Facebook faces 'Oppenheimer moment' over Trump scandal

March 24, 2018 by Séverine Rouby, Fiachra Gibbons
A public apology by Zuckerberg has failed to quell outrage over the hijacking of personal data from millions of people by Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook and psychologists who have worked with it are grappling with their "Oppenheimer moment", experts say, over revelations that its data may have been used to help elect US President Donald Trump.

The scandal over the way Cambridge Analytica obtained to try to manipulate US voters "is the most important moment that Facebook has faced since it went public (in 2012)," according to Professor Andrew Przybylski of Oxford University, one of the world's leading authorities on psychology.

He compared their reluctance to admit the destructive potential of social media to the epiphany of the father of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, who declared, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

"With Facebook we have to acknowledge we are giving Frodo the Ring," Przybylski told AFP, referring to the object in the Lord of the Rings which confers absolute power.

"If you gave me the Ring I would be corrupted.

"It is not that what is happening at Facebook is by its nature bad," he added. "It is that they are using our data for products and services, but that we have no idea what they are up to."

He called for regulation and a new "ethical framework (to ensure) that users' rights are protected and that research is being done transparently and in the public interest."

Przybylski said similar crises had led to the establishment of ethical standards in other areas.

'Facebook sense threat'

"Chemistry had this moment after they invented dynamite and chemical weapons, physics had this with nuclear weapons," he argued.

Facebook and "others have been built on the shoulders of academic research... The key issue is trust. Facebook works one-on-one with psychologists and researchers and there is a fundamental asymmetry there."

Przybylski, who has spent the last two days at Facebook's San Francisco headquarters, said he told founder Mark Zuckerberg's chief of staff "Chris Cox all this to his face", and set out proposals on how Facebook might change the way it works.

"I am optimistic. They are receptive, they have a sense of the threat and they have a proactive mindset," said Przybylski, who no longer uses Facebook himself.

But Google researcher Francois Chollet has his doubts.

In a series of scathing tweets this week the inventor of the Keras open source library said "the problem with Facebook is not 'just' the loss of your privacy and the fact that it can be used as a totalitarian panopticon," a prison in which all the cells can be observed from one point.

"The more worrying issue is its use of digital information consumption as a psychological control vector."

Other experts were sceptical that fears about personal information being used to influence users would lead to an exodus from the world's biggest social network.

But with hashtags like #DeleteFacebook and #ZuckSucks trending even on Facebook itself, they said it had suffered a major blow beyond the billions wiped off its share price.

Addicted to the 'F' key

French sociologist Nathalie Nadaud-Albertini said that with Cambridge Analytica a line had been crossed even if "people are almost inured to their data being used for commercial gain.

"That information is being used in political campaigns is far more unsettling," she said.

"Yet whether we like it or not, we are almost obliged to have social media accounts," she said.

Nor can addiction be underplayed, insisted Professor Eric Baumer, of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, whose 2015 study for Cornell University showed how many Facebook users wanting to quit still found themselves reaching for the "F" key when started their computers.

Those who did leave were often tempted back, he said.

"A lot people are going to make a big fuss about quitting now... Then you'll see a negative backlash when their friends say, 'How am I to get in touch with you?'" he said.

No other social media "has the same critical mass. However, that could change" and there were strong signs it was already changing with younger users.

The most consistent users are now aged between 40 and 60, Baumer said, while "younger users are likely to have an account that is deactivated or to have at least thought of deactivating it.

He was now studying a growing "latent resistance" to Facebook, which may end up with a "more thoughtful engagement with a panoply of different types of social media.

"The other problem is the opacity of social media conglomerates," Baumer argued. "People say I don't like Facebook so I use Instagram... not realising Facebook also owns it."

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nrauhauser
4 / 5 (1) Mar 24, 2018
This is a long overdue reckoning, but rather than Oppenheimer's quote, it's more like the pre-WWII scrap iron sales to Imperial Japan. We knew it wasn't a good idea, did it anyway, and then one morning in early December ...
aksdad
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2018
This is worse than fake news. It's a fake crisis. Like global warming and overpopulation, come to think of it. I guess people living in wealthy countries have so much leisure and waste so much time on meaningless pursuits that they have to manufacture crises to give them a feeling of existential purpose; a false sense of virtue.

Why didn't Facebook have this hand-wringing moment of anguish when it was used to elect Barack Obama? Apparently it's not a crisis when liberals do it. If liberals didn't have double-standards, they wouldn't have any standards at all.
KBK
1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2018
I was already warning people about the coming evolution of this, in the early 1990's. When the BBS systems were born and the news groups evolved, and the telecoms were evolving..you could see the writing on the wall.

The information system coming into being, the electronic one, would evolve to the point where it served as fundamental interface for individuals to connect to the world.

When that finally happened, we would each have individualized I/O filters, and we could literally be individually boxed in and thereby controlled by this individualized boxing in... and that the system would monitor and control all, individually, as one.

The most horrifying stinking totalitarian torture state that you could imagine.

....slightly out of people's notice, like they were animals that were being charmed into sleep. Slowly, down, down..down...until humanity was totally boxed in by a few, and owned in a way that was never even thought possible by most.
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2018
Which political party put us in the Republican Police State after their Criminal Negligence on 9/11?

Which one?
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2018
"The most horrifying stinking totalitarian torture state that you could imagine."

Which administration used TORTURE against those unable to resist?
Jonseer
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2018
The truth is facebook doesn't care, because it doesn't have to.
Jonseer
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2018
Why didn't Facebook have this hand-wringing moment of anguish when it was used to elect Barack Obama? Apparently it's not a crisis when liberals do it


So you can't tell the difference between a foreign power using the data to mess up an American election, and an American corporation deciding to go all in and support its chosen candidate.

Because this is so, you think you have a point, when you just prove you are utterly clueless.

American corporations have almost unlimited rights to support political candidates ever since the Supreme Court ruled limiting their ability to do so is a violation of their free speech rights.

Facebook per its user agreements had the right to do whatever it wanted with its data, and as a US Corporation decided to help its preferred candidate, just like the Koch Corporation decided to support Romney with $10s of millions much of which was their deep data on voters.

Just so you understand Russia is NOT an American corp.

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