Facebook and Social Media: How a Digital Country Perceives Its Reality

September 17, 2021

I read “Instagram Chief Faces Backlash after Awkward Comparison between Cars and Social Media Safety.” This informed senior manager at Facebook seems to have missed a book on many reading lists. The book is one I have mentioned a number of times in the last 12 years since I have been capturing items of interest to me and putting my personal “abstracts” online.

Jacques Ellul is definitely not going to get a job working on the script for the next Star Wars’ film. He won’t be doing a script for a Super Bowl commercial. Most definitely Dr. Ellul will not be founding a church called “New Technology’s Church of Baloney.”

Dr. Ellul died in 1994, and it is not clear if he knew about online or the Internet. He jabbered at the University of Bordeaux, wrote a number of books about technology, and inspired enough people to set up the International Jacques Ellul Society.

One of his books was the Technological Society or in French Le bluff technologique.

The article was sparked my thoughts about Dr. Ellul contains this statement:

“We know that more people die than would otherwise because of car accidents, but by and large, cars create way more value in the world than they destroy,” Mosseri said Wednesday on the Recode Media podcast. “And I think social media is similar.”

Dr. Ellul might have raised a question or two about Instagram’s position. Both are technology; both have had unintended consequences. On one hand, the auto created some exciting social changes which can be observed when sitting in traffic: Eating in the car, road rage, dead animals on the side of the road, etc. On the other hand, social media is sparking upticks in personal destruction of young people, some perceptual mismatches between what their biomass looks like and what an “influencer” looks like wearing clothing from Buffbunny.

Several observations:

  • Facebook is influential, at least sufficiently noteworthy for China to take steps to trim the sails of the motor yacht Zucky
  • Facebook’s pattern of shaping reality via its public pronouncements, testimony before legislative groups, and and on podcasts generates content that seems to be different from a growing body of evidence that Facebook facts are flexible
  • Social media as shaped by the Facebook service, Instagram, and the quite interesting WhatsApp service is perhaps the most powerful information engine created. (I say this fully aware of Google’s influence and Amazon’s control of certain data channels.) Facebook is a digital Major Gérald, just with its own Légion étrangèr.

Net net: Regulation time and fines that amount to more than a few hours revenue for the firm. Also reading Le bluff technologique and writing an essay called, “How technology deconstructs social fabrics.” Blue book, handwritten, and three outside references from peer reviewed journals about human behavior. Due on Monday, please.

Stephen E Arnold, September 17, 2021

That Online Thing Spawns Emily Post-Type Behavior, Right?

July 21, 2021

Friendly virtual watering holes or platforms for alarmists? PC Magazine reports, “Neighborhood Watch Goes Rogue: The Trouble with Nextdoor and Citizen.” Writer Christopher Smith introduces his analysis:

“Apps like Citizen and Nextdoor, which ostensibly exist to keep us apprised of what’s going on in our neighborhoods, buzz our smartphones at all hours with crime reports, suspected illegal activity, and other complaints. But residents can also weigh in with their own theories and suspicions, however baseless and—in many cases—racist. It begs the question: Where do these apps go wrong, and what are they doing now to regain consumer trust and combat the issues within their platforms?”

Smith considers several times that both community-builder Nextdoor and the more security-focused Citizen hosted problematic actions and discussions. Both apps have made changes in response to criticism. For example, Citizen was named Vigilante when it first launched in 2016 and seemed to encourage users to visit and even take an active role in nearby crime scenes. After Apple pulled it from its App Store within two days, the app relaunched the next year with the friendlier name and warnings against reckless behavior. But Citizen still stirs up discussion by sharing publicly available emergency-services data like 911 calls, sometimes with truly unfortunate results. Though the app says it is now working on stronger moderation to prevent such incidents, it also happens to be ramping up its law-enforcement masquerade. Ironically, Citizen itself cannot seem to keep its users’ data safe.

