The War Room Fallacy: Facebook Embraces Its Confidence in Itself

October 19, 2018

I read “Facebook Opens A War Room To Fight Election Interference and Bad PR.” The idea is that a team can solve the problem of humans manipulating Facebook to change opinions, alter elections, or cause some physical or mental reaction.

In some companies, the “war room” lingo is replaced with “clear the decks” or “a SWAT team”. The idea is that a group of insiders can solve a problem. The assumption is, of course, that the insiders are able to resolve a crisis. In many cases, the crisis has been created by those insiders.

In my work career, I have found myself involved in various teams assembled to deal with a problem. One of my former colleagues who was a former TV news anchor, believed that he could solve any problem—yes, any problem—by forming a team to swarm, analyze, and resolve the issue.

I found this belief a little crazy. Consulting firms routinely employ this process clients. After all, who would pay seven figures for a group of MBAs and “really smart people” to to fix a tough problem unless the insiders were desperate. When an insider task force calls for help, the problem is a big one, and only the confidence of the consulting firm can save the day.

So whether the strike force is composed of insiders, just outside experts given the power to solve the problem, or a some hybrid group—the assumption is the same, “We can do it.”

In some cases, the special team can solve a problem, particularly if it is narrow and the team has the expertise to deal with the issue. It is unlikely that a group of MBAs could deal with the nuclear waste generated by the Fukushima disaster, for example. I would assume that the the power company has legions of strike forces at work. How are they doing? Well, check it out from a location well away from the radioactive facility.

The write up explains the Facebook approach:

20 employees — software engineers, threat intelligence and security, data scientists, researchers, lawyers and policy experts — keep their eyes glued to smaller screens. All are coiled tightly and waiting to spring into action when something untoward is spotted on the network.

Yeah, that sounds workable. Smart software cannot reliably identify and act upon weaponized information. Now 20 humans will be able to spot weaponized information and take action. Facebook has tens of millions of users posting content, and 20 people will be able to deal with the content flow? Yeah, that sounds like something a highly confident, somewhat unrealistic individual would cook up.

The article points out:

Facebook’s war room is the nerve center where the company will wage a potentially never-ending battle against disinformation and election interference.

Yeah. Disinformation. No problem.

I highlighted this statement:

The war room is a step in the right direction. It’s infinitely more important that Facebook is making strides in the battle against election interference… but stepping up its efforts — and giving the world a behind-the-scenes look — is a much-needed PR win.

Was it Mao who observed, “The longest journey begins with a single step.”

Yeah, as long as it is in the right direction. I noted the word “infinite.” That’s the scope of the Facebook problem and its strike force in the war room.

Infinite. No problem. 20 people.

Stephen E Arnold, October 19, 2018

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