Discussion: Privacy – Government vs. Social Media

I was listening to a podcast interview with Nick Bostrom who was talking about his paper The Vulnerable World Hypothesis which looks at how we might avoid certain existential risks that might collapse civilization as we discover new technologies.  It’s an interesting read, but not directly related to what I want to discuss in this post.  He talks about one of the solutions to dealing with such risks is increases surveillance of people.  I am sure that we are all uncomfortable with that, but I think he makes a pretty good argument about why it might be necessary given the possibility of inventing some technology that is easy to use by individuals and could easily lead to widespread destruction.

It was this uncomfortability that I was thinking about and I started to think about the reaction to the scandal that was exposed a number of years ago when it was found out that the NSA was collecting all this information on U.S. Citizens.  I personally didn’t get concerned myself.  I thought about the volume of data they are collecting and it seemed pretty clear to me that the man hours it would take to actually listen or read everyone’s private communications, while solving unemployment, would be an enormous task.  It seems people actually feared that an NSA agent might show up at the door and tell their wife that the husband was having an affair or something.  I don’t know.  We definitely don’t like the idea of the government having our private information, and maybe that’s for good reason.

But enter social media.  We have these platforms that we enter all sorts of personal information into.  We talk about what we like and don’t like.  We post pictures of where we are and where we’ve been.  These companies collect all this information.  We know that they have algorithms that influence what we read, who comes up on our feeds, and try to feed into our political views as opposed to presenting us with opposing arguments.  We know that these platforms have been used by hackers and others entities to directly manipulate people.  100s of millions of people all over the world hand over all this information willingly.

My question is, is our government anti-trust disproportional to our trust of corporations?  Is it even fair to compare the two, or is their an asymmetry here that I am missing?  I mean arguably NSA surveillance could be uncovering terrorist plots that prevent loss of lives, does social media have benefits that outweigh its costs?  Are we being hypocritical about the importance of privacy?  Is it a difference of consent of information vs. non-consent of information?  I mean I might argue that I am consenting by getting a Facebook account and posting things about myself, but they are certainly using my information in many ways I don’t expect or aren’t aware of.

Your thoughts?

Divided We Fall

Recently I had an experience on twitter where I saw somebody posting a link for an article that criticized presidential hopeful Kamala Harris and blamed Bernie Sanders for this criticism.  The thread was full of people with nothing but vitriol for Bernie Sanders going so far to call him both a racist and a misogynist.  My wife has noticed to that criticism of certain democratic candidates erupts into divisive attacks against Bernie Sanders supporters.  When I asked for evidence of any connection to Bernie Sanders and a critique of Kamala Harris I was given none.  This twitter account had 31K followers and had a lot of posts implying dark money and nefarious works of Bernie Sanders to attack the democratic establishment.  The account belongs to Tom Watson and his credentials seem reputable, but for one who claims to be a journalist, he seemed to present no evidence of many of his claims.

But perhaps people like these are a dime a dozen on the internet, but it does make me extremely worried about this future election.  What we need is at least some unity, preferably with people who voted for Trump, but if we can’t get that we have to at least be striving for some unity in the left.  Identity politics seems to be winning the day, and the left has been described some as divided into all sorts of small groups.  The tribalism that we characterize the right with in terms of racism and xenophobia seems to me just as rampant across many groups on the left.  It may not be some of the more obvious ones like skin color, religion, or nationalism, but it’s still there and what’s most worrying is that it seems to be based on very  minor differences in overall worldview.  It seems to me the more that liberals are at each others throats this just increases the odds that when it comes to general election time more people will stay home if their horse didn’t win the primary, or might actually go across the aisle because they are so bitter after all the in fighting.  There is no reason that Bernie Sanders fans should not support Kamala Harris at this point and vice-versa, but more importantly we have to get our heads on straight about why we are voting for a particular candidate.  This isn’t sports and who ever puts on the jersey we like we have to root for.  Government’s goal is to enact the best ideas about how to govern, and this should determine who we vote for.

