Above: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.
Earlier this month, Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote an open letter expressing his concerns about the evolution of his invention, the World Wide Web. (Interestingly, he writes the term all in lowercase.)
It wasnât just about âfake newsâ, which is how the media have reported it. His first concern was, in fact, about our losing control over our personal data, and determining when and with whom we share them. Itâs something Iâve touched on regularly since 2011, when Google breached its own stated policies over user-preference collection for advertising purposes, something that Facebook appears to be following suit with mid-decade. This was long before Edward Snowden blew the lid on his governmentâs monitoring, something thatâs happening to citizens of other occidental nations, too.
Sir Tim writes, âThrough collaboration withâor coercion ofâcompanies, governments are also increasingly watching our every move online, and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy. In repressive regimes, itâs easy to see the harm that can be causedâbloggers can be arrested or killed, and political opponents can be monitored. But even in countries where we believe governments have citizensâ best interests at heart, watching everyone, all the time is simply going too far. It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, like sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.â
But the one that struck me as very pertinent to publishing is Sir Timâs second point. Itâs the one that most news outlets seized on, linking it back to âfake newsâ, a term now corrupted by the executive branch of the US Government when attacking coverage that it doesnât like. However, Sir Timâs points were far broader than that. And itâs evident how his first point links to his second.
Itâs not hard to see that there is biased coverage on both the right and right wings of US politics (interestingly, they call it left and right), although Sir Tim points to how âa handful of social media sites or search enginesâ show us the things that appeal to our own biases through their algorithms. âFake newsâ then spreads through these algorithms because they play to our prejudices. He writes, âthose with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.â These sites are able to determine what we see based on the data weâve given them, willingly or unwillingly.
Itâs so far from the ideals of the World Wide Web that itâs sad that the medium, which was once so expansive and inspirational as we surfed from one site to the next to read and absorb information, has come to this: a tool for becoming more insular, the first path to the idiocracy.
Google, as I wrote last year, biases itself toward larger sites, no longer rewarding the media outlet that breaks a news item. The incentive to be that maverick medium is, therefore, lessened greatly online, because the web isnât being ranked on merit by the largest player in the search-engine business. Itâs why Duck Duck Go, which doesnât collect user data, gives search results that are generally fairer. We think itâs important to learn alternative viewpoints, especially in politics, otherwise the division that we already see in some countries will only deepenâand at worst this can lead to war. In peacetime countries, a compatriot with opposing political thoughts is not our enemy.
Facebookâs continued data collection of user preferences is also dangerous. Even after users opt out, Facebookâs ad preferencesâ page demonstrates that it will keep collecting. Whether or not Facebook then uses these preferences is unknownâcertainly Facebook itself clams upâbut since the site reports journalists who alert them to kiddie porn, kicks off drag queens after saying they wouldnât, and forces people to download software in the guise of malware detection, who knows if any of Facebookâs positions are real or merely âfake newsâ? Knowing the misdeeds of sites like Facebookâand Google which itself has been found guilty of hackingâdo they actually deserve our ongoing support?
Of course I have an interest in getting people to look beyond the same-again players, because I run one media outlet that isnât among them. But we have an interest to seek information from the independents, and to support a fair and neutral internet. We may learn an angle we hadnât explored before, or we may find news and features others arenât covering. Better yet, we may learn alternative viewpoints that break us out of our prejudices. Surely we canât be that scared of learning about alternatives (maybe one that is better than what we believe), or having a reasoned debate based on fact rather than emotion or hatred? And if you are sharing on social media, do you want to be one of the sheep who uses the same click-bait as everyone else, or show that youâre someone whoâs capable of independent thought?
It shouldnât be that difficult to distinguish fake-news sites from legitimate media (even though the line gets blurred) by looking at how well something is subedited and how many spelling mistakes there are. Perhaps the headlines are less emotive. There is a tier of independent media that deserves your support, whether it is this site or many competing ones that weâve linked ourselves. Going beyond the same-again sources can only benefit us all.
From Prof Heather Richardson, a professor of political history, and republished with her permission. We have social media, we can gather together. It’ll be important for people in the US, whether they are Republican, Democrat or have another political leaning, to show that they’re not going to get suckered in by what’s happening in their country.
I donât like to talk about politics on Facebookâpolitical history is my job, after all, and you are my friendsâbut there is an important non-partisan point to make today.
