The ethics of digital #6: Facebook and death threats

December 5, 2014

GCHQ’s budget is something less than 2 billion pounds.

Exactly how much less is hard to tell for obvious reasons.

Facebook’s operating budget is 5 billion dollars.

So here are two large, well funded organisations both of which are doing things with content and user data on the Internet.

When the story about the intelligence committee claiming that threats to Lee Rigby had been published on Facebook six months before his murder, and I posted a link about this on my Twitter stream, the first reaction from Nic Ferrier was:

“But surely gchq have their hooks in their so why didn’t they catch them?”

Whereas my first reaction was “why didn’t Facebook pick this up?”

Which probably tells you more about the mindset and biases of the two individuals talking than it does about the two organisations.

My remark saying that I thought Facebook had some responsibility for what’s said on its site  triggered what young people these days call a “flame war”.

It may be that my suggestion that Facebook could moderate their users content more is impracticable.

But what surprised me more than anything was the defeatism of the people in the conversation.

Are we really saying that nothing could be done to try and stop this happening? That we don’t even want to try?

With all the big data and all the big brains in technology we don’t even want to try to do this better?

I’ll bet there’s someone clever in Facebook working on it right now…


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