The algorithms Facebook and other tech companies use to boost engagement – and increase profits – have led to spectacular failures of sensitivity and worse. How can we fight back?
Earlier this month, Facebook announced a new pilot programme in Australia aimed at stopping “revenge porn” – the non-consensual sharing of nude or otherwise explicit photos – on its platform. Their answer? Just send Facebook your nudes.
Yes, that’s right: if you’re worried about someone spreading explicit images of you on Facebook, you’re supposed to send those images to Facebook yourself.
If this sounds to you like some kind of sick joke, you’re not alone. Pretty much everyone I talked to about it did a spit-take at the entire premise. But in addition to being ridiculous, it’s a perfect example of the way today’s tech companies are in over their heads, attempting to engineer their way out of complex social problems – without ever questioning whether their very business models have, in fact, created those problems.
To see what I mean, let’s look at how Facebook’s new scheme is meant to work: if you’re concerned about revenge porn, you complete an online form with the Australia eSafety Commissioner’s office. That office then notifies Facebook that you submitted a request. From there, you send the image in question to yourself using Facebook Messenger.