Posts tagged ‘Big Tech’


A refreshing piece on diversity in our mainstream media

31.01.2021

Two fantastic items in my Tweetstream today, the first from journalist Jehan Casinader, a New Zealander of Sri Lankan heritage, in Stuff.
   Some highlights:

   As an ethnic person, you can only enter (and stay in) a predominantly white space – like the media, politics or corporate leadership – if you play by the rules. And really, there’s only one rule: blend in. You’re expected to assimilate into the dominant way of thinking, acting and being …
   I sound like you. I make myself relatable to you. I communicate in a way that makes sense to you. I don’t threaten you. I don’t make you uncomfortable. And I keep my most controversial opinions to myself.

And:

   Kiwis love stories about ethnic people who achieve highly: winning university scholarships, trying to cure diseases, inventing new technology or entering the political arena. These people are lauded for generating economic and social value for the country …
   We do not hear stories about ethnic people who work in thankless, low-skilled jobs – the refugees and migrants who stock our supermarket shelves, drive our taxis, pick our fruit, milk our cows, fill our petrol tanks, staff our hospitals and care for our elderly in rest homes.

   Jehan says that now he is in a position of influence, he’s prepared to bring his Sri Lankan identity to the places he gets to visit, and hopes that everyone in Aotearoa is given respect ‘not because of their ability to assimilate’.
   He was born here to new immigrants who had fled Sri Lanka, and I think there is a slight difference to those of us who came as children. Chief among this, at least for me, was my resistance to assimilation. Sure I enjoyed some of the same things other kids my age did: the Kentucky Fried Chicken rugby book, episodes of CHiPs, and playing tag, but because of various circumstances, as well as parents who calmly explained to me the importance of retaining spoken Cantonese at home, I constantly wore my Chineseness. I hadn’t chosen to leave my birthplace—this was the decision of my parents—so I hung on to whatever I could that connected me back to it.
   I could contrast this to other Chinese New Zealanders I went to school with, many of whom had lost their native language because their parents had encouraged assimilation to get ahead. I can’t fault them—many of them are my dearest friends—but I was exposed to what Jehan wrote about from a young age.
   It saddened me a lot because here were people who looked like me who I couldn’t speak to in my mother tongue, and the only other student of Chinese extraction in my primary class who did speak her native language spoke Mandarin—which to many of my generation, certainly to those who did so little schooling before we left, find unintelligible.
   At St Mark’s, I had no issue. This was a school that celebrated differences, and scholastic achievement. (I am happy to say that sports and cultural activity are very much on the cards these days, too.) But after that, at one college, I observed what Jehan said: the Chinese New Zealanders who didn’t rock the boat were safe buddies to have; those who were tall poppies were the target of the weak-minded, the future failures of our society. You just have to rise above it, and, if anything, it made me double-down on my character—so much so that when I was awarded a half-scholarship to Scots, I found myself in familiar surroundings again, where differences were championed.
   But you do indeed have to play the game. Want your company recognized? Then get yourself into the media. Issue releases just like the firms that were sending them to you as a member of the media. Don’t bring your Chineseness into that, because you won’t get coverage. Jack Yan & Associates, and Lucire for that matter, always had a very occidental outlook, with my work taking me mostly to the US and Europe, with India only coming in at the end of the 2000s—but then we were bound by the lingua franca of the old colonial power.
   Despite my insistence on my own reo at home, and chatting every day to my Dad, I played the game that Jehan did when it came to work. I didn’t as much when I ran for mayor, admittedly—I didn’t want voters to get a single-sided politician, but one who was his authentic self—but that also might explain why Stuff’s predecessor, which was at that stage owned by a foreign company, gave me next to no coverage the first time out. They weren’t prepared to back someone who didn’t fit their reader profile. The second time out, it still remained shockingly biased. Ironically the same publishing group would give me reasonably good coverage in Australia when I wasn’t doing politics. That’s the price to pay for authenticity sometimes.
   Jehan finishes his piece on a positive note and I feel he is right to. We still have issues as a nation, no doubt, but I think we embrace our differences more than we used to. There have been many instances where I have seen all New Zealanders rise up to condemn racism, regardless of their political bents. (What is interesting was I do recall one National MP still in denial, residing in fantasy-land, when I recalled a racist incident—and this was after March 15, 2019!) People from all walks of life donated to my fund-raising when a friend’s car had a swastika painted on it. We have a Race Relations’ Commissioner who bridges so many cultures effectively—a New Zealander of Taishanese extraction who speaks te reo Māori and English—who is visible, and has earned his mana among so many here. The fact that Jehan’s piece was even published, whereas in 2013 it would have been anathema to the local arm of Fairfax, is further reason to give me hope.