Then there is Nextdoor. During last year’s protests following the murder of George Floyd, its moderators were caught removing posts announcing protests but allowing ones that advocated violence against protestors. The CEO promised reforms in response, and the company soon axed the “Forward to Police” feature. (That is okay, cops weren’t relying on it much anyway. Go figure.) It has also enacted a version of sensitivity training and language guardrails. Meanwhile, Facebook is making its way into the neighborhood app game. Surely that company’s foresight and conscientiousness are just what this situation needs. Smith concludes:

“In theory, community apps like Citizen, Nextdoor, and Facebook Neighborhoods bring people together at time when many of us turn to the internet and our devices to make connections. But it’s a fine line between staying on top of what’s going on around us and harassing the people who live and work there with ill-advised posts and even calls to 911. The companies themselves have a financial incentive to keep us engaged (Nextdoor just filed to go public), whether its users are building strong community ties or overreacting to doom-and-gloom notifications. Can we trust them not to lead us into the abyss, or is it on us not to get caught up neighborhood drama and our baser instincts?”

Absolutely not and, unfortunately, yes.

Cynthia Murrell, July 21, 2021

Cheaper Lodgings Correlated with Violence: Stats 101 at Work

July 20, 2021

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but AirBnB- and VRBO-type disruptors do. ”AirBnB Listings Lead to Increased Neighborhood Violence, Study Finds” reports:

AirBnB removes social capital from the neighborhood in the form of stable households, weakening the associated community dynamics…

The write up explains:

Researchers at Northeastern University in Boston conducted a statistical analysis of AirBnB listings and data on different types of crime in their city. Covering a period from 2011 to 2017, the team found that the more AirBnB listings were in any given neighborhood, the higher the rates of violence in that neighborhood – but not public social disorder or private conflict.

Who causes the crime? The tourists? Nah, here’s what’s allegedly happening:

the transient population diminishes how communities prevent crime.

Interesting assertion. I have a small sample: One. One home in our neighborhood became an AirBnB-type outfit. No one stayed. The house was sold to a family.

No change in the crime rate, but that may be a result of the police patrols, the work from home people who walk dogs, jog, post to Nextdoor.com, and clean the lenses on their Amazon Ring doorbells.


Stephen E Arnold, July 20, 2021

Real Silicon Valley News Predicts the Future

July 1, 2021

I read “Why Some Biologists and Ecologists Think Social Media Is a Risk to Humanity.” I thought this was an amusing essay because the company publishing it is very much a social media thing. Clicks equal fame, money, and influence. These are potent motivators, and the essay is cheerfully ignorant of the irony of the Apocalypse foretold in the write up.

I learned:

One of the real challenges that we’re facing is that we don’t have a lot of information

But who is “we”? I can name several entities which have quite comprehensive information. Obviously these entities are not part of the royal “we”. I have plenty of information and some of it is proprietary. There are areas about which I would like to know more, but overall, I think I have what I need to critique thumbtyper-infused portents of doom.

Here’s another passage:

Seventeen researchers who specialize in widely different fields, from climate science to philosophy, make the case that academics should treat the study of technology’s large-scale impact on society as a “crisis discipline.” A crisis discipline is a field in which scientists across different fields work quickly to address an urgent societal problem — like how conservation biology tries to protect endangered species or climate science research aims to stop global warming. The paper argues that our lack of understanding about the collective behavioral effects of new technology is a danger to democracy and scientific progress.

I assume the Silicon Valley “real” news outfit and the experts cited in the write up are familiar with the work of J. Ellul? If not, some time invested in reading it might be helpful. As a side note, Google Books thinks that the prescient and insightful analysis of technology is about “religion.” Because Google, of course.

The write up adds:

Most major social media companies work with academics who research their platforms’ effects on society, but the companies restrict and control how much information researchers can use.

Remarkable insight. Why pray tell?

Several observations:

  • Technology is not well understood
  • Flows of information are destructive in many situations
  • Access to information spawns false conclusions
  • Bias distorts logic even among the informed.

Well, this is a pickle barrel and “we” are in it. What is making my sides ache from laughter is that advocates of social media in particular and technology in general are now asking, “Now what?”

Few like China’s approach or that of other authoritarian entities who want to preserve the way it was.

Cue Barbara’s “The Way We Were.” Oh, right. Blocked by YouTube. Do ecologists and others understand cancer?

