The messaging behind the Green New Deal; a former insider's look at Facebook's problems; a potential solution; and the godfathers of the modern newspaper column.
At Tuesday's State of the Union, President Trump continued to call for a wall at the southern border. Meanwhile, some Democrats point to the real crisis: climate change. A look at the messaging of urgency and hope around the Green New Deal. And, a former mentor to Mark Zuckerberg lays out his deep criticisms of Facebook. Then, a Facebook employee makes the case for one potential solution. Plus, a new documentary about Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin, two New York City reporters, who helped turn column writing into an art form.
When Trump posts a mean tweet, how does it make its way across social media into the American consciousness? Researchers crunched the numbers to see if his negative tweets were shared more often.
This news segment references some interesting sounding research groups who are working in social media, emotional contagion, and sentiment analysis.
Should Big Tech partner with the Pentagon? We examine a cautionary tale.
Some great history and questions about ethics here.
I’m surprised that for it’s share of profits that Down didn’t spin off the napalm division to some defense contractor?
Of course some tech companies are already weaponizing their own products against people. What about those ethical issues.
Shoshana Zuboff is the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. She talks with Leo Laporte about how social media is being used to influence people.
Even for the people who are steeped in some of the ideas of surveillance capitalism, ad tech, and dark patterns, there’s a lot here to still be surprised about. If you’re on social media, this should be required listening/watching.
I can’t wait to get the copy of her book.
Folks in the IndieWeb movement have begun to fix portions of the problem, but Shoshana Zuboff indicates that there are several additional levels of humane understanding that will need to be bridged to make sure their efforts aren’t just in vain. We’ll likely need to do more than just own our own data, but we’ll need to go a step or two further as well.
The thing I was shocked to not hear in this interview (and which may not be in the book either) is something that I think has been generally left unmentioned with respect to Facebook and elections and election tampering (29:18). Zuboff and Laporte discuss Facebook’s experiments in influencing people to vote in several tests for which they published academic papers. Even with the rumors that Mark Zuckerberg was eyeing a potential presidential run in 2020 with his trip across America and meeting people of all walks of life, no one floated the general idea that as the CEO of Facebook, he might use what they learned in those social experiments to help get himself (or even someone else) elected by sending social signals to certain communities to prevent them from voting while sending other signals to other communities to encourage them to vote. The research indicates that in a very divided political climate that with the right sorts of voting data, it wouldn’t take a whole lot of work for Facebook to help effectuate a landslide victory for particular candidates or even entire political parties!! And of course because of the distributed nature of such an attack on democracy, Facebook’s black box algorithms, and the subtlety of the experiments, it would be incredibly hard to prove that such a thing was even done.
I like her broad concept (around 43:00) where she discusses the idea of how people tend to frame new situations using pre-existing experience and that this may not always be the most useful thing to do for what can be complex ideas that don’t or won’t necessarily play out the same way given the potential massive shifts in paradigms.
Also of great interest is the idea of instrumentarianism as opposed to the older ideas of totalitarianism. (43:49) Totalitarian leaders used to rule by fear and intimidation and now big data stores can potentially create these same types of dynamics, but without the need for the fear and intimidation by more subtly influencing particular groups of people. When combined with the ideas behind “swarming” phenomenon or Mark Granovetter’s ideas of threshold reactions in psychology, only a very small number of people may need to be influenced digitally to create drastic outcomes. I don’t recall the reference specifically, but I recall a paper about the mathematics with respect to creating ethnic neighborhoods that only about 17% of people needed to be racists and move out of a neighborhood to begin to create ethnic homogeneity and drastically less diversity within a community.
Also tangentially touched on here, but not discussed directly, I can’t help but think that all of this data with some useful complexity theory might actually go a long way toward better defining (and being able to actually control) Adam Smith’s economic “invisible hand.”
There’s just so much to consider here that it’s going to take several revisits to the ideas and some additional research to tease this all apart.
The Lincoln Memorial debacle showed how vulnerable the press are to a myriad of social and political forces. This week, we examine how the outrage unfolded and what role MAGA hat symbolism might have played. And, a graphic photo in the New York Times spurs criticism. Plus, a reality show that attempts to bridge the gap between indigenous people and white Canadians.
1. Bob's thoughts on where the Lincoln Memorial episode has left us. Listen.
5. Vanessa Loewen, executive producer of the Canadian documentary series First Contact and Jean La Rose, CEO of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, on their televised effort to bridge the gap between indigenous and settler Canadians. Listen
So many interesting failures of journalism in this story which were fueled primarily by social media. Old media would have left it for a bit longer, particularly since it involved minors.
