Posts tagged ‘law’


Baseless threats

27.08.2021

A couple of years ago, friends in Wellington, who own a business—let’s call it X—were approached by a US company with the same name, though in a slightly different industry.
   They wanted my friends to give up their page name facebook.com/x to them, and suggested that they should be facebook.com/xnz.
   No suggestion of payment, just a “you should consider”, and if I recall correctly, something to do with how much bigger they were.
   This was a really strange argument from someone in the US where their culture’s often based around the plucky individual taking on bigger players.
   How many myriads or even millions did Condé Nast pay to get style.com from Express all those years ago? If you’re that much bigger, maybe you could have afforded it? Or maybe you were just being cheeky, thinking you could get something for nothing. Well, not quite nothing. A little bit of bullying.
   Basically, taking away all the legalese and wank designed to make my friends hesitate, the Americans were upset that someone got in there with a Facebook page name years (nine years, if I recall correctly) before they did. How dare these Kiwis!
   ‘How should we respond?’ asked my friends.
   ‘You can either (a) ignore them or (b) tell them to go to hell,’ I advised. I think they chose (a). After all, there’s no point replying to one-sided rudeness.
   I’m reminded of this story because of emails from another US company recently and, again, stripping away the rudeness and implying I was a liar, boils down to them not really liking their First Amendment. Not when someone else exercises it fairly.
   Americans aren’t alone in being dicks about something but these particular two companies sure don’t like other people doing things that they can equally do. They trotted out a level of rudeness from the outset that you seldom see from their country, where regular Americans try their best to be nice.
   A third case was from the UK, where we received a threat from the agent of a fading celebrity whose crowning achievements were probably some soap opera and shooting for FHM in the 1990s. I don’t recall the circumstances in depth but I can tell you that that woman has not had much coverage since, by us or any other publication. Choose the wrong people, and you flush your goodwill down the toilet. Who’d touch you now, when there are plenty more stories that we can pursue with fewer headaches?
   I don’t know where the rudeness comes from, but I presume it’s a superiority complex that hides the fact that their arguments bear little merit. The result is that they damage their brands or their client’s reputations in the process.
   If you encounter it in business, then it’s a cinch that they don’t really have much to stand on. They feel bullying is their only means, because if they argued it rationally or faced the issue honestly they wouldn’t get what they want. It’s worth keeping an eye out for, and not waste your time on.

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Posted in business, culture, publishing, UK, USA | No Comments »


The pathetic snowflakes of Big Tech

10.08.2021

We all know what will happen. This is one of two fakes who have sent me a Facebook friend request this week. The first was given the all-clear despite having spam links; and no doubt this will be judged to be perfectly acceptable by Facebook. (In the meantime, a post from Lucire that featured the latest PETA ‘would rather go naked’ campaign was instantly removed.)
   What isn’t acceptable, is, of course, criticizing them. Bob Hoffman writes (original emphases):

According to Vice, recently the Cybersecurity for Democracy project “has revealed major flaws in Facebook political ad transparency tools and highlighted how Facebook’s algorithms were amplifying (COVID vaccine) misinformation.” This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been conscious for the past few years …
   This week Facebook, in an act of abject unscrupulousness, suspended the accounts of several of the researchers from NYU who are leading the Cybersecurity for Democracy project and need to access Facebook to do their work. One of the researchers called Facebook’s action “‘disgraceful’ at a time when the disinformation around COVID-19 and vaccines is literally costing lives.”