After the last election I, and I know many of my friends did a lot of research and reflection of how we got to where we were.  As incredulous as Trump’s win was, to suggest that it is the fault of anybody who tried to run for the job who had generally good ideas and who represented more compassion and benevolence than Trump.  Nor should we be accusing each other because we supported who we thought was going to be the best liberally minded candidate.  As a Bernie supporter I was certainly disappointed, but it was clear to me that Hillary was better than Trump and I supported.  Bernie fans who voted for Trump, I think were misguided, but I don’t think this should start casting blame on inspirational politicians who challenge the establishment.  If your vote for a candidate is solely based on gender, or racial identity, or the party they belong to, you are just as guilty of the same behavior as somebody who didn’t vote for someone based on their gender or racial identity.  If you are liberal what you should be for is fighting for a future in which the content of the individual running for office is the reason to vote for them.  And while I think there is enormous value to new generations to grow up in a time with female president and/or ethnic minority president, there is also enormous value in having them grow up with leaders who intelligent and empathetic, and who have good ideas that are going to help people have better lives.

It’s also worth remembering that the Russian interference in the election is very real, and one of the ways it worked is by exploiting division.  I recently listened to this podcast interview on Sam Harris podcast with Renee DiRiesta who has done a lot of research into how Russians used social media to exploit divisions between people.  Not only getting more support for Trump, but trying hard to suppress democratic voters from going to the polls.  It did make a difference.  They are still doing it.  The same tactics have been used by terrorist organizations to recruit, and it can it it also being done within our country as well.  We must resist the temptation to be divided, and while I’m certainly not suggesting that we don’t take a stand on certain issues, if you are spending a lot of time arguing with people on social media you are simply wasting your time.  Twitter and Facebook can take all the steps reasonably allowed to try and prevent fake accounts, but people intent on manipulation on a mass scale through social media will find away around us and it is up to use to be aware and responsible users in the end.

The anti-establishment writing is on the wall, and it was for the last election, but the DNC refused to recognize it.  Trump was no anti-establishment answer but it what many people were looking for.  Likely that sentiment is going to be there again and it is going to be a source of contention on the left.  For those of you who followed Bernie his goal was never to actually win, but to shift the conversation.  To stay focused on issues and to address the anger that many Americans were feeling towards an economic elite that were bleeding the country dry.  Not all of his ideas were great, and whoever you end up supporting will probably not have all the best ideas either.   I suggest:

  • If you want to discuss politics, discuss the issues.  Avoid name calling and personal attacks.
  • Stay away from social media for your information and to keep your emotional health in check during this election season.  It’s a ridiculously long cycle in the U.S. and it’s easy to let your boredom lead you down the path of social media, but it is not your friend, and there are entities on there aiming to continue to divide people.  Don’t let it work.  Not only do you share many similar concerns with your fellow democrat, but probably also your fellow Republican.
  • Consider supporting a few newspapers monetarily.  These platform that are free and run on advertising are prone to attention getting not truth finding.  Good information and journalism costs money.  Do some research on what papers have good investigative research and get an on-line subscription
  • Promote empathy by sticking with politicians who demonstrate it, and also be giving it to your fellow human.

Peace out!

Racism Thwarted Thanks to Social Media

Former Racist Ellen Degeneres
Former Racist Ellen Degeneres

Burbank, CA – Thanks to a cadre of people on Twitter Monday, racist Ellen Degeneres was thwarted from spreading her divisive, white privilege message to the world when she tweeted herself riding on the back of world’s fastest man Usain Bolt.  People who had gone nearly minutes without being outraged by something quickly piled a dung heap of shame on the unsuspecting Degeneres forcing her to cry and immediately become a better person.

