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Editorial: Is Facebook a platform for terrorists?
Published on February 18, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

A terrorist is someone that uses fear and intimidation to achieve a desired objective, often accompanied by the threat of, or actual violent acts.

Such threats may be conveyed by means of social media, a recent example of which involved Justin Carter, a teenager from Austin, Texas, who was jailed as a “terrorist” for a comment he made on Facebook.

As reported separately, a recent complaint by an attorney at law in Saint Lucia about online harassment on Facebook has served to expose an ongoing failure on the part of the social media behemoth to monitor or prevent abuse of its network running the entire gamut from personal harassment and intimidation to national security issues.

While Facebook claims that its users provide their real names and information, and connect using their real names and identities, this is simply not true. The only thing needed to sign up for a Facebook account is a valid email address, without any other identity check.

It is only after a complaint is made or some other issue arises that Facebook actually asks for proof of identity.

Facebook profiles and postings are therefore capable of being used with impunity by questionable individuals ranging from convicted sex offenders to foreign propagandists to outright terrorists and it is only after something goes wrong that Facebook will have to admit it doesn’t have a clue who most of these people are, because it doesn’t enforce at the outset its own terms of service and published standards, even though it claims to do so.

In other words, Facebook doesn’t know which of its users are: providing false personal information; using more than one account; under 13 years old; convicted sex offenders; located in a country embargoed by the United States; on the US Treasury Department's list of “specially designated nationals”; or prohibited from receiving products, services, or software originating from the United States.

According to statistics published online and said to be sourced from Facebook itself, the number of oxymoronic “fake Facebook profiles” was an astonishing 81 million as of January 1, 2014.

As a public company, Facebook may be required to ensure that, in particular, it maintains a verifiable 13-and-up user base. This is demonstrably not the case, since it only asks for actual identity verification from its users when it is effectively forced to do so.

Questions may therefore be asked by securities regulators, investors and other stakeholders as to why Facebook’s auditors, Ernst & Young, have not addressed this issue.

Furthermore, investors are entitled to rely on the public information made available by Facebook in making a decision to invest in its stock in the first place but, at the same time as providing misleading information, it has not disclosed its exposure to future financial loss through law suits and/or official sanctions for reasons of, for example, national security and/or protection of minors, prompted by its failure to enforce its own terms and standards.

Equally, Facebook's acknowledged failure to enforce its own published policies across the board gives rise to selective enforcement by the company and thus potential discrimination claims, of which it has also not informed investors.

So, is Facebook a platform for terrorists? Does it mislead users and investors on an ongoing basis? If so, does anyone really care?

According to two sources familiar with the matter, given that Facebook is an American company, the situation may prompt US congressional hearings, which could in turn play into the mid-term elections in November. Even 12 years after 9/11, no one running for elected office wants to be seen as soft on national security or, five years after the financial debacle of 2008, turning a blind eye to more Wall Street mischief.

On the other hand, as at February 14, 2014, Facebook is a $171 billion company (yes, that’s billion with a b) and would no doubt not be slow to use its financial muscle in lobbying efforts to protect itself from regulatory investigation and/or sanctions in relation to its shortcomings, even those of its own making.

In the meantime, while the US government in general, and the National Security Agency (NSA) in particular, is on the defensive for monitoring electronic communications, it seems that, according to a lawsuit filed in California, Facebook routinely intercepts private messages of its users for commercial purposes.

It will be interesting to see what the US Congress makes of that. Perhaps such invasion of privacy will be continue to be considered an outrage if conducted for national security and defence purposes but perfectly legitimate if done for reasons of capitalism and commercial advantage.
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