Wednesday, March 21, 2018


     Facebook has big problems. It is an existential crisis and it has spin off tentacles that reach to the very core of the US culture and into the private life of millions around the planet.
    The US Federal Trade Commission and some 6 congressional committees are investigating how 50 Million users had their personal data breached in an act connected to the king of deceit and hustle, president sleaze.
     Since news of the trump minions stealing data Facebook has lost nearly $50 Billion in market cap. That is the largest two day drop ever.  
      The data harvesting was done by Cambridge Analytica and their CEO has been suspended.
       While Facebook stumbles forward, Google is investing $300 Million in what it's calling the Google News Initiative, designed to support media by boosting real journalism and fighting misinformation. This is significant. 
       Facebook is full of fake news, was used by Russian efforts to affect the 2016 Presidential election and was used famously by Brad Parscale. He talked openly about swinging key and decisive Pennsylvania and Michigan voters for trump by feeding them tailor made information on Facebook. Now Parscale heads up the trump 2020 election. Are you picking up any cues here? Are you the least bit worried about the future-your future, and especially if you are a Facebook devotee?

       Google's promise of $300 Million to combat news fraud
comes as real and serious US and foreign journalists  begin to work on something called "Algorithmic Accountability."
        Two quick notes-sadly most people get their information from social media---old time media with gate keepers and fact checkers is loosing ground to the digital generation that is fast and cute. And most people are lazy about their information intake-too often relying on limited sources-going only for headlines and not substance-and often getting it from sources that feed their own bias or mind set. It is true for online media, but Fox News and MSNBC are prime examples of "silo" information and viewers on cable. We note too, fewer people are paying attention to television and most of those who do are older.
       But all generations are caught in this snare of algorithms.
It is computer intelligence and big data making decisions and doing so tenaciously and rapidly, beyond the control of you, or me or any human system. Algorithmic Accountability is a very important topic and story.
       After you research a topic you start getting ads on your computer about that-algorithms at work. Cambridge Analytica steals your personal data for the trump gang and heaven only knows what kind of bilge dredge you will get from the Parscale team or who ever else the trump gang may sell the information to. You also worry about the fact once your data is breached almost anyone can get to it and use it, including those pictures of your children or grand children or your private communication about your diagnosis, or your comments about despised cousin Gertie and etc. Mark Zuckerberg made millions while you shared your life and all your personal data on his little platform and you've been screwed. First by him, but then by the Russians, and the trumps, and the swindlers and the hustlers who can manage slick computers and algorithms.
more than annoyance
      But algorithmic manipulation raises questions about our future freedoms. Reporters have learned that since 2012 the New Orleans police department has used "predictive policing" in a pro bono relationship with Palantir Technologies.  Do you remember the film Minority Report, where Tom Cruse used that swipe technology to arrest people before they did something the computer predicted? That is predictive policing and it certainly raises important legal questions-not the least of which--Is the data any good-or right, and what happens to due process and rules of evidence?  
     Palantir tried to get into the Chicago PD, but they already had an algorithmic program of predictive policing developed by a university. Doesn't the concept of predictive policing sound as though it needs sober human oversight?There is no doubt that data analysis can help police determine high crime areas and likelihood of occurrence. Studying history does in fact help us decipher the future. However, as a free people who value liberties, we need to know what is going on when people begin to point artificial and machine intelligence in certain directions. And when machines function more rapidly and on a broader scale than our human minds, we need to make sure laws are firm and enforced. We've already experienced algorithmic abuse.
      Mark Zuckerberg stole the idea of Facebook back in college and created a world changing company. A personal note. I've never joined Facebook for a number of reasons but among them is this. Everything that Facebook has to make it valuable belongs to you. It is your information, photographs, writing, comments, your life and unbeknownst to you all of the underpinning data of your life. You willingly give that up and get nothing back for it, while Zuckerberg and company have become billionaires by selling your information. I said in the beginning if Facebook wanted to be right about things they would be like REI or another cooperative. You as a user could get value for the activity you generate and share. The more you used it, the more value you got back, either as stock, cash or some kind of cash value like coupons. 
     Friends have told me, "well, we get a medium or a platform, a network and connectivity." There is no such thing as a free lunch.
      We don't know what will happen to Facebook, or Zuckerberg and company. Nor do we know how the theft of of personal data for the trump gang will play into those investigations.  We don't know what Google's efforts will bring in their attempt to make social media more responsible or what the journalistic efforts at algorithmic accountability will yield. But I offer up a time worn journalistic wisdom. It was true way back when and it will be true to tomorrow, "follow the money!"  When you follow the money you always have a good story and more often than not, you find crime.
       And so we have again, Facebook has been an accomplice, at least. The US Presidential election, the national culture and you have been victimized. The story is not over.

