Facebook Experiment Harming Democracy

January 16, 2018

Facebook seems to be the last place on the Web to negatively affect democratic governments, but according to The Guardian it will in, “‘Downright Orwellian’: Journalists Decry Facebook Experiment’s Impact On Democracy.”  Facebook is being compared to Big Brother in a news feed experiment that removed professional media stories from six countries.  Let the article break it down for you:

The experiment, which began 19 October and is still ongoing, involves limiting the core element of Facebook’s social network to only personal posts and paid adverts.

So-called public posts, such as those from media organisation Facebook pages, are being moved to a separate “explore” feed timeline. As a result, media organisations in the six countries containing 1% of the world’s population – Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cambodia, Serbia and Slovakia – have had one of their most important publishing platforms removed overnight.

In other weeks, “Eek!”  These countries have very volatile governments and any threat to their news outlets is very bad if free speech is going to live.  Also the news outlets in these countries do not have the budgets to pay for Facebook’s post boosting fees.  Facebook was used as a free service to spread the news, but it fell more than 50% in many of the countries where this experiment was tested.

Even if Facebook were to stop the experiment some of the media outlets would not recover.  It is curious why Facebook did not test the news feed experiment in another country.  Oh wait, we know why.  It did not want to deal with the backlash from western countries and the countless people who whine on the Internet.  In the smaller countries, there is less culpability, but more home front damage. Nice job Facebook!

Whitney Grace, January 16, 2018

Big Shock: Social Media Algorithms Are Not Your Friend

December 11, 2017

One of Facebook’s founding fathers, Sean Parker, has done a surprising about-face on the online platform that earned him billions of dollars. Parker has begun speaking out against social media and the hidden machinery that keeps people interested. We learned more from a recent Axios story,Sean Parker Unloads on Facebook ‘Exploiting’ Human Psychology.

According to the story:

Parker’s I-was-there account provides priceless perspective in the rising debate about the power and effects of the social networks, which now have scale and reach unknown in human history. He’s worried enough that he’s sounding the alarm.

According to Parker:

The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’


And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.

What’s at stake here isn’t just human psychology being exploited, though. It’s a major part of the story, but, as Forbes pointed out, we are on the cusp of social engineering via social media. If more people like Parker don’t stand up and offer a solution, we fear there could be serious repercussions.

Patrick Roland, December 11, 2017

Filtering: Facebook Asserts Filtering Progress

November 29, 2017

i read “Hard Questions: Are We Winning the War on Terrorism Online?” The main point is that Facebook is filtering terrorism related content. Let’s assume that the assertion is correct. Furthermore, let’s assume that private group participants are reporting terror-related content so that information not available to the general Facebook community is devoid of terror related content.

This appears to be a step forward.

My thought is that eliminating the content may squeeze those with filtered messages to seek other avenues of information dissemination. For most people, the work arounds will be unfamiliar.

But options exist, and these options are becoming more widely used and robust. I remind myself that bad actors can be every bit as intelligent, resourceful, and persistent as the professionals working at companies like Facebook.

Within the last four months, the researchers assisting me on the second edition of the Dark Web Notebook have informed me:

  1. Interest in certain old-school methods of online communication has increased; for example, text communication
  2. Encrypted apps are gaining wider use
  3. Peer-to-peer mechanisms show strong uptake by certain groups
  4. Dark Web or i2p communication methods are not perfect but some work despite the technical hassles and latency
  5. Burner phones and sim cards bought with untraceable forms of payment are widely available from retail outlets like Kroger and Walgreens in the US.

Those interested in information which is filtered remind me of underground movements in the 1960s. At the university I attended, the surface looked calm. Then bang, an event would occur. Everyone was surprised and wondered where that “problem” came from. Hiding the problem does not resolve the problem I learned by observing the event.

The surface is one thing. What happens below the surface is another. Squeezing in one place on a balloon filled with water moves the water to another place. When the pressure is too great, the balloon bursts. Water goes in unexpected places.

