Tag Archives: Facebook

Manipulation of the ‘filter bubble’

In my previous post, ‘Is Facebook the Real Big Brother’, I talked about Facebook and manipulation. Here, now, is a TED talk from 2011 about the ‘personalisation’ of the internet, and how it locks us in rather than freeing us up.

I have to say I was shocked when I watched this TED talk, especially as Eli Pariser foresaw the problems we’re now facing…6 years ago. I was also shocked because I had no idea that even my searches were being ‘tailored’ for me by Google.

“From human gatekeepers to algorithmic ones.”

When I do a search, I want it to be relevant, yes, but I also want to see what’s out there. I want to choose what I see, because if I can’t see the things that I may not like, I may be manipulated into seeing things that are skewed for someone else’s benefit.

Cambridge Analytics already boasts that:

  • it knows us better than we know ourselves and
  • used that knowledge in both the Trump election and Brexit.

Truth or bullshit?

Given the company’s connection to billionaire software genius Robert Mercer*, and Mercer’s connection to Breitbart and Bannon, I can’t shrug it off as bullshit. But if Trump and Brexit are possible, then Eli Pariser’s filter bubble could turn out to be more like a noose.

My thanks to Honie Briggs for the link to the TED talk.

Meeks

*The Guardian expose is here and you can Google the details to check their validity:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage


Is Facebook the real Big Brother?

 

Image courtesy of orwelltoday.com

Image courtesy of orwelltoday.com

I read George Orwell’s ‘1984’ in the mid-70’s, but even then it was pretty obvious that his prediction of a world ruled by ‘Big Brother’ just wasn’t going to happen.

For starters, the technology simply was not there, and then there was the disconnect with [Western] society itself. Rather than being downtrodden and submissive, individuals in the ’80’s had never had it so good. So I filed 1984 away as another example of science fiction getting it wrong.

Now, let’s jump to 2017 and the article I read in Quartz this morning:

Facebook says it can sway elections after all—for a price

Essentially, the story is that Facebook didn’t sway the 2016 election with ‘fake news’, but in the future, candidates might get themselves elected by buying into a paid campaign:

To the majority of its users, Facebook seems like a passive platform for sharing news and engaging with various communities. But the social network is also a sophisticated multibillion-dollar advertising giant that is, at its heart, in the business of persuasion.

‘Advertising giant’. Wow. Of course…

I’ve never enjoyed spending time on Facebook, so I’ve never really taken the Facebook phenomenon seriously, yet now I feel as if the wool has literally been torn from my eyes. Or perhaps it’s just that so many disparate pieces of information have finally coalesced into a new picture of the world. Think about this:

  • As at February, 2017 there were ‘ 1.86 billion monthly active Facebook users’ [https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/]
  • Facebook already possesses masses of information from and about its users,
  • This information is provided, free of charge and voluntarily, by the users themselves [every ‘Like’ is data],
  • The users provide this information because at some level they either trust Facebook or enjoy the experience enough to suspend doubt,
  • Facebook makes its revenue from advertisments,
  • Facebook advertisements are tailored to the likes and dislikes of its users,
  • Newspapers are going out of business because their advertising revenue is drying up,
  • News media online are finding it hard to attract subscribers – i.e. people who pay for news – because the internet is awash with the stuff, much of it on Facebook,
  • Every company with a product to sell is scrambling to find a way of attracting customers because the old ways are no longer effective.

So, what do all these ‘bits’ actually mean?

Close your eyes and imagine that Facebook is not a social media platform. Imagine instead that it is the biggest market research company in the world. Now, picture that market research company analysing all the data it receives from users and using the results to offer targeted ‘audiences’ to advertisers. For a price, those advertisers will get to place their advertisements in front of the people most likely to buy their products – the perfect, closed loop sales environment.

“So what’s wrong with that?” you say. “Facebook is merely doing what commercial TV has always done, just better, and it’s still the quality of the advertisment that ultimately sells the product. In that sense, it doesn’t matter whether the product is a brand of toothpaste or a politician up for election; boring adverts get tuned out.”

There is an element of truth in that objection, and if that were all that Facebook does, I’d simply shake my head and say ‘buyer beware’.

But Facebook doesn’t just use data to push advertising to users. Facebook also hides information from users.

The official story is that the Facebook algorithms ensure your timeline displays only the information you actually want to see. In truth, much of the information hidden from users is advertising ‘spam’ of the “Please buy my XXX” kind. Given how boring such spam is, most users see Facebook’s actions as no different to the spam filter of their email.

