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Facebook Anonymity/Your Day in Court

Original Nader’s Raider, Robert Fellmeth, expands upon his open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, demanding that we should know who is talking to us on Facebook. Also, Executive Director of the Museum of Tort Law, Richard Newman, joins us to argue for an ordinary person’s right to have their day in court as he promotes Tort Law Day on October 5th.

Robert Fellmeth has had a long and distinguished career as a public advocate. As a graduate student in the late sixties, he became the original Nader’s Raider, investigating the Federal Trade Commission. He then went on to work as an attorney in Ralph’s office, the Center for the Study of Responsive Law. In 1980, he founded The Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego Law School and also founded the Children’s Advocacy Institute, an organization that specializes in reforming the child protection and foster care systems and improving outcomes for youth aging out of foster care. 

We need to know if that message popping up on a device eight inches from our faces is from a Russian bot or the Koch Brothers, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or our favorite pizza place.”  

Robert Fellmeth in his open letter to Mark Zuckerberg 

Richard Newman is the Executive Director of the American Museum of Tort Law. He is a consumer attorney who practices in Connecticut. He has served as the President of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association. 

“Tort Law Day is an innovative new program, and we hope it will be a model for cities and communities all around the country. The idea is that tort law affects directly or indirectly everyone in this country, because of dangerous or defective products, unsafe conduct, malpractice, whatever it might be, people are at risk. And tort law is the mechanism that lets them defend themselves from wrongful injuries.”  

Richard Newman, promoting the first annual Tort Law Day, October 5th 2019 

RALPH NADER RADIO HOUR EP 289 TRANSCRIPT (Right click to download)

10 Comments

  1. Mark Hughes says:

    Once again I find myself siding with David here, this time regarding Facebook specifically about the ‘need’ for it to begin with. Now, I don’t have FB, nor have I ever had it. Nor do I have Twitter or any other social media account except for perhaps LinkedIn but that site is useless and went downhill the moment MicroSoft bought it.

    I recall a number of years ago a former coworker getting me to sign up for MySpace, this was before FB came about. I quickly found that I didn’t want to manage that, nor to constantly monitor what others were doing, as they normally posted the most inane things. Fast-forward a bit to FB and the only meaningful difference at that time that I found was that people on FB used their real names, and thus appeared to be a more mature and grown-up site. But because of MySpace’s uselessness, I never felt any urge to join FB.

    My wife has it, as does several of my friends. Every so often she’ll show me a post or two about something vaguely important about our neighborhood, but in most of those I see what were once called ‘flame wars’, which I can only think stem from the anonymous message board posters of old taking their obnoxious and rude habits over to a less anonymous platform. I see alleged grown-ups arguing with each other or just being dumb altogether. Makes me even more repulsed by FB and social media in general.

    That said, if there is any silver lining I’ve noticed, at least 3 of my friends have deleted their FB accounts since I’ve known them. I won’t go so far as to say it’s my influence, I don’t even try to do that. But it seems they’re now tired of the garbage that litters FB that kept me from it since Day-1. And we’re not even talking about all the surveillance that goes on. So if my story and those of my friends are any indication, perhaps people are dumping FB altogether? No idea but I certainly hope so.

    Ever notice that adults who criticize kids for being on video games too much are no less addicted to social media?

    I’m sure I may have to sign up for it when my son gets older and signs up. It’s part of our culture here in America, to be constantly conjoined with the virtual world. I now wonder if playing video games all day is preferable to being on social media all day. I vaguely recall 30-40 years ago people complaining about kids watching too much TV. We’re way beyond that now.

    • Afdal Shahanshah says:

      I honestly don’t think I have ever heard anyone but out-of-touch Baby Boomers and GenXers make arguments like Fellmeth’s against anonymity. Everyone who has grown up with the internet understands how to differentiate trolls from arguments worthy of response and doesn’t need some corporate-state overlord to hold their hand and tell them what’s real. I have never used Facebook and never will because I don’t like my conversations being surveilled and my personal information datamined. Facebook shouldn’t be broken up or made some kind of public utility, it is a fundamental danger to privacy and should be obliterated.

  2. David Faubion says:

    Bless you Robert Fellmeth for devoting your professional life to protecting the most vulnerable, neglected, abused, exploited and impoverished demographic in our country and worldwide. The fact of the child abuse is on the short list of the human tragic ethos.

    For example, the continuing cases of air polution induced childhood asthma is the most primal crime against humanity committed by nearly all driving adults.

    Gerder, race so-called, and age are the battlefields for ignorant greed.