My view is that less well known methods of communication will attract more attention. I am not sure if this is good news or bad news. I know that filtering alone does not scrub certain content from digital channels.

Net net: Challenges lie ahead. Net neutrality may provide an additional lever, but there will be those who seek to circumvent controls. Most will fail, but some will succeed. Those successes may be difficult to anticipate, monitor, and address.

Facebook filtering is comparatively easy. Reacting to consequences of filtering may be more difficult. It has taken many years to to achieve the modest victory Facebook has announced. That reaction time, in itself, is a reminder that there is something called a Pyrrhic victory.

Stephen E Arnold, November 29, 2017

Stephen E Arnold, November

Think Facebook Is Going to Fix Its Data Issues, Think Again

November 23, 2017

Facebook has been in hot water lately with its massive flubs with fake news. But the water is about to get scalding when you look at how fast and lose it plays with data. We learned some shocking things from a Fast Company story, “This Time, Facebook is Sharing Its Employees’ Data.”

According to the story:

Still, through a little-known arrangement, Facebook Inc. routinely shares the sensitive income and employment data of its U.S.-based employees with the Work Number database, owned by Equifax Workforce Solutions. Yes, that Equifax.


Every week, Facebook provides an electronic data feed of its employees’ hourly work and wage information to Equifax Workforce Solutions, formerly known as TALX, a St. Louis-based unit of Equifax, Inc. The Work Number database is managed separately from the Equifax credit bureau database that suffered a breach exposing the data of more than 143 million Americans, but it contains another cache of extensive personal information about Facebook’s employees, including their date of birth, social security number, job title, salary, pay raises or decreases, tenure, number of hours worked per week, wages by pay period, healthcare insurance coverage, dental care insurance coverage, and unemployment claim records.

This is pretty groundbreaking news. If the social media king can’t even keep its own employee data safe from the Equifaxes and hackers of the world, how safe are we supposed to think they keep our own data? For Facebook to earn back customer trust, it’ll have to jump through some pretty serious hoops. We’ll sit back and wait for the circus to arrive, in that case.

Patrick Roland, November 23, 2017

The FG Snipers Draw a Bead

November 22, 2017

Facebook (hereinafter “F”) and Google (hereinafter “G”) are the part of the new sport FG sniping. Favored by the Guardian and other “real” publishers, F and G are plump, apparently arrogant, and seemingly clueless targets. The horrible companies do not “give back” to the “real” magazines and newspapers which have been eroded by the flow of clicks flowing to F and G.

A fun example of this blood sport appear in “Why Magazine Mogul Tina Brown Is ‘Angry and Upset’ at Google and Facebook.” I highlighted three comments Tina Brown (Oxford graduate and traditional print journalist) allegedly made to a “real” journalist who has gone over to the dark side of online content creation.

Number One:

I [Tina Brown, Oxford graduate] am very angry and upset about the way advertising revenue has been essentially pirated by the Facebook-Google world

Ahoy, mates. Google indexes. “Real” publishers tried this; for example, the New York Times and its fumbling with LexisNexis and its own Jeff Pemberton led initiative decades ago. Google succeeded; the NYT and other “real” publishers failed. Sour grapes?

Number Two:

When you don’t have human beings who have judgment, who have taste, who have a sense of responsibility, you can have any old Russian hacker dishing it out to the American public.

Not just any “human beings.” The “right” type of human being is a trained journalist like those who do the “This Week in Google” podcast perhaps? Plus, last I knew, F and G had human beings. Mr. Brin, for example, allegedly behaved in a human manner with a certain Google Glass marketing maven. The disconnect is that some human beings are more adept at applying technology to content processing and delivering what users want. On the other hand, “real” publishers certain knew how to generate “yellow” journalism and engage in other fascinating human activities.

Number Three:

People don’t know what’s important or where to find it.

To be clear, some people do know what’s important and where to find it. The problem is that People Magazine or the grocery store tabloid the National Enquirer are not much different from “real” newspapers and magazines.

What the issue is, of course, is the fact that traditional publishing has found itself marginalized. The arbiters of taste and judgment from places like Oxford and Yale are a bit overwhelmed because they don’t get traffic or a sufficient number of likes.

