THE RISE OF FACEBOOK AND ‘THE OPERATING SYSTEM OF OUR LIVES’

Siva Vaidhyanathan, UVA’s Robertson Professor of Media Studies, is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship.Siva Vaidhyanathan, UVA’s Robertson Professor of Media Studies, is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship. (Photo by Dan Addison)

Recent changes announced by social media giant Facebook have roiled the media community and raised questions about privacy. The company’s updates include a higher level of news feed priority for posts made by friends and family and testing for new end-to-end encryption software inside its messenger service.

As Facebook now boasts more than a billion users worldwide, both of these updates are likely to impact the way the world communicates. Prior to the company’s news-feed algorithm change, a 2016 study from the Pew Research Center found that approximately 44 percent of American adults regularly read news content through Facebook.

UVA Today sat down with Siva Vaidhyanathan, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship and Robertson Professor of Media Studies, to discuss the impact of these changes and the evolving role of Facebook in the world. Naturally, the conversation first aired on Facebook Live.

Excerpts from the conversation and the full video are available below.

Q. What is the change to Facebook’s News Feed?

A. Facebook has announced a different emphasis within its news feed. Now of course, your news feed is much more than news. It’s all of those links and photos and videos that your friends are posting and all of the sites that you’re following. So that could be an interesting combination of your cousin, your coworker, the New York Times and Fox News all streaming through.

A couple of years ago, the folks that run Facebook recognized that Facebook was quickly becoming the leading news source for many millions of Americans, and considering that they have 1.6 billion users around the world, and it’s growing fast, there was a real concern that Facebook should take that responsibility seriously. So one of the things that Facebook did was cut a deal with a number of publishers to be able to load up their content directly from Facebook servers, rather than just link to an original content server. That provided more dependable loading, especially of video, but also faster loading, especially through mobile.

But in recent weeks, Facebook has sort of rolled back on that. They haven’t removed the partnership program that serves up all that content in a quick form, but they’ve made it very clear that their algorithms that generate your news feed will be weighted much more heavily to what your friends are linking to, liking and commenting on, and what you’ve told Facebook over the years you’re interested in.

This has a couple of ramifications. One, it sort of downgrades the project of bringing legitimate news into the forefront by default, but it also makes sure that we are more likely to be rewarded with materials that we’ve already expressed an interest in. We’re much more likely to see material from publications and our friends we reward with links and likes. We’re much more likely to see material linked by friends with whom we have had comment conversations.

This can generate something that we call a “filter bubble.” A gentlemen named Eli Pariser wrote a book called “The Filter Bubble.” It came out in 2011, and the problem he identified has only gotten worse since it came out. Facebook is a prime example of that because Facebook is in the business of giving you reasons to feel good about being on Facebook. Facebook’s incentives are designed to keep you engaged.

Q. How will this change the experience for publishers?

A. The change or the announcement of the change came about because a number of former Facebook employees told stories about how Facebook had guided their decisions to privilege certain things in news feeds that seemed to diminish the content and arguments of conservative media.

Well, Facebook didn’t want that reputation, obviously. Facebook would rather not be mixed up or labeled as a champion of liberal causes over conservative causes in the U.S. That means that Facebook is still going to privilege certain producers of media – those producers of media that have signed contracts with Facebook. The Guardian is one, the New York Times is another. There are dozens of others. Those are still going to be privileged in Facebook’s algorithm, and among the news sources you encounter, you’re more likely to see those news sources than those that have not engaged in a explicit contract with Facebook. So Facebook is making editorial decisions based on their self-interest more than anything, and not necessarily on any sort of political ideology.

Q. You wrote “The Googlization of Everything” in 2011. Since then, have we progressed to the “Facebookization” of everything?

A. I wouldn’t say that it’s the Facebookization of everything – and that’s pretty clumsy anyway. I would make an argument that if you look at five companies that don’t even seem to do the same thing – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon – they’re actually competing in a long game, and it has nothing to do with social media. It has nothing to do with your phone, nothing to do with your computer and nothing to do with the Internet as we know it.

