Facebook’s Alex Stamos Talked Bots, Machine Learning, Algorithms in Saturday Tweet Storm

Stamos urged journalists 'to try to talk to people who have actually had to solve these problems'

Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos offered his two cents on the controversy over the 2016 U.S. presidential elections in a tweet storm from his personal Twitter account.

Responding to a tweet from Lawfare associate editor Quinta Jurecic, which read, “Algorithms are not neutral, they are designed. Could you design an algorithm to review these ads more quickly than humans? Maybe!,” Stamos composed several tweets Saturday.

Stamos pointed out the challenges and potential pitfalls of “training ML systems to classify something as fake based upon ideologically biased training data,” as well as “academics who have made wild claims of how easy it is to spot fake news and propaganda.”

He also urged journalists “to try to talk to people who have actually had to solve these problems and live with the consequences.”

Stamos wrote: “I am seeing a ton of coverage of our recent issues driven by stereotypes of our employees and attacks against fantasy, strawman tech [companies]. Nobody of substance at the big companies thinks of algorithms as neutral. Nobody is not aware of the risks. In fact, an understanding of the risks of machine learning drives small-c conservatism in solving some issues.”

He continued, “A bunch of the public research really comes down to the feedback loop of, ‘We believe this viewpoint is being pushed by bots’ -> ML. So if you don’t worry about becoming the Ministry of Truth with ML systems trained on your personal biases, then it’s easy!”

Finally, directed at journalists, he wrote, “If your piece ties together bad guys abusing platforms, algorithms and the Manifestbro into one grand theory of SV, then you might be biased. If your piece assumes that a problem hasn’t been addressed because everybody at these companies is a nerd, you are incorrect. If you call for less speech by the people you dislike but also complain when the people you like are censored, be careful. Really common. If you call for some type of speech to be controlled, then think long and hard of how those rules/systems can be abused both here and abroad. Likewise if your call for data to be protected from governments is based upon who the person being protected is.”

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.