Posts tagged ‘Facebook’


Facebook is getting away with it again—even though it knew about Cambridge Analytica

25.07.2019

Thanks to my friend Bill Shepherd, I’ve now subscribed to The Ad Contrarian newsletter. Bob Hoffman is one of the few who gets it when it comes to how insignificant the FTC’s Facebook fine is.
   Five (American) billion (American) dollars sounds like a lot to you and me, but considering Facebook’s stock rose on the news, they’ve more than covered the fine on the rise alone.
   Bob writes: ‘The travesty of this settlement guarantees that no tech company CEO will take consumer privacy or data security seriously. Nothing will change till someone either has to pay personally or go to jail. Paying insignificant fines with corporate money is now an officially established cost of doing business in techland and—who knows?—a jolly good way to boost share prices.’
   There’s something very messed up about this scenario, particularly as some of the US’s authorities are constantly being shown up by the EU (over Google’s monopoly actions) and the UK’s Damian Collins, MP (over the questions being asked of Facebook—unlike US politicians’, his aren’t toothless).
   The US SEC, meanwhile, has released its report on Facebook, showing that Facebook knew what was happening with Cambridge Analytica in 2015–16, and that the company willingly sold user data to the firm. SEC’s Stephanie Avakian noted, ‘As alleged in our complaint, Facebook presented the risk of misuse of user data as hypothetical when they knew user data had in fact been misused.’ You can read the entire action as filed by the SEC here.

In its quarterly and annual reports filed between January 28, 2016 and March 16, 2018 (the “relevant period”), Facebook did not disclose that a researcher had, in violation of the company’s policies, transferred data relating to approximately 30 million Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica. Instead, Facebook misleadingly presented the potential for misuse of user data as merely a hypothetical investment risk. Moreover, when asked by reporters in 2017 about its investigation into the Cambridge Analytica matter, Facebook falsely claimed the company found no evidence of wrongdoing, thereby reinforcing the misleading statements in its periodic filings.

   As I have been hashtagging, #Facebooklies. This is standard practice for the firm, as has been evidenced countless times for over a decade. The settlement: US$100 million. Pocket change.

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My social media engagement is dropping and I do not care

09.07.2019

In the last month, maybe the last few weeks, my likes on Instagram have halved. Interestingly, Lucire’s Instagram visits have increased markedly. But as I use my own account more than a work one, I can see the trend there a bit more clearly.
   It’s not unlike Facebook, which, of course, owns Instagram. While I haven’t used it for personal updates since 2017, I maintain a handful of pages, and I still recall earlier this decade when, overnight, engagement dropped 90 per cent. It never recovered. Facebook, like Google, biases itself toward those who can afford to pay, in the great unlevelling of the playing field that Big Tech is wont to do.
   They know that they’re structured on, basically, a form of digital drug-taking: that for every like we get, we get a dopamine hit, and if we want to maintain those levels, we had better pay for them and become junkies. But here’s the thing: what if people wake up and realize that they don’t need that hit any more? I mean, even Popeye Doyle got through cold turkey to pursue Alain Charnier in French Connection II.
   I’ve written about social media fatigue before, and the over-sharing that can come with it. More than once I blogged about being ‘Facebooked out’. And as you quit one social medium, it’s not too hard to quit another.
   I’ve made a lot of posts on Instagram but I value my privacy increasingly, and in the period leading up to the house move, I began doing less on it. And without the level of engagement, whether that’s caused by the algorithm or my own drop in activity, I’m beginning to care less, even if Instagram was more a hobby medium where I interacted with others.
   And since I have less time to check it, I actually don’t notice that I have fewer likes when I open the app. I only really know when I see that each photo averages 15 likes or so, when figures in the 30s and 40s were far more commonplace not very long ago.
   So what’s the deal? Would they like us to pay? I’m not that desperate. I don’t ’Gram for likes, as it was always a hobby, one that I seem to have less time for in 2019. I never thought being an “influencer” on Instagram was important. The novelty has well and truly worn off, and as friends depart from the platform, the need to use it to keep them updated diminishes. In the last fortnight I recorded three videos for friends and sent them via Smash or Wetransfer, and that kept them informed. You know, like writing a letter as we did pre-email, but with audio and video. Instagram just isn’t that vital. Email actually serves me just fine.