    Bless you Robert with a long, happy and even more productive life.

  3. Afdal Shahanshah says:

    All right, we’ve heard the fear-based arguments against anonymity enough times on the show now. Now I’d really like Ralph to take a chance on a different perspective and invite on someone like Edward Snowden, Bill Binney, RayMcGovern, Tim Berners-Lee, or anyone from the Electronic Frontier Foundation who understands how the internet actually works and why anonymity is an essential protection against the NSA’s mass dragnet data collection. If you’re skeptical about the credibility of someone making an argument, then you should focus on the logic, facts, and evidence underpinning their argument. In other words, develop some of the most important skills for navigating truth in the modern world, skills that we are not taught well in the American education system. For instance, you shouldn’t trust the “Russian bots” hysteria that Fellmeth keeps alluding to because its proponents have consistently failed to provide anything resembling quality evidence for over three years now. Trolls, false flags, etc. are simply a fact of the internet, and attempts to reign them in by further centralizing and consolidating power over users as Fellmeth is recommending would fundamentally harm the internet’s greatest virtue: the free exchange of ideas. Facebook is the greatest mass surveillance network in human history and Fellmeth wants to make it and others even MORE Orwellian communications platforms? No thanks. “Don’t be a coward” isn’t a convincing argument.

  4. Paul Kulas says:

    Howdy,

    When MySpace hit in 05 we couldn’t believe that people would fall for it – social media. We were sure that once they figured out they were the product being sold they’d be furious.

    So we started coding the world’s first private network in 2007.

    We told people what was coming – the surveillance state, the loss of privacy, etc. I wrote that one day our elections would be swayed by social media. No one cared, they said we were crazy.

    Now look where we are. Social media is a social disease. We’ve outsourced memory to Google.

    Fellmouth’s idea has so many holes.

    At the end of the interview, Fellmouth tells us in a roundabout way that Facebook is how it is. That we need Facebook to share pictures and stay in touch. He wants listeners to believe their position in the market is irreverisble. What David suggests to Fellmouth what about leaving Facebook, do we really need it? Fellmouth says, “that’s really not realistic”.

    He’s wrong. Sharing pictures is easier now using Apple’s iMessage. We can talk on the phone. We can text using iMessage.

    Telling listeners leaving Facebook is “really not realistic” is fatalistic, and group think. It’s giving Facebook license, it’s essentially giving up. Fellmouth needs to remember that the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

    All that needs to happen, is for people to leave social media. When they do, entrepreneurs will see there’s demand for new networks. When entrepreneurs see demand, new networks will be built. Networks that protect our privacy and perhaps even solve Fellmouth’s problem.

    Spending time and money trying to get Facebook to change is nowhere. Instead, it’s about what Afdal Shahanshah wrote here in the comments: “Facebook shouldn’t be broken up or made some kind of public utility, it is a fundamental danger to privacy and should be obliterated.”

    It’s about we the people. Facebook will be “obliterated” when we people walk away, and show there’s demand for new networks. It wasn’t that long ago that only a few people were on the Internet.

    This from Esqure.com:

    While chatting to a friend by instant messages Mark Zuckerberg was talking about the users of the new website that he had just created, the website that would soon go on to become the second biggest website on the internet, The Facebook, as it was known then. But in the exchange Mark Zuckerberg didn’t just end with “I don’t know why they trust me”. He added insult to injury with his last comment by saying “Dumb fucks.”

    Facebook sucks, it has always sucked. Zuckerberg and the Facebook gang are never going to do the right thing, it’s not in their blood. And even if they did make changes, no one should believe them.

    Fellmouth should direct his smarts and resources towards being an advocate for new networks.

  5. Michael Donovan says:

    Anonymity I feel is the root of most of the negative issues on the internet. I think the a great solution would be for Facebook to set up a voluntary verification system. It would work something like this. A person could voluntarily submit to a verification process. This would no doubt be an ongoing system. I think it could be easily offloaded to third parties much the way public certificates are handled by businesses.
    One a person has received their certification, the could flip a switch in ANY of their applications that says…I only accepted verified links, emails , connections etc. The person attempting to contact that person would get a message if they hadn’t submitted to the verification saying this person does not accept unverified posts, emails connections etc.
    The people receiving the verified connections wouldn’t necessarily even have to know the persons real name. But in the event of trolling, slander or other unwanted materials, various ways of reporting or filtering (filter anyone who has more that x unresolved complaints etc.) is blocked.
    Note, there will always we be small subset of really good hackers, hostile governments and other malevolent entities out there they will be able to bypass, defeat or otherwise circumvent these protections. But this is where the private market comes in. Different grades of verification and protections. Some could b e non profit, others would adopt pay models. Its a entire industry waiting to happen. And it in the long run, it will be a huge boon to Facebook, Twitter, newspapers, media outlets, and any other entity creating content or copy writable material. IT will also create high tech jobs on the way.
    It is only when the anonymity of the internet is removed that we will be able to tackle the greater scourge of this century, the disease of misinformation slander and trolling. This voluntary approach could be a way to start.

