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blog: Don Marti

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Reporting scam ads to Facebook: counterproductive?

23 June 2019

Scams and political misinfo are bad, so why not report them?

What follows is a version of my long email response to a question about why I think that reporting problem content to Facebook is a bad idea, at least here in the USA. Complaining about Facebook is fine, but complaining to Facebook, not so much.

That's because as of 2019, it's almost like there are three Facebooks in this country, from the user point of view.

Purple state Facebook: I wish I could predict otherwise, but this is going to be a bigger and bigger fraud and foreign misinformation operation leading up to the 2020 election.

In some countries, doing moderation might be a way to build goodwill with the government. But here, the current US administration gives foreign operations some of the credit for getting elected. Meanwhile, Facebook needs to get an ambitious new cryptocurrency scheme approved by that very administration. Which means nobody at Facebook can do anything serious about the foreign misinfo problem, at least as it affects the people that the re-election campaign wants to reach. They'll have to handle anything pro-reelection with an extremely light touch, or face a regulatory mess that will keep them out of the money-printing business.The good news is that these two assembly line workers can get a break from the "useless jobs" meme, and whoever is in charge of pretending to moderate Russian troll accounts for Facebook can have a turn.

Red state Facebook: At first I thought that that Facebook could mostly ignore the red state people, or just let skeevy PACs raise money from them, because they live in states that are already safely in the re-election column. But red state people have a valuable role to play. When Facebook kicks some of their favorite personalities off the service, the role of the red states is to complain loudly about it, and even threaten regulatory action, to help make it look like Facebook is even-handed or leaning moderate liberal, to the remaining audience, which is...

Blue state Facebook: This is where the prospective employees live, or are willing to move, and also where you'll find the decision makers at the major advertisers. But both of these groups are more comfortable with a company that has international appeal, so Facebook somehow has to look “brand safe” in order to keep them on board. That's where Grigory Potemkin's paint and trim crew, I mean the Facebook advertising "transparency" operation, comes in.

The kind of people who might work for Facebook, or advertise there, get targeted for a dramatically different experience from what the regular people do. How many Facebook employees are embedded with the Presidential re-election campaign these days, anyway? And how many are planned to be there at the peak? IMHO some reporter should ask that. And much of the documentation that Facebook makes public about its political misinformation problem is a read-between-the-lines instruction manual on how to do political misinformation without letting the brand advertisers see it.

Regular people get quack miracle cures and massacre-your-neighbors campaigns, while CMOs get ads for luxury resorts and martech services. Of course the CMOs are going to be fine with advertising there. But no ad targeting system is perfect, and occasionally some of the nasty stuff leaks through where blue state people can see it, which means a recruiting problem to start with, and maybe even an advertising problem. (Although as far as I can tell, CMOs are pretty easy to keep in the dark, safely reassured about how they can stay brand-safe and moderate even while supporting a company that's already locked in as a division of the re-election campaign.)

When Facebook asks you, a blue state person, to please report things, that's where you come in. They're looking for help spotting it when the bad stuff that goes out to regular people leaks into the sanitized version of Facebook seen by advertisers and prospective employees. Anyway, long answer, but that's why I don't report problems to Facebook. When a drop of the purple-state crapflood leaks through to me, I post it publicly and/or send it to an advertiser instead.

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