Stephen E Arnold, July 1, 2021

Reddit Search Engines: Some Tweaks Might Be Useful

May 6, 2021

Reddit is a popular and vast social media network. It is also a big disorganized mess. The likelihood of finding a thread you read on the main page three weeks ago is zero to null, unless you happened to make a comment on it. That, however, requires a Reddit account, but not everyone has one. Google and other search engines attempt to locate information on Reddit. Reddit attempts to do the same for itself. Both options have limited results.

Reddit search is a can of worms, much like the web site itself. Information can be found, but it requires a lot of digging. A specialized search algorithm specifically designed to handle the information dump that is Reddit would be the best option. Github hosts a Reddit Search application that does a fair job of locating information, although it has some drawbacks. The search filters are perfect for Reddit, focusing on the author, subreddit, score, dates, search terms, and searching through posts or comments. The more one knows about the post/comment they wish to locate, the better the search application is. However, if searching for basic information on a topic without filling in the subreddit, date span, or author delimiters spits back hundreds of search results.  Reddit Search is similar to how most out of the box search tools function. They work, but need a lot of fine tuning before they are actually useful. Reddit Search does work as long as you have specific information to fill in the search boxes. Otherwise, it only returns semi useful results. The good news is that old Reddit is still available. Hunting remains the name of the game for some online information retrieval tasks.

Whitney Grace, May 6, 2021

Microsoft LinkedIn: Opting and Gigging

February 25, 2021

Microsoft LinkedIn has determined that its millions of job seekers, consultants, and résumé miners can become gig workers. “LinkedIn Is Building a Gig Marketplace” asserts:

LinkedIn is developing a freelance work marketplace that could rival fast-growing gig sites Fiverr and Upwork. The two-sided marketplace will connect freelance service providers with clients in need of temporary workers for one-off projects. Like Fiverr and Upwork, it would focus on knowledge-based work that can be done remotely online…

How long has Microsoft LinkedIn been contemplating this shift? One date offered in the article is 2019. That’s when LinkedIn acquired UpCounsel. The idea is that when one needs a lawyer, one uses a legal version of Match.com. Very me-too. Thomson Reuters offers a service called FindLaw.com, which has been available since the early 2000s. But good ideas take time to gestate. This is not a me too knock off of TikTok which has inspired Facebook and Google innovation. LinkedIn innovated with ProFinder. This is a way for LinkedIn members to find “professionals.”

Sounds good, right?

Writer Joan Westenberg is over LinkedIn, and advises us we would all be better without it. The Next Web posts, “Delete LinkedIn—You’ll Have Zero F****ing Regrets.” After years of enduring countless messages from those who want to sell her something, she finally deleted her LinkedIn account. Not only did the platform fail to provide her any professional benefits, she was also disheartened by the superficial relationships with her hundreds of contacts. (At least this platform does not call them “friends.”)

Having had some success at sales for her business, Westenberg has observed that the way to sell to someone is to build a real relationship with them. Her favorite way to do so is to offer help with no agenda, to demonstrate her products have value. She writes:

“That is the antithesis of LinkedIn. Where people send you off-brand and clumsy sales pitches at best — or at worst, scrape your details for scalable and utterly useless outbound campaigns. They send pitch decks in the same breath that they introduce themselves for the first time. They want you to buy with no reason why. LinkedIn feels less like a platform for selling, and more like a platform for being sold to. A LinkedIn message is the 2020s equivalent of a cold sales call. You dread it. You hate it. You just don’t want to deal with it. … I would rather focus my attention on platforms where I know people have come to genuinely research, interact, learn and consume. Quora. Angel List. Dribble. Medium. Substack. And yes, Twitter. And I would rather remove the false sense of accomplishment we get from engaging on LinkedIn, where we log into a landfill of utter [excrement] several times a day and feel like we’ve done our bit of networking and growing, with no evidence to support that belief.”