Professional shamer Lindsay Telson told reporters in an interview Wednesday that she was glad she could be one the first to strike shame into the heart of the unsuspecting comedienne. “Some people might have looked at the picture and taken time to consider what it was really trying to say, but I’ve become really good at spotting racism having used Twitter for many years now.”  When asked whether she was still going to continue to fight, a weary but resolute Telson responded “Racism requires all the vigilance that social media can muster.  That’s why I follow so many entertainers and people of import not only on Twitter, but Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.  People look up to them, and if I can be the first to call them out on their racism I know that such attitudes will soon disappear.  Fighting complex and long time problems like racism 140 characters at a time is such a satisfying feeling.  Also,” added Telson, “you get more people favoriting your tweets and more followers.  So you can fight racism together.”

Long time shamer Randy Loeffler, who also helped shame Ellen, said shaming is a lot more in depth.  “You see,” said a thoughtful Loeffler, “good shaming isn’t just about being first it’s about the level of outrage you display or how piercing your comment is to the person you are trying to shame.  That’s really how you get people to favorite your tweet and follow you.  I’m not saying being quick doesn’t matter, but I feel shaming is more nuanced.”  Reporters took the opportunity to further question the experienced shamer to understand the shaming community better, “I’m not really fond of the term shamer.  I mean it’s true, but I think of myself as more of the social police.  We’re a community you know.  In fact in my area we started a Facebook group called Outrage Outreach.  Not a great name, but the person who thought of it was shamed appropriately.  It’s nice to get a chance to get together in real life with fellow shamers.  We don’t get to talk much to each other, but every once in a while we’re sitting at the table looking at our phones, somebody will call out something shameworthy that a celebrity has posted and we’ll all get on it.  It’s a lot of fun, being outraged together and in person.”

But shamer Destiny Carter painted a more complex and discordant view of the shaming community.  “First,” said a serious Carter, “shaming can be exhausting.  You might start with shaming a celebrity, but then some people will support that celebrity’s racist tweet, and then you have to start shaming the supporters too then they shame you back.  And it’s like there’s this bond you know because you clearly both like shaming, but you’re at odds.”  Carter then became pensive before adding, “Personally I have found it hard to find good friends among my fellow shamers.  One time I went out with one of them on a date.  We didn’t talk much, but we I liked the fact that we were getting really outraged, so we had sex.  But when actually talking after sex, while our phones recharged, it turned out that we felt very vulnerable and uncomfortable getting to know each other as people.  The outrage that brought us together was gone. So I tweeted him the next day that I had fun, but that I didn’t think we should go out anymore.  He got upset and tried to fat shame me because of his concerns to stop obesity and this forced me to shame him back to stop misogyny.  I am sure he’s a better person now as a result of it.  I don’t know…I had to block him when he started to slut shame me.”

To get a better perspective on shaming on social media, this reporter talked to Dr. Leonard Orville at Cornell University  who said that social media has really led to a lot of healing in the U.S. today.  “I don’t want to be too bold in my prediction, but I think that if we are able to maintain this level of shaming, by the year 2025 problems like racism will be a thing of the past.  So many celebrities, athletes, politicians, and just regular everyday people are being shamed into a more egalitarian mindset and society is being mended at an alarming rate as a result.  Hold on…is that a dreamcatcher on your tie?  That’s cultural appropriation.  Let me get my phone to take a picture.”

Women in the Man Cave

I was at the gym the other day and there are a number of TV’s there and as is often the case ESPN Sports Center was on.  I couldn’t help but notice the difference between the male and female anchors.  The females standing in there skirts or dresses, never below knee length, always wearing heels.  In fact one anchor, Nicole Briscoe, was recently complimented with “respect for being pregnant while also wearing heels”.  Alternatively, the men were well dressed and looking comfortable.  It is of course a massive double standard and sports isn’t the only place where such a double standard exists, but I couldn’t help but thinking even if we have a standard of beauty that we say we want to appear on TV such a standard is not evenly applied to men.   Men aren’t forced to wear tight fitting clothes, clothes that actually might be restrictive or uncomfortable.  When you look at the the bios of all the ESPN staff, anchors, reporters and columnists, you can see through these many pages a trend in the women all being fairly attractive and reasonably young unless they are a very famous former player.  What’s clear is that when you look at the men there is no similar standard.  While they all may be required to be smartly dressed the standard deviation in age, height, and, in my estimation, attractiveness is far greater.  Women must fit a narrow mold, while men are allowed to represent the diversity of body shapes, facial features, ages, and levels of balding.

