Liked “Just an Ass-Backward Tech Company”: How Twitter Lost the Internet War (The Hive)

At the same time, her defenders say, Harvey has been forced to clean up a mess that Twitter should have fixed years ago. Twitter’s backend was initially built on Ruby on Rails, a rudimentary web-application framework that made it nearly impossible to find a technical solution to the harassment problem. If Twitter’s co-founders had known what it would become, a third former executive told me, “you never would have built it on a Fisher-Price infrastructure.” Instead of building a product that could scale alongside the platform, former employees say, Twitter papered over its problems by hiring more moderators. “Because this is just an ass-backward tech company, let’s throw non-scalable, low-tech solutions on top of this low-tech, non-scalable problem.”

Listened Episode 77: Attention and Regrets (and the Tech Industry) from The Contrafabulists Podcast

In this episode, Kin and Audrey talk about the tech “regrets” industry, the attention economy, and more.

Kin Lane and Audrey Watters discuss the wave of people coming out in regret. The problem is not ‘attention’ or ‘addiction’ but about ‘markets’ and ‘survelliance’. They warn that we need to continue to be critical about how these new ‘humane’ companies are addressing issues such as privacy.
Listened Ep. 74 Damien Williams from shows.pippa.io

Technology philosopher Damien Williams on how the algorithms running society are embedded with the same biases as the people who program them.

Douglas Rushkoff and Damien Williams discuss the biases that we build into our technology through their design and the problems that this creates for machine learning. In some respects, this touches on the work of Cathy O’Neil.

Rushkoff also begins with a reflection on the use of social media by schools. He wonders why is it so easy for people to losesight of the design and purpose behind these platforms? He argues that other than teaching media, social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc) should never be used by schools. Use blogs or a space you manage yourself and your story – something that I have touched upon in the past – but to feed the ad algorithms is the wrong approach.

Bookmarked Fake news has a long history. Beware the state being keeper of ‘the truth’ | Kenan Malik by an author (the Guardian)

Tempting as it is to legislate against manipulated ‘facts’, it both misguided and dangerous

It would seem that many states are trying to clamp down on the problem of ‘fake News’. Kenan Malik explains that not only is this not a new problem, but the solution does not involve the state, rather it involves trust:

There is another change, too. In the past, those with power manipulated facts so as to present lies as truth. Today, lies are often accepted as truth because the very notion of truth is fragmenting. “Truth” often has little more meaning than: “This is what I believe” or: “This is what I think should be true”. On issues from Brexit to same-sex marriage, all sides cling to their view as the truth, refusing to engage with “alternate” views. As Donald Trump has so ably demonstrated, the cry of “fake news” has become a way of dismissing inconvenient truths. And from China to the Philippines, repressive regimes use the charge of “fake news” to impose censorship and crush dissent.

This is why Mike Caulfield’s work is so important. Rather than pushing solutions onto citizens, we need to build the capacity of people to dig further.

Bookmarked Facebook has a Big Tobacco Problem by Frederic Filloux (mondaynote.com)

Facebook’s problems are more than a temporary bad PR issue. Its behavior contributes to a growing negative view of the entire tech industry.

Frederic Filloux compares the current situation with Facebook to the collapse of the tobacco industry in the 90’s. The first comparison is the denial of intent:

Facebook never sought to be the vector of in-depth knowledge for its users, or a mind-opener to a holistic view of the world. Quite the opposite. It encouraged everyone (news publishers for instance) to produce and distribute the shallowest possible content, loaded with cheap emotion, to stimulate sharing. It fostered the development of cognitive Petri dishes in which people are guarded against any adverse opinion or viewpoint, locking users in an endless feedback loop that has become harmful to democracy. Facebook knew precisely what it was building: a novel social system based on raw impulse, designed to feed an advertising monster that even took advantage of racism and social selectiveness

The other comparison is with Facebooks intrusion into the third world:

As in the 1990’s, when Big Tobacco felt its home market dwindling, the companies decided to stimulate smoking in the Third World. Facebook’s tactics are reminiscence of that. Today, it subsidizes connectivity in the developing world, offering attractive deals to telecoms in Asia and Africa, in exchange for making FB the main gateway to the internet. In India, Facebook went a bit too far with Free Basic, an ill-fated attempt to corner the internet by providing a free or nearly free data plan. Having some experience with Western colonialism, the Indian government rejected the deal.

More information to add to the discussion regarding sharecropping and Facebook.

Replied to Not Dead, Just Hibernating (colinwalker.blog)

Maybe it’s just because I have put myself in a particular position – with micro.blog and the Indieweb movement – but I see a thriving community of individuals, bloggers, looking to retake control of their online presence.Adam described the interview as “hard going” and on my first read though I only got as far as the following quote about talking to a high school class:

“When they ask…

I wasn’t there in the halycon days and only really started blogging after blogging supposedly died, but I like your point Colin about hibernation. I POSSE now, but I imagine a movement where people use their blogs to connect and communicate with other blogs.
Replied to

I have replied to the fear about ‘micro engagement’ before, wondering what it actually is we classify as a comment. What I wonder everytime I read that sort of thing is what the alternative looks like? Mastadon? Newsletters? Micro.blog? The question I am left with is if you were to look ahead five years into the future, what would you see and how did we get there?
Bookmarked Social Media Has Hijacked Our Brainstorm and Threatens Global Democracy (Motherboard)

The ‘social media revolution’ gave us Donald Trump and Brexit—and is making politics impossible.

