Facebook: A Force for Good. Now What Does Good Mean?

August 17, 2021

I read Preston Byrne’s essay about the Taliban’s use of WhatsApp. You can find that very good write up at this link. Mr. Byrne asks an important question: Did America just lose Afghanistan because of WhatsApp?

I also read “WhatsApp Can’t Ban the Taliban Because It Can’t Read Their Texts.” The main point of the write up is to point out that Facebook’s encrypted message system makes blocking users really difficult, like impossible almost.

I noted this statement:

the Taliban used Facebook-owned chat app WhatsApp to spread its message and gain favor among local citizens…

Seems obvious, right. Free service. Widely available. Encrypted. Why the heck not?

Here’s a statement in the Vice write up which caught my attention:

The company spokesperson said that WhatsApp complies with U.S. sanctions law, so if it encounters any sanctioned people or organizations using the app, it will take action, including banning the accounts. This obviously depends on identifying who uses WhatsApp, without having access to any of the messages sent through the platform, given that the app uses end-to-end encryption. This would explain why WhatsApp hasn’t taken action against some account spreading the Taliban’s message in Afghanistan.

Let me ask a pointed question: Is it time to shut down Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram? Failing that, why not use existing laws to bring a measure of control over access, message content, and service availability?

Purposeful action is needed. If Facebook cannot figure out what to do to contain and blunt the corrosive effects of the “free” service, outsource the task to an entity which will make an effort. That approach seems to be what is looming for the NSO Group. Perhaps purposeful action is motivating Apple to try and control the less salubrious uses of the iPhone ecosystem?

Dancing around the Facebook earnings report is fine entertainment. Is it time to add some supervision to the largely unregulated, uncontrolled, and frat boy bash? One can serve a treat like Bore Palaw too.

Stephen E Arnold, August 17, 2021


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