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Facebook’s mensis horribilis

By Tim Mitchell on 22 Mar, 2018

Seems like March has turned into Facebook’s mensis horribilis.

Earlier in the month, we had the social network soliciting opinions from a number of users on what its policy should be if an adult man "asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures." In more general terms, the users were quizzed on how they thought Facebook should handle grooming behaviour. The possible range of responses ranged from “this content should not be allowed on Facebook, and no one should be able to see it” to “this content should be allowed on Facebook, and I would not mind seeing it.”

In the face of (almost) universal outrage, Facebook‘s VP of Product, Guy Rosen, took to Twitter to apologise, describing the survey as a “mistake.”

“We run surveys to understand how the community thinks about how we set policies,” said Rosen. “But this kind of activity is and will always be completely unacceptable on FB. We regularly work with authorities if identified. It shouldn’t have been part of this survey. That was a mistake.”

Now, we’re in the midst of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which it’s alleged that the UK-based election consultancy improperly used Facebook data on behalf of political clients (President Trump’s campaign team and Leave.EU campaign are both on the firm’s client list).

Having been summoned to appear before the all-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee as well as members of the US Congress, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has now admitted that the social network "made mistakes" that led to millions of Facebook users having their data exploited. In a statement, Zuckerberg said a "breach of trust" had occurred, also later telling CNN that he was "really sorry", pledging to take action against "rogue apps".

OK, everyone’s entitled to make mistakes. Actually, make that nearly everybody, as not everybody has 2.2 billion active users, who regard the firm as a trusted provider.

When are these “mistakes” going to end? Is appearing before a couple of countries’ parliamentary committees going to drive home to Zuckerberg et al that Facebook’s laissez faire attitude has gone far enough? Or a few million dollars knocked off the value of the company?

Or will it take a mass desertion by users, exasperated by having become Zuckerberg’s human collateral?  Anyone seen ‘The Circle’ with the excellent Tom Hanks and Emma Watson? I thoroughly recommend it.