Blumenthal's Finsta Debacle: It Remains Unacceptable That Our Politicians Are So Clueless About The Internet

from the this-is-just-embarrassing dept

Fifteen years ago, the best example of how out of touch elected officials were regarding the internet was Senator Ted Stevens’ infamous “it’s a series of tubes” speech (which started out “I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday.”) Over the years, this unwillingness of those who put themselves in the position to regulate the internet to actually bother to understand it has become something of an unfortunate running joke. A decade ago, in the midst of the fight over SOPA/PIPA, we pointed out that it’s no longer okay for Congress to not know how the internet works. And yet, a decade has passed and things have not gotten much better. Senator Ron Johnson tried to compare the internet to a bridge into a small creek. Senator Orrin Hatch has no clue how Facebook makes money.

And now there’s a new addition to the list of examples of totally clueless Senators seeking to regulate something they clearly don’t understand. This time it’s Senator Richard Blumenthal, who has been grandstanding about how he wants to take on the internet since long before he was elected to the Senate. He created the most cringe-worthy media clip of a politician in a while while trying to press Facebook’s head of safety Antigone Davis during a Senate hearing on “grandstanding about how we all hate Facebook” (not the actual subject matter, but close enough).

I heard about the exchange before I saw it, but watching the whole thing is even worse than just hearing that Blumenthal seemed to think “finsta” is a Facebook “product or service.” If you’re somehow as ignorant as Blumenthal, “finsta” is just a slang term for a “fake” Instagram account, where someone doesn’t want to be posting under their real name. This can be used to have a more focused conversation, to discuss things you don’t want to discuss under your real name, to hide from some people, or for plenty of other reasons. But Blumenthal seemed to think this “product or service” was bad and Facebook should stop it.

Blumenthal (giving his stern politician face): Will you commit to ending Finsta.

Davis (long pause and a very confused look): Senator, let me again explain… we don’t actually “do” finsta. What “finsta” refers to is young people setting up accounts where they want to have more privacy. You refer to it as having privacy from their parents, but in my interaction with teens, what I found is they sometimes they like to have an account where they can interact just with a smaller group of friends…

This is a nice diplomatic response to a monumentally confused question. Some people might take that answer and realize that maybe they didn’t quite understand what they were asking. But not Senator Blumenthal. Senator Blumenthal doubled down, interrupting Davis:

Blumenthal: Finsta is one of your products or services! [smug face] We’re not talking about Google or Apple. It’s Facebook! Correct?

Davis (another long pause and another very confused look): F-F-Finsta is slang for a type of account. It’s not…

Blumenthal (interrupting again): Okay, will you end that type of account?

I mean, what? How the hell does Blumenthal think that Facebook can magically make people’s alias accounts go away? Hell, earlier in the very same hearing… Blumenthal more or less admitted that he had created a finsta account for himself to examine Instagram’s friend recommendation engine. And, obviously, there are plenty of good questions to be asked about the recommendation engine and how it works and what it promotes. But the “will you end alias accounts” line of questioning is just bizarrely disconnected from reality.

Even if we were to give Blumenthal the benefit of the doubt, and believe he is honestly concerned that people are able to sign up for accounts under non-real names, that also suggests a serious misunderstanding of a bunch of things about the internet. Facebook actually has long had a “real names” policy, and academic research going back a decade has shown just how damaging that is, especially for marginalized groups and those at risk for various reasons. Forcing everyone to use their real names damages privacy, can lead to stalking, can harm those who wish to explore more controversial topics, and a variety of other things. Automatically assuming that forcing everyone to have a profile under their real name is the best solution is its own kind of ignorance regarding the internet and internet culture. EFF’s Jillian York rightly refers to this demand as “the White Man’s Gambit,” in that it is most often suggested as a solution by white men who don’t realize how their privileged position blinds to them to the many, many reasons why people might want to use a “finsta” account for their own privacy and safety.

