So Facebook has decided that it really should be doing something about fake news. They’ve even managed to get the underlying basic point correct too. Just as with restrictions upon free speech in general, where we’ve incitement to immediate violence going on then sure, it’s just fine to make people shut up. On the fairly obvious grounds that we don’t know how to bring people back to life but peeps can delay their speech for an hour or 36 without too much damage to their civil liberty. Another analogy is to reading the Riot Act. Yes, everyone does have the right to gather at the street corner. But when it’s the mob with staves and burning brands then getting them all to go home and seeing if they’re willing to come out again in the rain isn’t a bad idea*.
So, starting from the right place here:
Facebook has been grappling with its role in spreading false news and disinformation for a few years, but a spate of mob violence in India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar have spurred the social network into a knee-jerk policy change.
Until now, Facebook has dealt with disinformation by making it less prominent in people’s news feeds. This week, the company announced it would start to delete inaccurate or misleading information created or shared “with the purpose of contributing to or exacerbating violence or physical harm”.
So, why won’t it work? Because of this one little technical detail:
In addition, any successes will be undermined by the fact that much of the inflammatory misinformation in South Asia is being spread through Facebook’s sister platform WhatsApp, where encryption makes content moderation impossible.
That encryption is end to end. The FBI, the CIA, can’t get into it. Facebook can’t get into it. The NSA might be able to, if they knew which message they were looking for and had a week or two to get into it. No form of real time monitoring will work in the slightest.
Which means that we’re going to have to find some other solution. The usual free speech one in fact. Anyone gets to say what they want and it has to be us as free people working out which bits we want to believe. An oddity but there it is, technology has led to only that one viable solution, everyone just gets on with it.
*When there are riots and the like that’s what the authorities pray for, a nice bit of rain. More effective than even the CRS.