Oct 7, 2017

Top Facebook security exec responds to critics

A Facebook employee in California. Photo: Jeff Chiu / AP

Facebook's chief security officer Alex Stamos spent part of Saturday responding to critics who say it should overhaul its systems in response to concerns about fake news and foreign election meddling on the platform. His message, basically, was that it's complicated.

"I am seeing a ton of coverage of our recent issues driven by stereotypes of our employees and attacks against fantasy, strawman tech [companies]," he said in a Twitter thread. "A lot of people aren't thinking hard about the world they are asking SV to build." Read his comments in full below.

Why it matters: This is an uncommon level of candor for an executive at the secretive social media company as it faces questions from regulators and the public about possible Russian use of the platform to interfere with the 2016 election. Stamos is one of the public faces of the company's investigation into those issues.

The thread (with small edits for clarity):

"I appreciate Quinta's work (especially on Rational Security) but this thread demonstrates a real gap between academics/journalists and SV. I am seeing a ton of coverage of our recent issues driven by stereotypes of our employees and attacks against fantasy, strawman tech cos. In fact, an understanding of the risks of machine learning (ML) drives small-c conservatism in solving some issues. For example, lots of journalists have celebrated academics who have made wild claims of how easy it is to spot fake news and propaganda. Without considering the downside of training ML systems to classify something as fake based upon ideologically biased training data. A bunch of the public research really comes down to the feedback loop of "we believe this viewpoint is being pushed by bots" -> ML[.] So if you don't worry about becoming the Ministry of Truth with ML systems trained on your personal biases, then it's easy! Likewise all the stories about "The Algorithm". In any situation where millions/billions/tens of Bs of items need to be sorted, need algos[.] My suggestion for journalists is to try to talk to people who have actually had to solve these problems and live with the consequences. And to be careful of their own biases when making leaps of judgment between facts. If your piece ties together bad guys abusing platforms, algorithms and the Manifestbro into one grand theory of SV, then you might be biased[.] If your piece assumes that a problem hasn't been addressed because everybody at these companies is a nerd, you are incorrect. If you call for less speech by the people you dislike but also complain when the people you like are censored, be careful. Really common. If you call for some type of speech to be controlled, then think long and hard of how those rules/systems can be abused both here and abroad[.] Likewise if your call for data to be protected from governments is based upon who the person being protected is. A lot of people aren't thinking hard about the world they are asking SV to build. When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers. Anyway, just a Saturday morning thought on how we can better discuss this. Off to Home Depot. FIN[.]"

Go deeper: Read the thread Stamos was responding to and Axios' Saturday scoop on Facebook's planned increased scrutiny for political ads. Facebook exec Andrew Bosworth also engaged on Twitter with with critics and journalists on Saturday.

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