I increasingly want to get my news once a week well after a story has begun and most of the facts have shaken out. Rarely is something so timely that I need it immediately. I saw a few mentions of this story as it was developing, but it all had the stink of click-bait, so I kindly moved on. It’s amazing to hear the underlying pieces and fuller story after-the-fact.
The best section of this episode (and probably the most thought provoking story I’ve heard recently) was that of the interview with Kainaz Amaria on how we report on wars and famines that affect other countries and particularly countries involving poor people and those who are non-white. While the recent photo of the Yemeni girl (in conjunction with Jamal Khashoggi) may have helped to turn the political tide with respect to US participation in the crisis in Yemen, we definitely need a better way to engage people in the US without trampling over the dignity of the people living in those communities. Interestingly I’ll also point out that we all know the name and almost all of the details concerning Khashoggi, but almost no one knows the name of Amal Hussain and this fact alone is a painfully stark one.
The final portion of the episode was also truly enlightening. I’d love to see the documentary they made and hope that someone might make an American version as well.
Social-media platforms once promised to connect the world. Today’s digital communities, though, often feel like forces for disunity. Anger and discord in 2018 seemed only amplified by the social-media institutions that now dictate our conversations. Executive Editor Matt Thompson sits down with the staff writer Alexis Madrigal to find out how we got to this state, and whether we can do anything to change it.
Discussion topics include: why our online problems are really offline ones, what these platforms have lost in pursuit of scale, and how Matt’s and Alexis’s experiments with solutions have fared.
Last year, Alexis removed retweets from his Twitter account (and was pessimistic about new changes bringing back the old Twitter). Matt just began an experiment turning his Twitter account into a place for conversation rather than performance by reclaiming “the ratio.” The effort reminds Alexis of another noble attempt at making your own rules online. Has it Made the Internet Great Again? Listen to find out.
Definitely a fascinating episode; potentially worth a second listen.
Of primary interest here, Matt Thompson discusses his concept of “Breaking the Ratio” (🎧 00:23:16-00:27:28) a take on the idea of being ratioed on Twitter.
His concept immediately brings to mind a few broad ideas:
Micro.blog is, to some extent, a Twitter clone–loathe as I am to use the phrase as it is so much more than that–which acts in almost exactly the way that Matt and likely Alexis wish Twitter would. Manton Reece specifically designed Micro.blog to not have the idea of retweets or likes, which forces people to have more direct conversations and discussions. Instead of liking or retweeting a post, one must reply directly. Even if one just sends a heart or thumbs up emoji, it has to be an explicit reply. Generally replies are not so sparse however, and the interactions are much more like Matt describes in his personal community.
(I’ll be clear that micro.blog does have a “favorite” functionality, but it is private to the user and doesn’t send any notifications to the post on which it is given. As a result, the favorite functionality on micro.blog is really more semantically akin to a private bookmark, it just has a different name.)
The second thing, albeit tangential to the idea of breaking the ratio, is Ben Werdmüller‘s idea of people taking back agency and using their own voices to communicate.
The single change social networks could make that would have the most positive impact is to remove all kinds of resharing. Force people to speak in their own voices or not at all. Using other peoples’ language to express yourself forces you to evaluate the world on their terms.
— Ben Werdmuller (@benwerd) October 29, 2018
While the retweet is a quick and useful shorthand, it decimates the personal voices and agency of the people who use it. He’s suggested that they might be better off restating the retweet in their own voice before sending it on, if they’re going to pass the information along. I wonder if he’s ultimately ended up somewhere interesting with his original thesis and research I know he has been doing.[ ]
If one thinks about it for a moment the old blogosphere was completely about breaking the ratio as most writers wanted to communicate back and forth with others in a more direct and real manner. The fact that the blogosphere didn’t have likes, favorites, or retweets was a feature not an issue. The closest one usually got to a retweet was a blockquote of text which was usually highlighted, featured, and then either argued with or expounded upon.
I’ll note that I most typically use Twitter in a read-only mode almost exactly like Alexis indicates (🎧 00:29:56) that he uses it: plugged into Nuzzel to surface some of the best articles and ideas along with the ability to see the public commentary from the Tweets of the people I’m following and care about. To me this method filters out a lot of the crap and noise and tends to surface a lot more interesting content for me. I’ve created several dozen Twitter lists of various people and plugged them into Nuzzel, so invariably almost everything I come across while using it is useful and interesting to me.