   This is how weak and pathetic Facebook is. Instead of doing better (which they claim they try to do), they’d rather shut down criticism. A bit like a dictatorship.
   They’re not alone, of course. In the news recently were the snowflakes of Ebay, who also can’t take a bit of criticism.
   Ina and David Steiner publish a news website about ecommerce and were critical of Ebay in its latest incarnation. The CEO wasn’t happy, nor was Ebay’s head of global security, James Baugh, who began a campaign to terrorize the Steiners.
   The Steiners found their fence tagged, then Ebay’s staff began sending ordering items to be sent to them, including a fœtal pig, a mask of a bloody pig face (witnessed by a police officer), a book on surviving the death of a spouse, a package of live spiders and fly larvæ, and a sympathy wreath, among others. Then Ebay’s employees went to Boston, near where the Steiners lived, and planned to plant a tracking device on their car. The Steiners spotted the rental vehicles stalking them. Understandably, they couldn’t sleep properly, and even slept separately fearing they would be physically attacked.
   It was thanks to the Steiners’ own efforts that they managed to get the number plate of one of the vehicles tailing them, which was then referred to police, who finally managed to figure out what was going on.
   One person has been sentenced in all this mess to 18 months in prison, and there have been other arrests, though as this is the US, the CEO gets off scot free with a US$57 million golden handshake.
   This isn’t that out of the ordinary, and entirely predictable for anyone who has followed this blog. Or the news, for that matter.
   A few years ago, I blogged about how Elon Musk and Tesla tried to get one of its whistleblowing employees killed by telling the police that he was planning a mass shooting. According to Bloomberg Businessweek:

Many chief executive officers would try to ignore somebody like Tripp. Instead, as accounts from police, former employees, and documents produced by Tesla’s own internal investigation reveal, Musk set out to destroy him.

   The employee, Martin Tripp, allegedly was hacked and followed before the attempt to have him swatted.
   Former Gigafactory security manager, Sean Gouthro, said Tripp never sabotaged Tesla or hacked anything, and Musk knew this, but still wanted to damage Tripp’s reputation.
   You can read more directly at the source.
   My negative encounters with Big Tech, which I put down more to shoddy programming or incompetence than malice, are pretty tame.
   Put together, the pattern of IP theft, censorship, inciting genocide and misinformation, and targeting individuals, is very obvious. It’s part of their culture these days, since the US keeps letting these companies do what they wish with impunity, and to heck with what anyone would reasonably think the laws actually say. And it’s not just the US: when has our Blairite government or its predecessor moved against Big Tech in any meaningful way, on taxation, or on apportioning some responsibility for their part in COVID-19 misinformation?

Meanwhile, I was amused to see this under Arthur Turnure’s entry in Wikipedia:

   So Turnure starts Vogue but decides to work under an 18-year-old in another city.
   The reference linked doesn’t back this up at all.
   I know Wikipedia is full of crap that we can all go and correct, but as we’ve seen, shit sticks and on the internet, bullshit sticks, including one item that I’ve blogged about before that remained for over a decade.
   What gets me is why someone who doesn’t know a subject would deem themselves sufficiently knowledgeable to write about it. Because I just wouldn’t dare.
   As detailed before, you don’t see as many inaccuracies in the Japanese or German versions of Wikipedia, and you have to conclude, especially now with politicians doing the same thing, that the Anglosphere is increasingly an anti-intellectual place to be. ‘The fundamental problem with the English-speaking world is that ignorance is not considered a vice,’ said the brother of my friend, Prof Catherine Churchman. My earlier post from 2018 stands now more than ever.

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Time to stop entertaining advertorial enquiries from Gmail

04.06.2021

Last month, I Tweeted that I would stop replying to advertorial queries sent to us from Gmail, since over 99 per cent of them result in no deal whatsoever. In fact, that 99 is an underestimate.
   One of the early (say mid-1990s to the mid-2000s) rules of the ’net was that if you didn’t have a custom domain, and were relying on the likes of Hotmail or AOL, then you instantly lacked credibility when approaching another business. But as Gmail became ubiquitous, that rule was no longer that important for us, especially since some of our own team opted to use their Gmails and have their work addresses forward to them. I’ve always been one to go with the flow when it came to my colleagues, so if they were using Gmail more, then who was I to be so negative against others approaching us doing the same?
   Except for sanity. Of course I’ll still read emails from Gmail but since I get numerous advertorial enquiries every day, then you have to draw the line somewhere. You might say that I’ve waited too long to do this as the 99 per cent sample was taken over years. But past behaviour does show I tend to stick at something for longer than many people.
   I’m also surprised at how many of these enquirers want us to ignore New Zealand law, and to have advertorials not marked as such. I’m not in the business of publishing sales’ catalogues, or a sales’ catalogue masquerading as a magazine, so advertorials are marked as promotional material in some way. So even if they get past first base, they usually fall at the second.