The second item? Have a watch of this. It’s largely in accord with my earlier post.

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Posted in business, culture, media, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | 1 Comment »


In the ‘I told you so’ department: Facebook purges left-wing, anti-war accounts

23.01.2021

Further to my Lucire op–ed on January 8, and my blog post on January 11, I hinted that this could happen.
   From the World Socialist Web Site:

On Friday, Facebook carried out a purge of left-wing, antiwar and progressive pages and accounts, including leading members of the Socialist Equality Party. Facebook gave no explanation why the accounts were disabled or even a public acknowledgement that the deletions had occurred.
   At least a half dozen leading members of the Socialist Equality Party had their Facebook accounts permanently disabled. This included the public account of Genevieve Leigh, the national secretary of the International Youth and Students for Social Equality, and the personal account of Niles Niemuth, the US managing editor of the World Socialist Web Site. In 2016, Niemuth was the Socialist Equality Party’s candidate for US Vice President.

   Seen it happen before, and we’ll see it again. Given Facebook’s management’s right-wing leanings, this really should come as no surprise. Doing it on a Friday also ensures less coverage by the media.
   I just wonder if the leftists who celebrated the ban of former US president Donald Trump will now be claiming, ‘It’s a private company, they can host whom they like,’ and ‘The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee that these websites should provide you with a platform.’
   I have never trusted Facebook with my personal information and made sure I kept copies of everything. It’s precisely because it is a private company that acts unilaterally and above the law that one never should trust them. We have had so many examples for over a decade.
   My exact words on the 8th were: ‘Leftists (and a good many on the right) might be delighted at the actions taken by US Big Tech, but would one be as cheerful if a Democratic president or a leftist movement were silenced?’
   As I have said for a long time, the left and right have common enemies, and here is a shining example.

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Posted in internet, politics, USA | 1 Comment »


Like communist dictatorships, Google and Facebook threaten Australia

23.01.2021

You know the US tech giants have way too much power, unencumbered by their own government and their own country’s laws, when they think they can strong-arm another nation.
   From Reuter:

Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Friday it would block its search engine in Australia if the government proceeds with a new code that would force it and Facebook Inc to pay media companies for the right to use their content.

   Fine, then piss off. If Australia wants to enact laws that you can’t operate with, because you’re used to getting your own way and don’t like sharing the US$40,000 million you’ve made each year off the backs of others’ hard work, then just go. I’ve always said people would find alternatives to Google services in less than 24 hours, and while I appreciate its index is larger and it handles search terms well, the spying and the monopolistic tactics are not a worthwhile trade-off.
   I know Google supporters are saying that the Australian policy favours the Murdoch Press, and I agree that the bar that the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) has set for what qualifies as a media business (revenues of over A$150,000 per annum) is too high. So it isn’t perfect.
   The fact Google has made a deal in France suggests it is possible, when the giant doesn’t whine so damned much.
   Plus, Google and Facebook have been dangerous to democracy, and should have done more for years to address these issues. They’ve allowed a power imbalance for the sake of their own profits, so paying for news—effectively a licensing payment that the rest of us would have to fork out—at least puts a value on it, given how it benefits the two sites. No search? Fine, let’s have more ethical actors reap the rewards of fairer, “unbubbled” searches, because at least there would be a societal benefit from it, and since they aren’t cashing in on the media’s work, I’m happy for them to get a free licence to republish. Right now I don’t believe the likes of Duck Duck Go are dominant enough (far from it) to raise the attention of Australian regulators.
   Facebook’s reaction has been similar: they would block Australians from sharing links to news. Again, not a bad idea; maybe people will stop using a platform used to incite hate and violence to get their bubbled news items. Facebook, please go ahead and carry out your threat. If it cuts down on people using your site—or, indeed, returns them to using it for the original purpose most of us signed up for, which was to keep in touch with friends—then we all win. (Not that I’d be back for anything but the limited set of activities I do today. Zuck’s rich enough.)
   A statement provided to me and other members of the media from the Open Markets Institute’s executive director Barry Lynn reads:

Today Google and Facebook proved in dramatic fashion that they pose existential threats to the world’s democracies. The two corporations are exploiting their monopoly control over essential communications to extort, bully, and cow a free people. In doing so, Google and Facebook are acting similarly to China, which in recent months has used trade embargoes to punish Australians for standing up for democratic values and open fact-based debate. These autocratic actions show why Americans across the political spectrum must work together to break the power that Google, Facebook, and Amazon wield over our news and communications, and over our political debate. They show why citizens of all democracies must work together to build a communications infrastructure safe for all democracies in the 21st Century.