The trouble with this view of Facebook is that email spam filters do not make money by selling a different kind of spam back to the user. Another difference is that real spam filters require the user to tell them what’s junk and what’s not, and even then, they often get it wrong. I know mine does. So how can we be sure that Facebook’s algorithms are any better? The simple answer is that we can’t, because we never get to see the ‘spam’. Facebook’s algorithms could be wildly wrong, but because we are never given a choice, we never get to find out.

I’m sure that the bulk of Facebook users will see this as pure convenience, but I see it as manipulation. And as far as I’m concerned, when manipulation is teamed with propaganda [selling advertising campaigns to politicians], I see the potential for a very dangerous situation.

While Facebook remains unchallenged in its ability to provide targeted advertising, its ability to manipulate users will probably remain merely a potential danger. But what happens when/if some other social media platform comes along to challenge Facebook? What if revenues begin to fall. Will Facebook continue to do the ‘right’ thing and distinguish between paid advertising and ‘content’? Or will it try to cheat the system the way German car maker Volkswagen did?

For those who don’t follow the news, Volkswagen created software for some of their cars that would make it appear that the car was EPA compliant when it was not. Why? Because it was cheaper to create the software than to make the cars truly compliant. Read money and shareholders’ profits.

The problem with Facebook is that it has the capacity to do more than just cheat the system. It has the capacity to completely subvert the system, effectively selling votes by manipulating what users do and do not see. It’s not such a big step to go from not seeing spam to not seeing ANY information that competes with the world view of the politician with the deepest pockets.

That’s why I see Facebook as having the potential to become the Big Brother of our nightmares. And if the unthinkable does happen, it will have done so with our free and willing consent.

 

Meeks


#WordPress vs #Facebook?

I spent five minutes on Facebook this morning, and I couldn’t wait to leave.

I commented on a couple of family posts and liked a couple of Hugh Howey’s posts, but I still couldn’t wait to get out of there.

I also liked posts by some of my friends, most of whom are on Facebook, yet it didn’t feel like a genuine interaction. That only seems to happen on our respective websites and blogs.

I know there are special interest groups on Facebook – like Indies Unlimited – that should be of interest to me, but I am so uncomfortable on Facebook that I’m never there long enough to interact with them.

I don’t know why I am so viscerally ill at ease on Facebook, but I would like to find out, so forgive me if this post turns into a form of digital navel gazing.

Okay, starting with the factual, the following graphic is a side-by-side view of my WordPress and Facebook pages. WordPress is on the left, Facebook is on the right:

wp-vs-fb-screenshot

What strikes you first when you compare these two pages?

If you’re anything like me, your first impression of WordPress will be that it’s visually restful. Your eye is drawn to centre stage for the main event while the ancillary functions stay modestly in the wings.

I’m no graphic designer but I have worked with images most of my life, and to me, the WordPress layout design is:

  • easy to read
  • easy to navigate
  • and uncluttered

By contrast, as soon as I glance across at the Facebook page, my eyes start to spin. Everywhere I look, the realestate of the page is packed with information, all of it trying to get my attention in some way. I can actually feel my body tense up as my brain tries to sort the clutter into something I can work with.

And before you think I’m a neat freak…I’m not. I love the elegant minimalism of traditional Japanese interior design, but I loath the sterile feel of contemporary interior design.

My idea of warm and cosy is this:

acf-homepage-mockup

In case you’re wondering, this is a mockup of the website I was thinking of creating about two years ago. I gave up on the idea for a number of reasons, the main one being that moving ‘house’ would have meant losing most of the visibility I had gained on WordPress.com. I’d rather have a simple blog that everyone can find than a snazzy website that people would have to find all over again.

Anyway…the background photo is of my actual loungeroom and illustrates the kind of clutter I love – warm, cosy, intimate.

[Slight graphic correction: the walls are not dark brown as shown in the photo; they are actually a warm, olive green]

To me, Facebook is not intimate at all. It’s like walking into a barn filled with strangers having a party. There’s no room to dance or do things so everyone stands around, drinks in hand, shouting to be heard over the high decibel background noise. And even when I find a group of people I actually know, I don’t feel as if we can have a deep and meaningful conversation because you can’t do deep and meaningful while shouting at the top of your lungs.