They’re all competing to earn our trust and manage the data flows that they think will soon run through every aspect of our lives – through our watches, through our eyeglasses, through our cars, through our refrigerators, our toasters and our thermostats. So you see companies – all five of these companies from Amazon to Google to Microsoft to Facebook to Apple – are all putting out products and services meant to establish ubiquitous data connections, whether it’s the Apple Watch or the Google self-driving car or whether it’s that weird obelisk that Amazon’s selling us [the Echo] that you can talk to or use to play music and things. These are all part of what I call the “operating system of our lives.”

Facebook is interesting because it’s part of that race. Facebook, like those other companies, is trying to be the company that ultimately manages our lives, in every possible way.

We often hear a phrase called the “Internet of things.” I think that’s a misnomer because what we’re talking about, first of all, is not like the Internet at all. It’s going to be a closed system, not an open system. Secondly, it’s not about things. It’s actually about our bodies. The reason that watches and glasses and cars are important is that they lie on and carry human bodies. What we’re really seeing is the full embeddedness of human bodies and human motion in these data streams and the full connectivity of these data streams to the human body.

So the fact that Facebook is constantly tracking your location, is constantly encouraging you to be in conversation with your friends through it – at every bus stop and subway stop, at every traffic light, even though you’re not supposed to – is a sign that they are doing their best to plug you in constantly. That phenomenon, and it’s not just about Facebook alone, is something that’s really interesting.

Q. What are the implications of that for society?

A. The implications of the emergence of an operating system of our lives are pretty severe. First of all, consider that we will consistently be outsourcing decision-making like “Turn left or turn right?,” “What kind of orange juice to buy?” and “What kind of washing detergent to buy?” All of these decisions will be guided by, if not determined by, contracts that these data companies will be signing with consumer companies.

… We’re accepting short-term convenience, a rather trivial reward, and deferring long-term harms. Those harms include a loss of autonomy, a loss of privacy and perhaps even a loss of dignity at some point. … Right now, what I am concerned about is the notion that we’re all plugging into these data streams and deciding to allow other companies to manage our decisions. We’re letting Facebook manage what we get to see and which friends we get to interact with.

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Facebook, Google and the Tech Companies Bankrolling Hate at the RNC

ECONOMY
Trump has threatened to shut down the open internet. Why aren’t companies divesting from him?

Photo Credit: Khalil Bendib / OtherWords

It’s common for major corporations to sponsor political conventions to buy favor with political parties. But what about when the convention nominates a presidential candidate who’s an out-and-out racist?

That’s a deal breaker, right?

For some big tech companies, apparently not.

Facebook recently announced that it will provide funding and other support for the Donald Trump-led Republican National Convention. And Google will be the event’s official livestream provider via YouTube.

These companies need to find their moral compass and divest from hate.

“Trumped into a Corner,” an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Trump’s violent rhetoric has inflamed a national atmosphere that’s already hostile toward Latino, Muslim, and black communities, as well as women and people with disabilities. He’s called for the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and vowed to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

Trump has also incited actual physical violence against people of color, and refused to denounce the white supremacist organizations that openly support him.

If that weren’t enough, Trump’s also threatened to shut down the open internet, censoring the dissident voices standing up against his hate and racism. He’s called for greater surveillance of communities of color, and has encouraged violence against protesters and journalists.

In short, Trump’s campaign isn’t “business as usual”—and corporations shouldn’t treat it as such. That’s why the racial justice group ColorOfChange has launched a campaign called Divest from Hate.

They’re urging major tech companies not to bankroll a platform for hate while Trump continues to incite violence against marginalized communities. Other groups, including my own, have joined the effort to push tech companies to pull their support from the Republican convention, including both direct financial donations and in-kind contributions.

This isn’t about left or right, but right and wrong. People of color make up a large portion of the users of services like YouTube and Facebook. These companies are essentially profiting off the very communities that Trump’s rallying against.

Erin Egan, a Facebook vice president for publicity, claims that the company’s involvement in the convention will “facilitate an open dialogue among voters, candidates, and elected officials.” But throwing a coronation ball for Trump and his white supremacist supporters has nothing to do with democracy.

It’s important to note that these companies have taken stands on other political issues.

Both Google and Facebook recently spoke out against North Carolina’s transphobic “bathroom bill.” And earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg circulated an internal memo calling out employees who crossed out the words “Black Lives Matter” on the signature wall at the company’s headquarters. He called the behavior “malicious” and “unacceptable.”