   Considering Google had worked on a search engine that would comply with Communist Chinese censorship, and Facebook has been a tool to incite genocide, then the comparison to a non-democratic country is valid.
   So, I say to these Big Tech players, pull out. This is the best tech “disruption” we can hope for. You’re both heading into irrelevance, and Australia has had the balls to do what your home country—from which you offshore a great deal of your money—cannot, for all the lobbyists you employ. You favour big firms over independents, and the once level playing field that existed on the internet has been worsened by you. The Silicon Valley spirit, of entrepreneurship, born of the counterculture, needs to return, and right now you’re both standing in the way: you are “the man”, suppressing entrepreneurial activity, reducing employment, and splitting people apart—just what dictatorial régimes do.
   As an aside, the EU is also cracking down on Big Tech as it invites the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to a February 1 hearing. They’ve bled people for long enough and it’s time for some pushback.

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Posted in business, China, culture, internet, media, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


This was the natural outcome of greed, in the forms of monopoly power and sensationalist media

11.01.2021

I did indeed write in the wake of January 6, and the lengthy op–ed appears in Lucire, quoting Emily Ratajkowski, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden. I didn’t take any pleasure in what happened Stateside and Ratajkowski actually inspired the post after a Twitter contact of mine quoted her. This was after President Donald Trump was taken off Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
   The points I make there are probably familiar to any of you, my blog readers, pointing at the dangers of tech monopolies, the double standards that they’ve employed, and the likely scenario of how the pendulum could swing the other way on a whim because another group is flavour of the month. We’ve seen how the US has swung one way and the other depending on the prevailing winds, and Facebook’s and Twitter’s positions, not to mention Amazon’s and Google’s, seem reactionary and insincere when they have had their terms and conditions in place for some time.
   Today, I was interested to see Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel, referred to by not a few as the leader of the free world, concerned at the developments, as was President López Obrador of México. ‘German Chancellor Angela Merkel objected to the decisions, saying on Monday that lawmakers should set the rules governing free speech and not private technology companies,’ reported Bloomberg, adding, ‘Europe is increasingly pushing back against the growing influence of big technology companies. The EU is currently in the process of setting up regulation that could give the bloc power to split up platforms if they don’t comply with rules.’
   The former quotation wasn’t precisely my point but the latter is certainly linked. These tech giants are the creation of the US, by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and their institutions, every bit as Trump was a creation of the US media, from Fox to MSNBC.
   They are natural outcomes of where things wind up when monopoly power is allowed to gather and laws against it are circumvented or unenforced; and what happens when news networks sell spectacle over substance in order to hold your attention. One can only hope these are corrected for the sake of all, not just one side of the political spectrum, since freedom—actual freedom—depends on them, at least until we gain the civility and education to regulate ourselves, the Confucian ideal. Everything about this situation suggests we are nowhere near being capable, and I wonder if homo sapiens will get there or whether we’ll need to evolve into another species before we do.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, leadership, media, politics, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


The US, where big business (and others) can lie with impunity

31.12.2020

One thing about not posting to NewTumbl is I’ve nowhere convenient to put quotations I’ve found. Maybe they have to go here as well. Back when I started this blog in 2006—15 years ago, since it was in January—I did make some very short posts, so it’s not out of keeping. (I realize the timestamp is in GMT, but it’s coming up to midday on January 1, 2021 here.)
   Here’s one from Robert Reich, and I think for the most part US readers will agree, regardless of their political stripes.

In 2008, Wall Street nearly destroyed the economy. The Street got bailed out while millions of Americans lost their jobs, savings, and homes. Yet not no major Wall Street executive ever went to jail.
   In more recent years, top executives of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, along with the Sackler family, knew the dangers of OxyContin but did nothing. Executives at Wells Fargo Bank pushed bank employees to defraud customers. Executives at Boeing hid the results of tests showing its 737 Max Jetliner was unsafe. Police chiefs across America looked the other way as police under their command repeatedly killed innocent Black Americans.
   Yet here, too, those responsible have got away with it.