As I said to a friend tonight, even Twitter seems expendable from one’s everyday habits. Especially after March 15 here. You realize that those who are already arseholes really want to stay that way, their life ambition probably to join certain foreign-owned radio stations to be talking heads. But since they lack the nous, the best they can manage is social-media venting. And the good people want to remain good and have the space to live their lives happily. So why, I began wondering, should we spend our time getting our blood pressure up to defend our patch in a medium where the arseholes are, by and large, gutless wannabes who daren’t tell you have of the venom they write to your face? Does anyone ever put a Stuff commenter up on a pedestal and give them respect?
   While there are a great many people whom I admire on Twitter, and I am fortunate enough to have come into their orbit, there are an increasing number of days when I want to leave them to it, and if they wish to deal with the low-lifes of this world, it is their prerogative, and I respect them for doing something I’m tiring of doing myself. Twelve years on Twitter is a long time. At the time of writing, I’ve made 91,624 Tweets. That’s a lot.
   Unlike the arseholes, each and every one of these decent human beings have successful lives, and they don’t need to spend their waking moments dispensing hate toward any other group that isn’t like them in terms of genitals, sexual orientation, race or religion. And, frankly, I can contact those decent people in media outside of social.
   Maybe the fear of Tweeting less is that we believe that the patients will overrun the asylum, that we’re the last line of defence in a world where racists and others are emboldened. That if we show that good sense and tolerance prevail, as my grandfather and others wanted to do when they went to war, then those who harbour unsavoury thoughts toward people unlike them might think twice. I can’t really argue with that.
   But I wonder whether I’ll be more effective outside of social. I publish magazines, for a start. They give me a platform others do not have. I don’t need to leave comments on articles (and over the years, I haven’t done much of that). And I have websites I visit where I can unwind, away from the shouting factories of American Big Tech. Most of us want to do good on this earth, and the long game is I may be better off building businesses I’m good at rather than try to show how much smarter I am versus a talentless social media stranger.
   No, I’m not saying I’m leaving either medium. I am saying that I’d rather spend that time on things I love to do, and before 2007 I had enough to do without sharing. Some of the colleagues I respect the most have barely set foot in the world of social, and right now I envy just how much time they have managed to put into other important endeavours, including books that are changing lives.
   Big Tech must know the writing’s on the wall.

PS.: From a discussion with the wonderful William Shepherd when he read this on Twitter (the irony is not lost on me given the subject).—JY

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The smart ones always seem to be the minority

24.05.2019


Pixabay

Each year, I mentor one student from my Alma Mater. I won’t reveal their identity or what we discuss, as these are privileged, but one thing that became apparent today is how each generation might think that young people are on to it. That they won’t fall for the same bullshit that we did because they are more savvy and can build on what’s gone before.
   The student I am working with is smart and does see through a lot of the BS. They’re working on an assignment at the moment about Facebook and they were asked in class whether Facebook should be regulated. Turns out that the majority of the class didn’t know about the scandals that had happened, and that most don’t even take in the news via traditional newsmedia (or even websites), but get their info via social media. In other words, they were quite content to be bubbled and fall victim to the subjective feeds provided to them by social media.
   A generation ago, I remember when older people thought we were on to it, that we could see through the BS—but we are the ones who created this latest lot of BS. We created the mechanisms where people are fed back their own opinions and told that the other side is wrong. Empathy went out the window partly because of social media. And now that these have been created, we’re not admitting we ****ed up. Mark Zuckerberg avoids summons, for Chrissakes, and his company, and most of Big Tech, lie like sociopaths. But we’ve tied up the next generation as well into this web where they don’t know the lack of substance behind what they’re seeing. Because maybe it’s just all too complicated to figure out—which is probably how the powers-that-be like to keep it, so we keep consuming the mainstream, easily digestible narratives. The few who break out of this will find allies, but then, they, too, are in a new bubble, convinced that surely with some like minds their thinking must be right, and why on earth don’t others find it as easy to grasp?

