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FACEBOOK MACHINE - What Many TV Media Outlets Fail To Report
Tom Bartman - Threatcore Project
February 15, 2011

The internet is buzzing with reports of Facebook in talks to purchase Twitter. Some analysts predict Twitter to be worth $10 billion – a price tag of interest to many social networking competitors. A facebook takeover of Twitter may not come as a surprise to many, however, the idea is troubling.

Many reports of facebook privacy and security flaws go unreported in the majority of media outlets. I learned this last year while giving on-air technology reports for a local television broadcast news corporation.  I performed technology case studies, experiments and tests for a consumer reporter.  At times I would hone in general conversations between camera crews and reporters, and I quickly realized how competitive the TV broadcast media is. But one day I learned something – and it taught me a lot about the inner-workings of television broadcast news outlets. After filming a segment for the 5PM news, I approached the reporter regarding a recent online posting of a facebook security flaw. She nodded her head and seemed well aware. I stated it would make a valuable report for the large local audience – information people should know.

The response, or lack of one, initially confused me. Although the reporter seemed genuinely concerned, I was told some stories are – I believe the word was 'iffy' – among among editors and producers. After several more attempts, I failed to gain interest in the topic.  I thought hard about this and at the time did not understand. Why would important news such as online security be of little or no interest?  The topic was certainly more important than the story we were working on.

It dawned on me. Reporting on serious facebook flaws would expose the complex machine behind it – resulting in a negative influence on their marketing tool. The online presence of TV broadcast media thrives on social marketing.  Try to find one that does not mention 'like us on facebook'.  In an age of declining television news viewership, it would be damaging to report on the main tool used to gain 'friends' which ultimately become viewers. I finally got it. I was slow to understand why the consumer reporter was brushing it off.  Did she know the report would not get through corporate? This bothered me. What does it say about the media if they fail to report information regarding the online security and privacy of users?

Tweaking my RSS feeds, I discovered more and more internet-based news sites picking up on facebook developments.

The Times of London, Wall Street Journal, The Register and Financial Times, to name a few, began to expose the workings of the facebook machine. A report surfaced on The Register of a leaked message from Mark Zuckerberg referring to trusting users as 'dumb [expletive]' in the early days. Wall Street Journal published a report outlining how facebook infrastructure allows tracking companies access to users personal information.  This is very troubling to me and more so, is how TV broadcast media turns their back to it. But now I understand why. 

It does however highlight the importance and power of online information. I began to catch more troubling reports. In the months that followed, facebook went rogue. Privacy settings changed, leaving users confused. In January of last year, the facebook founder shocked many by stating the age of privacy is over. Faster than you could say ‘you’ve been Zuckered’, more reports of personal information leaking to third parties was uncovered. Finally – a database of Americans with a user’s picture, interests, friends, family, birth dates and locations was free and public to anyone. While some thought this was information was private, others began to raise eyebrows and wonder. Mistrust among facebook grew.

Last year in the height of facebook’s privacy backlash, came a time in which Google had 17 million searches for the term ‘how to deactivate facebook account’. Deactivations were on the rise. Many online papers reported on how to deactivate accounts.  What is happening? What’s going on? People were waking up amid Facebook's eroding privacy. Online sources for information was more effective than ever.

While many agree facebook security is inadequate, I argue it is intentional, in my opinion – a platform built for information sharing on its users as evident from past actions. It is no wonder facebook’s own users do not trust the social networking site as facebook's privacy policy is larger than the Constitution of the United States. Facebook has enabled employers to profile potential hires, hackers to obtain personal information and thieves to determine when a home is unoccupied. As marriages crumble, divorce lawyers now use facebook as a primary source of evidence. One lawyer says: 'we obtain a lot of evidence from social networking'.

Facebook quickly became the most blocked website. What started as a way to connect with 'old high school buddies' has evolved into the largest online security and privacy threat. Researchers found they could accurately assemble a facebook user’s social security number by pulling information from a user’s social networking account and referencing it to state databases.

But the most disturbing are the reports of advertisers and app developers with access to users personal information – without the consent of the user.  I would think this is important for people to know.  Thankfully, in an online world with information available at your fingertips, people will find these types of stories.

But not all facebook news is kept out of television media.  I recall a large number of outlets reporting on facebook’s large donation of millions to a New Jersey school district.  Perhaps that was enough to hide the machine and create an image of good humanity.

The machine is ever so powerful. Users are reluctant to leave, facing the lost sense of connection to their 'friends'. Television broadcast outlets play into the trap for the social marketing needed to keep afloat.

Looking back, I sensed concern on the mind of the reporter I worked with. I really did.  By nature, a consumer journalist alerts their audience of issues which affect people in their daily lives. But when they are swayed to be silent for corporate reason, journalism fails.

It is complex – the machine has trapped many.

Threatcore Project 2011 - Keeping watch of events from over 200 sources to bring essential tech news.