Where in the modern economy is the “law” which says that F and G have to give back to the outfits which have failed to adapt to the new world.

I guess Darwinian principles (Darwin was a Cambridge graduate) don’t apply to those Oxford graduates  who wish to enshrine dead tree methods. From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, Darwin (a Cambridge graduate) is alive and well. Just look at those informed individuals living in trailers living by the creek. Also, in forward leaning  places like Palo Alto, one can observe on the way to F and G the lines of SUVs and motor homes which provide safe havens for Facebook posts and Google searches.

Life would be so much better if time stood still. Are F and G clueless? Should large companies “give back”? One could consult Adam Smith I suppose. Oh, Smith was an allegedly unhappy Oxforder. Nasty intellectual environment my economics professor observed as I recall.

Failure can be unpalatable. Zeros and ones leave a bitter after taste on the tongues of some arbiters of taste.

Stephen E Arnold, November 22, 2017

It Is Time Our Tech Giants Went on a Goodwill Tour

November 22, 2017

As our tech giants pull in more cash, it’s time they gave more back to society. But how? That’s the central question of a fascinating Business Week article, “Hate Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google? Get in Line.”

According to the story:

All of the sudden our tech giants find themselves in a PR pickle: They are posting record earnings and seem unstoppable in business, but they desperately need to convince the public they’re not scarier than a pack of velociraptors on meth.

The story partially follows California congressional candidate, Ro Khanna, who thinks he has some answers for these hated behemoths.

Khanna wants the tech giants to see this moment as an opportunity—“a chance to respond to the challenges facing our country,” he wrote. “The hope is that they will answer the nation’s call to advance the common good, from expanding job opportunity to communities across the country to ensuring that online platforms do not contribute to polarization or misinformation.

This is a chance for those behemoths to really make an impact on something other than their pocketbooks. Perhaps, these businesses like Amazon and Facebook, which are obsessed with the real-time operation can extend that to charitable deeds. To see a real-time charitable impact, like this would likely surge giving.

Patrick Roland, November 22, 2017

AI Tech Companies Had Better Watch Their Backs

November 20, 2017

In a case of perhaps getting too big for one’s own britches, there’s a lot of scuttlebutt about how our tech giants are in for a rude awakening, either from the government or competition. We learned more in a US News and World Report story, “Tech Companies Must Regain Trust.”

With all the negative publicity organizations like Facebook and Google have gotten has raised concerns, as we saw in the article:

Google and Facebook are not natural monopolies and ought not to be regulated as such. The history of the internet is a history of defunct giants that once oozed monopolistic power: Netscape, AltaVista, MySpace, AOL, among many others. Unlike constructing a news power grid, dislodging an incumbent does not require investing billions into new infrastructure. In principle, it only requires novel ideas.

(T)ech companies themselves can do a lot themselves in order not to actively invite onerous regulation. If they can invest in editorial judgment and quality control, crack down on bots and increase the transparency of their advertising schemes, the political case for new rules will become much weaker.

It’s a moment we will look back on and see as a watershed moment. Clearly, tech companies need better policing. Now is the moment they decide whether it will be themselves who make the change. Otherwise, the Googles and Facebooks of the world will suffer either from government regulation or from competition doing the job in question better.

Patrick Roland, November 20, 2017

Facebook and Foreign Policy

November 9, 2017

I knew online was important when I became involved in the commercial database sector in 1981. At that time, the idea that accessing online information to look up citations in Pharmaceutical News Index would mature into a policy crushing machine.

After reading “Facebook Can’t Cope with the World It’s Created,” I realized that online has arrived at the big dance. The company, however, lacks the jazzy moves of a John Travolta stayin’ alive.

Foreign Policy does not do fluffy “real news” write ups. You will have to navigate to the original at the link provided or make your way to a real library where the snappy publication is available.