And this is obviously not the first time Blumenthal has made it clear that he has no interest in understanding the ins-and-outs or details of the internet he so desperately wants to regulate. He was the lead Democratic sponsor of FOSTA and took glee in the idea that the law might cause small internet companies to go out of business. He’s also behind the EARN IT Act, which would be a disaster for the internet and encryption, but has hilariously also gotten mad that Zoom’s encryption wasn’t fully end-to-end even though his own bill would undermine the ability of anyone to offer end-to-end encryption.

So, no, Senator Blumenthal does not get the benefit of the doubt regarding his knowledge of the internet. He has a long history of being confused about how it all works and the impacts of his policy proposals. And maybe, just maybe, before rushing in to sternly judge these internet companies, he could take the time to learn what a “finsta” is.

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Companies: facebook, instagram

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Comments on “Blumenthal's Finsta Debacle: It Remains Unacceptable That Our Politicians Are So Clueless About The Internet”

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52 Comments
Anonymoussays:

Why did you ignore his succinct and accurate description of finstas earlier?

“Finstas are fake Instagram accounts. Finstas are kids’ secret second accounts. Finstas often are intended to avoid parents’ oversight."

My interpertation of the unfortunately worded question is he was asking whether Instagram would do more to try to prevent under 13s from setting up accounts, lying about their age, and perhaps better enforcing their real name policy. We can debate the merits of real name policies but it is an actual policy that Facebook created themselves so it’s fair to ask about it. This article is playing perfectly into Facebook’s hands in tarring the government as clueless when this situation definitely has more nuance than you are giving it.

ECAsays:

NO secrets

Except for mine.
require everyone to not use Privacy.
Except the corps we approve and certain Political groups, so we can hide the money. So the Citizens dont SEE what we are doing.

Isnt that the problem we already have??
Ever since all these wars have started, 1890’s. There have been backstage happening that WE dont get to see, until its all over and TO LATE to fix things.
News used to take TIME to get from 1 coast line to the others. but even NOW its the backroom Closet, and the secrets act. WE even have a Gov. channel to watch all this that is Sooo BORING, and you really dont get to see WHAT the F’ they are doing.

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

"Well, I don’t think that is an answer to my question."

Its not, because your question makes no sense.

You have no idea what the fuck you are talking about & you should fire whichever staffer prepped you for making a complete ass of yourself in televised idiocy.

It is not a product or service despite whatever your brain has glommed onto as the next big horrible internet thing.

Somewhere there is a tree making oxygen for you, you should go fucking apologize.

You sit there in your smug judgement, oblivious that its possible you have made an error & still demand they do something about something that isn’t what you believe it is.
DO YOU SMELL BURNING TOAST???

How the hell do we keep electing people who show us time and time again they are completely detached from reality, have no idea what they are doing, and often just make things worse to score points in some imaginary game in their head?

sumgaisays:

Bluminidiotathal is lucky. I would have look him straight in the eye and said "No."

If he’d gone on a tear of a rant, I’d simply point out to him that "1A gives me the right to associate with whomever I might please, so long as I’m not coercing that other person to associate with me. If I choose to trust that associate is indeed who he/she says he/she is, that’s my First Amendment right." I’d leave unstated the implied snark of "I dare you to pass a law that challenges 1A like that".

More: if Congress wishes to protect minors from online platforms like mine, I’d demand that Congress protect my platform from minors that lie about their age!

Anonymoussays:

Certain Politicans are trying to pass bills to erase section 230 or make it impossible for new startups to provide new apps or websites that provide spaces for minoritys or certain groups to communicate or just have a space to speak or maybe they want to compete with Australia which has passed laws to break encryption and compromise the privacy of users
There are very good reasons for people to make finstas eg to talk to friends
Eg a person may have a business Facebook account and maybe a finsta where they can talk about politics or private matters to friends which would not be appropriate to discuss on a business website
A finsta may be needed for people who live in country’s which have laws which discrimate against lgbt groups or religious minoritys
For instance some border control officials now ask for social media info in order to obtain a visa

Lucan Vorlovsays:

Rant Warning: Malice VS Stupidity

It never fails to amaze me, even when the malice is as plain as day, that we the people choose to pretend the liar is just a fool, and forgive him or her on the spot for their deceptions.