   It’s why movements like #DeleteFacebook haven’t really taken hold beyond idealists, and even though we have young people smart enough and aware enough to organize global climate-change protests today, I wonder if we’ll wake up and exit the Matrix. I have hope—hope that those with sufficient charisma to be within the system will be selfless and say the right things and cause others to realize what’s happening. There are glimmers here and there, but, like all movements, it needs a lot of people doing the same thing at the same time. Maybe they can be found … via the same tools that are being used to divide us.

Originally published at my NewTumblog.

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Posted in culture, internet, leadership, media, politics, technology | 2 Comments »


The intelligence gap tells you when to block on social media

06.05.2019

That didn’t take long. I’ve been on NewTumbl 15 days and already a troll’s been by (the above is in reverse chronological order). I guess this is the internet in the late 2010s: people don’t believe in exchanging views, and that trolling is the new normal. You see it all the time on Twitter and Facebook, though it surprised me to see it happen so quickly on NewTumbl.
   Usually, it takes a lot longer for the unthinking to join a platform. Online, where opinions count and your bank balance doesn’t, we are looking at an intelligence gap. This was predicted long ago; by whom I don’t recall, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it came up in the late Norman Macrae’s writings many years ago.
   It took a while for spammers to ruin email for me. I was on email for years before I received my first spam. Twitter and Facebook were pretty nice places to be 12 years ago. Even there, it took a while to descend.
   You can blame certain politicians if you like, but the fact is we would have got there on our own, because most of us have seen the quality of debate declining on social media. Mansplaining, whitesplaining, trolling, abuse, the list goes on. The intelligence gap means that there are those incapable of having a reasoned argument without resorting to one of the above methods.
   The disappointment I feel about one NewTumbl user is simply the speed at which it’s happened, since their comment was pretty tame. Tumblr, for all its faults, actually never got political in the 12 years I was there. If you didn’t like a political view, it was usually too much trouble to comment, so you did what you might do in real life if you overheard a political comment you disagreed with: you moved on.
   Many NewTumbl users are ex-Tumblr, so it’s disappointing that one person decided not to carry forth the old platform’s culture, and infected the new place.
   So what do you do at a platform which is your unwinding social medium? You block.
   Normally I wouldn’t block. My Dad’s uncanny ability to call US presidential elections was down to, at least for 2016, his reading of the comments on their political blogs. The more views he read, the better an idea he had of which way the wind was blowing. On Twitter I block only a very few people; certainly a differing political opinion is not a reason to do it. In fact, I used to live by the mantra of ‘They who lose an argument block first’ but lately I’m revising my opinion.
   Some people are just lost causes. An analysis of the intelligence gap tells you that they’re too far along the path to hell that no amount of reasoning can help them. If others can’t resort to a civil disagreement from the outset, then they might be lost causes, too. Their opinion is actually not worth hearing.
   But the most important thing is your time. It is precious. Is engaging with a troll or a racist or a nutjob really something you wish to do?
   I realize some might think that blocking is “letting them win” or that they “get off on it”. I suppose even trolls have their fans. We congregate to those on the intelligence ladder who are closest to us. This has the inherent risk of us not hearing viewpoints we mightn’t like.
   But does it? If you don’t block based on opposing political views, and you don’t block because someone is either richer or poorer than you are, then what are you really missing? (And I doubt anyone blocks based on gender or sexuality.) Surely that still gives you a sense of where the world is, and allow you to get opposing viewpoints so you can refine your own thinking.
   And you can always block differently for each platform. Do it more in online places where you want to relax. Do it less in places where you want to engage and debate.
   Today, I did my first NewTumbl block. Our wee troll should be delighted.