    • Afdal Shahanshah says:

      Did anonymity allow George Bush and his friends to convince the public that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? Did anonymity allow Lyndon B. Johnson to go on television and deceive people about the Gulf of Tonkin incident? How many stone-face liars are there on Twitter with blue checkmarks that spend every day spreading lies about “Russiagate” and other fact-free conspiracy theories? Some of them are even employed by expensive outlets like the Washington Post. Does their information somehow become more credible because they didn’t do it anonymously? When spooks from intelligence agencies are invited on to CNN to manufacture consent for physical or economic warfare, do you trust them more because you know their name? When Dr. Patrick Moore, the “founder of Greenpeace”, goes around spreading lies about climate change and the dangers of glyphosate, do you trust him because of the PhD by his name and past affiliations?

      Don’t you think there’s a little more to misinformation than the mouth it came out of, Michael?

  6. Michael Donovan says:

    I couldn’t disagree with Afdal and Mark more. Although I stopped using Facebook after I realized I spent most of my time recirculating content, dropping out rare is the solution.As Mr. Fellmuth notes, there are a billion users of Facebook not to mention hundreds of other platforms being used for misinformation, slander and trolling. Anonymity could be preserved with with the special corner suggested in the show. The activists or other people interested in this stuff would make this the first (if only) section they ever visit at Facebook. A small corner like this would make monitoring for flaming and fraud much easier as well.
    While I understand the flight instinct to dealing with the negative side on the internet seems attractive (and easy,) a large portion of the world population use Facebook and other platforms. They are getting infected with misinformation and that spreads like a virus impacting all of us. This is much more that a single election cycle (although a pretty good case can be made regarding Brexit.) But think about the antivaxers or other categories that are persistent with misinformation because of the lack of accountability of the anonymous internet. These topics have real consequences. Misinformation must be confronted!

  7. Dale West says:

    Great revelation about legal specialties not being competency regulated by conflict of interest state bars (cartels). Felony lawyers not being screened by the state bar. Buyer beware.

  8. Frank Lenk says:

    I sure hope Mr. Fellmeth is talking solely about Facebook. Because eliminating anonymity on the Internet as a whole is not only a really terrible idea, it’s also pretty much impossible without breaking the Net as we know it.

    Regarding Facebook specifically, eliminating anonymity is a somewhat appealing idea. But is it feasible, and would the cure be worse than the disease?

    * In order to verify every user’s identity, we’d have to give Facebook even more power to violate its users’ privacy – and it already has far too much. How far would Mr. Fellmeth allow them to go? Should they be able to query tax records, births and deaths? FBI databases? Tax records? Fingerprints? DNA samples? What about foreign users – after all, Facebook is global.

    * With billions of users, would even the most totalitarian powers of identification be enough? How does anyone verify whether Mr. Jones in Tampa is connected to Russian business interests? And if he is, does that mean we keep him off Facebook? Who gets to decide? Do we create an entire new bureaucracy to issue ‘social media licenses’?

    * Just because someone signs their name to a post, doesn’t guarantee it’s not BS. Allowing Facebook to ‘verify’ that it’s not BS would give them the right to (overtly) control all its users’ information feeds. Of course, their AI does that already, but so far we’ve had no legal decision that this is their right. What we do know (or should know, by now) is that there is no body, public or private, that can be trusted with such authority. Which is exactly why we have freedom of speech.

    * We certainly do need to create some proper competition in social media. Unfortunately, Fellmeth seems unaware that WhatsApp and Instagram are owned by Facebook, and that MySpace is no longer a factor. These are disqualifying lapses, for anyone who hopes to suggest meaningful reforms in social media.

    Ultimately, the only really effective remedy for disinformation is educating users to think for themselves, to verify against multiple sources, to judge information on its own merits rather than trusting authority figures. Of course, the powers that be hate this idea worst of all, which is why the status remains quo. And why regulatory efforts to ‘reign in’ Facebook are likely to make things worse rather than better.

    (By the way, would anything I’ve just said carry less weight if I posted it anonymously?)

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