Due to the long and common usage of a rather one-sided slogan; which roughly translates as:

"Never attribute to Malice, that which can be better explained by Stupidity"

… humanity has been led to accept this belief almost unanimously, without a single shred of evidence to back it up and an entire history filled to the brim, with evidence that shows the opposite to be true, over and over again.

Politicians have long known that playing dumb loses no votes, since even a politician can always be educated, but making provably false claims can end that lucrative career over-night.

Thus, it behooves any politician worthy of that title, to always pretend to know very little about any discussed subject matter, because then his/her malice and false claims can be; and almost always are, simply accepted by all as the politician’s ignorance of the nuances of the subject matter. No harm, no foul.

In the case you present here, the politician can now claim to his followers, that it was not he, but his target of interrogation that was misleading by not answering his utterly absurd questions immediately and completely. And the transcript of the interview will be all the proof he needs.

The belief that politicians are simply stupid somehow completely overlooks and ignores the fact that politicians are all; one way or another, very wealthy business-men and business-women, with proven track records on managing or running successful companies. One does not accomplish such endeavors by being stupid.

IMO, It is this very concept of Malice VS Stupidity, that actually prevents any sort of legal rule or law that could criminalize political misinformation, as an act of malice against the entire nation. A misinformed public is a weakened and sick public, incapable of making correct decisions. A president who lies to the entire American people; in my opinion, has committed a treason level offense.

Imagine if you can, a world where politicians told the truth.
By law.
All the time.
That they could be trusted and counted on…

It’s simply not possible to perceive of such a world today, and as long as we the people, make this same dumb excuse for every lying politician – I repeat myself – it will be as impossible to perceive tomorrow.

Ice9says:

You did not watch the full question. You published an article on it and you didn’t even watch the full exchange. Real journalists did watch it. I recommend reading their stories to see just how stupid you look.
First journalism rule of looking stupid: when you write a story about how stupid somebody is, double check to make sure you are not the one who looks stupid. And remember: not writing a story is always an option. For you, it is the best option.

Lostinlodossays:

Just… why?

finsta

Guess that means fake instagram?
As popular as social media is there is still a great many not using it. Just an fyi.
As as my own (in)experience shows, we non-users probably should stay out of the debates all but in general.

I’m it sure what the point is other than a long winded display of calling out an ignorant politician.

Everyone needs to shut up about it. At least in politics
Look: dems… members of the Russian government and/or associates… paid for some political advertisements. Just like the US does. There was no great conspiracy, not online, not off line.
Nor was there any great online planing of any kind of “rioting” or “insurrection” during the now proven by cctv camera generally peaceful protest on 1/6.

And the idiot republican drive over censorship…
Private company—private property.
They can moderate any way they choose up to censorious deletion.
The constitution protects that.

Forced speech by association, even for those of us logical people who are smart enough to separate a platform from a speaker, is unconstitutional.
One need only look at this site to see the majority can’t fully separate the two.

Everyone wants to hate on Web 2.0 but nobody in power appears to understand any of it!

For all it’s usage, the majority of web 2 is still in reality many people following a select number of people or companies.
The vast majority of use is still dedicated, directed.
I wonder how many actually know what a finsta is. I didn’t.
Nor what the concern is. As long as fakes don’t take the place of an actual entity.

So what the hell is any of this about anyway?!!?

Ice9says:

You did not watch the full question. You published an article on it and you didn’t even watch the full exchange. Real journalists did watch it. I recommend reading their stories to see just how stupid you look.
First journalism rule of looking stupid: when you write a story about how stupid somebody is, double check to make sure you are not the one who looks stupid. And remember: not writing a story is always an option. For you, it is the best option.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Why just the Internet?

I would prefer a basic competency exam between the election and swearing in with the next ranking candidate getting examined for the seat until a competent person is sworn in because some of the stupid candidates are so entertaining in their trainwreck campaigns. However I can’t imagine any way we could defend this concept from being rigged by republicans so I think we are stuck with these turkeys until we get a more informed electorate.