What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last nightâs ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countriesâis creating what is known as a âshock event.â Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order. When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.
Last nightâs Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.
Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.
My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no oneâs interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they wonât like. I donât know what Bannon is up toâalthough I have some guessesâbut because I know Bannonâs ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisleâand my friends range pretty widelyâwho will benefit from whatever it is. If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.
But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event. A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union. If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincolnâs strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power. Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a âgovernment of the people, by the people, and for the people.â
Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it.
A week ago, Avon found an inventive way to get its brand noticed in peak-hour traffic.
I could make this about how people don’t know how to drive these days, or about the media fascination with Asian drivers when the reality does not bear this out, but let’s make it all about Avonâsince they are the ones who have actually inspired a full blog post today. To think, it could have just been on my Instagram and Tumblr and I would have let it go, since the following video is over a week old.
To be fair, as well as posting on my own platforms, I thought it would only be fair to alert Avon about it on its Facebook. In this age of transparency, it’s not good to talk behind someone’s back. I would have used the website advertised on the side of this Mazda (avon.co.nz), but the below is all I get. (You can try it yourself here.) I told Avon about this, too. They need to know one of their people is a dangerous, inconsiderate, and selfish driver who is ignorant of basic New Zealand road rules, namely how a give-way sign works and how to change lanes. And if I were in their shoes, I’d want to know that the URL emblazoned in large letters on the side of my fleet of cars is wrong.
It was ignored for a while, now my post is deleted.
Immediately I had these five thoughts.
1. Its brand isn’t that great. When you’re starting from a poor position, the best thing to do is try to work harder. As a network marketer, Avon can’t afford to have an office that doesn’t deal with complaints. I might even be a customer. In any case, I’m part of the audienceâand these days, we can affect a brand as much as the official channels. For instance, this post.
2. In the 2000s and 2010s, social media are seen as channels through which we can communicate with organizations. Going against this affects your brand. (There’s a great piece in the Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing, vol. 3, no. 1 that I penned. Avon would do well to read this and integrate social media marketing into its operations.)
3. If you’re an Avon rep and you know that the AustraliaâNew Zealand operation ignores people, then what support do you think you can count on? My post will have been seen by many people, and a follow-up one todayâinforming them it’s poor form to delete commentsâwill be seen by more. It discourages more than customersâits distributors surely will think twice. (I’m also looking at you, Kaspersky. Another firm to avoid.)
4. Advertising your website in large letters and have it not work is a major no-noâit contributes to the image I (and no doubt others) have on Avon as, well, a bit amateur.
5. This is a US firm. If you’re an exporter, isn’t now a really good time to show that you care about your overseas operations? Nation brands impact on corporate ones. Now I’m beginning to wonder if Avon might not be that interested in overseas sales any more. Their new president, with his stated views on free trade, has said in his inauguration speech that they need to ‘buy American’ and ‘hire American.’ Let’s delete stuff from foreigners!
The question I have now is: wouldn’t it have been easier to apologize for its representative’s inability to drive safely, and thank me for telling them their website is dead so they can get it fixed? The video contains the registration number, so Avon could have had a word to their rep.
This is all Marketing 101, yet Avon seems to have failed to grasp the basics. I guess the folks who flunked marketing at university found jobs after all.
Above: Brave Bison’s predecessor, Rightster, left much to be desired in how it dealt with publishers, while investment commentators had concerns, too.
Twenty-sixteen had some strange developments on the publishing front.
First, we noticed Alexa rankings for a lot of sites changed. Facebook itself went from second to third, where it has stayed. Our own sites dropped as well, across the board, even though our own stats showed that traffic was pretty much where it was. In Autocadeâs case, it was rising quickly.
We checked, and Alexa had announced that it had increased its panel again in 2016. There was an announcement about this in 2014, but things improved even more greatly during the last Gregorian calendar year, specifically in April. (April 2016, it seems, was a huge month of change: read on.) This means Alexa began sampling more people to get a more accurate picture. Given that Facebook fell as well as us, then we drew the conclusion that the new panel must include audiences in China and other non-Anglophone places. It makes sense: Alexa is a global service and should take global data points. Never mind that weâve suffered as a result, we actually agree with this approach. And weâre taking steps in 2017 to look at capturing extra traffic with our content.
