After you’re gone, what happens to your social media and data?

Web of the dead: When Facebook profiles of the deceased outnumber the living

Web of the dead: When Facebook profiles of the deceased outnumber the living

There’s been chatter — and even an overly hyped study — predicting the eventual demise of Facebook.

But what about the actual death of Facebook users? What happens when a social media presence lives beyond the grave? Where does the data go?

The folks over at WebpageFX looked into what they called “digital demise,” and made a handy infographic to fully explain what happens to your Web presence when you’ve passed.

It was estimated that 30 million Facebook users died in the first eight years of the social media site’s existence, according to the Huffington Post. Facebook even has settings to memorialize a deceased user’s page.

Facebook isn’t the only site with policies in place to handle a user’s passing. Pinterest, Google, LinkedIn and Twitter all handle death and data differently. For instance, to deactivate a Facebook profile you must provide proof that you are an immediate family member; for Twitter, however, you must produce the death certificate and your identification. All of the sites pinpointed by WebpageFX stated that your data belongs to you — some with legal or family exceptions.

Social media sites are in in general a young Internet phenomena — Facebook only turned 10 this year. So are a majority of their users. (And according to Mashable, Facebook still has a large number of teen adapters.) Currently, profiles of the living far outweigh those of the dead.

However, according to calculations done by XKDC, that will not always be the case. They presented two hypothetical scenarios. If Facebook loses its “cool” and market share, dead users will outnumber the living in 2065. If Facebook keeps up its growth, the site won’t be a digital graveyard until the mid 2100s.

Check out the fascinating infographic here.

h/t Mashable

Who talks like FDR but acts like Ayn Rand? Easy: Silicon Valley’s wealthiest and most powerful people

Tech’s toxic political culture: The stealth libertarianism of Silicon Valley bigwigs

Tech's toxic political culture: The stealth libertarianism of Silicon Valley bigwigs
Ayn Rand, Marc Andreessen, Franklin D. Roosevelt (Credit: AP/Reuters/Fred Prouser/Salon)

Marc Andreessen is a major architect of our current technologically mediated reality. As the leader of the team that created the Mosaic Web browser in the early ’90s and as co-founder of Netscape, Andreessen, possibly more than any single other person, helped make the Internet accessible to the masses.

In his second act as a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Andreessen has hardly slackened the pace. The portfolio of companies with investments from his VC firm, Andreessen Horowitz, is a roll-call for tech “disruption.” (Included on the list: Airbnb, Lyft, Box, Oculus VR, Imgur, Pinterest, RapGenius, Skype and, of course, Twitter and Facebook.) Social media, the “sharing” economy, Bitcoin — Andreessen’s dollars are fueling all of it.

So when the man tweets, people listen.

And, good grief, right now the man is tweeting. Since Jan. 1, when Andreessen decided to aggressively reengage with Twitter after staying mostly silent for years, @pmarca has been pumping out so many tweets that one wonders how he finds time to attend to his normal business.

On June 1, Andreessen took his game to a new level. In what seems to be a major bid to establish himself as Silicon Valley’s premier public intellectual, Andreessen has deployed Twitter to deliver a unified theory of tech utopia.

In seven different multi-part tweet streams, adding up to a total of almost 100 tweets, Andreessen argues that we shouldn’t bother our heads about the prospect that robots will steal all our jobs.  Technological innovation will end poverty, solve bottlenecks in education and healthcare, and usher in an era of ubiquitous affluence in which all our basic needs are taken care of. We will occupy our time engaged in the creative pursuits of our heart’s desire.

So how do we get there? Easy! All we have to do is just get out of Silicon Valley’s way. (Andreessen is never specific about exactly what he means by this, but it’s easy to guess: Don’t burden tech’s disruptive firms with the safety, health and insurance regulations that the old economy must abide by.)

Oh, and one other little thing: Make sure that we have a social welfare safety net robust enough to take care of the people who fall though the cracks (or are eaten by robots).

The full collection of tweets marks an impressive achievement — a manifesto, you might even call it, although Andreessen has been quick to distinguish his techno-capitalist-created utopia from any kind of Marxist paradise. But there’s a hole in his argument big enough to steer a $500 million round of Series A financing right through. Getting out of the way of Silicon Valley and ensuring a strong safety net add up to a political paradox. Because Silicon Valley doesn’t want to pay for the safety net.

* * *

My Experiment Opting Out of Big Data Made Me Look Like a Criminal

The Latest Mobile Apps At The App World Multi-Platform Developer Show
The Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. company logos are seen on an advertising sign during the Apps World Multi-Platform Developer Show in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Here’s what happened when I tried to hide my pregnancy from the Internet and marketing companies.

This week, the President is expected to release a report on big data, the result of a 90-day study that brought together experts and the public to weigh in on the opportunities and pitfalls of the collection and use of personal information in government, academia, and industry. Many people say that the solution to this discomforting level of personal data collection is simple: if you don’t like it, just opt out. But as my experience shows, it’s not as simple as that. And it may leave you feeling like a criminal.