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The descent of Instagram

29.04.2019

The descent of software seems to be a common theme among some companies. You get good ones, like Adobe and Fontlab, where (generally) successive versions tend to improve on those gone before. Then you get bad ones, like Facebook, which make things worse with each iteration.
   Facebook Timeline launched to much fanfare at the beginning of the decade, and I admit that it was a fantastic design, despite some annoying bugs (e.g. one that revealed that Facebook staff had no idea there were time zones outside US Pacific time). It was launched at the right time: a real innovation that helped boost my waning interest in the platform. But then they started fiddling with it. I equated it to what General Motors did with the Oldsmobile Toronado: a really pure design upon launch for 1966, with that purity getting spoiled with each model year, till the 1970 one lost a lot of what made it great to begin with. Don’t get me started on the 1971s.
   Facebook had, for instance, two friends’ boxes when they began fiddling. The clever two-column layout eventually disappeared so what we were left with was a wide wall, a retrograde step.
   They’ve spent the rest of the decade not innovating, but by seemingly ensuring that every press announcement they make is a complete lie, or at least something not followed up by concrete action.
   When they bought Instagram, they began ruining it as well. First to go in 2016 were the maps, which I thought were one of the platform’s best features. Instagram claimed few used them, but given that by this point Facebook owned them, any “claim” must be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps their databases could not handle it. Back in the days of Getsatisfaction reports, there were more than enough examples of Facebook’s technical shortcomings.
   In December I had to replace my phone after the old one was dropped, but now I’m wondering whether I should have spent the money getting it fixed. Because the new phone is running on a skin over Android 7, and it looks like Instagram doesn’t support this version, as far as videos are concerned. So you could say that videos are no longer supported. Since December I’ve had to Bluetooth all my videos to my old phone, peer through what I could make of the details on a dodgy screen, and upload that way, if I wanted a proper frame rate. User feedback on Reddit and elsewhere suggests the cure is to upgrade to Android 8, not something I know how to do.
   It might have been a bug, or it may have been a case of trialling a feature among a tiny subset of users, but for ten months I could upload videos of over eight minutes. As of February 2019, that feature vanished, and I’m back to a minute. I notice others now have it as part of IGTV, but I can’t see anything that will allow me to do the same, and why would I want vertical videos, anyway? God gave us eyes that are side by side, not one above the other. Frankly, when you’ve been spoiled by videos going between eight and nine minutes, one minute is very limiting.
   Now I see with the latest versions of Instagram that the filters don’t even work. For the last few versions, no preview appears for most of the filters; and now it’s constantly ‘Can’t continue editing’ (v. 90) or ‘Your photo couldn’t be processed correctly’ (v. 89).


   Instagram is a steadily collapsing platform and I shudder to think what it’ll be like when they get to the 1971 Oldsmobile Toronado stage. I almost wonder if Facebook is doing the digital equivalent of asset-stripping and taking the good stuff into its own platform, to force us into their even shittier ecosystem. At this rate, others like me—long-time users—will cease to use it and go with the likes of Pixelfed. I stay on there because of certain friends, but, like Facebook, at some stage, they may have to get accustomed to the notion that I am no longer on there for anyone else but a few clients. And they may bugger off, too, sick of every second item being an ad. We’ll have foretold this bent toward anti-quality years before the mainstream media catch on to it, as we have done with Google and Facebook, and all their gaffes.

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Posted in design, internet, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


More Facebook lies in its ad preferences’ manager?

21.04.2019

As I’ve often said, it’s wise to keep an eye on your Facebook ad preferences’ page. Even if you’ve opted out of Facebook targeting, Facebook will still keep compiling information on you. I see no other purpose for this other than to target you with advertising, contrary to what you expect.
   Facebook also tells you which companies have uploaded their marketing lists to them, and this has been very interesting reading. A load of US politicians whom I have never heard of somehow have this information, and today’s crop is no different.

   I’ve written to Old Mout Cider, which I was surprised to find is part of the Dutch conglomerate Heineken NV, and await an answer, but the biggie here has to be Über.
   Many years ago, I tried the app but could never get it to work. Neither could my partner. Then we started hearing from Susan Fowler and Pando Daily, and that helped confirm that we would never support the company.
   Basically, Über would never let me log in, saying I had exhausted my password attempts after the grand total of one, despite sending a password reset link. My partner could log in but we could never figure anything out beyond that (it had credit card details she had never entered and said we lived next door).
   Concerned about this, I went to Über’s website to request deletion of my personal details, but this was the screen I got.