Alexa, when we approached them, said it could not comment about the origins of the panellists. Again, fair enough. Weâve made an educated guess and will work accordingly.
Secondly, there were two ad networks whose advertising disappeared off our sites. The first, Gorilla Nation, started dropping off long before 2016. In 2015, we asked why and were asked to fill out some form relating to Google ads. Anyone whoâs followed this blog will know why that was unpalatable to usâand we want to make sure our readers donât fall victim to Googleâs snooping, either. Iâm not saying that Google ads donât appear at allâitâs the largest advertising network in the world, and its tentacles are everywhereâbut if I can avoid opening our properties up to Google willingly, then Iâll do so.
Itâs a shame because weâve worked exceedingly well with Gorilla Nation and found them very professional.
We have, sadly, entered an era whereâas found by my friend and colleague Bill Shepherdâonline advertising is controlled by a duopoly. In The New York Times, April 18, 2016 (italics added): âAdvertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst.â I donât think this is fair, as theyâre not the ones generating the content. Google has also managed to game services like Adblock Plus: theyâve paid for their ads not to be blocked. (Better has more information on why certain ad blockers are ineffective.) Itâs not difficult to see why native advertising has increased, and this is generally more favourable to the publisher. In 2017, itâs time to build up the advertising side again: two years ago we already saw quarters where online overtook print in terms of ad revenue.
Burst Media’s ads also disappeared, and we had been working with them since 1998. Now called Rhythm One, they responded, âWe recently migrated to a new platform and your account was flagged by an automated process as part of that. All that being saidâwe can absolutely get you live again.â That was April. I added one of their team to Skype, as requested, but we never connectedâthe helpful staff member wasnât around when I called in. Again, a bit of a shame. As I wrote this blog post, I sent another message just to see if we could deal with the matter via email rather than real-time on Skype.
At least this wasnât a unilateral cessation of a business arrangement, which Rightster sprung on us without notice in April. Rightster’s Christos Constantinou wrote, âIt is with regret that we inform you that from yesterday we ceased providing video content services to your account.â This wasnât the first change Rightster sprung on usâits code had changed in the past, leaving big gaps in our online layoutsâand soon after, everyone there clammed up, despite an initial email from another Rightster staffer that feigned surprise at what had happened. Mr Constantinou never picked up phone calls made since that point, and we couldnât get an answer out of them. No breaches of their terms and conditions were ever made by us.
We were only interested in a small handful of their video sources anyway, all of whom exist on other platforms, so one would have thought that it was to Rightsterâs advantage to continue working with a well respected brand (Lucire). A bit of digging discovered that the firm was not in good shape: a pre-tax loss in the first half of 2015 of ÂŁ11Â·5 million, with shares trading in October of that year at 10Â·50p per share, down from its float price of 60p. That year, it was forecast by Share Prophets that things would only get worse for the firm, and they were proved right within months. Not long after ceasing to work with us (and presumably others), Rightster became Brave Bison Group, restructured, and became a âsocial video broadcasterâ, but it was still burning cash (to the tune of ÂŁ1Â·3 million, according to the same website in July 2016).
Gorilla Nation and Burstâs slots have largely been replaced by other networks as well as ads secured in-house, while Rightster effectively did us a favour, though its opaqueness didnât help. In fact, when they didnât answer questions, it was only natural to surf online to investigate what was going on. Initially, there was some negative stuff about Burst, though my concerns were put to rest when they emailed me back. With Rightster, there was no such solace: finding all the news about the firm being a lemon confirmed to me that we were actually very lucky to have them farewell us.
We revived an old player that we used, through Springboard, itself linked to Gorilla Nation, so weâre still serving advertising from them, just in a different form. Video content has not vanished from the Lucire sites, for those who are interested in it.
How a company behaves can be linked to how well it ultimately performs, and what itâs worth. Given our treatment by Rightster, it wasnât that surprising to learn that something was rotten in Denmark (or London). Maybe that first staff member was genuinely surprised, with employees not being told about their company running out of money. And unless things have truly changed within, it could well continue to function dysfunctionally, which will give those AIM columnists more ammunition.
As of today, Iâve sent off my evidence to the US Better Business Bureau so they can continue their investigation of Facebook. The DAA was too gutless to investigate but the BBB, by contrast, gives a damn.