It all started with a personal experiment to see if I could keep a secret from the bots, trackers, cookies and other data sniffers online that feed the databases that companies use for targeted advertising. As a sociologist of technology I was launching a study of how people keep their personal information on the Internet, which led me to wonder: could I go the entire nine months of my pregnancy without letting these companies know that I was expecting?

This is a difficult thing to do, given how hungry marketing companies are to identify pregnant women. Prospective mothers are busy making big purchases and new choices (which diapers? which bottles?) that will become their patterns for the next several years. In the big data era of targeted advertising, detection algorithms sniff out potentially pregnant clients based on their shopping and browsing patterns. It’s a lucrative business; according to a report in the Financial Times, identifying a single pregnant woman is worth as much as knowing the age, sex and location of up to 200 people. Some of these systems can even guess which trimester you’re in.

Avoiding this layer of data detectors isn’t a question of checking a box. Last year, many people were shocked by the story of the teenager in Minnesota whose local Target store knew she was expecting before her father did. Based on her in-store purchasing patterns tracked with credit cards and loyalty programs, Target started sending her ads for diapers and baby supplies, effectively outing her to her family. Like the girl in the Target store, I knew that similar systems would infer my status based on my actions. So keeping my secret required new habits, both online and off.

Social media is one of the most pervasive data-collection platforms, so it was obvious that I couldn’t say anything on Facebook or Twitter, or click on baby-related link-bait. But social interactions online are not just about what you say, but what others say about you. One tagged photo with a visible bump and the cascade of “Congratulations!” would let the cat out of the bag. So when we phoned our friends and families to tell them the good news, we told them about our experiment, requesting that they not put anything about the pregnancy online.

Social media isn’t the only offender. Many websites and companies follow you around the Internet, especially baby-related ones. So I downloaded Tor, a private browser that routes your traffic through foreign servers. While it has a reputation for facilitating illicit activities, I used it to visit and to look up possible names. And when it came to shopping, I did all my purchasing—from prenatal vitamins to baby gear and maternity wear—in cash. No matter how good the deal, I turned down loyalty card swipes. I even set up an account tied to an email address hosted on a personal server, delivering to a locker, and paid with gift cards purchased with cash.

It’s been an inconvenient nine months, but the experiment has exposed harsh realities behind the “opt out” myth. For example, seven months in, my uncle sent me a Facebook message, congratulating me on my pregnancy. My response was downright rude: I deleted the thread and unfriended him immediately. When I emailed to ask why he did it, he explained, “I didn’t put it on your wall.” Another family member who reached out on Facebook chat a few weeks later exclaimed, “I didn’t know that a private message wasn’t private!”

This sleight of hand is intentional. Internet companies hope that users will not only accept the trade-off between “free” services and private information, but will forget that there is a trade-off in the first place. Once those companies have that personal data, users don’t have any control over where it goes or who might have access to it in the future. And unlike the early days of the Internet, in which digital interactions were ephemeral, today’s Internet services have considerable economic incentives to track and remember—indefinitely.

Attempting to opt out forced me into increasingly awkward interactions with my family and friends. But, as I discovered when I tried to buy a stroller, opting out is not only antisocial, it can appear criminal.

For months I had joked to my family that I was probably on a watch list for my excessive use of Tor and cash withdrawals. But then my husband headed to our local corner store to buy enough gift cards to afford a stroller listed on Amazon. There, a warning sign behind the cashier informed him that the store “reserves the right to limit the daily amount of prepaid card purchases and has an obligation to report excessive transactions to the authorities.”

It was no joke that taken together, the things I had to do to evade marketing detection looked suspiciously like illicit activities. All I was trying to do was to fight for the right for a transaction to be just a transaction, not an excuse for a thousand little trackers to follow me around. But avoiding the big data dragnet meant that I not only looked like a rude family member or an inconsiderate friend, I also looked like a bad citizen.

The myth that users will “vote with their feet” is simply wrong if opting out comes at such a high price. With social, financial and even potentially legal repercussions involved, the barriers for exit are high. This leaves users and consumers with no real choice nor voice to express our concerns.

No one should have to act like a criminal just to have some privacy from marketers and tech giants. But the data-driven path we are currently on, paved with heartwarming rhetoric of openness, sharing and connectivity, actually undermines civic values, and circumvents checks and balances. The President’s report can’t come soon enough. When it comes to our personal data, we need better choices than either “leave if you don’t like it” or no choice at all. It’s time for a frank public discussion about how to make personal information privacy not just a series of check boxes but a basic human right, both online and off.

Twitter shut down in Turkey amidst rising tensions

by Joris Leverink on March 21, 2014

Post image for Twitter shut down in Turkey amidst rising tensions

In his latest attempt to crack down on the country’s voices of dissent Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan has shut down Twitter, sparking general outrage.


Tonight, Prime Minister Erdoğan has taken the state repression of Turkey’s citizens’ freedom of speech to a whole new level. Around 11:30PM the news started to spread like wildfire: Twitter has been shut down! Only a few hours earlier, during a campaign rally for the upcoming municipal elections in the western city of Bursa, Erdoğan had declared to a crowd of AKP-supporters that he was determined to shut down the social media platform. “We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,” he stated in his typical authoritarian fashion.