   Now, either Big Tech One is lying or Big Tech Two is lying.
   To its credit, Über New Zealand responded very quickly on Twitter (on Good Friday, no less) and said it would look into it. Within minutes it was able to confirm that I do not have an account there (presumably it was deleted with a lack of use, or maybe I went and did it back when they wouldn’t let me log in?) and my email address doesn’t appear anywhere.
   Therefore, we can likely again conclude that Facebook lies and we have to bring into question its advertising preferences’ management page.
   We already know Facebook has lied to advertisers about the number of people it can reach (namely that it exceeds the number of people alive in certain demographics), that there is a discrepancy between what it reports in the preferences and what a full download of personal data reveals, so I have to wonder what the deception is here.
   Is it allowing these advertisers to reach us even when (as Über claims) they have no information on us? (Heineken’s response will seal the deal when they get back to me after Easter.) In that case, it will be very hard for Facebook to argue that we have given them consent to do this.
   Heineken, incidentally, is a major advertiser on Instagram, as I see their advertisements even after opting out of all alcohol advertising on the Facebook ad preferences’ page (as instructed by Instagram). When we establish contact next week, I will be more than happy to tell them this. Who knows? While I doubt they will cease advertising on the platforms on my say-so, sometimes you have to plant the seed so that they are aware their ads are not being filtered out from those people who do not want to see booze promoted in their feeds.

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Facebook: Kiwi lives don’t matter

10.04.2019

As someone who read Confucius as a young man, and was largely raised on his ideas, free speech with self-regulation is my default position—though when it becomes apparent that people simply aren’t civilized enough to use it, then you have to consider other solutions.
   We have Facebook making statements saying they are ‘Standing Against Hate’, yet when friends report white nationalist and separatist groups, they are told that nothing will be done because it is ‘counter-speech’. We know that Facebook has told the Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards, that it has done absolutely nothing despite its statements. This is the same company that shut off its ‘View as’ feature (which allowed people to check how their walls would look from someone else’s point-of-view) after share price-affecting bad press, yet when it comes to actual humans getting killed and their murders streamed live via their platform, Facebook, through its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, essentially tells us, ‘There are no problems, nothing to see here.’


   We may differ on where we draw the line on what is permitted speech and what isn’t, but where we can agree is that Facebook, once again, has said one thing and done another, leading Edwards to say on Twitter, ‘Facebook cannot be trusted. They are morally bankrupt pathological liars.’
   He is right. Just as Facebook said it would support the drag community while kicking off its members, just as Facebook forced highly suspicious downloads on people after false claims of malware detection, just as Facebook says you can opt-out of its ad targeting while collecting more data on you, its latest feel-good announcement was a blatant lie, to make unquestioning sheeple believe it was a good corporate citizen. More people will have seen the Facebook announcement than Edwards’ Tweet, so it would have weighed up the consequences of doing nothing or getting bad press.
   Basically, as far as Facebook is concerned, Kiwi lives don’t matter, because it believes it can ride the negative press. Apparently, however, getting accused by Wired for questionable downloads does matter, hence they stopped doing them after getting exposed. The priorities are massively screwed up.
   I would actually respect Facebook and Zuckerberg more if their pronouncements were in line with their real intent:

We’re just a platform
We take no responsibility at all for what gets shared through us. You can say what you like, but we think we can weather this storm, just as we weathered the last one, and just as we’ll weather the next.

Kiwi lives don’t matter
White nationalist groups make for great sharing. And sharing is caring. So we won’t shut them down as we did with Muslim groups. The engagement is just too good, especially when we’re only going to upset fewer than five million New Zealanders.

Hate is great
Hate gets shared and people spend more time on Facebook as a result. Whether it’s about New Zealanders or the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, we’ll be there to help distribute it. Genocide’s fine when it doesn’t affect our share price.

Facebook users are ‘dumb fucks’
Our founder said it, and this is still our ongoing policy at Facebook. We’ll continue to lie because we know you’re addicted to our platform. And no matter which country summons our founder, we know you won’t have the guts to issue a warrant of arrest.

   Actions speak more loudly than words, and in Facebook’s case, their words are a form of Newspeak, where they mean the opposite to what everyone else understands.

