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Monday, 09 October 2017 11:34

The algorithm did it: Facebook's Stamos tries to shift blame


Facebook's chief security officer Alex Stamos has taken to the digital airwaves (read Twitter) to try and counter the assumption that the social media giant is sitting on its hands when it comes to preventing the spread of fake news on its channels.

But perhaps he should have sat down and composed a more sober response in a long-form essay, rather than write what appear to be a series of disjointed tweets – they aren't even numbered in the way people normally do when they tweet something that crosses over into multiple stanzas.

Facebook has been under pressure ever since it was found that numerous posts on its website had been works of fiction that spread canards about the Democrats in the run-up to last year's presidential election. Worse has followed with the discovery of US$100,000 worth of advertising that has been said to have Russian links.

And in an atmosphere where anything to do with Russia is seen as the devil's handiwork, Stamos, as the man who is seen as the one barring the way to evil forces that attempt to disturb Mark Zuckerberg's peace of mind, appears to have got more than a little rattled.

Have a look at the tweets for yourself, dear reader.

Stamos claims that he (and all other techies presumably, including the equally incompetent members of the Silicon Valley tribe over at Google) are aware of the shortcomings of machine-learning and artificial intelligence in discerning what is, and what is not, fake news.

blame big2

Pity that he found out only after Facebook accumulated two billion users.

Google was similarly out in action recently, blaming its algorithms — created by itself, but now held somewhat at hands-length like a disreputable third-cousin — when it placed links from the notorious 4chan forum among the top news links about the Las Vegas shooting.

Here's one of the many gems from Stamos: "A lot of people aren't thinking hard about the world they are asking SV to build. When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers."

Presumably, he means software vendors by that acronym. I'm not sure who asked any vendor to fashion the world we live in; the vendors do it because they want to make money, lots of it. Snap out of it Alex, nobody vested you with this or any other task.

Stamos has been particularly critical of journalists. "If your piece assumes that a problem hasn't been addressed because everybody at these companies is a nerd, you are incorrect," runs another tweet.

My assumption, dear Alex, is that problems are not addressed because it would cost money and reduce your profits. You build up an audience in the billions that you are incapable of handling, refuse to admit the reality that you are a media company, and then attempt to ladle out blame when you are caught with your pants down.

Here's another of the tweets: "My suggestion for journalists is to try to talk to people who have actually had to solve these problems and live with the consequences."

Sure, Alex, but what is point of asking any questions when you tech overlords avoid talking in plain lingo and stick to bizspeak to say a lot, and at the same time say nothing?

Stamos reminds me of a man who jumps out of a plane, looks for his parachute on the way down, and then starts blaming the airline/pilot/stewards when he cannot find it. Facebook has taken on a task that is beyond its level of competence — look up that phrase in The Peter Principle, dear Alex — and is now looking to cover its arse.

This has happened numerous times before in Silicon Valley so one should take Stamos's rant with a pinch — nay a tonne — of salt. And just refuse to give him even the time of day.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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