back to article Tobacco giants don't get to decide who does research on smoking. Why does Facebook get to dictate studies?

On Tuesday, lawmakers from the US House of Representatives heard from three academics who argued that social media companies cannot be trusted to police themselves. That might seem like a foregone conclusion given Facebook's serial involvement in controversies over the past several years, its longstanding allergy to oversight …

  1. a_yank_lurker

    Oh Really?

    Failbook, Twatter, and the rest of the scum deserve whatever happens to them. Their individual antics showed their arrogance and marked failure to try to maintain some semblance of trust.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh Really?

      Shut them down. It's the only way.

      1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

        Re: Oh Really?

        And then nuke them from orbit?

        1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

          Re: Oh Really?

          What about shutting down every "media" resource that causes issues - I would name the BBC, ITV and Sky, the Sun, The Times and basically every other newspaper in the UK for being complicit in the misinformation and hype which has resulted in the current fuel related issues.

          Facebook might be big and nasty but so is Google, Microsoft et al and much of the modern "media" ...

          One rule for all. Close them all or leave them open? Freedom of the press or censorship? The arguments start to get more difficult the more control Government tries to apply.

          1. Ceiling Cat

            Re: Oh Really?

            Facebook isn't "The Media" or "The Press". Facebook is a front-end designed to present the collected mind-vomit of everyone from teens to senior citizens, and to make the parent company a shitload of cash whilst doing so.

            At least in the times before Facebook, we had to actively seek out these people's personal websites or individual blogs in order to read their dribble.

            1. not.known@this.address

              Re: Oh Really?

              "Facebook isn't "The Media" or "The Press"."

              Does Facebook emulate the press, or does the press emulate Facebook?

              "At least in the times before Facebook, we had to actively seek out these people's personal websites or individual blogs in order to read their dribble"

              As against opening a newspaper or switching on the television? Either you didn't understand that the original poster was comparing Facebook and the media as purveyors of misinformation and pointing out that, functionally, the end result is the same regardless of who carries the information, or you deliberately tried to suggest there was no similarity, nothing to see, please move along...

              Either way, large parts of the UK media are proving that, once again, they consider their own agenda more important than their job of reporting facts and not just their own opinions.

              1. KBeee

                Re: Oh Really?

                As David Kircaldy said (and engraved above the door) "Facts not Opinions".

                But even just stating facts leads to trouble. Saying "5 BP garages had their fuel deliveries cancelled due to lack of HGV drivers" leads to idiots panic buying and causing fuel shortages.

                1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                  Re: Oh Really?

                  "But even just stating facts leads to trouble. Saying "5 BP garages had their fuel deliveries cancelled due to lack of HGV drivers" leads to idiots panic buying and causing fuel shortages."

                  Yeah, but when the above was a true fact and most of the media was reporting that fact, the Daily Mail was printing the headline "Britain Running on Empty". THAT was the sort of thing that caused the panic buying,

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Oh Really?

                A lot of people seem to get their "information" from Facebook and that's how I'd classify "The Media" and "The Press", since that's the case it's about time to start regulating it like "The Media" or "The Press".

              3. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Oh Really?

                A big difference is that newspapers/sites can be held responsible for the news they publish. The bigger they are, the more liability they have, and the more careful they must be about telling the truth. The news itself is not protected by section 230. Only the comments section is protected by 230.

                Furthermore, newspapers/sites show their content up-front. They do not select what news to show to which people.

                Facebook and other "so-called news" promoters however, end up profiting from the news they promote, while having no liability with regard to content, which they can show with the protection of section 230.

                Facebook et al can also select to whom they want to show which news in order to maximize engagement ("the algorithm") - so nobody except Facebook et al has the complete picture of what is being promoted.

                There is no news completely without bias. However, a newspaper/site which is legally liable for their content is more reliable, because of that liability, than Facebook. Also, the fact that a newspaper/site content is viewable by everybody (bar the paywall) and not shown selecting content to match the viewer, adds another layer of reliability.

                Even FOX news is subject to this circumspection and liability - but Facebook is not even though they profit from showing the same news to viewers of Facebooks active choosing.