Let me note here that I have nothing against Facebook making a buck. I just ask that it do so honestly, that it does what it says.
Facebook claims that you can opt out of targeted advertising, and that you can edit your preferences for that targeting, the same was what Google did in 2011. It was revealed then that Google lied, and the Network Advertising Initiative was able to follow up my findings and assured me it would work with them to sort their procedures out.
If you opt out of targeting, Facebook continues to gather information on you. The BBB noted to me in April that if I could show that Facebook was targeting based on personal information I did not provide (e.g. if you fed in a fake location as your home in Facebook and it serves you ads based on your real location), then it could be a violation of their principles. This is pretty easy to prove: just go to any ad in your feed, click on the arrow in the right-hand corner, and click âWhy was I shown this ad?â In most cases, your actual location will have something to do with it.
Secondly, there is a potential link between the preferences Facebook has stored on youâthe ones they say they would not useâand the ads you are shown. Facebook claims you can edit those preferences but as I showed last week, this is not true. Facebook will, in fact, repopulate all deleted preferences (and even add to them), but thanks to the company itself providing me with the smoking gun, I was able to connect those shown preferences with ads displayed between March and December 2016. It casts doubt on whether Facebook is actually targeting me based on freely given information, especially since, for example, I am being served ads for Oh Baby! when I donât have kids. (Oh Baby!, meanwhile, is one of the preferences in its settings.)
My Google investigation took three months; this took between eight and nine.
Weâll see if the BBB will take quite as longâthey might, because they say they tend to be inundated with complaints about Facebook, but find that most cases do not violate their principles. But Iâve shown them not only examples along the lines of what they suggested, but a few that go even further.
This is BS. You can remove all you like (mine has tended to be completely blank for most of 2016) but in the last few days, Facebook has been repopulating this page. This is despite my having Facebook interest-based ads switched off. Thereâs actually no need, then, for Facebook to keep these, and many of them are inaccurate anyway. Yet various advertising bodies, of which Facebook is a member, are too scared to investigate.
Here’s my ads’ preferences’ page on June 14. I had been keeping an eye on this, and keeping it clear since March 2016.
Even as late as October 25, 2016, there were very few things in there. While Facebook shouldn’t be collecting this data, at least it allowed me to delete itâas it claims you can. And no, I’ve never heard of Mandy Capristo.
Regularly since November 27, 2016, Facebook has repopulated this page, putting all deleted preferences back. This was how it looked on November 28. Within hours Facebook would repopulate it, so any deleting is useless.
Not only has Facebook repopulated the page, by today it’s added even more preferences. I’ve been through five rounds of repopulation now.
More BS (links and a lot of comments here and here). Thereâs plenty of evidence to show that Facebookâs so-called detection systems target certain accounts. A computer identified as having malware, necessitating a user to download their so-called anti-malware products, still works for other users, who arenât confronted with the same prompts. Companies like Kaspersky clam up and even delete comments when you begin asking them about the programs Facebook gets you to download. Once downloaded, they canât even be found in your installed programsâ list: they are hidden. No one in the tech press wants to cover this. Scared? Weâve our theory about why they want to slow down some users, and thereâs some suggestion that you can ignore the warnings and log into Facebook several days laterâthe same thing that has happened to users in the past whose Facebook accounts have become faulty due to their database issues. Coincidence?
âWeâre also testing a new tool that will let people provide more information about their circumstances if they are asked to verify their name. People can let us know they have a special circumstance, and then give us more information about their unique situation.â
There have been instances of the drag community, for instance, whose accounts have simply vanished with no means of defending themselves and giving Facebook those circumstances. Facebook claimed that the above applied to the US only in December 2015. However, in 2014, Chris Cox of Facebook wrote, âOur policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name.â Try telling that to the people who have lost their accounts and never given a chance to give their side of the story.
Facebook has 1Â·79 billion monthly active users.
While I canât counter this myself, thereâs plenty of evidence to show that the site has problems with spammers and bots. If you run a large enough group, thereâs a good chance that the majority of new members in your queue are not human. Therefore, you might not actually be reaching the number of people you want in Facebookâs calculations. Since the ad preferences have some very strange information on users, Iâm not that convinced about the accuracy of targeting anyway. Facebook is complicit in spam by supporting click farms, according to Veritasium.
