reagan was Governor of California before being elected. All of them - with the exception of the current one - had demonstrable experience and qualifications in running a government, or working for and with the government, with some degree of competence.

            I'm including W. in that category. Yes, he made terrible mistakes while in office.

            Getting elected to office != qualified to hold the office.

        4. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

          Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

          "What makes Sheryl Sandberg qualified to be President?"

          Maybe she's Authentic?

    2. Someone Else Silver badge

      Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

      The fact that she is eminently unqualified for that job notwithstanding.

      It's not like that hasn't happened before....

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

        Cheryl Sandberg worked for about 5 years for the US Treasury Department under Secretary Larry Summers, so she has at least some possibly significant and relevant experience at a fairly high level in the executive branch of the US government. She certainly is better qualified for the presidency by experience and demeanor than the present incumbent.

        That does not mean she is well-qualified, however. The average governor of a US state probably is much better qualified than either of them and, indeed, than most of those now being touted as potential 2020 candidates.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

          In the political climate these days, experience as a governor or senator counts against you - you have a record for the opponent to pick apart and find something to spin negatively. The same is true of an officer of a public company like Sanders.

          It was to Trump's advantage that he was head of a small privately held company with only a few dozen employees, most of whom had been there forever. No pesky SEC filings, quarterly investor calls, public filing requirements when people are laid off and so on able to make most CEOs sound bad if presented in the wrong tone.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

      The fact that she is eminently unqualified for that job notwithstanding.

      Paradoxically, this appears to be the major qualification for the job, in the minds (such as they are) of much of the electorate. Note the calls for "outsiders", vitriol directed against "career politicians", etc.

      (What about those damn career plumbers? Screw those guys - let's get some new blood fitting our pipes! And career engineers, all thinking they're so smart with their mathematics and designs. Career surgeons, too. Give the guy off the street a chance to do some cutting and you'd see the end of surgical corruption pretty quickly. Really, why is anyone allowed to have a career at all? Term limits for every job!)

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Sheryl Sandberg was/is considering a run for President

        The problem isn't career politicians per se, but the way that being a career politician makes one beholder to special interests to get money to continue winning elections - and help others from the same party win elections so they can become beholden to those special interests from the moment they take office.

        Unfortunately the Supreme Court has ruled we will need a constitutional amendment to take the money out of politics. Instead of electing "outsiders" like our current narcissistic snowflake with the temperament of a toddler, I wish they'd put their energy behind starting the process of getting this amendment passed in the states. There are a lot of smaller states that don't have quite the same flood of special interest money as do the US government and large states that it should be at least conceivable to get this passed in 38 states. Then public pressure will do the rest to force congress to go along.

        And maybe term limit them while we're at it (make it only apply to newly elected members to get the incumbents to go along, then we can vote the bastards out!)

  5. frank ly Silver badge

    Subject Matter

    "In the past, we’ve used terms like 'misinformation' and 'divisive content' to describe this activity. ..."

    Are they talking about the political process in general?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      'misinformation' and 'divisive content'

      LIke this you mean ?

      The Impossible Photo

      1. Ian Emery Silver badge

        Re: 'misinformation' and 'divisive content'

        Yes, they appear to have been doctored!!

        On the 2nd photo, you can quite clearly see part of the original time stamp!!!

        1. ratfox Silver badge

          Re: 'misinformation' and 'divisive content'

          You can clearly see! It's impossible!!

          Except that people have already found the exact place in Gatwick where the photos were taken.

          Long story short, there's multiple corridors looking exactly the same.

          1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

            Re: 'misinformation' and 'divisive content'

            You replied while I was composing my reply. Thanks for finding that confirmation. Upvoted.


      2. Norman Nescio Silver badge

        Re: 'misinformation' and 'divisive content'

        Assume, for the purposes of argument, that the pictures are taken from one, or several, fixed security cameras, which seems likely. Look carefully at the fields of view. The verticals are in different places. This indicates that the either they are pictures taken from different cameras, the camera moved or zoomed, or the pictures are doctored.

        The location appears to be the exit from the luggage collection area in the South Terminal, just after you pass through the ersatz duty-free area before coming out into the public concourse. At that point, there are several parallel channels which are constructed in the same manner.

