Are Facebook’s full-page ads a dead end?

By Richard Eichen

Today’s WSJ has a full page ad from Facebook with a set of bullets on how they are attacking their latest PR nightmare. Facebook generally maintains they are a platform, the phone company defense; they just supply a message delivery platform. As Professor Galloway of NYU wrote, that means a fast food chain can serve fake meat because it’s just a meat delivery system?  No, Facebook is responsible and has to step up and solve its problems by a well thought through approach, not piecemeal.

The first problem is not the technology, but a reduction in Facebook’s extremely high operating margins every time they add resources and layers of technology to beef up security and fake news detection. It goes against their low-cost scalability model. Their second issue is when does responsibility transfer to them for knowingly propagating fake news, opening the door to ‘trouble’ and settlements.  These are the price to pay when you mature – you become a company with responsibilities. ‘Break things’ has to include ‘fix things’.

Other industries have solved similar problems and herein lay the solution. Banks and other Financial Services firms have strict Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements, and therefore internal rules, procedures, and systems. They also have extensive Anti-Money Laundering (AML) detection and risk avoidance capabilities.  Facebook can form strategic relationships leveraging existing infrastructures to identify bad actors via named entities and payment flows.  They can then append a notification to the end of any flagged article, or ban the content completely, just as a bank cannot process transactions from known bad actors.

So if the issue is not one of existing capabilities and emerging technology (AI and Cognitive analysis of free-form data), then why the resistance or blindness to solving this issue by going outside the Silicon Valley echo-chamber?  It’s culture. Silicon Valley’s culture is winner takes all, mixed with a level of moral disengagement that would make Attila the Hun queasy. There’s also a fair dose of NIH – Not Invented Here, and that made sense in an industry where it had to create so much from scratch.  However, as these companies mature, such as Facebook, it’s time to adult-up, become a member of the larger community and reach out to already proven solutions to solve already solved issues. They can do it now, or wait for regulators to force them to do it. Which is more palatable?