Only weeks before, on March 6, the prime minister had already threatened to shut down Facebook and Youtube. These mediums had been used to share and spread the leaked telephone calls between himself and his son Bilal discussing how to “zero-out” the millions of dollars of stolen cash they had hidden at their homes. But after statements by the country’s president Abdullah Gül, who said that “the closure of them is out of the question,” the people took Erdoğan’s rhetoric for just that, rhetoric. No-one expected this blatant closure of one of the country’s main communication systems.

Twitter is not only used by the opposition, both within and outside of the political arena, but also by the country’s leading duo, Gül and Erdoğan, who both have over four million followers. Despite their strong social media presence, the prime minister apparently felt threatened by what he himself termed a “robot lobby” which he in late February accused of targeting the government through Twitter messages.

With this latest move Erdoğan seems to have finally and definitely lost it. Last week, only days after the funeral of young Berkin Elvan – a 15-year old boy who died after having spent nine months in a coma because he was shot in the head with a tear gas canister by the police during the Gezi protests – Erdoğan had accused the boy of being a member of a terrorist organization. These hate inciting and utterly ridiculous remarks were enough reason for the Turkish Doctor’s Association, the TTB, to release a press statement in which they collectively expressed their concern over the state of Erdoğan’s mental health. “We are doctors. We know human beings and the status of their minds from the inside and outside. We are concerned with the mental state of PM Erdoğan. We are deeply concerned!”, the statement read.

Ever since millions took to the streets in the context of the Gezi protests last summer, the spirit of dissent has never left the collective imagination. Tens of thousands of people in Turkey continue to publicly voice their anger with the current government on a monthly, if not weekly basis. Large protests have rocked the country: protests against the destruction of the forest at Ankara’s ODTÜ-campus; against the building of Istanbul’s third bridge; against the new internet law; against the country’s corrupt ruling elites; in memory of young Berkin Elvan; and against the increasingly authoritarian rule of the AKP government in general.

The closure of Twitter is only the latest attempt by the AKP to crack down all voices of dissent. In a country which jails more journalists than any other country in the world, the freedom of speech provided by online social media platforms was like taking a breath of fresh air amidst the toxic fumes of the increasingly authoritarian neoliberal and consumerist swamp Turkey has turned into.

The closure of Twitter is made possible by a new internet law that places extra-judicial powers with the Communications Technologies Institution (BTK) which now has the power to close down websites within a few hours within a court ruling. However, the people of Turkey have proven to be as defiant online as they are on the streets, and the reports of the closing down of Twitter were followed closely by links to VPN services and DNS servers that could be used to circumvent the ban.

With the municipal elections only ten days away, tensions are rising high in Turkey. There is a lot at stake, with the local polls being viewed as a good indicator of the level of support AKP still enjoys after all the unrest and the violent crackdowns on peaceful protesters in the past few months. If AKP were to lose in some of the major cities, with Istanbul being the most likely candidate for a defeat of the ruling party, Erdoğan’s iron grip on the party’s inner rulings might start to be questioned by his own subjects. Desperate needs lead to desperate deeds, but with every move he makes Erdoğan is in danger of losing more supporters, more credibility and more authority. This latest attempt at cracking down on anyone who dares to disagree with the sultan will not hurt the resistance movement as much as he intends because it has been accustomed to working with proxies, VPN’s and Tor networks for as long as the internet has been around in Turkey. If it would do one thing only, it would serve the purpose of those who are fighting against the state and its oppressive apparatus in exposing the true face of a dictator in the making. Bu daha başlangıç mücadeleye devam!


How Facebook and Twitter can change the way you think and make you unhappy

7 telltale signs social media is killing your self-esteem

7 telltale signs social media is killing your self-esteem
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetIn this technological age, social media has become a primary gateway to connect with friends and the world around us as part of our daily ritual. Yet what often begins as a harmless virtual habit for some can fast-track into a damaging, narcissism-fueled addiction which impacts negatively upon our self-worth and the way we perceive others.

Studies show that up to two-thirds of people find it hard to relax or sleep after spending time on social networks. Of 298 users, 50 percent said social media made their lives and their self-esteem worse. So just what exactly is it about social media that allows it to affect our self-worth?

According to psychotherapist Sherrie Campbell, social media can give us a false sense of belonging and connecting that is not built on real-life exchanges. This makes it increasingly easy to lose oneself to cyberspace connections and give them more weight than they deserve.

“When we look to social media, we end up comparing ourselves to what we see which can lower our self-esteem. On social media, everyone’s life looks perfect but you’re only seeing a snapshot of reality. We can be whoever we want to be in social media and if we take what we see literally then it’s possible that we can feel we are falling short in life,” Campbell told AlterNet.

How do you tell if your social network habit is healthy or harmful? If you find yourself feeling stressed, anxious or having negative thoughts after using social media, it may be time for a break. Here are seven telltale signs social media could be negatively impacting your self-esteem…and what you can do about it.