Above: Facebook kept deleting Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph each time it was posted, even when Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten did so, preventing its editor-in-chief from responding.
Thereâs a significant difference between the internet of the 1990s and that of today. As Facebook comes under fire for deleting the ânapalm girlâ photograph from the Vietnam War shared by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland, then by prime minister Erna Solberg and Aftenposten newspaper, it has highlighted to me how the big Silicon Valley players have become exclusionary. In this latest case, it is about how one firm determines what is acceptable and unacceptable without regard to cultural significance or free speech; it even punished people who dared criticize it, and has failed to apologize. Earlier this year, in one of my numerous battles with Facebook, I noted how a major German company falsely claimed videos that did not belong to them, yet there was no penalty. An individual or a small firm would not have been so lucky: when we file copyright claims, we do so âunder penalty of perjuryâ on the form.
Google, never far from my critical eye, is the same. Iâve watched Google News, for instance, become exclusionary, too, or, rather, a service that prefers big players rather than the independents. When deciding to send traffic for a particular news item, Google News now ranks big media outlets more highly, and to heck with journalistic quality or any regard on who broke the story first. Itâs damaging to the independent voice, as Google concentrates power in favour of larger firms today, and itâs rather disturbing when you consider the implications.
Mainstream media can be homogeneous, and, in some cases, damaging, when bias and prejudice get in to the system. When it comes to politics, this can be detrimental to democracy itself. And why should a search engine prefer a larger name anyway? Many newsrooms have been stripped of resources, ever more reliant on press releases. Many now engage in click-bait. Some have agenda driven by big business and their technocratic view of the world, especially those that have their corporate headquarters outside the country in which they operate. Those who desire to wake people up from their slumber get short shrift. Google is aiding this world, because since it became publicly listed, it has had to adopt its trappings, and one might argue that it is in direct conflict with its ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra (one which never held much sway with me).
This is the world which Google and Facebook, and no doubt others, wish to serve up to users. They may well argue that theyâre only delivering what people want: if a lot of people get their news from the Daily Mail or The Huffington Post, then thatâs what theyâll show in their results. Thereâs little freshness online as a result, which is why people arenât as inclined to share in 2016 as they were in 2010.
Yet it was not always this way. The hope in the late 1990s and early 2000s was that Google et al would be tools in distributing power equally among all netizens. Started an independent online publication? If the quality is there, if youâre the first to break a story, then Google News will lavish attention upon you. If you have specialized news outside what mainstream media deliver, then youâll pop up regularly in the search resultsâ pages. The blogosphere rose because of this, with people seeking opinions and research outside of what the mainstream could deliver. The reason people blog less isnât just because of social networks making one-sentence opinions de rigueur; it is because people have found it harder to reach new audience members, and their own tribe is the next best thing.
It makes the ânet a far less interesting place to be. Without fresh, new views, we run the risk of groupthink, or we become particularly influenced by the biases of certain media outlets. We donât really want to surf casually as we once did because we donât learn anything new: itâs harder to find novel things that pique our interests.
There are potential solutions, of course. I tend not to Google, but use Duck Duck Go, so at least I donât get a filter bubble when I search for particular subjects. However, Duck Duck Go does not have a comprehensive news search, and Googleâs index size remains unbeatable. What we really need next is something that brings back that sense of equality online. I believe that if you put in the hours into good content and design, you should excel and get your site ranked above the same old sources. Google claims that it does that when it tweaks its algorithms but Iâm not seeing this. Facebook merely builds on what people have foundâso if you can’t find it, it won’t wind up being shared. Twitter, at least, still has some interesting items, but if you donât catch it in your feed at a given time, then too bad. Itâs not geared to search.
Duck Duck Go is a start, at least when it comes to general searches. It becomes easier to find views that you might not agree withâand thatâs a good thing when it comes to understanding others. Googleâs approach lulls you into a sense of security, that your views are sacrosanctâand all that does is give you the notion that the other half is wrong.
So what of news? Duck Duck Go could well be a starting-point for that, too, ranking news based on who breaks an item first and the quality of the site, rather than how much money is behind it. Or perhaps this is the space for another entrepreneur. Ironically, it might even come out of China; though right now itâs equally likely to emerge from India. What it then needs is a bit of virality for it to be adopted, spread by the very people it is designed to aid.