Now it’s time for Facebook and Google to take another stand against hate—and to join companies like Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft that have already scaled back or cut their support to the Republican convention.

Lucia Martínez is an organizer with the Free Press Action Fund, a nonpartisan organization that doesn’t support or oppose any candidates for public office.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/facebook-google-tech-funding-trump-rnc?akid=14341.265072.CtYp-J&rd=1&src=newsletter1058139&t=24

Stephen Fry signs off from ‘The Grid’ again

Wed 20 Apr 2016 2.47pm

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Following a scathing departure from his four million Twitter followers regarding criticism of his BAFTA commentary in February, unelected UK and internet technology ambassador Stephen Fry has made an avowed departure from all social networks.

In a stinging 2,600+ word essay at stephenfry.com, the 58-year-old comedian, presenter and raconteur compares an exit from mainstream social network channels such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to the heroic plight of the heroes of 1970s dystopian sci-fi movies such as Logan’s Run and Soylent Green; thereby comparing the pre-eminence of social media with those highly-telescoped visions of ruthless government authorities.

Likewise Fry regards flight from the social networks in the same light as ‘unplugging’ from the enemy artificial reality offered to a ‘sleeping’ populace in The Matrix:

‘Jacking out of the matrix would cast one as a hero of the kind of dystopian film that proved popular in the 70s, Logan’s Run, Zardoz, Soylent Green, Fahrenheit 451 … on the run from The Corporation, with the foot soldiers of The System hard on your heels. We really are starting to live in that kind of movie, mutatis mutandis, so surely it’s time to join the Rebels, the Outliers, the Others who live beyond the Wall and read forbidden books, sing forbidden songs and think forbidden thoughts in defiance of The One.’

The tech evangelist, first baptised into his ministry by early association with Apple’s products, turns his powers of persuasion 180 degrees in the piece, in a plea for ‘Generation Z’ to rebel against the matrix:

‘Who most wants you to stay on the grid? The advertisers. Your boss. Human Resources. The advertisers. Your parents (irony of ironies – once they distrusted it, now they need to tag you electronically, share your Facebook photos and message you to death). The advertisers. The government. Your local authority. Your school. Advertisers..
Well, if you’re young and have an ounce of pride, doesn’t that list say it all? So fuck you, I’m Going Off The Grid.

The essay grounds its argument in the current millennial fad for ‘retro’ and ‘legacy’ – abstract, unlived ideas for young people captivated by the spirit of nostalgia for the fax age – but Fry, part of the ‘blank generation’ that emerged after the conformity of the 1950s and before the conformity of the yuppie age, ascribes genuine merit to the pre-digital society, and fond regard for the early days of the internet and the computer revolution:

‘The digital Wild West may have been rough and lawless but folk were politer to strangers and knew their manners better than the ruthless, ambitious citizens who took over. The pioneer territory has now had its shitty streets and crooked boardwalks paved over. In place of saloons there are strip malls, fun fairs and multiplexes. The telegraph and train killed the stage coach and the pony express.’

The highly discursive piece provides a fairly comprehensive history of the internet, and an array of historical examples demonstrating Fry’s contention that the current social media giants will fall as mightily as they have risen in the last ten years:

‘And Facebook will be dust one day. Hard to imagine perhaps but obviously and happily true… For now, Facebook is of course all powerful and finds itself busy eating the internet (thereby preparing its own extinction) and of course parents are on it. That’s how crap it is.’

‘Off the Grid’ is a refreshing note of rebellion because of who wrote it, though that’s somewhat counterbalanced by Stephen Fry’s epic history of departure, and not just from the virtual world. His last major retirement from Twitter was in 2009, following a row with another Twitter user. Fry suffers, now quite publicly, from bipolar disorder.

So he may be back – it wouldn’t be the first time. But his current spirit of rebellion is worthy of celebration:

‘I live in a world without Facebook, and now without Twitter. I manage to survive too without Kiki, Snapchat, Viber, Telegram, Signal and the rest of them. I haven’t yet learned to cope without iMessage and SMS. I haven’t yet turned my back on email and the Cloud. I haven’t yet jacked out of the matrix and gone off the grid. Maybe I will pluck up the courage.’