By contrast, all of my interactions on WordPress feel like an intimate dinner party, regardless of who’s hosting the meal.

And right there, I think I have my answer. I am who I am, and I take myself wherever I go, even online.

I’m not a typical introvert though. I’m not shy. I can stand up in front of a class and give a lecture without the slightest twinge of discomfort, but I simply can’t do big, loud parties. Never have, never will. I don’t even understand why other people enjoy them so much. It’s as if I’m missing the big party gene, and when I am forced to attend one, you will generally find me in the kitchen – if there is one – or standing in a corner somewhere, bored out of my brain.

In the real world, my preferred form of social interaction is dinner with close friends. While we eat, we do catch up on the minutiae of life, but once coffee and dessert arrive, the conversation inevitably turns to issues – political, ethical, philosophical, universal – and I’m like a pig in the proverbial. My brain is on fire, and I am totally in the moment. I could stay up all night because we’re all firing off each other. It’s wonderful.

In the digital world, I frequently have dinner at Pinky’s house. Pinky runs a salon where debate is the dessert served up with coffee. Or I might pop in to the Passive Guy to catch up with the latest issues in publishing. And then there’s dancing and trips to the Museum of Modern Art with Candy, or afternoon tea with EllaDee. Anne invites me in for an afternoon of botanical drawing, while David Prosser has me in stitches with his sly-yet-gentle humour.

Take a look at the people in the sidebar of this post. They are all my friends, not because we’ve friended each other, but because we’ve shared moments of mutual understanding. They are all kindred spirits in one way or another, and WordPress [for all its faults] makes our intimate communities possible.

Thanks WordPress, and sorry Facebook but this square peg will never find a home on your pages.

-hugs-

Meeks


It took a prime minister to get Facebook to see the difference between child pornography and history — Quartz

Facebook just can’t seem to engineer news. Two weeks ago the best-selling Norwegian author Tom Egeland wrote a Facebook post about the “photographs that changed the history of warfare,” according to The Guardian. One of the photos Egeland included in his piece was “The Terror of War,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo showing a naked 9-year-old…

via It took a prime minister to get Facebook to see the difference between child pornography and history — Quartz

I dislike Facebook, always have, but until fairly recently that was simply a personal position – similar to not liking the colour pink. Now, though, I worry about its amoeba-like spread into all aspects of internet life.

It’s as if Facebook wants to become the ‘internet of media’, the one-stop-shop for all its users needs. But the glory and the power of the internet era is its diversity, and the ability for all voices to be heard. Concentrating all that power in one place means that news, and be extension, history will once again be capable of being vetted.

This incident was almost too ridiculous to worry about, but in the future, I expect Facebook to become a lot better at being Big Brother. And that worries me.

Meeks


The end of Representational #Democracy?

People tend to talk about our Western systems of government as ‘democracies’, but the reality is that they are only representational democracies.

Why ‘only’?

Because the original Greek definition of democracy was one man, one vote. Of course by that definition, neither slaves nor women could vote, but it was still a pretty amazing concept in a world of Kings, Emperors, Warlords and other hierarchical and dictatorial forms of government. When a civic decision had to be made, everyone would crowd into the plaza and vote with a show of hands. Simple. Direct. And non-scalable. Imagine how big a plaza you’d need for even a small country like say Hungary.

By the time some of the countries of Western Europe decided to give this democray thing a go, they’d already figured out that one man, one vote simply couldn’t work, not for big places like England and France. So they invented a system that allowed their citizens to choose between just a few people for the right to vote. The person who ended up being chosen at the grassroots level would then go up to parliament and vote on their behalf. This is the basis of representational democracy – one person voting in the name of lots of people.

Now representational democracy was a great invention in its time, but the reality has never lived up to the hype because all those representatives ended up being funnelled into parties. Then factions within those parties would compete amongst themselves. Eventually, one person would gain enough power to represent not only the whole faction but also the party. This leader would then go head to head with the leader of the opposing faction until one of them won. Eventually, the leader who won would get to represent and make decisions for…all of us:

we the governed

 

Forgive me for this child’s view of politics, but sometimes we have to remember what’s real and what is merely an aspiration. At the moment, the kind of democracy that gives each man and woman a vote that actually matters is still just a pipe-dream.

Or is it?

During the lead up to the recent Australian election, many of the political pundits mentioned that a massive proportion of eligible young voters were not registering to vote. [In Australia, voting is compulsory and anyone 18 and over is supposed to register their name on the electoral roll].