David Golumbia discusses the changes to democracy associated with social media.

least reasonable parts of our minds, on which a democratic public sphere depends. It speaks instead to the emotional, reactive, quick-fix parts of us, that are satisfied by images and clicks that look pleasing, that feed our egos, and that make us think we are heroic. But too often these feelings come at the expense of the deep thinking, planning, and interaction that democratic politics are built from. This doesn’t mean reasoned debate can’t happen online; of course it can and does. It means that there is a strong tendency—what media and technology researchers call an “affordance”—away from dispassionate debate and toward strong emotions.

He argues that we have lost the ability to think slowly, therefore making us more susceptible to irrational decisions.

In 2007 and again in 2008, Kahneman gave a class in “Thinking, About Thinking” to a powerful group of executives from companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia Microsoft, and Amazon (he also gave another talk about “Thinking, Fast and Slow” at Google in 2011). Kahneman is well known for bringing public awareness to the distinction between so-called “System 1” and “System 2” thinking. System 2 is good old fashioned, actual, “slow” thinking, it’s “effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious.” System 2 is the kind of rational cogitation we like to imagine we do all the time. System 1 is “fast” thinking, fight or flight, “automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious.” Facebook and Twitter are built on System 1, as is most social media. That’s why so many tech executives were at those master classes. And that’s what they learned there: How to craft media that talks to System 1 and bypasses System 2.

Golumbia describes this as a ‘revolution’

Those who celebrated the Facebook revolution and the Twitter revolution were celebrating the replacement of (relatively) calm reflection with the politics of reactivity and passion. This domination of System 2 by System 1 thinking is the real social media “revolution.” The question that remains is whether democracies have both the will, and the means to bring considered thought back to politics, or, whether digital technology has made politics impossible.

Liked Persuasion, Adaptation, and the Arms Race for Your Attention by an author (Locus Online)

There is a war for your attention, and like all adversarial scenarios, the sides develop new countermeasures and then new tactics to overcome those countermeasures. The predator carves the prey, the prey carves the preda­tor. To get a sense of just how far the state of the art has advanced since Farmville, fire up Universal Paperclips, the free browser game from game designer Frank Lantz, which challenges you to balance resource acquisi­tion, timing, and resource allocation to create paperclips, progressing by purchasing upgraded paperclip-production and paperclip-marketing tools, until, eventually, you produce a sentient AI that turns the entire universe into paperclips, exterminating all life.

Liked The Follower Factory by an author (nytimes.com)

At a time when Facebook, Twitter and Google are grappling with an epidemic of political manipulation and fake news, Devumi’s fake followers also serve as phantom foot soldiers in political battles online. Devumi’s customers include both avid supporters and fervent critics of President Trump, and both liberal cable pundits and a reporter at the alt-right bastion Breitbart.

Listened Digital dystopia: democracy in the internet age – podcast by Jordan Erica Webber;Iain Chambers;Max Sanderson from the Guardian

Jordan Erica Webber looks at how our data is being used to push political ideologies

Jordan Erica Webber takes a look at democracy in the digital age, an era in which social media platforms have enabled a new form of political advertising and data companies can provide those who wish to sway elections and referendums with the ability to micro-target individual voters’ private Facebook feeds. Whether this is right or wrong, is everyone forced down this path? I am reminded again of Weapons of Math Destruction
Bookmarked ‘Never get high on your own supply’ – why social media bosses don’t use social media by an author (the Guardian)

Developers of platforms such as Facebook have admitted that they were designed to be addictive. Should we be following the executives’ example and going cold turkey – and is it even possible for mere mortals?

Alex Hern continues his exploration of social media, this time investigating who social media executives do not actually use the spaces which they create:

I used to look at the heads of the social networks and get annoyed that they didn’t understand their own sites. Regular users encounter bugs, abuse or bad design decisions that the executives could never understand without using the sites themselves. How, I would wonder, could they build the best service possible if they didn’t use their networks like normal people? Now, I wonder something else: what do they know that we don’t?

Hern shares his efforts to remove himself:

That is certainly how I feel about Twitter. I have tried to cut back, after realising how much of my time was spent staring at a scrolling feed of aphorisms ranging from mildly amusing to vaguely traumatic. I deleted 133,000 tweets, in an effort to reduce the feeling that I couldn’t give up on something into which I had sunk so much time. I removed the apps from my phone and my computer, forcing any interaction through the web browser. I have taken repeated breaks. But I keep coming back.

He also highlights what we are up against:

It is one thing to be a child with a protective parent keeping technology away from you. It is quite another to live like a technology executive yourself, defeating the combined effort of thousands of the world’s smartest people to instil a craving to open their app every day. I am not alone in struggling.