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The end of the long Instagram video

27.03.2019

After the last 11 months, only two Instagram users—myself and an Indonesian user called TryAink—uploaded videos of over a minute (his were up to four). It looks like he and I were experimenting to see how much Instagram would really allow. I guess we were the guinea pigs before IGTV was launched, though unlike those using that service, our videos were all landscape.
   You’ve seen plenty of mine, so here’s one of his.

   It does seem that all good things come to an end, and neither TryAink nor I have access to the longer video uploads any more. I can try, but Instagram refuses to make the video live.

   Mind you, we were the first to get long Instagram videos, then the public got them. Maybe Instagram is going to phase out videos, as we’re the first to suffer an inability to upload them? (I jest for the most part—as stranger things have happened with Facebook-owned properties.)
   What is interesting is that with life being so busy, and with the massive increase in ads, Instagram has not been holding my attention. I also became very spoiled with the longer videos, so much so that 60 seconds feels bizarrely short. Then there’s the problem of Instagram videos being incompatible with Android 7, so all my videos had to be Bluetoothed to my old, damaged phone for uploading.
   The result of the above is that I have reduced my time on the platform considerably, because why am I jumping through hoops created by the incompetence of boffins when it is technology that should be serving me?
   The loss of Instagram maps all those years ago was an inconvenience, but the loss of a feature that I regarded as the norm, plus advertisements that are irrelevant—not to mention undesirable—are turning my cellphone into a cellphone, rather than a portable leisure device where I shared and enjoyed photos.

Speaking of Facebook incompetence, I caught a few minutes (while cooking) of a documentary called Inside Facebook, airing on Aljazeera English. An undercover reporter secretly films a moderators’ training session on what Facebook’s standards are.
   Did you wonder why so many of the Christchurch terrorist attacks’ videos remained online? Turns out Facebook’s policy is that screened deaths are OK. The default position is that they’re marked with a warning, not removed. As to child abuse, none of those videos are removed as a rule.
   This is a sick company that appears to prey on the inhuman impulses some have, for the sake of monetizing them. I cannot be high and mighty about this, because I haven’t deleted my account, and keep saying that I’m on there for a few clients who ask me to look after their social media. When I think more deeply about this, it ain’t good enough. I need to find a way out, including for my clients who receive DMs for their businesses on there.

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Posted in internet, media, New Zealand, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


In the wake of terrorism in your own country

20.03.2019


Above: Flowers at the Islamic Centre in Kilbirnie, Wellington on Monday.

