Endings Begin with Questions
The pursuit of digital canker Buster Hernandez produced an odd and revealing article about digital canker Facebook.
Hernandez harassed young girls in ways that only Facebook could allow, and, as Vice breathlessly reports, “Facebook took the unprecedented step of helping the FBI hack him to gather evidence that led to his arrest and conviction … Facebook worked with a third-party company to develop the exploit and did not directly hand the exploit to the FBI … this is the first and only time Facebook has ever helped law enforcement hack a target. This … highlights the technical capabilities of Facebook….”
tl;dr Hernandez harassed girls on Facebook and elsewhere. Facebook paid a third-party to hack the user to identify him. Facebook gave that identification to the FBI.
The hero of the article is, of course, Facebook. The company stared down difficult ethical questions (hacking its own users), wrestled with highly complex technical matters (supposedly), paid for everything itself (seriously, the article makes that (clearly dubious) point), all the while protecting your children. While the title of the Vice article is “Facebook Helped the FBI Hack a Child Predator,” it might as well have been “Facebook: Protector of Children and Inter-Galactic Guardian Angel.” Facebook is a one-company Justice League.
It’s almost as if Facebook communications staff set up this entire article, wrote the headline, corralled their quotes through editing, managed the process in order to make Facebook look less cankerous. It’s almost as if that’s the job of big corp comms departments.
And yet, not once in the article is the World’s Most Obvious Question asked: how did a “child predator” even get on Facebook? And then continue to carry out his child predation for so long? How was a “nation-wide cyber sextortion and threat” maniac allowed to build his den of iniquity on Facebook? Hernandez’s den was more of a 5-bedroom/4-bath split-level ranch just off of Main Street with a red ’98 Civic and giant garden gnome out front. You couldn’t miss it. How did that even happen?
Oddest of the odd: Facebook had to hack one of its own users? You mean that you can sextort minors on Facebook without Facebook knowing who you are?
Apparently. But those questions weren’t asked because no one wants the answers. Yes, you can sextort minors “nationally” — possibly even intergalactically — and it’s not a bug. It’s a feature.
Of course, Facebook could stop such activity before it even starts. Banks, for example, are required to know who you are before opening an account. Many other companies do the same (“entity resolution” — for example, LBRY, the distributed content protocol, uses credit cards not for payment but rather for entity resolution).
So why doesn’t Facebook make an (for real/legit/not b.s.) effort to stop predators at the front door?
Facebook’s mission (according to Facebook) is to “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” and yet how is intergalactic child predation a part of that community? Does anyone want to get “closer together” with Hernandez?
I don’t mean to alarm you, but Facebook’s mission doesn’t have anything to do with community; Facebook’s mission is to acquire and hoard as much money as possible. And they do that by letting everyone in the door because their business model is advertising. Mission: all the moneys. How? Max eyeballs.
Most disturbing about that Vice article isn’t super-creeper Hernandez (surprise: creepers exist) but rather that no questions were raised about Facebook’s business model. No one asked whether advertising is inherently and eventually self-corrupting. No one pondered whether being a whore for consumption might possibly lead to some bad results. Maybe the “all the moneys” mission means compromises will be made.
Between the lines in that Vice article about Facebook’s heroism is the lesson: Facebook will open its doors and tolerate predation unless and until it becomes a big enough problem that the FBI gets involved and the public gets outraged. So outraged that they’ll post a meme about it on Facebook.
The advertising business model consumes virtue (civilizationally and longitudinally). It doesn’t produce virtue. There are spasms of recognition of this grubby gluttony — a PSA or perhaps even a Vice article — that serve to prove the point. If Facebook was a legitimate “community” of any decent sort, it wouldn’t have had to hack its own users and dictate spin to Vice.
Ultimately, the question is: what does a civilization do when there’s no virtue remaining for advertising to consume?