AB-How to Fix Facebook—Before It Fixes Us

By March 17, 2018comp-5005, Data science
Annotated bibliography

How to Fix Facebook—Before It Fixes Us

Roger McNamee (Jan 2018)

Paper’s reference in the IEEE style?

R. McNamee, “How to fix Facebook—before it fixes us,” Washington Monthly, vol. January/February/March 2018, 07-Jan-2018.

How did you find the paper?


If applicable, write a list of the search terms you used.

  1. facebook McNamee

Was the paper peer reviewed? Explain how you found out.

This is an opinon piece

Does the author(s) work in a university or a government-funded research institute? If so, which university or research institute? If not, where do they work?

The author is a technology investor, and early mentor for facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and an investor in Facebook.  He is the managing director and a cofounder of Elevation Partners, an investment partnership focused on media and consumer technology.

What does this tell you about their expertise? Are they an expert in the topic area?

The author is familiar with social media, is an adviser to US politicians about issues being caused by social media and/or the aggregation of customers into super-companies.

What was the paper about?

This article was written by a former mentor and investor in Facebook, and a person with expensive experience in social media and network effect based businesses.  While this is an opinion piece, the paper raises several interesting points.

As an investor, a personal user of facebook and a promoter of an active facebook music site, the author first noticed unusual behaviour and trends on facebook during Brexit and the democratic primary in 2016.

The author opines that smartphone changed the advertising game.  Traditional media (TV, newspapers, desktop computers) had limited use times and information was unlikely to be targeted or customised at a specific user, but rather at a group of users.  Smartphones, along with developments in computer science, user tracking etc, drastically increased both the time that users interacted with an advertising channel, and the ability to target, filter and customise media to suit individual users.  Furthermore, users were far more than ever able to coalesce into like-minded groups.

 Why pay a newspaper in the hopes of catching the attention of a certain portion of its audience, when you can pay Facebook to reach exactly those people and no one else? 
 Whenever you log into Facebook, there are millions of posts the platform could show you. The key to its business model is the use of algorithms, driven by individual user data, to show you stuff you’re more likely to react to  

Algorithms that select the information for a particular customer are more likley to feed article containing negative messages as people are more likely to react and engage with (and share) to articles that create fear and anger.  This has always been true, thus the old adage “if it bleeds, it leads”, but its now possible to focus this at the individual user and or like-minded group level.  Social media is effectively billions of individual customised channels.

 They have created billions of individual channels, each of which can be pushed further into negativity and extremism without the risk of alienating other audience members. To the contrary: the platforms help people self-segregate into like-minded filter bubbles, reducing the risk of exposure to challenging ideas.

It may also be the case that people most likely to respond to negative messages (e.g. the Brexit leave campaign) are less educated, less wealthy and therefore far less costly to target using social media advertising.

 A team of researchers reported in November, for instance, that more than 150,000 Russian-language Twitter accounts posted pro-Leave messages in the run-up to the referendum. 
 Renee DiResta, an expert in how conspiracy theories spread on the internet. Renee described how bad actors plant a rumor on sites like 4chan and Reddit, leverage the disenchanted people on those sites to create buzz, build phony news sites with “press” versions of the rumor, push the story onto Twitter to attract the real media, then blow up the story for the masses on Facebook 
 Facebook has indicated that up to 126 million Americans were touched by the Russian manipulation on its core platform and another twenty million on Instagram, which it owns. Together those numbers exceed the 137 million Americans who voted in 2016.

Proposed steps to improve the situation:

  • Ban, or label, digital bots that impersonate humans.  These bots can be used to make it appear far more people agree with certain views than is actually the case.
  • Improve transparency on who is behind political issues-based communication
  • Make it clear to users how their data is being used
  • Make it so that customers own their data, their social graph, and give them the right to move it to another platform.
  • Review monopoly rules.

If applicable, is this paper similar to other papers you have read for this assignment? If so, which papers and why?


If applicable, is this paper different to other papers you have read for this assignment? If so, which papers and why?


What do these similarities and differences suggest? What are your observations? Do you have any new ideas? Do you have any conclusions?

[100-200 words]

This question is to be answered after your critical analysis is completed: Which sections (if any) of your critical analysis was this paper cited in?