On 9-11, I wrote an editorial in Lucire immediately. It was clear to me what I needed to write, and the editorial got quite a few readers at the time.
   Today is March 20, five days after a terrorist attack on our country, and it’s only now I’ve had some idea of how to put my thoughts into a longer-form fashion, rather than a lot of Tweets, some of which have had a lot of support.
   I guess it’s different when the attack happens to your own people in your own country.
   One of the earliest points I made, when the death toll hit 49, was that this was “our 9-11”, at least when you consider the per capita loss of life. When it hit 50, it actually exceeded the number of lives lost per capita in 9-11. This helps put the matter into some context.
   While the terrorist is a foreign national, who was most likely radicalized by foreign ideas, it has generated a great deal of soul-searching among New Zealanders. Even the right-wing talking heads have suddenly changed their tune, although, if a friend and colleague’s experience as a waiter in New York City in September 2001 is anything to go by, they will return to their regularly scheduled programming in two weeks’ time. Certain media bosses, especially among foreign-owned companies, would have it no other way, since they are not here to benefit New Zealanders, only their foreign shareholders and their own pockets. Stoking division is their business and I do not believe leopards change their spots.
   Therefore, the majority of right-thinking New Zealanders are not complicit, but a minority of us harbour bigoted thoughts, and enough of that minority infect the comments’ sections of mainstream media websites and social networks to make it seem as though they are more numerous in number. The outpouring of support for our Muslim community highlights that the good far outnumber the rotten eggs in our society. And I think more of us are now prepared to call out racism and bigotry knowing that, in fact, public opinion is behind us.
   So many Kiwis, myself included, say that hatred toward Muslims is not in our national character. But it is sufficiently in our national character when Muslim groups have pleaded with government agencies to step up, to be met with endless bureaucratic roadblocks; and many political parties have stains on their records in appealing to Islamophobia, something which indeed was foreign to this nation for all of my childhood.
   I grew up with a Muslim boy and we remain friends to this day, but I never thought of him by his creed. If I was forced to “label” him I would have called him a Pakistani New Zealander. I am willing to bet many Kiwis were in the same boat: we probably knew Muslims but never thought once about their religion.
   It takes certain people to make changes in mainstream thinking. I thought I might be labelled a ‘Chinese New Zealander’ till Winston Peters, now our deputy PM, droned on about ‘Asians’ out of some fear about the weakness of New Zealand culture; and we might have only become aware of Islam to any degree after 9-11. But these are, in fact, foreign ideas, adopted here by those who lack imagination or a willingness to do some hard work. They have been imported here through the sharing of culture. While I support the exchange of ideas, in some misguided utopian belief that dialogue is good for us all, I certainly did not anticipate, during the first heady days of the web, that we would have so much of the bad come with the good. I believed in some level of natural selection, that educated people would refrain and filter, and present their country’s or community’s best face. But as each medium boganfied (yes, I am making up words), the infection came. Newspapers changed thanks to Rupert Murdoch cheapening them, eventually morphing into publications that sensationalized division, especially against Muslims after 9-11. Television went downhill as well largely thanks to the same bloke and his lieutenant, Roger Ailes. The web was fine till each medium became infected with negativity, but Google, Facebook and Twitter were all too happy for it to continue because it increased engagement on their properties. Each fuelled it more with algorithms that showed only supporting views, deepening each user’s belief in the rightness of their ideas, to the exclusion of everyone else’s.
   Most Americans I know believe in civility. I’ve spoken often enough in their country to know this. They don’t believe their freedom of speech is absolute, and personally draw the line at hate speech, but their big websites act as though this is absolute, and allow the negative to fester. It seems it is for profit: we see Twitter remove Will Connolly’s (‘Egg Boy’) account but not racist Australian politician Sen. Fraser Anning. It is tempting to believe that Twitter is following the dollars here without regard to their stated policy. We have, after all, seen all Big Tech players lie constantly, and, for the most part, they get away with it. We let them, because we keep using them. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t need to say anything about Christchurch, because we’ll keep using his websites (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp) and he’ll keep finding ways of monetizing us, dehumanizing us. He won’t show up to the UK when summoned, and Facebook will continue to lie about removing videos and offensive content when we know many reports go unheeded.
   Umair Haque wrote in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attacks: ‘Facebook and Twitter and YouTube etcetera really just bring the American ideal to life that there should be extreme, absolute freedom of speech, with zero consequences whatsoever, even for expressing hate and violence of the most vile and repellent kinds.’
   As people become dehumanized through words and campaigns, it makes it easier for people to commit violence against them. They no longer see them as deserving of respect or protection. In the foulest version, they no longer see them as having a right to life.
   Now, I don’t believe that this absolute approach can be branded American. And I do believe Big Tech has very different values to Americans. Their newsmedia have, too. When regular people are censored, when big money talks more loudly than their laws, then there is something very wrong with their companies—and this is the common enemy of both Republicans and Democrats, not each other. And this wrongness is being exported here, too. I’ve said it for years: we are a sovereign nation, and we have no need to copy their failed idea of a health system or even their vernacular (on this note: retailers, please cease using Black Friday to describe your end-of-year sales, especially this year). We do not need to import the political playbooks, whether you are a political party, a blogger, or a local newspaper. There are Kiwis who actually talked about their ‘First Amendment rights’ because they may have watched too much US television and are unaware we have our own Bill of Rights Act. Even the raid on Kim Dotcom’s home seemed to be down to some warped idea of apeing their cop shows, about impressing the FBI more than following our own laws on surveillance and our own beliefs on decency.
   I honestly don’t see the attraction of turning us into some vassal state or a mutant clone of other nations, yet foreign-owned media continue to peddle this nonsense by undermining the Kiwi character and everyday Kiwi unity.
   Did the terrorist see any of this? I have no idea. I equally have no idea if the people he came into contact with here cemented his hate. However, I think he would have come across sufficient international influences here to validate his imagined fears of non-whites and women. By all means, we should call out bad behaviour, but when we do, we shouldn’t restrict it to individual cases we see in our daily lives. There are entire institutions that are doing this, strings pulled from faraway lands, and to them we must also say: enough is enough. The way you do business isn’t in line with who we are. We need to be aware of who the non-Kiwi players are, often masquerading under locally grown brand names (such as ‘Newstalk ZB’—a quick peek of shareholders suggest the majority are as Kiwi as Ned Kelly), and, if need be, vote with our time and money to support those who really understand us. Be alert to who’s really trying to influence us.

