Facebook Papers due to launch on Monday

According to the Associated Press on Monday, US time, (Tuesday AEDT), will begin the roll out of the stories from 17 US media outlets based on the papers obtained by Facebook book whistleblower Frances Haugen.

“From the AP: Journalists from a variety of newsrooms, large and small, worked together to gain access to thousands of pages of internal company documents obtained by Frances Haugen, the former Facebook product manager-turned-whistleblower.”

To set aside the core issue of what exactly Facebook is or isn’t doing, it is interesting how a level of coordination is needed to get past the endless noise and confusion generated online.

The effort brings to mind the recent Pandora Papers, the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers  – or going back further, the Pentagon Papers, all represent a coordinated journalistic effort to tackle sprawling international stories: global corruption, Vietnam War.

The distribution and combined reporting also brings to mind the Cablegate releases of Wikileaks and the Snowden leaks.

As important as the investigative reporting on Facebook is, any revelations it produces will struggle to make a difference if no one hears them. The day-to-day flow of news and information is simply too chaotic and contradictory.

For this reason, in 2018 the editorial boards of 350 American newspapers published opinion pieces defending free media during the presidency of Donald Trump. This was in a time when Trump had mastered the art of playing the media to continually hijack and divert the public’s attention.

In this regard, part of the story of the Facebook Papers can’t just be the disclosures about the powerful platform but the mechanics of getting the message out in a time of noisy and endless information overload.

The fact that newsrooms will do this today again on the complex issue of Facebook should tell us something about the circumstances democracy must learn to live in today. From there, maybe we should consider what other important requirements of democracy need to be amplified over the distraction machine of modern communication.

If patterned communication to get the public talking about Facebook works, maybe a thought could be given to how to get the public talking coherently about issues of core importance to a liberal and democratic society.

Clearly, the extremists and authoritarians know how to game this environment. When do the forces of democracy learn the same thing?


We are partners in our own demise: ex-president of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Too much information, too much contradiction and too much confusion. In this era, how do we even think about where democracy stands in the world? The former president of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves, in a speech in honour of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, offers a clear-eyed assessment of the state of democracy today in competition with Russia, China  and other autocracies. He notes how there once was moral clarity about where the West stood in relations to these countries. Not so now: one of the fallouts of 30 years of globalisation, the internet and free trade is this great blurring, which sees Western economies, governments and businesses accept the ill-gotten wealth of strongmen. Ilves poses the question: are we “un-indicted co-conspirators” in our demise? He asks in terms of money. But I think a similar case can be made in terms of information and ideas.

You can hear Ilves’ full speech here – starting at 9.33

Text of the speech here.

Media analyst Vasily Gatov’s analysis of the Kremlin’s information war (2015) 

Regulate Facebook? Sure, but good luck in ridding the internet of bad content

This is a big week for the prospect of meaningful regulation of social media in the US. The testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has raised hopes of legislative reform for Facebook. But in the drive for government action, are reformers forgetting how much personalisation has change political communication? We’re in a different world now.

The tone of caution on this podcast should not be misread as the techno-libertarian argument against regulation (something like: “free speech!” therefore all regulation is pointless).

Rather, it’s a reminder that even if large tech platforms are brought to heel, some issues won’t magically go away. In fact, those new issues around how we experience information are the new environment we confront today.

Disinformation research: a critique 

This short podcast is not so much a criticism of disinformation research but rather a critique of the expectations around it  – or possibly the unexamined expectations around it.

I refer to these three articles.

1) https://www.npr.org/2021/08/04/1024791053/facebook-boots-nyu-disinformation-researchers-off-its-platform-and-critics-cry-f

2) https://harpers.org/archive/2021/09/bad-news-selling-the-story-of-disinformation/

3) https://www.niemanlab.org/reading/facebook-sent-flawed-data-to-misinformation-researchers/

Music by Lesfm from Pixabay/ Image