 

https://thestack.com/world/2016/04/20/stephen-fry-signs-off-from-the-grid-again/

You may hate Donald Trump. But do you want Facebook to rig the election against him?

 
Mark Zuckerberg
‘The dominance of Facebook in Americans’ daily lives, and the fact that more people get their news from it than any other source, means the influence of the company in elections has never been greater.’ Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

You may hate Donald Trump. But do you want Facebook to rig the election against him?  Facebook could use its unprecedented powers to tilt the 2016 presidential election away from him – and the social network’s employees have apparently openly discussed whether they should do so.

As Gizmodo reported on Friday, “Last month, some Facebook employees used a company poll to ask [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg whether the company should try ‘to help prevent President Trump in 2017’.”

Facebook employees are probably just expressing the fear that millions of Americans have of the Republican demagogue. But while there’s no evidence that the company plans on taking anti-Trump action, the extraordinary ability that the social network has to manipulate millions of people with just a tweak to its algorithm is a serious cause for concern.

The fact that an internet giant like Facebook or Google could turn an election based on hidden changes to its code has been a hypothetical scenario for years (and it’s even a plot point in this season’s House of Cards). Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain explained in 2010 how “Facebook could decide an election without anyone ever finding out”, after the tech giant secretly conducted a test in which they were able to allegedly increase voter turnout by 340,000 votes around the country on election day simply by showing users a photo of someone they knew saying “I voted”.

Facebook repeated this civics engagement experiment on a broader scale during the 2012 election. While the testing did not favor any one candidate, the potential for that power to be used to manipulate voters became such an obvious concern that Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, said, in 2014, “I want to be clear – Facebook can’t control emotions and cannot and will not try to control emotions.” She added: “Facebook would never try to control elections.”

Her comments came right after a controversial study conducted by Facebook became public. It showed that, in fact, the company had secretly manipulated the emotions of nearly 700,000 people.

Some 78% of Americans have a social network profile of some kind. The dominance of Facebook in Americans’ daily lives, and the fact that more people get their news from it than any other source, means the influence of the company in elections has never been greater. With each year that passes, the potential that an internet giant could swing an election gets greater.

Earlier this year, the Guardian reported on the treasure trove of data Facebook holds on hundreds of millions of voters and how it is already allowing presidential candidates to exploit it in different ways:

Facebook, which told investors on Wednesday it was ‘excited about the targeting’, does not let candidates track individual users. But it does now allow presidential campaigns to upload their massive email lists and voter files – which contain political habits, real names, home addresses and phone numbers – to the company’s advertising network. The company will then match real-life voters with their Facebook accounts, which follow individuals as they move across congressional districts and are filled with insightful data.

And in a Politico Magazine piece entitled “How Google could rig the 2016 election”, research psychologist Robert Epstein described how a study he co-authored in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that “Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20% or more – up to 80% in some demographic groups – with virtually no one knowing they are being manipulated.”

As Epstein says, much of this manipulation is unintentional: search results on Google are influenced by the popularity of other searches, algorithms are changed all the time for various reasons, and some tweaks that affect what people see about politics may not be the result of malicious engineers bent on changing the country’s political persuasions. However, the potential for that to happen is there – and the same risks apply to Facebook.

To be sure, many corporations, including broadcasters and media organisations, have used their vast power to influence elections in all sorts of ways in the past: whether it’s through money, advertising, editorials, or simply the way they present the news. But at no time has one company held so much influence over a large swath of the population – 40% of all news traffic now originates from Facebook – while also having the ability to make changes invisibly.

As Gizmodo reported, there’s no law stopping Facebook from doing so if it desires. “Facebook can promote or block any material that it wants,” UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh told Gizmodo. “Facebook has the same First Amendment right as the New York Times. They can completely block Trump if they want. They block him or promote him.”

To those disgusted by Trump’s xenophobia, his boorish and erratic behavior, this might seem like a welcome development. But one organisation having the means to tilt elections one way or another a dangerous innovation. Once started, it would be hard to control. In this specific case, a majority of the public might approve of the results. But do we really want future elections around the world to be decided by the political persuasions of Mark Zuckerberg, or the faceless engineers that control what pops up in your news feed?