We need something that rewards the independent entrepreneur again, the people who drove so many innovations in the 1990s and 2000s. This isnât nostalgia kicking in, seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses while happily ignoring all those businesses that failed. I completely acknowledge there were sites that vanished at the time of the dot-com bust, triggered in no small part by 9-11, the anniversary of which we celebrate today.
Society needs those distinctive voices, those independent entrepreneurs, those people who are willing to put themselves forward and be judged fairly. What they donât need are reactionary media who want to silence them out of fear that the world will change too much for them to bear; and big Silicon Valley firms all too happy to join in these days.
Itâs high time the most influential websites served the many rather than the few again.
Above: Facebook’s latest move: ensuring that notifications for messages go to its own app. If you choose not to install it, tough. (Actually, you can reach your messages if you had bookmarked your old message index, and through some digging you can still get there. However, your old habit of clicking on the number won’t work any more.)
I notice that Facebook has dropped to third in Alexa this week, but none of the tech press has covered it.
I know the usual arguments: Alexa isn’t the best way of measuring audience stats; everyone (including us) has dropped because of the way Firefox has changed its status bar, thereby omitting a lot of users from its sample; Facebook itself will have recorded no real drop in user numbers (though we also know a lot of these so-called active users are bots and spammers, as we see heaps each day); and that Alexa doesn’t capture mobile data, where people are spending far more time these days.
It does seem rather hypocritical, however, given that the same tech press applauded and wrote heaps of articles when Facebook overtook Google in Alexa. Some hailed it as the rise and rise of Facebook. There were tones of how unassailable it had become.
However, its number-one position was remarkably fleeting and it quickly dropped back to second, where it has been for years, apart from that one blip.
Facebook’s position has been usurped by Google’s YouTube. I make no predictions on whether this is fleeting or not, but it doesn’t look good for Facebook. I just don’t see any YouTube hate out there. If you dislike reading the comments from the world’s keyboard warriors sitting in their underwear at home, a few cookie settings will render them invisible. YouTube becomes a remarkably tolerable site.
Earlier this month, a report found by my friend William Shepherd showed that personal sharing on Facebook had dipped by 21 per cent.
I have said for years that ‘Facebook is the new Digg,’ a place where news is shared, not personal updates, though it appears it has taken a while for the company to realize this. Looking at some of the bugs on the site over the years, I’m not surprised Facebook missed it: for months it acted as though its entire user base was in California, with the website stuck at the end of each month till it got to the 1st in its home state. Now it is kicking users off over fake malware accusations when it’s more likely, and this is my guess based on how the site has behaved over the years, that its databases are dying. Liking, sharing and commenting fail from time to time.
Given this, and its many other problemsâincluding the breach of policies outlined by some of the groups it participates in, impacting on user privacyâno wonder it’s experiencing this drop.
I see personal updates again that I saw a day before, because relatively few of my 2,300 friends write them any more. The trend has shifted, and a lot of users must have noticed what I did many years ago.
At Medinge Group we have long advocated transparency in brands, and Facebook’s actions run counter to a lot of what we have proposed.
We believe that sooner or later, people wise upâsomething we said about Enron at one of the first meetings I attended in 2002.
In fact, the way Facebook behaves tends to be combative, and for a 21st-century firm, its attitudes toward its user base is very 20th-century, a “them and us” model. It’s not alone in this: I’ve levelled similar accusations against Google and I stand by them. Since my own battle with them over malware, and a more recent one over intellectual property (where I was talking to a Facebook employee who eventually gave up when things got into the “too hard” basket), I’ve found dozens of other users via Twitter who have been kicked off the service, yet are running clean, malware-free machines. The blog post I wrote on the subject has been the most-read of the pieces I have authored in 2016, and certainly the most commented, as others face the same issue.
While both giants will claim that they could not possibly have the sort of one-to-one relationship with their user bases in the same way as a small business can, it’s clear to me that big issues aren’t being flagged and dealt with at Facebook. When I read the link Bill sent me, my first reaction was, ‘Why did it take so long for someone there to realize this?’
Let’s not even get started on the way both companies treat paying their fair share of tax.
It’s not about the number of people experiencing any given issue, it’s about the severity of the issue that a small number of people experience. By the time a larger vocal minority experiences it, the damage has gone a lot further.
