I’ve been reminded of this ancient history a lot in the last year or two as I’ve looked at news around abuse and hostile state activity on Facebook, YouTube and other social platforms, because much like the Microsoft macro viruses, the ‘bad actors’ on Facebook did things that were in the manual. They didn’t prise open a locked window at the back of the building – they knocked on the front door and walked in. They did things that you were supposed to be able to do, but combined them in an order and with malign intent that hadn’t really been anticipated.
It’s also interesting to compare the public discussion of Microsoft and of Facebook before these events. In the 1990s, Microsoft was the ‘evil empire’, and a lot of the narrative within tech focused on how it should be more open, make it easier for people to develop software that worked with the Office monopoly, and make it easier to move information in and out of its products. Microsoft was ‘evil’ if it did anything to make life harder for developers. Unfortunately, whatever you thought of this narrative, it pointed in the wrong direction when it came to this use case. Here, Microsoft was too open, not too closed.
Equally, in the last 10 years – that is is too hard to get your information out and too hard for researchers to pull information from across the platform. People have argued that Facebook was too restrictive on how third party developers could use the platform. And people have objected to Facebook’s attempts to enforce the single real identities of accounts. As for Microsoft, there may well have been justice in all of these arguments, but also as for Microsoft, they pointed in the wrong direction when it came to this particular scenario. For the Internet Research Agency, it was too easy to develop for Facebook, too easy to get data out, and too easy to change your identity. The walled garden wasn’t walled enough.
.. Conceptually, this is almost exactly what Facebook has done: try to remove existing opportunities for abuse and avoid creating new ones, and scan for bad actors.
Microsoft Remove openings for abuse Close down APIs and look for vulnerabilities Close down APIs and look for vulnerabilities Scan for bad behavior Virus and malware scanners Human moderation
(It’s worth noting that these steps were precisely what people had previously insisted was evil – Microsoft deciding what code you can run on your own computer and what APIs developers can use, and Facebook deciding (people demanding that Facebook decide) who and what it distributes.)
- .. If there is no data stored on your computer then compromising the computer doesn’t get an attacker much.
- An application can’t steal your data if it’s sandboxed and can’t read other applications’ data.
- An application can’t run in the background and steal your passwords if applications can’t run in the background.
- And you can’t trick a user into installing a bad app if there are no apps.
Of course, human ingenuity is infinite, and this change just led to the creation of new attack models, most obviously phishing, but either way, none of this had much to do with Microsoft. We ‘solved’ viruses by moving to new architectures that removed the mechanics that viruses need, and where Microsoft wasn’t present.
.. In other words, where Microsoft put better locks and a motion sensor on the windows, the world is moving to a model where the windows are 200 feet off the ground and don’t open.
.. Much like moving from Windows to cloud and ChromeOS, you could see this as an attempt to remove the problem rather than patch it.
- Russians can’t go viral in your newsfeed if there is no newsfeed.
- ‘Researchers’ can’t scrape your data if Facebook doesn’t have your data. You solve the problem by making it irrelevant.
This is one way to solve the problem by changing the core mechanics, but there are others. For example, Instagram does have a one-to-many feed but does not suggest content from people you don’t yourself follow in the main feed and does not allow you to repost into your friends’ feeds. There might be anti-vax content in your feed, but one of your actual friends has to have decided to share it with you. Meanwhile, problems such as the spread of dangerous rumours in India rely on messaging rather than sharing – messaging isn’t a panacea.
Indeed, as it stands Mr Zuckerberg’s memo raises as many questions as it answers – most obviously, how does advertising work? Is there advertising in messaging, and if so, how is it targeted? Encryption means Facebook doesn’t know what you’re talking about, but the Facebook apps on your phone necessarily would know (before they encrypt it), so does targeting happen locally? Meanwhile, encryption in particular poses problems for tackling other kinds of abuse: how do you help law enforcement deal with child exploitation if you can’t read the exploiters’ messages (the memo explicitly talks about this as a challenge)? Where does Facebook’s Blockchain project sit in all of this?
There are lots of big questions, though of course there would also have been lots of questions if in 2002 you’d said that all enterprise software would go to the cloud. But the difference here is that Facebook is trying (or talking about trying) to do the judo move itself, and to make a fundamental architectural change that Microsoft could not.
Dr. Blasey has been the target of widespread social media disinformation since she came forward with accusations of sexual assault against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee.
Claim: Dr. Blasey’s students left negative reviews on her RateMyProfessors.com profile, calling her “unprofessional” and citing her “dark” personality.
This viral rumor is based on a case of mistaken identity. The RateMyProfessors.com page on which these negative reviews were found is about Christine A. Ford, a professor of human services at California State University Fullerton. Christine Blasey Ford, Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser, teaches at Palo Alto University.
.. Claim: Judge Kavanaugh’s mother once ruled against Dr. Blasey’s parents in a foreclosure case.
Internet sleuths quickly zoomed in on a 22-year-old civil court case involving Judge Kavanaugh’s mother, Martha Kavanaugh, a district court judge in Maryland, in which Dr. Blasey’s parents, Ralph and Paula Blasey, were the defendants. Judge Kavanaugh, some said, had ruled against the Blaseys, costing them their house and creating a revenge motive for Dr. Blasey.
.. Claim: Dr. Blasey made similar sexual assault accusations against Justice Neil Gorsuch during his nomination process.
This claim seems to have originated with a Twitter user, Josh Cornett, who appears to have a history of amplifying right-wing misinformation. (The user’s account has tweeted messages of support for QAnon, a sprawling pro-Trump conspiracy theory.)
Claim: Dr. Blasey is a major Democratic donor with a long history of left-wing activism.
Verdict: Mostly false.
Some critics of Dr. Blasey quickly painted her as a devoted left-wing activist and donor with an ax to grind.
They have claimed that she wrote on Facebook in 2016 that “Scalia types must be banned from law.” Another variant of this claim also has her writing that “Scalia types must be banned from courts.”
Neither phrase appears in a search of public Facebook posts in 2016. It’s possible that the phrases appeared in posts that have since been deleted from Dr. Blasey’s accounts. But these claims don’t contain links to old posts, or any other form of attribution. The account of the Twitter user who appeared to originate the claim, @LodgeNixon, has since been deleted, and no evidence of the purported Facebook post has emerged.
.. It is no secret that Dr. Blasey is a registered Democrat who has given money to progressive organizations and campaigns — these facts were reported by the The Washington Post in the original story naming her as Mr. Kavanaugh’s accuser. But she appears to be far from a big-money donor. According to data from the Federal Election Commission, her donations to Democratic committees and campaigns from 2013 to 2017 total less than $100.
.. Claim: Dr. Blasey’s brother worked at a law firm with ties to the Russia investigation.
In a news release, Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group, said that Dr. Blasey was an unreliable accuser because of her family ties to the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election..
.. And according to his LinkedIn profile, Mr. Blasey left the firm in 2004, more than a decade before any investigation into Russian collusion began.
About Caligula, for example, she writes: “The idea of some modern scholars that his dinner parties came close to orgies, with his sisters ‘underneath’ him and his wife ‘on top,’ rests simply on a mistranslation of the words of Suetonius, who is referring to the place settings — ‘above’ and ‘below’ — at a Roman dining table.” Yes, this is how rumors start.