Finally, I’d invite both Matt and Alexis, as fans of the old-school blogosphere, to take a look at what is happening within the IndieWeb community and the newer functionalities that have been built into it to extend what the old blogosphere is now capable of doing. My experience in having gone into it “whole hog” over the past several years has given me a lot of the experiences that Matt describes and which Alexis wishes he had (without all the additional work). I’m happy to chat with either of them or others who are looking for alternate solutions for community and conversation without a lot of the problems that come along as part and parcel with social media services.
Smartphone apps track a staggering amount of data about our whereabouts every day. That data has become a hot commodity.
Just the national security implications for this alone should require regulations of these tech companies.
The story of Facebook in the past few years has been that of a company slow to understand how powerful it has become. But an investigation by The New York Times finds that once Facebook’s leaders understood the problems they faced, they sought to conceal them.
A series of damning posts on Facebook has stoked longstanding ethnic tensions in Sri Lanka, setting off a wave of violence largely directed at Muslims. How are false rumors on social media fueling real-world attacks?
On today’s episode:
• Fraudulent claims of a Muslim plot to wipe out Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority, widely circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp, have led to attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned homes and shops in the country.
• Facebook’s algorithm-driven news feed promotes whatever content draws the most engagement — which tend to be the posts that provoke negative, primal emotions like fear and anger. The platform has allowed misinformation to run rampant in countries with weak institutions and a history of deep social distrust.
In this episode, I talk about my plans to leave Facebook and how I plan to in some ways replace it with a monthly newsletter. Then I brainstorm about how to receive replies and reactions from it.
Eddie shouldn’t have warned so heavily about the technical nature of this microcast. The general ideas are very clear, it’s their implementation which is likely more technical than some would appreciate.
This reminds me that I ought to get back to working on my own newsletter that I’d started to set up ages ago. It’s certainly an interesting way to target friends and family (who are unlikely to use RSS or readers) with updates outside of the traditional silos.
I’m also reminded that David Shanske is using Postmatic as an email newsletter service and it has functionality built in that allows recipients to reply to emailed updates via email which then posts the comments back to the comment section of the particular posts. Might be worth either checking this out or attempting to replicate this type of functionality? The way Postmatic is doing things is on a more post by post basis however, so it might take some additional work to get things to work properly in a newsletter with multiple stories/posts.
Another option is to add “web actions” into posts for replies. Or perhaps even adding other social context UI into newsletters similar to the way I’ve done in prior posts to allow people to respond via Twitter.
Certainly lots of options and ideas to explore.
NPR's Ailsa Chang speaks with Sandy Parakilas, who worked as an operations manager on the platform team at Facebook in 2011 and 2012. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Parakilas says Facebook cannot be trusted to regulate itself.
A bit “I-told-you-so” without any indication of how hard he may have fought for better handling of the data, but there were certainly others outside the company decrying their practices at the time.
Here are some of the tools that I mention in today’s episode:
There’s a lot going on here and a lot to unpack for such a short episode. This presents an outline at best of what I’m sure was 10 or more hours of work. One day soon, I hope, we’ll have some better automated tools for exporting data from Facebook and doing something actually useful with it.
How technology can create, and can break, our filter bubbles.
We’ve long heard that the ways the web is tailored for each user—how we search, what we’re shown, who we read and follow— reinforces walls between us. Veronica Belmont investigates how social media can create, and can break, our filter bubbles. Megan Phelps-Roper discusses the Westboro Baptist Church, and the bubbles that form both on and offline. B.J. May talks about the bubbles he encountered every day, in his Twitter feed, and tells us how he broke free. Rasmus Nielsen suggests social media isn’t the filter culprit we think it is. And, within the context of a divided America, DeRay McKesson argues that sometimes bubbles are what hold us together.
Read B.J. May’s How 26 Tweets Broke My Filter Bubble.
Grab a cup of coffee and Say Hi From the Other Side.
An interesting take which takes filter bubbles and places them not necessarily just online, but often starting in the real world first and then extending from there.
h/t Kevin Marks
Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief, faced a much tougher crowd in his second day of congressional testimony on data privacy. Calls for oversight are growing.
The Facebook chief faced tough questions on the mishandling of data. But a larger, more difficult question hung over his testimony: What is Facebook?
Painful to listen to how inept the questions were. How exactly do these people represent us? Was there no preparation at all? Even reading a few front page articles in the past two weeks would have better prepped them for questions than what we got.