Facebook does listen to some of these cases: I remember when it limited bot reports to 40â50 a day, at a time when it was not uncommon to find hundreds a day on the site. I complained, and after a few months, Facebook did indeed remove this limit.
But I regard that as an exception.
Its forced downloads of so-called malware scans that even its supplier refuses to answer for (could they have nefarious purposes?), and now the latest last weekâensuring that all message notifications in a mobile browser link to its Messenger app, resulting in a 404 for anyone who does not have it installedâare rendering the website less and less useful. In my case, I just use it less. We’re not going to download privacy-invading apps on our phoneâwe’re busy enough. We want to manage our time and if that means we only get to Facebook messages when we are at our desks, then so be it. Some might abandon it altogether.
Its other move is ceasing the forwarding from www.facebook.com to m.facebook.com on mobile devices, so if you had the former bookmarked, you’re not going to see anything any more. Some browsers (like Dolphin) came with the former bookmarked. Result: a few more legit users, who might not know the difference, gone. If there’s no trust, then regardless of the money you have, you’re not a top brand, nor one that people really wish to associate with.
Facebook, of course, knows some of this, which is why it has bought so many other firms where there’s still personal sharing, such as Instagram and Whatsapp.
It knows if there’s another site that comes along that gets public support, as it did when it first started, people will abandon Facebook en masse.
Curiously, even this past week alone, it seems intent to hurry them along. There must be some sort of corporate goal to see if it can reach fourth, just like Flight of the Conchords.
With the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the German TV show Alarm fĂŒr Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei, a fan group I runâthe largest unofficial community on Facebook for the seriesâhas been the subject of a Blitzkrieg by RTL. Trailers, which made up the majority of the uploaded videos, are indeed copyrighted material, but have resided happily there since 2008. But in their determination to have every video cleansed from Facebook, individual members’ copyrighted material, as well as videos that do not even belong to RTL, have been the subject of their claims.
As someone who is usually on the complainant’s side in DMCA cases, I have a lot of sympathy for their positionâbut I’ve never gone to a website to lay claim to material that isn’t ours. You would think that a company as well resourced as RTL would be able to tell the difference, if a far smaller firm like ours can, but it appears there are keyboard warriors even in the largest TV networks. A reply, therefore, is needed, and it’s going to be a nice weekend sans Facebook, where I have been barred for three days without their usual counterclaim procedure operating. Luckily, I had set up a back-door account to administer pages and groups, after Facebook’s anti-malware malware incident, which is practically all I do there these days anyway.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Today we note that all videos uploaded to the largest Facebook group about the TV series Alarm fĂŒr Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei (https://www.facebook.com/groups/autobahnpolizei/) have been the subject of complaints by you, causing them all to be removed.
We acknowledge that some of these videos contain content from Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland and Action Concept. They have resided there since 2008 without a single complaint, and the overwhelming majority (over 90 per cent) are trailers that you have permitted not only on this group, but all fan groups.
Our group is non-profit and promotional in nature. Contractors to and employees of RTL and Action-Concept have happily been members for years, so it is clearly known to your organization.
You have also permitted fan edits to your material on YouTube for years, where derivative works have been created and reside.
Derivative works include subtitled, reworked Bulgarian translations to your trailers by Mr Hristian Martinov that feature new graphics, fan edits by Herr Thorsten Markus GrĂŒtzmacher featuring the history of the series, and fan videos by Herr Stefan Wilke made in 2002 and 2004. Given RTLâs own stance on these elsewhere, principally on YouTube, there is an appalling double standard that you have applied to this Facebook group.
We acknowledge that on a strict legal interpretation, some of these can be subject to your copyright claims and, had we been approached privately, we would have removed them. However, we are deeply concerned over content that Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland falsely and deceptively laid claim to, and is no concern of yours.
You have stated to Facebook that these are videos that you or your organization created. In the cases detailed below, this is not true.
We have two reporting numbers provided to us by Facebook, 1687808734841713 and 235243696819825, although numerous others relating to this group apply.
Among those are videos that you have falsely and deceptively laid claim to include those shot by individual members on set on visits to Action Concept, videos shot privately by Herr GrĂŒtzmacher while he was contracted to Action Concept, advertisements made by Kia Motors Deutschland GmbH which feature Alarm fĂŒr Cobra 11 characters, news articles covering Alarm fĂŒr Cobra 11 that are not owned by RTL but by their respective news networks, and an advertisement for Daimler AG that has no connection whatsoever to Alarm fĂŒr Cobra 11, Action-Concept, or RTL.