Westenberg advises others to join her in ditching the platform. All we will lose, she concludes, are the vanity metrics of clicks, likes, shares, and comments, all of which provide nothing of value. Hmm. I for one have never gotten a job through the platform, but I do know someone who has. Then there are all the professional courses the platform acquired when it snapped up Lynda.com in 2015, many of which are quite helpful. I suppose each user must weigh the site’s role in their professional lives for themselves, but on this point I agree—LinkedIn is not fundamental to professional success.

Cynthia Murrell, February 25, 2021

Telegram Appeals to Diverse Constituencies

February 25, 2021

Other than heated conflicts between US political parties, the recent coup happened because of the mass spread of conspiracy theories propagated by social media. Social media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, were used to communicate right wing extremist misinformation. In the past, it was difficult for bad acting extremists to pool their “knowledge” and meet liked minded individuals, but the Internet fixed that.

Many social media platforms kicked right wing extremists off their platform, because of crackdowns that followed post-coup. According to Vox’s article, “Why Right-Wing Extremists’ New Favorite Platform Is So Dangerous” the bad actors already found another tool to communicate. Telegram is a Dubai-based platform and only 2% of its users were US-based until the coup attempt. Now Telegram boasts 25 million new US users. Why do bad actors love Telegram?

“Telegram is currently the most downloaded app in the Google Play Store, having unseated Signal for the top spot in the United States. Telegram’s specific combination of features, however, make it especially popular among American right-wing extremists, who have joined the platform in droves after being kicked off of Twitter, Facebook, and Parler. The latter is another extremist favorite and was recently kicked off the internet, though it’s now back in a very limited form.”

Telegram has three components: private and public channels that only a limited number of people can follow, groups where up to 200,,000 can communicate, and Secret Chats-one-on-one encrypted conversations.

Some bad actors can reach larger groups to spread misinformation and they can do so anonymously. Telegram does not monitor its content, but after its been used to incite violence its developers did crackdown on some of the channels. Telegram is popular for another reason: It is a reasonably reliable app.

Since Telegram is not US-based it does not need to comply to the country’s standards, but we have heard that the company has a relationship with Mr. Putin’s telecommunications agency. Other countries may find it slightly more challenging to monitor.

Whitney Grace, February 25, 2021

Microsoft Teams: More, More, More

January 12, 2021

Last week I was on a Zoom video call. Zoom is pretty easy to use. What’s interesting is that the cyber security organizer of the meeting could not figure out how to allow a participant to share a screen. Now how easy is it to use Microsoft Teams compared to Zoom? In my opinion, Microsoft Teams is a baffler. The last thing Teams needs is another dose of featuritis. Teams and Zoom both need to deal with the craziness of the existing features and functions.

I have given up on Zoom improving its interface. The tiny gear icon, one of the most used components, is tough for some people to spot. Teams has a couple of donkeys laden with wackiness; for example, how about those access controls? Working great for new users, right? But Microsoft who is busy reinventing itself from Word and SharePoint wants to be the super Slack of our Rona-ized world. Sounds good? Yep, ads within Office 10 are truly an uplifting experience for individuals who use Windows 10 to sort of attempt work. Plus, Teams adds Channel calendars. Great! More calendars! Many Outlooks, many search systems, and now calendars! In Teams!

I noted this BBC write up: “Pupils in Scotland Struggle to Get Online Amid Microsoft Issue.” I thought teachers, parents were there to help. The Beeb states:

A number of schools, pupils and parents have reported the technology running slowly or not at all.

What’s Microsoft say? According to the Beeb:

A Microsoft spokesperson said: “Our engineers are working to resolve difficulties accessing Microsoft Teams that some customers are experiencing.” When pressed on whether demand as a result of home schooling was causing the issue, Microsoft declined to comment.

Just like the SolarWinds’ misstep? Nope, just working to make Teams more interesting. Navigate to “Microsoft Teams Is Getting a More Engaging Experience for Meetings Soon.” If the write up is accurate, that’s exactly what Microsoft has planned for its Zoom killer. The write up reports an item from the future:

Microsoft is working on making Teams meetings more engaging using AI and a “Dynamic View” to give more control over meeting presentations.