        I suggest the two people in question were travelling together, and went through two different exit channels near-enough simultaneously, which is not difficult.

        I'll remember to look up and smile and wave next time I go through.

  6. RPF

    So "inauthentic users" are on the Reg, too (AC about "impossible photo").

    1. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Identical timestamp? Quite a coincidence there.

      View empty of other people? No crowds????

      Methinks the question is not whether they're doctored, but by whom? Those whose Agenda is to incriminate the Russians, or those looking to incriminate the UK authorities? Do those pictures appear somewhere on regular news channels where the latter hypothesis can be discounted?

    2. Stevie Silver badge


      I hope I'm not called to task for my inauthentic Google searches.

      I often search for things like "nuns", "rocket launchers", "corset" and so forth just to see how bizarre and diverting the sidebar ads can get in El Reg.

      I may not be able to turn off internet tracking, but I can damn well drown the trackers' data warehouses in worthless noise.

  7. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    And where was Google?

    Oh, they declined to attend. Says a lot does it not!

    Kudos to FB and Twitter for going but that's about all the praise they warrant.

    See Icon for what should IMHO be done to all three

  8. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Festival of Hypocrisy

    "social" media and politicians are so much entangled there is virtually no chance the latter will go against the former. All this is a show to make people happy, don't expect any real or important decision coming out of this circus

  9. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Both are keen to work with the FBI to crack down on abusers because only the Feds can provide them with the tools they need to tackle problem posts."

    And I think we know what the Feds expect to get out of it.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      "Both are keen to work with the FBI to crack down on abusers because only the Feds can provide them with the tools they need to tackle problem posts."

      They've got issues*, but unwilling to take the initiative to crackdown themselves fearing a financially damaging backlash.

      Sometimes a 'Mandatory' or 'cooperating with the authorities' stance is convenient, sometimes it's not.

      Backlash or no, they can deny some of the responsibility. Nothing to do with needing any tools.

      The old 'I was just following orders' defence is alive and well.

  10. Stevie Silver badge


    *Ponders whether Arsebook, Twitface, Pornogram et al can be classified as monopolies*


    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      *Ponders whether Arsebook, Twitface, Pornogram et al can be classified as monopolies*


      Oily, certainly.

      I always feel in need of a good Exxon Penguin scrub after coming into contact with any of them.

  11. tom dial Silver badge

    To a substantial degree these hearings are political theater in the style of the hearings on drugs in baseball a number of years past. That isn't to say they are entirely pointless, but only that there probably are other things on which the legislators might spend their time.

    Most of the angst seems to be about the possibility that US voter might be misled by the fake news we used to call, variously, propaganda or campaign advocacy. The fact it appears the sources for some of it are Russian, Iranian, or possibly other is being used to whip up a panic and divert attention from the underlying facts that it does not differ materially from home grown BS and comprises a tiny part of it.

    Under the first amendment, the government is severely limited in its authority to regulate communication. In particular, it generally cannot regulate content, truth, or presentation, and it cannot, within very broad limits, regulate advocacy of public policy or candidates for public office. Private sector actors like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and others including news media, can apply whatever editorial polices they wish, however restrictive they may be, or how distasteful they may be to some.

    The cure for these excesses in the private sector is to not use or ignore them. If Google collects too much information, eliminate your Google accounts and use another search engine; if Facebook seems too intrusive, cancel or ignore it, along with Twitter, in which I can discern no socially redeeming value at all.

    And finally, recognize that if the foreign propaganda and misinformation from Russia, Iran, or elsewhere truly is a threat to democratic governance, it is doomed anyway, because the voters are too uninformed and unintelligent in some combination to withstand the barrage of homegrown propaganda and misinformation that is a couple of orders of magnitude larger.

  12. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

    You just can't trust...

    You just can't trust Google, Facebook or Twitter, so make sure you unsubscribe from those services.

    Then switch back to Fox news for the Real American Truth.

    [May contain sarcasm]

  13. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Most significant user

    Twitter – whose most significant user right now is the most powerful man in the world

    Hold on - Xi Jinping is on Twitter?

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