   I did offer these quotations with little or no commentary at NewTumbl and Tumblr.
   What came up with the above was a Twitter exchange with a netizen in the US, and how some places still touted three- to four-day shipping times when I argued that it was obvious—especially if you had been looking at the COVID positivity rates that their government officials relied on—that these were BS. And that Amazon (revenue exceeding US$100 milliard in the fourth quarter of 2020) and Apple (profit at c. US$100 milliard for the 12 months ending September 30) might just be rich enough to hire an employee to do the calculations and correlate them with delays—we are not talking particularly complicated maths here, and we have had a lot of 2020 data to go on. But they would rather save a few bob and lie to consumers: it’s a choice they have made.
   The conclusion I sadly had to draw was that businesses there can lie with impunity, because they’ve observed that there are no real consequences. The famous examples are all too clear from Reich’s quotation, where the people get a raw deal—even losing their lives.

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Facebook leaves up over 95 per cent of hate speech; ‘embarrassing to work here,’ says ex-staffer

16.12.2020

Buzzfeed’s article, on departing Facebook staff who write ‘badge posts’, wasn’t a surprise; what was a greater surprise was just how long it took for such news to surface.
   Badge posts are traditional farewell notes at Facebook, and not everyone has had rosy things to say. One wrote, ‘With so many internal forces propping up the production of hateful and violent content, the task of stopping hate and violence on Facebook starts to feel even more sisyphean than it already is … It also makes it embarrassing to work here’ (original emphasis).
   Buzzfeed noted, ‘More stunning, they estimated using the company’s own figures that, even with artificial intelligence and third-party moderators, the company was “deleting less than 5% of all of the hate speech posted to Facebook,”’ a claim that Facebook disputes, despite its points having already been addressed in the badge post:

   The rest is worth reading here.
   Meanwhile, this Twitter thread from Cory Doctorow, sums up a lot of my feelings and has supporting links, and it is where I found the above. Highlights:

   I realize US conservatives feel they are hard done by with Facebook, but I know plenty of liberals who feel the same, and who’ve had posts censored. Even if Silicon Valley leans left, Facebook’s management doesn’t, so I’d go so far as to say right-wing views get more airtime there than left-wing (actually, also right-wing by anyone else’s standards) ones. On Facebook itself, during the few times I visit, I actually see very few conservatives who have complained of having their posts deleted or censored.
   That isn’t a reason to shut it down or to break it up, but misinformation, regardless of whom it supports is. Inciting genocide is. Allowing posts to remain that influence someone to commit murder is. Facebook has proved over 15 years-plus that it has no desire to do the right thing, in which case it may well be time for others to step in to do it for them.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, leadership, politics, technology, USA | No Comments »


Looks like Twitter makes up your settings, too

02.12.2020

Speaking of Twitter doing weird things, I checked out some of Lucire’s settings on there today, something I haven’t looked at for a long time.


   I do not ever recall telling them I was in Malaysia—it’s not a country we’ve even had a correspondent in—and Estonian and Welsh were never marked as languages. I’m not even that sure about Romanian since our edition there shut in the 2000s and the Twitter account dates from 2009.
   Given yesterday’s post, I should be able to be more certain: I didn’t put in Malaysia, and I didn’t put in Romanian.
   I will give them one compliment: the advertising preferences were a damned sight more accurate than anything I saw on Facebook (back when Facebook let me see them). I still deleted them though.

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Confirmed: Twitter does unfollow people