1. Social media disrupts your real-world thoughts and interactions.

If you feel worried or uncomfortable when you’re unable to access social media or your emails, it is likely your social media dependency is compromising your self-esteem. Additionally, if you’re thinking about social media first thing in the morning and just before you go to bed, or you find yourself simultaneously juggling face-to-face encounters with your social media habit like facebooking or tweeting, there’s a good chance social media is disrupting your life in a negative way and may in fact be impinging on your real-life relationships. Time to hit the breaks and take back control of your life.

2. Social media affects your mood.

If this voyeuristic habit is affecting your thoughts and feelings about yourself, it is likely harmful to your self-esteem. A new study released last week found a prominent link between eating disorders and social media. Women who spent longer periods of time on Facebook had a higher incidence of “appearance-focused behavior” (such as anorexia) and were more anxious and body conscience overall. What’s more, 20 minutes on social media was enough to contribute to a user’s weight and shape concerns. It follows that the emptier one’s personal life, the more one will be attracted to the virtual world, with bored or lonely people spending more time on social media than those who are busy or active.

3. Real-life interactions are difficult and being alone is uncomfortable.

If you’re struggling with face-to-face connections or find it difficult to communicate, social media may be to blame. Studies have shown social media is a pathway to shallow relationships and emotionally detached communication. An  Australian study found that Facebook users experienced significantly high levels of “family loneliness.” Campbell explains, “Social media is a very lazy way to be in relationship with somebody and impacts on the inability to be alone. We have a generation of kids growing up not knowing how to just sit in their own space because there is constant social noise. Kids are losing the idea of what it means to wait for information—they get it right now. They don’t know that idea of alone time or patience. Technology allows us to have connections when we want it without having to wait, but we’re never going to be able to snuggle up with the computer at night. Human touch remains a fundamental physiological need,” she said.

4. You find yourself envious about what others are promoting.

When we are depressed or down or just feel bad in general, it is easy to become jealous or envious of what other people are advertising about their life, particularly images of alleged happiness or success. This may make us feel inadequate simply because we don’t have what they have or because our self-worth is low. It is important to remember that what you are viewing is only a small sliver of someone’s life, which for the most part, is heavily embellished and mostly rooted in fantasy. When such images are starting to poison the way you look at your own life it may be time to step away from the screen.

5. You relish in others’ misfortune.

If you find yourself happy when other people are unhappy on social media, it may be time to ask yourself whether social media is a healthy psychological choice for you. You may merely be validating your own misery and unhappiness by comparing yourself to others. But even those advertising their tragedies on social media are doing so because they crave attention, whether positive or negative, in a bid to boost their low self-esteem. Christopher Carpenter, author of a study titled “Narcissism on Facebook,” explains: “If Facebook is to be a place where people go to repair their damaged ego and seek social support, it is vitally important to discover the potentially negative communication one might find on Facebook and the kinds of people likely to engage in them. Ideally, people will engage in pro-social Facebooking rather than anti-social me-booking.” If this is you, it’s time to invest in a social media diet.

6. You measure your success by others.

Reality check: the number of contacts or likes a person may receive on social media doesn’t equate with life success. Sure, social media allows us to assume everyone else is feeling and living a better life than we are but what are we really seeing here? It isn’t a person’s whole life, not even a reflection of reality, but merely a glimpse of the life they choose to present through rose-colored lenses. Campbell explains: “When someone has a lot going on and everything they post seems perfect, we think they are lucky but social media is merely a way to project your story onto somebody else—whether you’re projecting from high self-esteem or low esteem, you’re making up a story.” Campbell says it’s more productive to make real-world changes that will help you feel more successful and secure in your life than to spend time building your social media online persona.

7. You’re addicted to the attention and drama.

It’s easy to get sucked into the drama and juicy gossip encapsulated by social media especially when your own real life is lacking any sort of excitement or fulfillment. But this can be a dangerous game to play and often people get hurt. Studies have shown that Facebook contributes to jealousy in relationships and excessive use can in fact damage relationships by virtue of the fact that information a person would not normally share becomes public knowledge. This leads some to desperate measures like becoming amateur private investigators as they embark on a digging expedition to locate incriminating material. Case in point: your fiancé has just been tagged in a picture with a mysterious, half-naked woman. Uh oh! Expend your energy on more worthwhile real-life pursuits which are likely to benefit, rather than impair, your self-esteem.

Need a Solution? 

For those who think their self-esteem is being influenced negatively by social media, Campbell says the most important thing to do is reconnect with your presence and your personal brand—that means unhooking from computer land.

“I encourage people to turn off social media and eliminate it from your life. Get back into your real life. If you can’t do that, then start monitoring your usage, particularly just before bed or remove or block specific people that make you feel negative about yourself. Self-awareness is such an important step. If you realize why you’re turning to technology in times when connection or learning new information isn’t critical, you’ve made the first step to reconnecting with yourself. Spring-clean and get back to the real world,” she says.

Here are some tips to boost your self-esteem outside the realm of social media:

  • Try something new like volunteering.
  • Change your diet or get active; join a gym.
  • Groom yourself.
  • Sit up straight and practice good posture.
  • Read a book.
  • Get involved in a local meetup group you’re interested in.
  • Focus on person-to-person contact.
  • Commit yourself mentally to positive change.

