Are you a Russian bot? That’s the question Facebook is asking its two billion monthly users, and you better be ready to answer it. According to Wired, Facebook will be using a “new kind of CAPTCHA to verify whether a user is a real person”. A Facebook spokesman said it will:
help us catch suspicious activity at various points of interaction on the site, including creating an account, sending Friend requests, setting up ads payments, and creating or editing ads
Facebook will ask it users to upload a photo that “clearly shows your face” and even has the audacity to claim they will “permanently delete it from our servers” once they have completed the process of verifying if the photograph is actually real. There are concerns, as many have accused Facebook of locking them out of their accounts as the social media conglomerate takes its time to check if the photograph checks out.
According to a Reddit user, this process has been used by Facebook since at least April, and it’s a worrying sign we’re only hearing about this now.
This is not the first time Facebook has asked its user base to send photographs in an attempt to “help” users. In early November, in an incredibly suspicious and weird manner, Facebook asked for users to upload nude photographs to the Messenger App in an attempt to prevent revenge porn. It’s been currently tested in Australia, in conjunction with the eSafety Commissioner:
so the company can create a digital fingerprint of sorts for the file to then prevent it from being uploaded maliciously in the future.
These are both incredibly concerning when it comes to free speech and rights of the individual while on the internet. It may sound like Facebook is trying to help us, but is this really true? While it seems everyone and their dog is rightly rallying against Ajit Pai’s pernicious attempt to rid the internet of Net Neutrality, we should be just as concerned with Facebook’s attempts to rid the internet of any privacy of the individual whatsoever.
How are we sure sites like Facebook are actually removing our pictures when they say they have? This is the same company that makes “shadow” accounts for those who do not have a Facebook account, which effectively means they track anyone, regardless of whether they use the site. This is the same site that has a section under Settings called Ad Preferences which will list every single interest it believes you have in order to cater to you more personally. This is the same site that hides the Delete Your Account button under layers of confusion, while still pretending that Deactivate Your Account is the same thing. Hint: It’s not.
Facebook doesn’t care about stopping Russian bots, nor do they truly care about stopping revenge porn, as much as they claim otherwise. In the case of “Russian bots”, they are only doing so because otherwise they will likely face a lot of lengthy court battles that could damage their reputation. Facebook wants your likes and your shares and for you to stay on their site as long as possible. They want to support their advertisers, as advertisers are the ones keeping them afloat, not you, and it’s obvious. In order to support their advertisers, Facebook must give them the necessary information. If Facebook knows your specific interests and whatever else they can get, it helps them better tailor advertisements.
It’s not that Facebook is some evil conglomerate out to destroy your life and all that is good with it. We should just be wary when they claim that having a clear identifying photograph and your nudes is necessary to stop the evil, villainous, spooky Russians. Using “Russian bots” as an excuse is just a scare tactic so you can hand over information that Facebook really doesn’t need. Facebook is simply a site where your aunt shares those cringeworthy Minions memes, where you check out some awesome Dank Memes for Authoritative Teens, and where you can keep in contact with your closest buddies and even that one classmate you knew for a week back in 1999. Let’s try and keep it that way.
Facebook should be able to tell if an account is real based on the information already at their disposal. They already have enough personal data that they really shouldn’t need anymore. What if someone can’t share a picture of themselves? For example, there are incredibly important Facebook pages like Stealthy Freedom which rely on the women not showing their faces lest they are harmed or punished. What about victims of abuse, or those who have legitimate reasons to not have a clear photograph of their face to remain on Facebook servers? Let’s face it—servers can be hacked. And we know that Facebook isn’t exactly reliable when they say they’ll “permanently delete” the data. As the saying goes: once something is on the internet, it’s there forever.
Facebook is already heading down a slippery slope and, if we don’t rein them in, things could get a lot worse. Fighting attempts to destroy net neutrality is vitally important, but we must also remember that we should also fight it every step of the way, no matter how seemingly small.