I noted this assertion—well, maybe “real” news—in the article about everyone’s favorite social network:

On an earnings call earlier last week, Zuckerberg told investors and reporters “how upset I am that the Russians tried to use our tools to sow mistrust,” adding that he was “dead serious” about findings ways to tackle the problem. That would be a positive step — but it must also extend to examining Facebook’s tricky impacts in the rest of the world.

But the ace statement in the article is this observation, which I assume is 100 percent on the money:

In Myanmar today, Facebook is the internet.

There are some interesting groups in Myanmar, and it is reassuring to know that Facebook has everyone’s interests in mind. Free communication flows, friends, and nifty private groups.

What could possibly be untoward with these essential, unregulated modern functions? The government authorities are probably avid Facebookers too.

Stephen E Arnold, November 9, 2017

I Hear the Crows Cawing: A Newspaper Revels in Alleged Silicon Valley Flubs

November 2, 2017

I read “How to Stop Google and Facebook from Becoming Even More Powerful.” The write up appeared in a British newspaper, one which has embraced the digital revolution. Well, I should say, “Tries to embrace the digital revolution.”

I learned that “banning these tech giants from buying any more companies would prevent them from entrenching their monopoly position and help protect our freedom.

I assume that if Facebook or Google tried to buy the Guardian, the newspaper would tell these giants to take their money and get back to solving death or paying lobbyists. When a certain person with oodles of money approached the estimable Washington Post, my recollection is that the Bezos bucks convinced the stakeholders of the Washington Post to accept the cash. But not the Guardian’s stakeholders, right? Of course not! Money. Filthy lucre.

I also noted this passage:

these institutions are designed to gather vast amounts of information about every American, but they are not built to manage that information in the interest of those individuals or the public as a whole…

What’s a company supposed to do? Should Facebook and Google refuse to sell ads? Is it the nature of a corporate entity to have a heart, a soul, an obligation to save the whales, and preserve the rain forest?

Nope. A corporate entity has an obligation to make money. if one does not make money or at least try to make money, in the US the Internal Revenue Service is suspicious of deductable expenditures I hear.

I circled this statement as well:

If it’s clear that Facebook and Google can’t manage what they already control, why let those corporations own more? America’s antitrust enforcers can impose such a rule almost immediately.

The Guardian has first hand experience with the bureaucracy of the US government I assume. In my experience, the phrase “almost immediately” does not match what appears to be the velocity at which government agencies can operate. Immediately does not capture the reality of certain government functions in the US. Obviously the Guardian knows better than I how to make the Bugatti Chiron of the US government burn off a ridiculous acceleration down the virtual political Nürburgring that is Constitution Avenue.

What’s clear to me is that Facebook and Google are in for more scrutiny, criticism, and pundit pummeling.

Let’s see. Google’s been chugging along for 20 years. Facebook has fewer miles on its odometer, but it’s no spring chicken.

Yep, let make changes immediately. Sounds good from the point of view of a newspaper dutifully reporting the thrill ride of Brexit. But I keep coming back to this question, “Would the Guardian sell itself if either Facebook or Google showed up with a lorry filled with cash, stock, and a promise of technological heaven?”

Stephen E Arnold, November 2, 2017

Instagram Milestone: 800 Million Monthly Active Users

October 27, 2017

If there were any doubts that Facebook’s 2012 purchase of Instagram was a good idea, this should put them to rest—SiliconBeat reports, “Facebook-Owned Instagram Reaches 800 Million Monthly Active Users.” Reporter Queenie Wong writes:

The photo-sharing app reached 800 million monthly active users, Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, announced at an advertising event in New York Monday. That’s an uptick of 100 million monthly users since April. Instagram also grew its daily active users to 500 million and reached 2 million advertisers. Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock in 2012. So far, the social media giant’s purchase appears to be paying off. Analysts have noted before that Instagram was a good investment for Facebook because it gave the company an app that was popular among teens.

Wong concludes by reminding us that Instagram has recently been competing with Snapchat with its own version of temporary posts, Stories. In fact, Facebook just announced the ability to cross-post Stories between the two platforms.

Cynthia Murrell, October 27, 2017

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