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Posted in business, internet, media, publishing | 1 Comment »


Facebook goes even more pro-bot with change in group policy

02.06.2021

Why are there antitrust or monopoly laws? Why is the usual interpretation of the Chicago School really, really bad for the United States? Umair Haque’s latest post spells it out pretty well, in my opinion.
   Just an idea: let’s not import any of their dangerous ideas into our society, or allow their ever-growing giants to get more of a foothold in our country (and not pay tax here either). Because we have a tendency to kiss their arses sometimes. Just ask Kim Dotcom. Things like their legal precedents are still persuasive here, and with how different their priorities are, we need to place even less weight on them. Let’s not forget the rules we play by here, and that means whomever enters this market has to play by the same.


Speaking of daft decisions on the other side of the Pacific by dishonest parties who have got too big due to what amounts to lawlessness, Facebook has removed the requirement for users to answer questions when they join a public group. These questions were our way of safeguarding the one public group I still look after there, and over 99 per cent of users (no exaggeration; if anything, an underestimate) who attempted to join were bots. I define bots as including any legitimate account running bot software, which I thought was against Facebook’s T&Cs, but not in practice. I still report a lot of them, though unlike 2014 I won’t do them all. I just can’t report thousands that I might see on a single visit.
   I can imagine why Facebook has done this. This way Facebook hides the number of bots from group moderators (as if we hadn’t known of their problems for the good part of a decade), and protects the bots as they continue their activity across the platform. This will encourage even more bots, and as I identified in an earlier post, I see more bots than humans these days on there (and I’m not even a regular user).
   I knew they were liars and shysters so I imagine this is in keeping with that. Cover up just how badly compromised the platform is by bots.
   I haven’t seen much on this change in Facebook group policy, but as changes go, this has to be the most anti-human, pro-bot move they have made in 17 years. No one ever demanded more rights for bots, but here’s Facebook giving it to them.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


It’s not hard writing clear terms and conditions

25.03.2021

We’ve had a ‘Highlights’ section in our T&Cs for a while, but today I thought I’d take another look at them. Without reading them again, I drafted these:

• We don’t know anything about you unless you tell us.
• When you do tell us stuff (like signing up with your email address) we store that offline, not on the cloud.
• When you comment on our sites, we don’t see your IP address.
• The businesses we work with might get data on you without us knowing because we’ve used their programs. But we’ve tried to work with companies in countries with stricter data laws, e.g. our feedback forms are with Aida in Germany.
• We have ads on our sites, and they might pick up info about you. We recommend you opt out of ad networks setting cookies on your system through Aboutads.info and related services.

   The law degree kicks in and I wasn’t quite able to replace the existing ones, but hopefully the final highlights suffice (links removed here, but they are on the page):

• We don’t know anything about you unless you tell us.
• When you tell us stuff (like signing up with your email address) we ultimately store that offline, not on the cloud.
• When you comment on our sites, we don’t see your IP address.
• We don’t have a Google Analytics account so we don’t collect stuff on our sites for that.
• However, the businesses we work with might get data on you without us knowing because we’ve used their programs or plug-ins. We’ve tried to work with companies in countries with stricter data laws, e.g. our feedback forms are with Aida in Germany.
• We have ads on some of our sites, and they might pick up info about you (e.g. through cookies). They don’t share this info with us. We recommend you opt out of ad networks setting cookies on your system (for example, click here, here or here). We also recommend you opt out of Google Analytics tracking you.
• More details are below.