The fight for the soul of San Francisco


"The Mission Condition - Outwardly Mobile" Mural and Assemblage by Mona Caron and Dustin Fosnot, depicting San Francisco houses teetering precariously on stilts surrounded by alternative housing such as tents, cardboard boxes and shopping carts. Photo by Isabeau Doucet

“The Mission Condition – Outwardly Mobile” Mural and Assemblage by Mona Caron and Dustin Fosnot, depicting San Francisco houses teetering precariously on stilts surrounded by alternative housing such as tents, cardboard boxes and shopping carts. Photo by Isabeau Doucet

It is an iconic city famed for its radicalism, but can its spirit of protest now be galvanised to tackle the technocracy changing its character and pricing long-time residents out?

By Isabeau Doucet – 5 December 3013. Published in the January ‘Cities’ issue of the digital magazine:

San Francisco, the charming west coast city that blossomed during the gold rush and was once a stomping ground for beatnik poets, bohemians and Black Panthers is now the headquarters of some of the world’s largest and wealthiest tech companies.

With Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Yahoo, Wikipedia and a myriad of venture capital backed start-ups, this city has become the capital of global digital connectivity.

But while these websites have created platforms for global social networking and incubated new virtual communities, they are blamed at home for a wave of evictions fragmenting San Franciscan communities as the city’s residents are priced out by spiralling rents.

The tech boom is changing the character of this iconic American city, with rents now the highest in the nation – a median of $1,463 – and the number of available houses the lowest with 2.8 percent vacancy.

“We do have a crisis and it goes to the very question … [of] who we are as a city,” said David Campos, a city supervisor in charge of some of the most hard-hit neighbourhoods, at a public hearing into the housing crisis held at San Francisco’s City Hall on November 11.

“Are we a city that will allow working class people to live in this city? Will this become a tale of two cities?” asked Campos.

City public health officials estimate that someone earning minimum wage would need to work more than eight full-time jobs to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment downtown. And despite having some of the best rental protection laws in the country, there has been an explosion of evictions under what is known is the Ellis Act, with housing rights groups calling on City Hall to declare a “state of emergency” and impose a moratorium on the “epidemic” of evictions until affordable housing is made available.

Home prices have risen by 22 percent in the past three years while evictions under the Ellis Act have gone up 170 percent in the same period. A time-lapse info-graphic produced by the anti-eviction mapping project shows the city being pockmarked by 3,678 no-fault evictions from rent controlled apartments in the past 16 years with 2013 an 11-year high.

“We are, I believe, at a critical juncture in the history of San Francisco. We’re fighting, I think, for the soul of San Francisco. Whether or not we really remain the city of Saint Francis,” concluded Campos as hundreds of residents lined up to testify about their impending economic deportation from the city whose namesake is the patron saint most famous for his defence of the poor, sick and outcast.

Wrecking ball

One of the US’ great public intellectuals, author Rebecca Solnit had been railing about how the tech boom has been a wrecking ball for the soul of her city since the first doc-com wave of evictions in 2000. She published the photo essay book Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism as well as Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas in 2010.

Solnit describes the soul of San Francisco as “the sense of this place as a refuge for all comers, as a place that fosters eccentricity, freedom, tolerance, alternatives, and joi de vivre, as a place for environmentalists, poets, people whose lives are driven by idealism and not by greed, by a sort of biodiversity of community in class, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, interests. When only the rich survive, and even the doctors I know have trouble finding housing, all that’s clear-cut.”

In ‘Google Invades’ a recent essay published in the London Review of Books, Solnit laments what she sees as the transformation of the iconic west coast city into “a bedroom community for the tech capital of the world” in Silicon Valley.

The Mission, named after the Franciscan church Mission Dolores, is a vibrant and traditionally working class Latino neighbourhood where the cost of housing has risen by 30 percent in the past three years. It has been called the ‘Ground Zero’ of Ellis Act evictions due to its popularity among techies who work in Silicon Valley, which is easily accessible by commute on privately run Google buses.

“It really hurts me to see the moving vans moving all these Latino families out,” says 71-year-old Mexican artist and curator René Yañez, known locally as a cultural icon and artistic godfather to a generation of Hispanic ‘Chicano’ artists.

Since the early 1970s Yañez has been curating international art exhibitions and was instrumental in establishing the November 2 Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) procession as a popular cultural celebration in San Francisco.

At around the same time that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife bought their $10m pied-a-terre in the Mission, Yañez and his family were served with an Ellis Act notice. His wife is terminally ill with stage four cancer and he himself is in remission. Their eviction is scheduled for July 12, 2014, by which time the Zuckerbergs will have made headway with their estimated $1.6m worth of home renovations including, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “a new basement garage, complete with a turntable pad so cars can get in and out more easily”.

Yañez says an equivalent flat to the one he has lived in for the past 35 years now goes for $3,800 a month, far beyond what an artist without a pension and with mounting hospital bills can afford.

At this year’s Dia de los Muertos procession, Yañez carried a “No Evictions in the Mission” placard and the official procession float was dedicated to the death of the Mission’s Latino community due to evictions.