01.12.2020

Twitter bird fallen
Pixabay

People have long suspected that Twitter “unfollows” without human intervention (I’ve heard the stories for over a decade), but I never had any first-hand proof. Like the Google Ads Preferences Manager (they don’t use apostrophes in Mountain View) situation in 2011, where I initially doubted myself, thinking maybe I hadn’t opted out when in fact I had, Twitter had me thinking the same thing for years. Maybe I was never friends with that person. The technology wouldn’t have unfriended them—there would be little point. Maybe I only ever saw them in re-Tweets.
   But finally along comes a case where I know for a fact I never unfollowed someone, and he says he never unfollowed me. (Please bear with me while I use the colloquialisms without putting them into quotation marks.)
   I have a Twitter plug-in that tracks unfollowers and was very surprised when a real-world friend, Jordan, showed up on the list. I looked at his account, and, to my surprise, I wasn’t following him. I knew for a fact I was—this was one case where I was sure, and I had even replied to something of his last week. It is, as my fellow RNZ Panellist Andrew Frame put it, ‘Eureka!’ Or, to bring it out of ancient Greece and into language my contemporaries can understand: ‘You’re nicked.’ You can read the thread here.
   So just like Google in 2011—which had likely been lying to the public for two years about opting out through its Ads Preferences Manager—I am right and the technology is wrong. Back then I really had opted out and Google deceptively opted me back in, something which I point out ad nauseam on this blog. Here, neither Jordan nor I unfriended the other.
   Last year I wondered why I wasn’t following Peter Lambrechtsen, another IRL friend, but put it down to my own omission; I don’t believe that to be the case any more.
   You may wonder how hard it is for a site to keep track of who follows whom, but I have long accused Facebook of having databasing problems, based on my experience as a regular user from 2007 to 2017; surely the same thing must afflict Twitter as it scaled to milliards of users. When in doubt, don’t: experience says that when it comes to these big sites, usually it’s not your fault, but the technology’s. Twitter is as fallible as Google and Facebook.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


More things that don’t work: Google knowledge panels, and typing in te reo Māori in Facebook

06.09.2020

A guide to emojis for 2020.

At least Twitter works. Google, as usual, doesn’t.
   I had a check to see how Lucire was performing in a Google search yesterday and noticed there was a Wikipedia box to the right, and a message saying that if it was about us, I could ‘claim’ the box. I clicked on the link, and as Google knows my email address is associated with Lucire through its search console, it verified me. ‘Congratulations, you’ve been verified’, according to the Google website, and I could ‘Add or change info’, with a ‘Review info’ box that I could click on.

   Actually, it’s just a coloured rectangle. Clicking on it does nothing.
   Maybe it’s my privacy settings, so I used my fresh, unblocked, Google-can-plant-what-it-likes Chromium browser. I log in as me on Google. And here’s what I get.

   Another variant is the below:

   ‘This account doesn’t have permission to publish on Google Search.’ Um, it does. You just told me I did.
   The box remains claimed but there’s not a damned thing I can do.

Long-time readers will remember my pointing out many years ago how the Google Dashboard isn’t accurate, especially when it comes to arithmetic. Nothing has changed.
   Google says I have one task. Well, I can’t, since I’ve never used it. Click through: I have none, and Google returns a ‘Get started’ page. Google says I have two albums. Again, impossible. Click through: I have none. It says I belong to one group. Click through: zero. I’m honestly astonished at how bad they are. If you can’t do maths, you probably shouldn’t be working with computers.




Finally, I see Facebook has forced a lot of people to change to its new template. I actually don’t care what the UI looks like, as I’m not there sufficiently to care. And I bet that if you were Māori, you’d want to have the old template back, since you can’t type macronized vowels. The macron just winds up on the baseline on any Chromium browser.

   One friend tried to replicate this on Windows and couldn’t, so this might not be a universal issue.
   The font being called by the stylesheet is Segoe UI Historic. I have it installed, and it’s not something I’ve ever edited. I will point that that, according to Character Map, no macronized vowels are visible in the relevant Unicode range, though I haven’t opened it in Fontlab to confirm. If the browser has to substitute, that’s fine. But what font (indeed, which of the Segoe fonts) has macrons on the baseline? It appears to be Microsoft’s Segoe, so if it’s not a Facebook linked font (the code inspector suggests it isn’t), then we can point the finger at Microsoft for a buggy font on a standard Windows 10 computer. Either way, someone in a Big Tech outfit goofed.

I had bookmarked this on my cellphone but because it’s my cellphone, it takes a long time to get it on this blog. I have to remember to grab the phone, then look up the post. But it’s your regular reminder that Facebook usually does nothing, despite saying it actively takes down hateful content. As I noted on The Panel in late August, eight copies (I believe in part) of the Christchurch massacre still exited on the platform as of March 15, 2020. The lies are laid bare once more.

   As a company, they also take their sweet time in removing bots. Here’s Instagram in a message to me on August 27 (it’s not the only 2018 report they responded to that week):

Same old, same old.

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Posted in culture, internet, New Zealand, publishing, Sweden, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Podcast for tonight: behind the scenes on The Panel

28.08.2020

For your listening pleasure, here’s tonight’s podcast, with a bit behind the scenes on my first appearance on RNZ’s The Panel as a panellist, and ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ delivered at a more appropriate pace, without me staring at the clock rushing to finish it before the pips for the 4 p.m. news.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, media, New Zealand, TV, Wellington | No Comments »