   While there are more bollocks below these on the page, covering our arses in various situations, including historical ones, fundamentally the above is what we follow.
   We used to have a record of IP addresses and we never did a thing with them, and when our servers were rejigged in 2013, we stopped collecting them. I’m sure some plug-ins on the sites know what they are, and they’re bound to be in the logs, but no one here has the time to look at them. I don’t think anyone’s peered that those logs (save for debugging) for over two decades.
   Anyone who’s read this blog knows why I don’t have a Google Analytics account, and long may it remain that way. I seem to recall finding a way to make sure I could never access that part of the Google Dashboard when I was granted access to Medinge’s analytics. We’ve none of our own.
   I do know what pages are popular on the sites but that’s from aggregated data. And frankly, that’s all I need to know.
   It’s really how I expect to be treated by others and it’s not that hard to do this online. Who needs complicated T&Cs which even the company can’t follow? Strip away the jargon, and both you and we win.

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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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Old-school Brexit

29.12.2020

I was led by this Tweet to have a peek at the Draft EU–UK Trade Cooperation Agreement and can confirm that on p. 931 (not p. 921), under ‘Protocols and Standards to be used for encryption mechanism: s/MIME and related packages’, there is this:

The text:

The underlying certificate used by the s/MIME mechanism has to be in compliance with X.509 standard. In order to ensure common standards and procedures with other Prüm applications, the processing rules for s/MIME encryption operations or to be applied under various Commercial Product of the Shelves (COTS) environments, are as follows:

– the sequence of the operations is: first encryption and then signing,
– the encryption algorithm AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) with 256 bit key length and RSA with 1024 bit key length shall be applied for symmetric and asymmetric encryption respectively,
– the hash algorithm SHA-1 shall be applied.

s/MIME functionality is built into the vast majority of modern e-mail software packages including Outlook, Mozilla Mail as well as Netscape Communicator 4.x and inter-operates among all major email software packages.

   Two things have always puzzled me about the UK’s approach to getting some sort of a deal with the EU.
   There are two Davids, Davis and Frost, no relation to the TV producer and TV host. As far as I can tell, despite knowing that the transition period would end on January 1, 2021, failed to do anything toward advancing a deal with the EU, so that the British people know there are new rules, but not what they are. The British taxpayer would be right to question just what their pounds have been doing.
   If I may use an analogy: there’s an exam and the set date was given but no one has done any swotting. Messrs Davis and Frost haven’t even done the coursework and sat in the lectures and tutorials blankly.
   The person who has done the least is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, the British prime minister, who stumbled in to the exam room at the last minute without knowing the subject.
   But never mind, sneaked into the room with his clobber is an earlier graduate’s paper! Surely he can plagiarize some of the answers out of that should the same questions arise!
   I don’t know much about SHA-1 hash algorithms but the original Tweeter informs us that this had been ‘deprecated in 2011’ as insecure. However, I can cast my mind back to when ‘Netscape Communicator 4.x’ was my browser of choice, and that was 1998–2001. (I stuck with Netscape 4·7 for a long time, as 6 was too buggy, and in 2001 a friend gave me a copy of Internet Explorer 5, which I then used in Windows. This pre-dates this blog, hence Netscape is not even a tag here.)
   This is a comedy–tragedy from the land of Shakespeare, and I wonder if it means that the British government is expecting things to get so bad that they will have to wind up using computer software from 20 years ago.
   Or they just couldn’t be arsed over the last four years (yes, count ’em!) to do any real work, and hoped that no one would read the 1,259 pp. to find the mistakes.
   To conclude, another bad analogy: it’s not really oven-ready despite all this time baking. However, it appears the ingredients aren’t as fresh as we were led to believe. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

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Posted in politics, technology, UK | No Comments »


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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