“I’m not anti-tech,” Yañez insists, “what I object to is the cultural deportation of people” replacing them with “cultural tourism” that “benefit from what the artists and the activists have done for the Mission.”

And for this he blames landlords, developers and real estate speculators.

The technocracy

Gentrification has always accompanied changing flows of labour, and in some ways, San Francisco’s housing crisis is a result of the city’s success in establishing a post-industrial digital labour base running the empire of the internet.

Blue collar manufacturing and port jobs have been migrating overseas for decades, but California’s fiscal crisis and the 2008 economic crisis hit the working class hardest at the same time that white collar tech industry jobs boomed in San Francisco.

This financial fruits of this new “cognitive capitalism” aren’t trickling down to the ethnic minorities and urban working classes so much as creating a ‘technocracy’ that has made class polarisation here more acute than elsewhere.

Outside Twitter’s Market Street HQ, on the November 7 IPO (Initial Public Offering) launch, local residents held a boisterous rally demanding that Twitter hire local residents and reinvest in the community.

Holding a placard showing a Latino boxer knocking Twitter’s trademark blue bird on its side, Tony Robles’ sign read: “Im-A Knock the Twit Outta You!”

A native San Franciscan, co-editor of Poor Magazine and housing organiser with Senior and Disability Action, Robles is currently fighting eviction as his neighbourhood turns into what he describes as “condo-land”.

“We don’t hear a tweet about that!” says Robles. “How come they can’t come up with an app … to stop gentrification, removal and displacement? If you’re a goddamn genius … write an app for that!”

Like Yañez, Robles has noticed few black and Latino people cuing up to board the Google buses.

“They’re mostly white, I would assume they’re probably from middle class backgrounds and they’re sitting up there on their tax-free perch.”

Twitter received a $56m tax break from the city, and a free bus line as an incentive to make Market Street its HQ. Protestors demand to know why their tax dollars should subsidise a private bus system. Over 1,600 Twitter employees have since become millionaires as a result of the IPO.

The ‘canary in the mine’

A block and a half away from Twitter’s HQ is a battle ground and the site of one of the largest evictions in the city in the past 40 years. Seventy-five residents of 1049 Market Street were given a 60-day notice of eviction in mid-September.

“We’re the canary in the coal mine,” says Ben Cady, a photographer and resident who has banded together with his neighbours to fight the landlord who owns two other buildings on the same block.

City Hall has sided with the residents against the landlords and the pending legal battle will determine the fate of the other buildings as well as the neighbourhood.

“We’re in a precedent-setting situation that even the [city housing] code is ambiguous about,” says Cady, confident that the residents can mount a good fight in court.

In some ways, it may be unfair to blame techies for the housing crisis when powerful real estate firms and limited liability corporations (LLC) from all over the country are scampering to invest in a skyrocketing real-estate market.

San Francisco’s Housing Rights Committee (HRC) holds workshops to provide renters with online investigative tools to track down landlords. Attending one of these workshops, I traced the owners of the corporate housing Al Jazeera had placed me in back to a large life insurance company based in Pennsylvania. One of the challenges for tenets facing eviction is simply identifying who their landlord is, and when that landlord is a large faceless corporation that becomes even more difficult.

But the HRC aren’t the only folks giving free housing workshops. Daniel Bornstein, a lawyer with a “boutique law firm providing an array of real estate and civil litigation legal services” has teamed up with Bay Property Group, a real estate investment firm, and invited Al Jazeera to attend their free workshop on how to legally evict tenants.

The 90-minute powerpoint presentation is designed to help landlords and investors understand the legal conditions under which they can evict tenants and reap the best “equity appreciation” on their property. Bornstein’s firm hires private investigators to research tenants and assess how evictable or protected they are by rent control.

“I always try to do a negotiated buyout before I pursue an Ellis Act eviction because it’s easier, it’s less cumbersome, it’s less politically distasteful,” said Bornstein, who boasts that his firm does several buyout agreements a week.

Campos and other supervisors in City Hall are trying to place a moratorium on the use of the Ellis Act and are crafting legislation to track the number of buyouts, double the relocation assistance landlords are obliged to pay and prohibit landlords from charging market rate after a buyout.

‘Losing the magic and poetry’

Another casualty of the housing crisis is the way in which gentrification has infected all conversations in the city. Where poets, artists and social activists once experimented with radical ideas or rallied against war, now their energy is spent fighting evictions, often, somewhat ironically, taking to Twitter and Facebook to vent their frustrations.

Kal Spelletich, an early pioneer of Burning Man type kinetic sculpture, says gentrification has decimated his community of friends much as the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s did.

Back in the day, says Spelletich, “I step out my door in San Francisco and there’s a guy on roller skates, in a nun’s costume with tons of make-up and jewelry with a big old beard, and that gave me license to do whatever I want.”

“As I lose my friends and family, it’s not like they get replaced by other artists and freaks, it’s a net loss. For a 50 year lineage of radical art to just stop – it’s devastating.”