Anonymoussays:

Re:

so, now you are claiming that finsta is a facebook policy.

i guess we know all we need to know about your nuance.

p.s., parents’ jobs, not facebook’s. also, so you want every internet platform to have all the childrens’ real ID, however that would even work?

no wonder kids want pseudonymous accounts that adults don’t know about. too many adults are not up to the task.

James Burkhardtsays:

Re:

How do you verify age? Like seriously, how do you verify someone’s age remotely?

How do you verify a name is false? I am acquianted with a ton of people whose legal names aren’t normal, including 2 Lucifers.

THat said, you have to stretch to get from "Will you commit to ending Finsta" to "will you commit to incremental improvements in how you verify ages and names". If the senator didn’t want to be misunderstood, speaking clearly would significantly reduce misunderstandings.

The "accurate" description only covers a portion of Finsta usage. As someone who performs the Rocky Horror Picture Show, many members of the cast have fake social media for their Rocky/Burlesque activities to hide them from family or employers. I’m sure it isn’t the only legal hobby someone might want to not broadcast to grandma. Several use variations of their name that pass muster under the Real Name Policy.

Sure we can discuss the policies. The issue is "ending Finsta" is not equivelent, even under the "accurate" description you cited, of "ending the use of instagram by individuals under the age of 13". "ending Finsta" reads, in the full context of the exchange to seemingly mean "ending any accounts not associated with a single person with no other accounts."

Mike Masnicksays:

Re:

My interpertation of the unfortunately worded question is he was asking whether Instagram would do more to try to prevent under 13s from setting up accounts, lying about their age, and perhaps better enforcing their real name policy. We can debate the merits of real name policies but it is an actual policy that Facebook created themselves so it’s fair to ask about it.

And I did discuss that in the article. And I discussed how clueless it is to think that you can "end" such accounts. Completely and totally ignorant and out of touch.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

I’m not saying we should. I’m not trying to defend a real name policy (for the record I’m absolutely not in favour of it). I’d much rather be talking about that than the National Enquirer level of in-depth reporting that was done here.

I heard about the exchange before I saw it, but watching the whole thing is even worse than just hearing that Blumenthal seemed to think "finsta" is a Facebook "product or service."
It’s almost like Mike didn’t watch the whole thing at all, otherwise he would have seen him do a pretty good job explaining what they are.

What I am lamenting is news/social media blowing this up out of all proportion compared to what actually happened and ignoring the whole point of the hearing. If you read just the headlines you can easily come away with thinking the politicians are absolute idiots and nothing else. We have commenters stating that Blumenthal is a pedophile or all politicians are dumber than a 5 year olds who eat paint rather than anything substantive or anything about FB’s issues at all.

sumgaisays:

Re: Re:

How do you verify age? Like seriously, how do you verify someone’s age remotely?

Easy – you give them the test written by Al Lowe in the first episode of Leisure Suit Larry. (aka Leisure Suit Larry In The Land Of The Lounge Lizards.)

OTOH, if a minor lies about his/her age during signup, how is a given platform supposed to find out about it? He/she said they were 20 (or some other number above 18), why should the platform suspect that an investigation is in order, to see if they told the truth? And if they are found to be a minor, that leads to charges of invasion of the privacy of a minor, which is even worse than having done the same to an adult.

A formula for describing the problem: Expectations of Privacy plus Expectations of Trust, divided by various laws, does not equal a good time for the platform provider.

sumgaisays:

Re:

How the hell do we keep electing people who show us time and time again they are completely detached from reality, have no idea what they are doing, and often just make things worse to score points in some imaginary game in their head?

TAC, I’m a bit surprised at this question. You know as well as I do that the answer is money, pure and simple. Congress is the shining example of that old maxim: "He who has the gold gets to make the rules."

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

Re: Re:

I don’t think its even the money at this point.

So many people have bought into the vote for them because they are the only thing standing between us and those commie bastards and women being forced to abort.

As long as they can get the blessing of the Trump, idiots will vote for people who helped kill off 700K people because Trump said it was just like the flu & for some reason they can’t believe their own eyes over the lies they bought into.

Cocaine Mitch’s state is in the bottom of so many rankings, yet they keep putting him back in office when he’s never kept a single promise to make things better for them.