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Posted in culture, globalization, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, USA | 1 Comment »


Autocade turns 11 as the web turns 30

12.03.2019


The latest model to appear on Autocade today: the Mazda CX-30.

It’s March, which means Autocade has had another birthday. Eleven years ago, I started a car encyclopædia using Mediawiki software, and it’s since grown to 3,600 model entries. The story has been told elsewhere on this blog. What I hadn’t realized till today was that Autocade’s birthday and the World Wide Web’s take place within days of each other.
   The inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, still believes that it can be used as a force for good, which is what many of us hoped for when we began surfing in the 1990s. I still remember using Netscape 1·2 (actually, I even remember using 1·1 on computers that hadn’t updated to the newer browser) and thinking that here was a global communications’ network that could bring us all together.
   Autocade, and, of course, Lucire, were both set up to do good, and be a useful information resource to the public. Neither sought to divide in the way Facebook has; Google, which had so much promise in the late 1990s, has become a bias-confirmation machine that also pits ideologies against each other.
   The web, which turns 30 this week, still has the capacity to do great things, and I can only hope that those of us still prepared to serve the many rather than the few in a positive way begin getting recognized for our efforts again.
   For so many years I have championed transparency and integrity. People tell us that these are qualities they want. Yet people also tell surveys that Google is their second-favourite brand in the world, despite its endless betrayals of our trust, only apologizing after each privacy gaffe is exposed by the fourth estate.
   Like Sir Tim, I hope we make it our business to seek out those who unite rather than divide, and give them some of our attention. At the very least I hope we do this out of our own self-preservation, understanding that we have more to gain by allowing information to flow and people to connect. When we shut ourselves off to opposing viewpoints, we are poorer for it. As I wrote before, American conservatives and liberals have common enemies in Big Tech censorship and big corporations practising tax avoidance, yet social networks highlight the squabbles between one right-wing philosophy and another right-wing philosophy. We New Zealanders cannot be smug with our largest two parties both eager to plunge forward into TPPA, and our present government having us bicker over capital gains’ tax while leaving the big multinationals, who profit off New Zealanders greatly, paying little or no tax.
   A more understanding dialogue, which the web actually affords us, is the first step in identifying what we have in common, and once you strip away the arguments that mainstream media and others drive, our differences are far fewer than we think.
   Social media should be social rather than antisocial, and it’s almost Orwellian that they have this Newspeak name, doing the opposite to what their appellation suggests. The cat is out of the bag as far as Big Tech is concerned, but there are opportunities for smaller players to be places where people can chat. Shame it’s not Gab, which has taken a US-conservative bent at the expense of everything else, though they at least should be applauded for taking a stance against censorship. And my fear is that we will take what we have already learned on social media—to divide and to pile on those who disagree—into any new service. As I mentioned, Mastodon is presently fine, for the most part, because educated people are chatting among themselves. The less educated we are, the more likely we will take firm sides and shut our minds off to alternatives.
   The answer is education: to make sure that we use this wonderful invention that Sir Tim has given us for free for some collective good. Perhaps this should form part of our children’s education in the 2010s and 2020s. That global dialogue can only be a good thing because we learn and grow together. And that there are pitfalls behind the biggest brands kids are already exposed to—we know Google has school suites but they really need to know how the big G operates, as it actively finds ways to undermine their privacy.
   The better armed our kids are, the more quickly they’ll see through the fog. The young people I know aren’t even on Facebook other than its Messenger service. It brings me hope; but ideally I’d like to see them make a conscious effort to choose their own services. Practise what we preach about favouring brands with authenticity, even if so many of us fail to seek them out ourselves.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, interests, internet, leadership, politics, social responsibility | No Comments »