        See you down the trail.


  1. Recent news has really made me want to break loose of facebook, google, amazon, and apple. But it's one of those traps made so that by the time you realize it's a trap, you're already too far in.

    And it couild get a lot worse,actually. I've only had a smart phone for about 3 months, but my phone guesses where I am about to go BEFORE I TURN MY CAR ON with about 98% accuracy.

    Imagine tying that in with ads. It knows I'm headed to Kroger, after all.

    Holy moly, though, this stuff is scary.

  2. People don't seem to realize that facebook's product, what they sell, is you.

    A self driving car killed a woman over the weekend. Who is responsible? The computer, the dispatcher, the programmers or UBER's executives?

  3. Hi Tom, I am on Facebook but use it very little. My wife's involvement is in being able to stay in touch with the kids, and several young ones connect there. She also gets most of her news there and reminds me that the local paper posts so why should we have to pay for a subscription? Well, in some cases it's really essential, like with the WSJ or NYT or special interest publications that plumb the depths of politics, psycholgy, media etc. We get a lot of magazines around know how I feel about Trump and his minions, a disaster for our relations with allies Mexico and Canada, and a disaster for our constitutional liberties. He will no doubt be deemed one of the worst presidents ever, and impeachment looks increasingly likely with his obstructions of justice.
    And yes, it's scary when clever hucksters can hijack what's left of our democracy by outright stealing people's (relatively) private information...

  4. "Doesn't the concept of predictive policing sound as though it needs sober human oversight?" Tom, I believe you've just described a self-driving Uber.

    When Facebook appeared, several friends pressured me, pleasantly enough, to enroll. I finally distilled my excuse down to 'I don't think it would be good for me'. Good conscientious people fired back that it'd be a good way to stay in touch with friends and relatives. Well, didn't we have email for that? Didn't we have telephones? Reminds me of being a Unitarian in the '60s. Leary would come to conferences, and no, I didn't take LSD --why? Because I didn't think it would be good for me. Sobriety is not my constant state of mind, but I want it to be there when I need it. Facebook had all the earmarks of psychological addiction and few stayed away.

  5. I'm one of those FB users. When I first joined I was ”all in” as they say. I found myself in political, religious, and social dialog. Oh the political ”discussions!” As time went on and Trump became the everyday conversation, I became less and less involved. I began deleting friends that I really didn't want to follow anymore as they were bringing me down so to speak. My FB use now is family, art and music. That has brought me lots of joy.

    Has and is my information being mined, sold, used? Of course. The only way to truly stop it is to delete your account. The same goes for Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the like. Your info is and continues to be mined. There is no free lunch. If one subscribes to any of these social media programs ”they” know who you are, what you like and don't like.

    I read an article about the stress level of those twitter followers exceeds that of none twitter followers in that they are constantly bombarded with political tweets of those they follow, much like FB I suppose if one uses FB for political reasons.

    So for me, I stay away from twitter and snap chat. I've picked my poison and its FB and some Instagram. At 71, they already know who I am, where I live, my politics, that I like Crosby, Stills and Nash, art and I don't like Trump.

    The only way to protect yourself is absolutely disconnect from all social media. Maybe I will and maybe I wont. For now I just enjoy how I choose to use it. They already know who I am...