“The saddest thing is that when I used to hang out with my friends everyone was talking about their creative projects, the poems they were writing, the opera they want to make, the crazy robotics project … now the people who are left are so scarred they’ve lost the magic and poetry and fun rebelliousness of making art and they’re all stuck in an endless dialogue about displacement.”

Narcissism goes digital.



Selfies: sheer vanity, or a poignant bid for control? (Photo via



The Minimal Selfie


BY Catherine Tumber

Narcissism reflects not ‘egotism,’ but its opposite: a fragile self unable to reliably distinguish between inner experience and the claims of the world.

On November 19th, Oxford Dictionaries proclaimed “selfie” 2013’s word of the year. Predictably, this announcement rekindled the perennial debate over whether we are neck-deep in narcissistic culture.

Many argue that we have indeed become ever more “selfish,” thanks partly to the frenzied self-branding made possible by social media. Others applaud the “social” in social media as a healthy antidote to modern loneliness, a development that takes us out of ourselves and into new, more democratic forms of community. A few say, yes, we live in a culture of “egotism,” and so what? Instagram selfies and Twitter posts are merely “showcasing the self in all its glory”—as the American Conservative’s Gracy Olmstead put it—as befits the arc of American individualism over two centuries.

Yet precious few grasp the meaning of “narcissism,” much less its relationship with “culture,” in spite of historian Christopher Lasch’s painstaking efforts in The Culture of Narcissism (1979) and The Minimal Self (1984)—the lesser-known but better of the two landmark books—to explain that narcissism reflects not “egotism,” but its opposite: a fragile self unable to reliably distinguish between inner experience and the claims of the world. The narcissist cannot imagine a durable world that precedes or outlasts her, but instead projects her immediate fears and desires on to what is, in effect, a world of mirrors. Beset by infantile impulses of diffuse rage toward an often indifferent external reality and longings to merge seamlessly with it, the narcissist is terrified of illusion-shattering conflict and wholly dependent on others’ perceptions to shore up an anxious self ever in danger of disintegration.

Lasch did not mean, of course, that Americans have become clinical narcissists. Rather, he argued that by undermining lasting attachments to particular communities and traditions, and shifting away from productive skills—metalworking, carpentry, soil cultivation, the domestic arts— through which we acquire a realistic sense of our abilities, our “culture of mass consumption” encourages narcissistic survival strategies that alternate between an exaggerated and an anemic sense of one’s own powers.

Organized around planned obsolescence carried out with mounting speed, “the fantastic world of commodities,” Lasch argued, has steadily eroded both public and private forms of authority—of common, time-tested standards of any sort—leaving us ever more dependent on scientific experts and management professionals who call the shots from afar.

“The consumer,” Lasch wrote in 1984, “feels that he lives in a world that defies practical understanding and control, a world of giant bureaucracies, ‘information overload,’ and complex, interlocking technological systems vulnerable to sudden breakdown.” Trafficking in ephemeral goods and images, consumer culture has made it all too easy to confuse indiscriminate over-familiarity with intimacy, manipulation of others’ perceptions of oneself with genuine charm, externally positioned “self-esteem” with self-love. And it nurtures fantasies of omnipotence in compensation for abject passivity, as evidenced by the ways we treat politics and sports as spectacles, celebrities as deities, and technology as a Promethean force for inevitable progress.

Twenty years ago this month, Christopher Lasch passed on from this earth—an immense loss to our public intellectual discourse—and did not live to see the rise of the Internet, with its interminable upgrade demands and ongoing fragmentation of our common world. His use of the term “culture of mass consumption” may sound antique in light of today’s high-tech driven push for decentralization and entrepreneurship, blogging and websites, social networking and smartphones that leave us ever more untethered to any specific place. Yet we are in the grip of a culture of narcissism, properly understood, as never before. What else to make of an “interface” with the world that is endlessly customizable to our personal desires, as in Facebook or LinkedIn, where no two “friends” share the same circle of contacts or even see the same things on the screen? How can parents create a disciplined, nurturing, protective frame for their kids—that is, real boundaries—when both are immersed in a parallel universe of backchannel texting and individually targeted ads?

In this context—or, rather, lack thereof—the selfie is a poignant, ineffectual bid for control in a crowd-sourced jangle of fleeting imagery and mutual surveillance, all under the watchful eye of the NSA. If the cunning old bureaucracies that so exercised Lasch have been downsized, they are certainly still with us—paying lower wages and exacting more work. And they are now supplemented by high-tech and financial giants, with even greater concentrated power, that hawk delusions like “free” information, “frictionless experiences,” and, well yes, decentralization.

The rise of the selfie is the least of our troubles, although I’m pretty sure that Lasch would not have been put off the scent by that ironic little “-ie” tail. For excessive irony is yet another strategy for keeping disoriented helplessness at bay from the diminished self, wandering without compass in an insubstantial world of mirrors.


Historian and journalist Catherine Tumber is the author of Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World (MIT Press, 2012). She lives in Boston.