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/19/donald-trump-facebook-election-manipulate-behavior?CMP=fb_gu

What this creepy photo of Mark Zuckerberg says about our dystopian tech future

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Controlling virtual reality is only a step from controlling reality itself

by Caitlin Dewey

In this photo, Mark Zuckerberg is half-smiling, dazed, as if he can’t quite fathom the spectacle he has achieved. He’s striding past his peons, heel-toe down the carpeted center aisle, as they swivel and grimace, oblivious to his presence, in their own virtual realities.

Later, when the assembled journalists take the headsets off — they’re Samsung Gear VR headsets, for the record, and this is the Mobile World Congress in Spain — they’ll be amazed to realize that Zuckerberg is there; they’ll rush him for quotes and photos onstage. Much later, people on the network that Zuckerberg invented will start passing this photo around. It looks like “1984,” they say, or that 1984 Apple ad; it reminds them of “The Matrix,” in which humans grow in amniotic pods and experience the “world” via a plug in their heads.

Zuckerberg has said that, in his vision for the future, these virtual experiences will be fundamentally social. But the photo suggests something quite different.

Hundreds of people share a physical space, but no perception, no experience, no phenomenological anchor. The communality of a conference (literally from conferre, “to bring together”) is thrown over for a series of hyper-individualized bubbles. And you’re reminded, from Zuckerberg’s awkward semi-smile, that the man who owns the bubbles also owns what’s in them. That controlling virtual reality, in other words, is only a step from controlling reality itself.

Then again, Zuckerberg arguably does that already. There’s just nothing particularly photogenic about the News Feed and its constant, imperceptible updates.

“In the age of advanced technology,” wrote the media theorist Neil Postman, “spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face.”

This post was originally published on The Intersect, The Washington Post’s blog on Internet culture and how it’s changing us.

FBI wins court order forcing Apple to install backdoor in iPhone security systems

iphone-6s-34

By Thomas Gaist
18 February 2016

The Obama administration secured a court order from a California-based federal judge on Tuesday to force tech giant Apple to develop special software designed to compromise encryption security features embedded in the iPhone’s iOS 9 operating system.

The court decision, utilizing an obscure and antidemocratic law from the 18th century, is part of efforts to utilize last year’s attack in San Bernardino, California to intensify the assault on democratic rights and expand the police-state spying powers of the government.

The FBI and the Justice Department claim that the new software is necessary to enable federal investigators to search through an iPhone belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the attackers responsible for the mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.

At stake, however, is far more than the data on Farook’s phone. The government wants broad authority to bypass encryption mechanisms on any communications that it is not presently able to monitor.

US agents have been unable to access Farook’s phone as a result of Apple’s built-in “auto-erase” feature, which deletes the smartphone’s data after ten or more incorrect attempts to unlock it. The phone’s security features prevent the agency from employing its preferred method of “brute forcing” entry, i.e., trying every possible password.

Judge Sheri Pym of the Federal District Court for the District of Central California ruled Tuesday that Apple must find a way to “bypass and disable” the security features on Farook’s phone. Apple will appeal the ruling within days, and the case could be decided in the Supreme Court.

Government attorneys claim that the ruling compels Apple to design software that can penetrate the iPhone’s data protection systems, citing a statute known as the All Writs Act, which allows judges to “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.” The administration has adopted a broad interpretation of the law that effectively allows the courts to overrule constitutional limitations on state powers.

Making clear that the court action has the support of the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said on Wednesday that the Justice Department and the FBI have the Obama administration’s “full support.”

The ruling is only the latest stage in the efforts of the Obama administration and the political establishment to use the attacks in San Bernardino to counter the widespread opposition to domestic spying that followed the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Along with the terror attacks in Paris, the events in southern California have become the central pretext for a new expansion of the US government’s mass surveillance programs.

Snowden spoke out against the FBI assault on encryption Wednesday, describing the events as “the most important tech case in a decade.”

“The FBI is creating a world where citizens rely on Apple to defend their rights,” Snowden said in a tweet.

Apple, Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other leading firms entered into secret contracts with the US government from the mid-2000s onward, giving the NSA access to electronic communications data stored on their servers, as revealed in NSA documents released by Snowden beginning in the summer of 2013. The documents also showed that the NSA had set up numerous illegal and unconstitutional programs that seek to monitor all telephone records, emails and other communications in the US and internationally.