Please be advised that Facebook operates on US copyright law, which the above items do not fall foul of as they relate to RTL; even if they do, they are outside the scope of copyrighted material that you have any authority to file complaints about. The notion of German moral rights in copyright do not apply in the United States in this respect.
Your actions have caused accounts to be disabled and while this may be warranted in the cases that concern RTL material, it is not warranted in cases where you have made false claims to Facebook. Your statements are not only inaccurate in these cases, they are also defamatory in nature and we consider them libellous.
We are prepared to vigorously defend our position.
Nevertheless, we are reasonable, and we propose a fair solution. As there is no way to compile every reporting number over eight years of material that has vanished in the space of 24 hours, we request that all the material you have reported on this group to be reinstated in full. Once that is done, the group’s moderators work alongside you to remove, individually, only the content that belongs to you. Reinstatement should occur within a week of this email, while removal of all RTL trailers, promotional material, and direct clips from the showâthe last of which are indisputably RTL copyrighted materialâwill be done over the following week.
Facebook notes that you are under no obligation to respond. Please be advised that this message will be openly published, and will also be sent to you as hard copy, with other parties cced.
Jack Yan, LL B, BCA (Hons.), MCA
ccs for Action Concept and Facebook, under separate cover
What an innovative way to generate goodwill for a TV series in the days before the network kicks off its 20th anniversary tributes (on March 12).
When I said in January that Facebook’s and Kaspersky’s anti-malware malware (there’s no better term for it, though of course they will deny that it was malware) had it in for McAfee, what did I mean?
As some of you know, I fell for Facebook’s insistence that I download its malware if I wanted to gain access to the site, and no, I was not phished. This is a “feature” that Facebook and Kaspersky have bragged about.
After you download the program from Kaspersky, that company refuses to tell you how to remove it from your computer. It doesn’t appear in your installed programs’ list. I put a very polite comment at their blog entry on the subject, but it was never approved. They don’t want to help people who were laboured with this unnecessary and invasive software. I once thought highly of Kaspersky, but their willingness to collaborate with Facebook, their opaqueness on this matter, and the earlier (unproven) accusations that they were party to faking malware to harm rival products have made me highly wary of the firm. I’ll never purchase anything from them because of their behaviour, at least till I see some change that they are willing to get with the programme as far as transparency and integrity are concerned.
Thanks to Reddit, I learned how to remove what I could, but the fact remains that after the whole FacebookâKaspersky scan for non-existent malware, McAfee would not work properly any more. This wasn’t due to any other malwareâI had run a very comprehensive series of legitimate malware scans guided by an expert in Germany at Bleeping Computer in the wake of this incident, and confirmed all was well. As far as I could tell, the only noticeable change to my system was what Facebook put on.
I was eventually forced to remove McAfee after 27 years of using their products, in favour of Avira. This is why: whatever was left on the computer kept fighting McAfee to turn itself off (above right, and video below). My Windows computer didn’t like the idea of having no antivirus program. I had attempted to reinstall McAfee once already, which stopped this behaviour for about a week. McAfee Virtual Technician could not resolve it, and I never got very far with McAfee support (as opposed to the incredibly helpful people on their forums). Over a month after Facebook forced its download on me, I was still paying the price of following their instructionsâwhen we should know by now that anything these idiots tell you cannot be of any advantage to the user. Sometimes, when you get their warnings at 3 a.m., you don’t necessarily think as clearly as you would at 3 p.m.
I don’t know how many hours I wasted on this in total, but I know I have saved many users a lot of time. For many days I found a lot of other Facebookers forced to do the same, and gave them some simple advice so that they would not fall into the same trap. Others have come to this blog: I’ve had some decent traffic around the two posts I wrote on the subject.
People really need to know that not only is Facebook messing around with your settings and tracking you, they are putting things on your computer. I’m glad, then, that I will principally remain there for a few messages, and page and group administrationâthe latter very necessary given all the bots and spammers that now plague the website. I’m sure I can’t be alone in spotting numerous spammers per day, spammers which Facebook often does nothing about when reported. That, too, should make us wonder.