I had such high hopes for the pandemic, but those who claimed it was faked got the shots first, hid they got the shots, and fed more people into the woodchipper.
The Black Death was way more fun and helped fix the genepool for a while…

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:

OTOH, if a minor lies about his/her age during signup, how is a given platform supposed to find out about it?

I won’t say they’re "supposed to" or should, but Facebook has ways of finding information. They’ve been accused of learning real names and dates of birth despite people not providing them, eg. from getting tagged in pictures and from algothithms looking for "happy birthday" messages. They could figure out family connections, look for birth annoucements, see if most of one’s friends appear to be under 13, if one’s interested in "childish" content, etc. (nevermind algorithms that derive age from photos). People, including other people, post way too much information online.

That One Guysays:

Re: Rant Warning: Malice VS Stupidity

While it’s absolutely possible that a politician can in fact be genuinely that stupid on a given subject given the immense power and authority their position grants them that should never be an acceptable defense or justification.

If they don’t know about a particular subject then it’s their responsibility to learn about it well before they try to act as an authority or grill those that actually are knowledgeable in the field, and if they don’t do a good enough job educating themselves and get something wrong then it’s on them to admit that they screwed up and either fix their ignorance or be condemned for refusing to do so.

bhull242says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m sorry, but the only goalpost-moving was done by Blumenthal. He gave a false definition for “finsta”, and that’s the primary subject of the article. The article also addresses that definition on top of that, so whichever of the two places you think the goalposts should be, the article addresses both.

More to the point, even with that definition, it exposes an ignorance of how the internet works. Facebook can’t really commit to “ending” that because how could you reasonably enforce it without compromising the privacy of everyone else?

Anonymoussays:

Re:

And on top of that, Mike ignored the entire rest of the hearing and that there were other Senators, too, asking FB hard questions. Sites like Ars Technica and The Verge covered so much more than Mike did, it throws into question his motives.

Maybe that was the point of what Mike is trying to do? “Here’s this Senator, look how stupid he is on tech issues, pay absolutely no attention to everything else that happened before and after.”

As a side note, I wonder what Mike’s stance on term limits is? With the narrative he likes to spin about most politicians doing nothing but “grandstanding”, he might be for them. But at the same time, term limits would stop his personal saint, Ron Wyden, from being able to keep getting elected.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re:

"I’ve heard even network engineers refer seriously to network cables as "pipes", and it seems basically reasonable."

Cabling and pipes is acceptable jargon. Tubes? Slang coined by a tech-illiterate politician? <spits>.

On a more serious note if you’re discussing the cooking channel but keep making references to wrenches it really doesn’t bring home to the professional audience that you have a clue about that to which you refer.

Lostinlodossays:

Re: Re: Re:

Your half right.
Tubes comes from tubing.

It’s an old network term for using audio codes to switch tubes (lines). It’s slang, and not common at that.
But you’ll find it in old text copies of the “hacker’s dictionary”. Lol.

I always found it funny that it was being used for the internet: it predates DUI service and was about piggybacking phone calls.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"But you’ll find it in old text copies of the “hacker’s dictionary”. Lol."

I knew I should have dropped an /s in there somewhere.

That said I think it obvious that most politicians envisioning the internet as a "series of tubes" are thinking about Mario Bros-style sewer pipes, not fiber cables.

But nothing new under the sun when it comes to the technical illiteracy of politicians, as poor Babbage discovered;

"On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’ I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."

  • Charles Babbage, inventor of the first mechanical computer.
Lostinlodossays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

Lol.
In the mechanical days an operator literally switched plugs and stuck them in different “tubes”.
But I’m sure your right, the SMB vision is probably their line. Ohh, warp tube!
Not freaking and phreaking and 26h and all.

A lot of people put the use of the term on Gore but I’ve seen video bell-breakup era where some senator used the term. Wrongly there too!

You can’t regulate what you won’t try to understand.
I’m the first to admit I’m the last to be doing free speech regulations. I’m too “no restrictions” for that.
If only politicians had the same self awareness.

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