Along with Mozilla’s podcast on overload, they provide a useful provocation to go further on the topic.

Bookmarked Panicked about Kids’ Addiction to Tech? by danah boyd (NewCoShift)

Many people have unhealthy habits and dynamics in their life. Some are rooted in physical addiction. Others are habitual or psychological crutches. But across that spectrum, most people are aware of when something that they’re doing isn’t healthy. They may not be able to stop. Or they may not want to stop. Untangling that is part of the challenge. When you feel as though your child has an unhealthy relationship with technology (or anything else in their life), you need to start by asking if they see this the same way you do. When parents feel as though what their child is doing is unhealthy for them, but the child does not, the intervention has to be quite different than when the child is also concerned about the issue.

danah boyd suggests that there is a lot of hype associated with kids addiction and suggests that some of the problems may be associated with the parents themselves:

Parents don’t like to see that they’re part of the problem or that their efforts to protect and help their children might backfire.

In response, she suggests two things for parents to do:

  1. Verbalize what you’re doing with your phone’
  2. Create a household contract

After reading this, I tried verbalising my actions and it soon becomes apparent when maybe the phone could go away.

Replied to Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us? | Facebook Newsroom by David Ginsberg and Moira Burke (newsroom.fb.com)

In sum, our research and other academic literature suggests that it’s about how you use social media that matters when it comes to your well-being.

I find the answer to improving social media as being how it is used as being problematic. This was a message that was also presented in a recent RN Future Tense podcast. What about the side effects of using such platforms as Facebook? I recognise the improvements in functionality, such as the ability to snooze, take a break from seeing an ex or detecting suicidal posts. However, these only add to the data that I as a user would provide you to develop a richer profile of me. As Ben Williamson reminds in his new book,

Whether you like it or not, a data-based version of yourself exists out there, scattered among different databases as data points in massive torrents of big data. Data mining, algorithms and analytics processes are increasingly being put to work to know and understand you, and also to know and understand the wider populations, communities and societies to which you belong.

If benefits are gained by how we use social media then I would argue that the #IndieWeb has a lot to offer, as well as the movement to claim your own domain. This means that I am more mindful of my space and potentially decide how to share my data and information.

Audrey Watters asks the questions ‘who is telling the stories’ of the future and about research:

Where do these stories about the future come from? Like, how do we know about “what’s happening” and “what’s trending” in education? Who are the people who are telling us what the future of education or technology or education technology is supposed to like? Who tells these stories? Who benefits from these stories? Who funds these stories? Why do we find these stories compelling?

Clearly, in this case it is Facebook and this is a concern.

Replied to How to tell the good mental health apps from the bad (Radio National)

In part two of our look at the relationship between depression and digital technology we ask how can you to tell the good mental health apps from the bad? Harvard Medical School researchers estimate there are more than 10,000 on the market, but only a fraction have been scientifically evaluated. We also explore the use of online tracking technology for relapse prediction.

The power of applications to provide feedback and extend our capacity and capabilities seems a worthy task. The question though is at what cost. I like the app evaluation model provided by the American Psychiatric Society, but am concerned about the tendency to turn to the ‘easy’ option. This is epitomised to me by Martin Seligman and the potential of Facebook to support positive education:

Along with creative developments in gaming, Facebook seems like a natural for measuring flourishing. Facebook has the audience, the capacity, and is building apps (applications) that speak to the development and measurement of well-being worldwide. Can well-being be monitored on a daily basis all over the world? Here’s a beginning: Mark Slee counted the occurrences of the term laid off in Facebook every day and graphed the count against the number of layoffs worldwide. Sure enough, they moved in lockstep. Not thrilling, you might think. But now consider the five elements of well-being: positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. Each element has a lexicon; an extensive vocabulary. For example, the English language has only about eighty words to describe positive emotion. (You can determine this by going to a thesaurus for a word such as joy and then looking up all the related words, and then counting the synonyms of all those related words, eventually circling back to the core of eighty.) The hypermassive Facebook database could be accessed daily for a count of positive emotion words—words that signal meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment—as a first approximation to well-being in a given nation or as a function of some major event. It is not only measuring well-being that Facebook and its cousins can do, but increasing well-being as well. “We have a new application: goals.com,” Mark continued. “In this app, people record their goals and their progress toward their goals.” I commented on Facebook’s possibilities for instilling well-being: “As it stands now, Facebook may actually be building four of the elements of well-being: positive emotion, engagement (sharing all those photos of good events), positive relationships (the heart of what ‘friends’ are all about), and now accomplishment. All to the good. The fifth element of well-being, however, needs work, and in the narcissistic environment of Facebook, this work is urgent, and that is belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self—the element of meaning. Facebook could indeed help to build meaning in the lives of the five hundred million users. Think about it, Mark.”

I have written about Facebook elsewhere and do not want to go into that here. I wonder though if there could be a means of collecting and collating such responses, while still holding onto the data? Is this one of the compromises to the ‘internet of things’?