Quick summary

  • A terrorist killed 50 people in Christchurch, New Zealand recently.
  • The murders were broadcast over the alleged killer’s live Facebook feed.
  • In my view, Facebook can algorithmically determine when a live shooting is happening.
  • So why does Facebook allow these videos to be shown?
  • And, most importantly, why don’t they have a regulator?

Why Is There No Social Media Or Internet Regulator?

Source: Don’t look directly at The Sun

In my view, Facebook definitely knew about the live shooting

The most fundamental nature of Facebook’s business is that it is good at propensity modelling. Propensity modelling is a way of using the data you have about someone to determine, mathematically, what the person might do next. It’s used a lot in situations where a website provides a ‘feature’ such as ‘people who bought this also bought this’. They’re at least top 5 in the world at doing that. It’s what they do!

We know Facebook can recognize faces uploaded to their platform, key phrases in WhatsApp and messenger, and they know social networks that people are in as well as the content they share. Through their ‘Facebook Pixel’ which many businesses and government departments put on their websites, Facebook may well have known that the alleged perpetrator in Christchurch went to the government website and uploaded a file before he (allegedly) committed his crimes.

In addition,.

  • The images from the live feed had a known ‘Style’:
    The way the video was taken, it was very different in a lot of ways to any other type of content you’d usually see on Facebook. It resembled a ‘First Person’ video game.
  • The audio was equally distinctive:
    At the very least, if Shazam can identify a song from a few seconds of a recording, it seems to me that Facebook could scan the audio of any uploaded file to ‘listen to it’. Why couldn’t they identify the TYPE of gun that was used in this way? Shazam would be able to.

Here’s a realistic appraisal of the circumstance

  • Facebook is run by and funded by ‘rabid capitalists’ (in my view):
    This is a true story. In 2016, a hedge fund (I am calling these people rabid capitalists) bought some debt sold by the Argentinian government for $117 million. The hedge fund then pursued the Argentinian government. At one point, the hedge fund persuaded Ghana to impound an Argentinian navy vessel which was overseas in part payment for the debt. In the end, the Argentinian government paid $2.4bn for the debt to the fund. A profit of roughly 2000% on their initial investment. That’s the kind of people we’re dealing with here. To be clear, I am not saying any social media company is tied in with the Hedge Fund I am mentioning here, I am simply suggesting that the pursuit of profit is often at the expense of what many would consider moral decency.
  • Smart people, incentivised and intrinsically motivated:
    Facebook hire some of the smartest people in the world and motivate them. The best form of motivation is intrinsic motivation. They seek out the best brains in history with millions in bonuses and incredible perks. For example, the median wage at Google is $140,000.
  • Provide them billions of dollars in Research and Development / Capital Expenditure: Amazon alone invested $23bn in research and development last year.
  • Generate maximum profit by building a monopoly:
    That the natural outcome for most of the technology companies is monopoly – due to network effects and first mover advantages. Monopolies are extremely profitable for those that own them.

    • Use that technology monopoly for 2 reasons:
      • Surreptitiously farm the global population for their data:
        For the data they leak (I think we all know these things but I don’t think it’s often that we lay them all out together. We operate in a world of Surveillance capitalism).
      • Find better ways to spin that data into money:
        At the highest margins any businesses have ever generated by cracking the codes to human behaviour and triggering the response they want – often that we purchase something.

The question is, how come there’s no regulator for the Internet. Or better yet, for social media.

First of all, it’s not Facebook’s fault that a lot of people wanted to watch this video. Some of those who did, viewed it for the same reason that people watch car crashes – to inform themselves of potential dangers and to consider how they might behave in the same position.

That said, it’s well-established that using laws instead of regulation can be clumsy and ineffective when it comes to curtailing the activities of these companies.

What is the purpose of a regulator?

Regulators closely watch a market they understand in order to support in the definition of rules (often backed by laws) which they then enforce (codify and enforce). That’s exactly what’s required here.

Generally, regulators are asked to oversee industries that lend themselves to monopolies – exactly like technology giants. In Australia, for example, markets like telecommunications and energy are heavily regulated. Why is the internet any different?

Where’s the question mark? Why would we not regulate social media and the companies which run it?

A regulator would be able to give clear boundaries to Facebook and the others. Regulators are often staffed by people who have worked in the industry and are wise to the ‘tricks’ they use. In my view, we need to start with developing, implementing, and maintaining rules, rather than laws. A Regulator approach could create a body nimble enough to have a hope of boxing in these internet companies that are driven by rabid capitalists who, at least, appear to be prepared to show a murder video to make a few dollars.

To be fair, the UK does appear to be taking step – a ‘Super Regulator’ – one, which will ensure that internet companies have a duty of care to users. That could mean some big changes for the big tech companies.

But the most concerning thing to me is that regulation of the internet isn’t even being discussed. Intelligent business and technology strategists are looking at this problem and no one is saying ‘Regulate’. How on earth can that be the case?