                "Shortly after Smartmatic's $2.7 billion lawsuit was filed, Fox abruptly canceled longtime host Lou Dobb's show on Fox Business, where Dobbs provided a receptive environment for election-related conspiracy theories."

                So, yeah, liability does not imply absolute truth (which is inherently subjective anyway), but it lessens the chance of future horses leaving the barn.

            2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

              Re: Oh Really?

              Teens? On Facebook?

              Ten years ago just called. They want their youth culture back.

              1. jason_derp

                Re: Oh Really?


              2. Frumious Bandersnatch

                Re: Oh Really?

                Youth culture killed my dog ... and I don't think it's fair.

  2. Geez Money

    Gotta agree with FB...

    > it challenged the claim that Instagram is 'toxic' to teens

    They're right, the "to teens" part of that statement is wholly needless. Good catch guys.

    1. Drew Scriver

      Re: Gotta agree with FB...

      Facebook's challenge is peculiar given that this observation was quoted directly from an internal company research presentation.

      From the WSJ article:

      “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers said in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”

      “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one slide from 2019, summarizing research about teen girls who experience the issues.

      “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

      Congress ought to subpoena Facebook's own researchers (and the psychologists they have on staff).

      1. IGotOut Silver badge

        Re: Gotta agree with FB...

        "Don't read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly."

        The magazines have just been replaced by (filtered) photos.

        Oh and its ruined decent food. No longer can you have a pie and chips on a plate, it has to be severed on a germ ridden plank of wood with your chips in a f'king plant pot.

  3. chivo243 Silver badge

    once again...

    The butcher is inspecting his own meat... Nice work FB \s

    Now where is the Linus icon... FB needs a middle finger!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: once again...

      "The butcher is inspecting his own meat..."

      Is that a euphemism?

  4. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

    Because ...

    it's tech, and tech's different.

    No seriously, there is no reason.

  5. sreynolds

    Chickens come home to roost?

    So? Do I let the fox in the hen house? Who is doing the subs?

  6. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Transparency is the first, unescapable step toward holding social media platforms accountable

    This kind of statement is emblematic of the piecemeal approach to solving the problems on social media that won't really get to the true heart of the matter.

    Yep, more transparency would be good, no doubt, but you're still looking for a technical solution to a much larger problem.

    They've profited for too long from harmful behaviour, and been far too happy to carry on doing so, despite some of it provably having cost actual lives. This refusal to be regulated should be met with a proper demonstration of how unhappy the measures that could be taken will make them if they don't start cleaning up their act. Letting people become unaccountable because of their wealth and power is never a good idea.

    1. jason_derp

      Re: Transparency is the first, unescapable step toward holding social media platforms accountable

      "Letting people become unaccountable because of their wealth and power is never a good idea."

      I don't want to spoil anything for you, but if you look outside, or turn on the tv, or read a book relating to any of that, that shit is going to blow the brains out of your ears so quick your eyes are going to pop backwards into your skull from the pressure difference. /s

  7. naive

    At least tobacco use was approved by doctors

  8. I am David Jones Silver badge

    What’s the difference?

    Anyone can study social media/Facebook, just as anyone can study tobacco companies.

    What I think this is about is getting privileged access to data/APIs to help with the research, and no doubt FB do indeed keep this for “friendly” researchers.

    But I doubt that tobacco firms opened up their internal archives to any random person that asked…

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What’s the difference?

      Yes. I don't understand why any researcher would take to Twitter to moan that they have to do their own experiments. It seems incredibly entitled.

      Would they be fuming (yes) if 50 years ago they had to design their own experiments and recruit trial subjects for a tobacco study, instead of having all the data handed to them on a plate for them to be able to churn out a nice paper or 50?

  9. Robert Grant

    "Tobacco companies don't get to decide who does research on smoking and the idea that social media companies get to decide who studies them is perverse,"

    This is disingenuous. Tobacco companies don't provide all the computing infrastructure and data on a plate for researchers to do the last 0.1% of effort. The researchers do experiments and observation to understand the effects of it. Paying to make an experimental social network and recruiting participants to run trials on them/it would be more equivalent.

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