Pointing to the broad implications of the ruling in a letter released on Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook described the government’s request as “unprecedented,” saying that the technology demanded by the FBI could be used against hundreds of millions of devices.

“It would be the equivalent of a master key,” Cook wrote. “Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features.”

“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users,” Cook wrote. The spy software could be used to “intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.” The software hack would “have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”

However, lest there be any doubt about Apple’s allegiance to the intelligence establishment and its “war on terror,” Cook went on to insist that Apple has “done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help [the FBI].”

“When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it,” Cook wrote. “We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good.”

Apple’s opposition to the FBI’s anti-encryption drive flows from the material interests of its shareholders. Apple is engaged in a competitive struggle for market share on a world scale and stands to lose business, both from consumers and from foreign governments, if it is perceived as being completely penetrated by the US spy apparatus.

According to an article in the New York Times, Apple had “hoped to resolve the impasse without having to rewrite their own encryption software.” The company was “frustrated by the Justice Department’s refusal to file its demands under seal rather than airing them in court, according to an industry executive with knowledge of the case.” In other words, because the request became publicly known, the company felt compelled to release a statement opposing the ruling.

Intelligence agencies have been pressing for legislation to bypass encryption mechanisms since long before the San Bernardino attacks. FBI Director James Comey has agitated for new laws requiring the installation of “backdoor” access to encryption technology almost continuously since taking office. The attacks, however, were immediately used to escalate the “war on terror campaign” and shift the entire political establishment to the right.

One of the possible outcomes of the dispute with Apple is the passage of legislation in Congress that would explicitly authorize the government to force companies to give it access to text messages and other encrypted data on cell phones. Leading Democrats and Republicans in Congress moved quickly to back the court decision and criticize Apple for opposing it.

The basic target of these moves—as with the police-state spying apparatus as a whole—is not the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, but all opposition to the American ruling class’s policy of war and social reaction. As the United States prepares for a massive escalation of military violence, it is at the same time intensifying the assault on democratic rights at home.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/18/appl-f18.html

How Facebook is making us all dumber. And racist.

An Orwellian, dystopian brainwashing of America is happening right now, but because it’s all virtual we don’t realize its hideous nature

Donald Trump, the sustainability of the KKK, Occupy anything, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Holocaust deniers, Climate Change doubters and everyone wearing man buns all share one insidious commonality: Facebook.

More specifically, they have in common the unnatural effects of rabid fans chattering on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, and hundreds more services that allow us to censor the information we allow into our smartphone windows on the world.

The self-sustaining buzz creates a lot of noise, but in a small group, allowing something that maybe isn’t always good for our culture to incubate, grow and eventually, to hatch.


Orwell got it wrong in 1984.
Bradbury got it wrong in Fahrenheit 451.
It won’t be a totalitarian regime that gives us a dystopian society.
It will be ourselves.


Facebook and other crack-like addictions are engineered to let us self-censor our perspectives, affecting how we view our neighbors, teachers, co-workers, and even our children, our understanding of geopolitical challenges, and our very understanding of ourselves.

What do you share? What do you read?

These networks create insulated, closed-minded communities that only read and share one perspective, repeated, parroted, memed, and repeated.

It’s peer pressure, writ large.

If you’re uncomfortable with this indictment of our ubiquitous behavior, I’ll cut to the point right now:

If you make one New Year’s resolution, make it this. Follow a new blogger  or news outlet with which you disagree.

More on this at the end of the article.  First, some perspective on just how often we’re consulting our circle of friends.

Realize that we’re checking Facebook 14 or more times a day.

We miss our child’s winning soccer goal because we were reading a post from our high school study buddy about his kid’s soccer game.

Why can’t we stop looking? Because Facebook is more addictive than cigarettes, according to the University of Chicago.

These shared “news items” are how the entire Internet learned about the blue and black (or was it white and gold) dress back in February.

It’s how this month, 119,997 people shared a fake Facebook post about a burned dog that actually had a piece of ham on its face. Pray for this poor burned dog. 1 share – 10 prayers.  And they believed the hamdog was truly horribly disfigured.  Until someone pointed out it was ham.