And what, pray tell, is a more engaging enhancement or two? I learned that in the future (not yet determined):

The Dynamic view is said to let you see what’s being shared and other people on the call at the same time. With the call being automatically optimized in a way that lets participants both see the important information that’s being shared and the people presenting it in a satisfying way.

News flash. The features appear to add controls (hooray, more controls) and the presentation seems just fine for those high-resolution displays measured in feet, not inches.

Bulletin. Just in. More people are using mobile devices than desktop computers. How is Teams on a mobile device with a screen measured in inches, not feet?

Oh, right. Featuritis and tiny displays. Winners. Maybe not for someone over the age of 45, but that’s an irrelevant demographic, right?

Stephen E Arnold, January 12, 2021

Facial Recognition: Not As Effective As Social Recognition

January 8, 2021

Facial recognition is a sub-function of image analysis. For some time, I have bristled at calls for terminating research into this important application of algorithms intended to identify, classify, and make sense of patterns. Many facial recognition systems return false positives for reasons ranging from lousy illumination to people wearing glasses with flashing LED lights.

I noted “The FBI Asks for Help Identifying Trump’s Terrorists. Internet (and Local News) Doesn’t Disappoint.” The article makes it clear that facial recognition by smart software may not be as effective as social recognition. The write up says:

There is also Elijah Schaffer, a right-wing blogger on Glenn Beck’s BlazeTV, who posted incriminating evidence of himself in Nancy Pelosi’s office and then took it down when he realized that he posted himself breaking and entering into Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office. But screenshots are a thing.

What’s clear is that technology cannot do what individuals’ posting to their social media accounts can do or what individuals who can say “Yeah, I know that person” delivers.

Technology for image analysis is advancing, but I will be the first to admit that 75 to 90 percent accuracy falls short of a human-centric system which can provide:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Background details
  • Telephone and other information.

Two observations: First, social recognition is at this time better, faster, and cheaper than Fancy Dan image recognition systems. Second, image recognition is more than a way to identify a person robbing a convenience store. Medical, military, and safety applications are in need of advanced image processing systems. Let the research and testing continue without delay.

Stephen E Arnold, January 8, 2021

Venture Outfit Explains Obsolescence to Main Stream Media, Amazon Twitch, and Google YouTube

December 8, 2020

I am delighted to admit that I am not involved with TikTok or other whizzy video confections. Ever try Neverthink? The name explains the service. I did, however, read “Live, Social, and Shoppable: The Future of Video.” This is a breezy, MBA, venture firm style report. More remarkable, the document appears to be available without registration hoops, crazy pop ups, or blandishments to call us for investment advice.

What the write up does do is make the poobahs stunned with the announcement that Wonder Woman is headed to streaming get another gut shot. You can work through the report, the jazzy graphics, and the little icon forests yourself.

I want to focus on a single section called “The Video First Future,” specifically, the education statements. The main idea is, in my opinion,

… video can enhance the excitement of mastering a subject and the motivation to learn.

What’s this mean? First, hasta la vista to the traditional textbook publishers, a group already tethered to revenue with a thin cotton cord. Second, YouTube variants like Udacity and its compatriots must confront change. Third, the TikTok thing is a harbinger of the future of learning.

Yep, TikTok. The write up points out:

These types of platforms take academic curriculum and mix it with fun. The resulting edutainment is a hit for both kids and parents. How can a customer churn when their kid likes their class as much as Saturday morning cartoons and video games? In these kid-friendly entertaining education platforms, kids get that immediate feedback and virtual rewards whenever they get an answer right.

The anigif example requires a knowledge of Chinese and a certain youthful spirit to appreciate.

Several observations:

  • Cultural differences in managing hungry young minds play no part in the write up
  • The issue of controlling the information generated from these platforms is not considered
  • The future suggests that game-ification, psychological strokes and slaps, and fragmented attention are the new big thing.

Perfect for generating interest in new investment funds and for sending shock waves of fear through organizations not into the TikTok-ization of information. Perhaps there is an existential question which YouTube must answer, “Can we avoid the fate of the media our service has disrupted?”

Focus may be a challenge for thumbtypers, regardless of their age and Fortnite skills.

Stephen E Arnold, December 8, 2020

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