Tweets and Threats: Gangs Find New Home On the Net


Social media has exploded among street gangs. … They’re turning to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to flaunt guns and wads of cash, threaten rivals, intimidate informants … sell weapons, drugs — even plot murder. ‘What’s taking place online is what’s taking place in the streets,’ says David Pyrooz, an assistant professor at Sam Houston State University. … ‘The Internet does more for a gang’s brand or a gang member’s identity than word-of-mouth could ever do. It really gives the gang a wide platform to promote their reputations. … On the crime-fighting side … this activity … is transforming how police and prosecutors pursue gangs. Along with traditional investigative techniques, police monitor gangs online. [A] Cincinnati police officer who trains other law enforcement about social media says by the time gang members appear in court, authorities have a dossier of their words and videos online that challenge how they want to portray themselves. ‘If a guy goes in and says, “I’m a good person. I’ve never held a gun,” we can say, “Look at what he puts out about himself on social media. Here he is with a gun.”‘

Young users see Facebook as ‘dead and buried’

A study of how teenagers use social media has found that Facebook is “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried”, but that the network is morphing into a tool for keeping in touch with older family members

A study of how teenagers use social media has found that Facebook is “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried”, but that the network is morphing into a tool for keeping in touch with older family members

Young people now see Facebook as ‘uncool’ Photo: Alamy

A study of how older teenagers use social media has found that Facebook is “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried” and is being replaced by simpler social networks such as Twitter and Snapchat.

Young people now see the site as “uncool” and keep their profiles live purely to stay in touch with older relatives, among whom it remains popular.

Professor Daniel Miller of University College London, an anthropologist who worked on the research, wrote in an article for academic news website The Conversation: “Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it.

“This year marked the start of what looks likely to be a sustained decline of what had been the most pervasive of all social networking sites. Young people are turning away in their droves and adopting other social networks instead, while the worst people of all, their parents, continue to use the service.

“Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives. Parents have worked out how to use the site and see it as a way for the family to remain connected. In response, the young are moving on to cooler things.

“What appears to be the most seminal moment in a young person’s decision to leave Facebook was surely that dreaded day your mum sends you a friend request.”

The Global Social Media Impact Study, which was funded by the European Union, observed 16- to 18-year-olds in eight countries for 15 months and found that Facebook use was in freefall. Instead, young people are turning to simpler services like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp which Professor Miller conceded were “no match” for Facebook in terms of functionality.

“Most of the school children in our survey recognised that in many ways, Facebook is technically better than Twitter or Instagram. It is more integrated, better for photo albums, organising parties and more effective for observing people’s relationships,” said Professor Miller, adding that “slick isn’t always best” in attracting young users.

WhatsApp has overtaken Facebook as the number one way to send messages, say the researchers, while Snapchat has gained in popularity in recent months by allowing users to send images which “self-destruct” after a short period on the recipients phone in order to maintain privacy.

Snapchat claims that 350 million images are sent every day, and reportedly recently turned down a $3 billion (£1.8 billion) acquisition offer from Facebook. Co-founder Evan Spiegel, who lives at home with his father despite an estimated net worth of $3 billion, last month told The Telegraph that “deleting should be the default”.

Researchers found that close friends were using Snapchat to communicate, while WhatsApp was used with acquaintances and Twitter broadcasted indiscriminately to anyone who chose to follow that person.

The study found that Facebook was now used by teenagers as a way to stay in touch with older members of their family and sibling who have left for university and has “evolved into a very different animal” from its early days as a social network focusing on young users at university.

Facebook, which will be a decade old next year, is currently offering 70m shares for sale at $55.05 a share, 41m of which belong to founder Mark Zuckerberg and are being unloaded to cover a tax bill.

The stock has climbed well above the $38 price set in Facebook’s initial public offering 19 months ago.

Open Data (the Legacy of Aaron Swartz)

December 21, 2013, 6:00 AM

On this blog we are looking at the ideas that had the greatest impact in 2013 and testing them out to see what their impact will be in 2014 and beyond. A good place to start is this post by Neurobonkers, a tribute to the late Aaron Swartz, from January, 2013. 

Neurobonkers wrote:

This is the first obituary I have ever written, as this is the first death of a public figure who I have never known, that has profoundly saddened me as the death of Aaron Swartz has done. With Swartz’ talent, he could have made huge amounts of money for himself. Instead he selflessly spent his time campaigning for freedom of information and risked everything on his mission to liberate data.

The ideas that Swartz fought for were wide-ranging, but they all fall under the proud banner that information wants to be free. What landed Swartz in trouble with the authorities was his belief that the public should have access to federal court documents as well as access to scholarly research that was being put behind paywalls. Read Neurobonker’s original post for a full examination of this idea here.

So what came of this idea? Swartz committed suicide, and his family released a statement blaming intimidation and prosecutorial overreach for his death. And yet, Swartz’s big idea has lived on. As Neurobonkers reported a few days after his original post, the Internet was beginning to finish the job that Swartz started, as academics began posting their research papers online for free using the Twitter hashtag #PDFTribute.

At the time of his death, Swartz was developing a system called DeadDrop that would allow whistleblowers to anonymously leak documents to journalists. This project has since been taken over by The Freedom of the Press Foundation. It is called SecureDrop.

In addition, numerous events, including this one, have been organized to carry out the work and legacy of Aaron Swartz into 2014 and beyond.


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