Meanwhile, hundreds of children, adults and the elderly were killed, or worse–raped then killed– last year in South Sudan and no one talked about it.  The story, still on SFGATE has 0 comments as of this moment. Maybe that will change.

We follow only those we like or agree with.  And that’s what we read. Then the algorithm serves us more of those posts.

And when something we dislike somehow manages to sneak past those software gates, we can instantly block that person or source forever, report it, or hide the post.  Done. No more of disagreeable ideas.  Just more of people agreeing with us.

And the way things go viral is when they’re so innocuous and so UNIMPORTANT that our right wing and left wing friends can talk about them with equal ignorance or wisdom, and we allow them through the filters. They make it to our feeds not because they’re important but because they’re inane.

Because we don’t care enough about whether a dog wears pants on its bottom half or on its back half to actually block our friends with whom we disagree.  We let this discord permeate our closed-minded, insulated circle. We comment on them, talk about them, and share them again.

And the important things going on?  We don’t even know they exist.

Consider all the fuming people, rending their garments to say the media never covered all those terrorist attacks on non-whites before the Paris attacks.  Many people got worked up, shaming the media about not covering the 147 killed in Kenya by gunmen.   Then the media fought back.

How?

We simply posted the links to our stories and said, as San Francisco Chronicle editor in chief Audrey Cooper wrote on Facebook, “Don’t mistake reading your FB feed for being an active consumer of smart news.” Then she posted this article that explains it best.

Narrow mindedness is now normal mindedness.

I’m an anachronism.  I do something every day without fail. Something 70% of people my age do not do. (I’m 41).  I read a daily paper.  Cover to cover, at least the headlines.

The numbers of us reading a daily newspaper has been plummeting since the rise of social media in 2008.

The reason I do it is because I want to see the broad perspective on all the news. I know (personally) the vast team of editors, writers, layout staff, and the copy desk have meticulously gone over every part of this to make sure it’s an accurate reflection of what happened in the world and in the Bay Area during that 24 hour period.

The other alternative is also dying: the evening newscast. Along with it, balanced reporting

Fox News is rising, with an unapologetic bias.  I’m fine with the existence of the network. I’m just not fine that those who follow Fox News don’t hear any other opinions because they no longer read the paper, or watch the objective newscasts from ABC, CBS, and NBC that are broadcast for free to everyone.

Cable can narrowcast. The Internet can microcast. But now, anyone and everyone can broadcast something that will reach the entire world with their often un-researched and unconfirmed and unchecked views.

It’s how we can deny climate change because our feeds are cleansed of any points we disagreed with.

And Donald Trump’s “brilliant ideas” are lauded among his fervent followers while the context of his embarrassing, imbecilic, childlike rants are suppressed by the same algorithms.  The right get righter and the left get lefter.   And in the middle, the informed, the open-minded, and the intelligent get angrier.  Or give up.

The tyranny of personalization that leads to self-directed mind control, groupthink and xenophobia

A group that wants to win your hearts and minds doesn’t need to burn the books. How quaint was that.  We stopped reading them long ago.  These overlords merely need to create great memes, preferably with cats and clever white block, sanserif text.

The only solution I see to the homogenization of ideas in our culture?  We must purposefully subscribe to Facebook feeds with which we disagree.

If you make one New Year’s resolution, make it this.  Follow someone or preferably some media source with whom you disagree.

• If you’re a Democrat, follow Conservative Daily.

• If you’re a Republican, follow Occupy Democrats.

• If you want it lighter, and you’re an evangelical Christian who doesn’t believe evolution had anything to do with anything, follow IFLScience. (Warning, expletive).

• If you’re an atheist who thinks all Christians are naive hypocrites, follow Fr. James Martin.

And please, comment on this post.

Tell me how crazy I am. Tell me what an idiot I am. Tell me where I got a fact wrong, or missed some perspective, or am a crazy conservative or whackjob liberal.  Talk about this post.  Because that will make more people read it, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll seek other perspectives before making the important decisions that happen in the ballot box, and not in the Facebook feeds.

 

http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/facebook-hamdog-trump-occupy-dystopian-6730425.php?cmpid=tgfeatures

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