Were these young people merely apathetic? Just not interested in politics? Not interested in politics as we know it? Other?

At 63 I can hardly speak for the young, but as someone who lives on the internet, I can make a few educated guesses:

  1. I don’t think the young are disinterested in politics at all
  2. I think they are merely disinterested in the traditional form of politics taken for granted in the West.

Now let me make a few guesses as to why:

  1. change.org
  2. Facebook [and Tumblr and Twitter and…and….etc]

What does social media have to do with politics? And disaffected youth? Everything.

Todays 18 year olds have grown up having a direct say in the issues they care about – via Facebook et al., and organisations such as change.org and getup [amongs others]. On these platforms, groups form almost organically and as the groups grow, they gain a voice, a voice that is being heard by pollsters and politicians alike. The major parties may deny that they take any notice of online petitions, but no institution is large enough to withstand the fury of a self-righteous group.

So the young have found a platform and those in control are paying attention, and this is happening in real time, day after day. Why on earth would these young voices care about an election that happens only once every 3 – 4 years and does NOT reflect their views?

Make no mistake, in a representational democracy, only voting blocks actually matter. Individual votes matter hardly at all. For example, here in Warrandyte, we are part of the Jaga Jaga electoral area. Jaga Jaga is never mentioned in post election commentary because it is a safe Labor seat, and has been for a very long. Thus, no matter how I vote, my vote has no effect on the outcome of the election because it would take a massive change to turn Jaga Jaga into a swinging electorate. And swinging electorates are the only ones that can really change the final outcome of the election.

So for young people living in Warrandyte who do NOT believe in Labor’s values, voting is essentially pointless, and exactly the same thing applies to Labor voters in a safe Liberal electorate. Yet all these young people have had a taste of what true democracy could be like.

They have made their voices heard on social media and that is the kind of system they want: one person, one vote and each vote counts.

We do not yet have the technology to make online voting, issue by issue, a reality. The internet is simply not secure enough, not yet, but it will be, and when it is, I believe representational democracy will change. It will have to. Brexit and Trump and the [possibility] of a hung parliament here in Australia guarantee it.

We who are governed want to have a say in how we are governed. We want democracy.

cheers

Meeks


#Facebook #groups – looking for suggestions

meeka shockedI know this sounds odd, but are there any good Facebook groups dedicated to:

  • gardening
  • cooking
  • games
  • technology
  • other?

And if so, what’s the easiest way of finding them?

The reason I ask is because I have to teach a class on social media soon, and for the moment at least, Facebook is synonymous with social media for most people. Except me. I do have a Facebook account and an author page, and I can teach my students how to create their own accounts and use them, but I can’t honestly give them reasons for why they might want to. I’ve heard that Facebook has groups so I thought this might be something my students could enjoy.

Any suggestions? Anything that works for you? I’m all ears. 🙂

Meeks


Taming the Wild Wild West, and the end of anonymity

thumbs up picI’ve ranted written about the dark side of anonymity before [here and here for those interested] but today I’m going to be all sweetness and light because the biggest social media machine of them all – Facebook – is finally doing something about the problem!

If you live on Facebook then you already know about the crack down on anonymous identities. Accounts have been suspended and some special interest groups have been hurt. I say that without any sarcasm – victims of domestic violence are just some of the innocents hurt by this policy. The sad reality is that some people have a very good reason for needing to remain anonymous.

Nonetheless, I believe that doing away with anonymity will make the WWW a better place to live for everyone, in the long run. Bullies will have to face the consequences of their actions in the real world… and so will scammers of all sorts.

As for the rest of us, a little common sense goes a long way. As an author, my name is my brand so I have to splash it around. However I work hard not to post anything that would identify my physical location – i.e. pictures of my house, my street etc. My real world friends and neighbours already know where I live, no one else needs to know.

The same caution extends to my family. I’ve posted a picture of myself but I will never post a picture of anyone else in my family. Nor will I use their real names.

There used to be a saying – ‘the walls have ears’ – meaning that the most innocent looking structures could contain listening devices monitored by spies [shades of the Cold War perhaps?]. Anyway, I believe we have to start treating the WWW with a similar degree of caution; it may just be digital but it is a world, and it can bite.

Hmm… this seems to have turned into a mini rant after all. 😦

Have a great weekend people!

Meeks

 


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