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Yes those heels probably are uncomfortable. Pregnant or not.

More disturbingly than this is the level of vitriol that often women face who are involved with sports writing and sports reporting.  I recently posted this video on Facebook but I thought it was important enough to post on my blog as well, because I think it’s important that we be vigilant about counteractive the horrible comments these women received.  This video was hard to watch, and that’s what tells me that it might be worth it for a lot of people to watch it.  The comments these women received reminded me a lot of the type of comments that Anita Sarkeesian has received by trying to introduce a more balanced female perspective into the video game world.  It seems to me that sports are still seen as a male domain, and intruding on that domain has costs to women who try to do so.  If you aren’t pretty to look at, you shouldn’t be there.  And if you try to be more than just a pretty face, like have a mind, then you are going to be sorry.  This seems to be the overall message.  Just anecdotally I tried to look at a couple of the female profiles on twitter to see I could see additional evidence, and what I found is that horrible comments, like the ones in the video happen but are rare.  However, what you also see are plenty of comments objectifying the reporter/anchor.  Comments about how hot she is, or her legs, and as you can imagine worse at times.

I try to focus on the progress that has been made and try to remain hopeful.  Double standards are getting less in the music and entertainment industry.  Sports for women are gaining more popularity and more air time.  I try to remind myself that 20 years ago, seeing a female at all reporting or as an anchor on a sports show was unheard of unless it was a sport which actually involved women.  There seems to be these last bastions of maleness in our culture which is being fought against with all the misogynistic vitriol they can muster.  Some might argue that it is the internet that allows these people to express such horrible words in a largely anonymous fashion, and maybe that’s true to a certain extent, but it also exposes such behavior as well.  I have a hard time believing that such attitudes are a function of the internet, but rather just a larger forum of expression for attitudes that already existed.  This video reminds us that even if we aren’t saying the words to someone’s face they still have the same impact, and I also hope that this video reminds men to pay attention.  These men had an extremely hard time saying these things to the women, and it is likely that they aren’t the type of men who say such things, but they can be part of the solution which is to call out such despicable and hurtful behavior.  Not to be chivalrous or to gain favor with an attractive sports personality on, but simply because it is the right thing to do.  Do it equitably, to all women who are trying to make a living doing something they enjoy, whether it is on social media or a night out with the boys.  And maybe you won’t change any minds, but to be apathetic to such attitudes towards women is the same as compliance in my opinion.  And even if it is only words, we all know what a short road from words to cari_champion_espn_by_lowerrider-d8ry2f0actions there is.  I’m not saying twitter attacks are always the best way to combat these attitudes, but I encourage men to take up the mantle of fighting these attitudes in a manner that seems most effective to them.  At the same time maybe we can also change the standards by which women are placed into these roles.  So it’s not just about what they wear and how pretty they are, but by their passion and knowledge for sports (or whatever subject they are passionate about).  Perhaps if we only want a woman on TV for her pretty face and tight clothing, is it any wonder that so many men only see them as being valuable for such superficial qualities?

The 4th Age of Sand

As I have immersed myself more into the world of social media, commenting on articles, the blogosphere there’s a very real attraction to it for me.  I like putting ideas out there, I like being social, meeting people I never would have met.  Overall I’m very positive about the way we communicate.  Douglas Adams in a wonderful speech he gave (transcript here) talked about how humanity has made enormous leaps via, what he calls, the four ages of sand.  Sand being made of silicon he outlines the 4 ages as:

1) Using silicon to make glass for the telescope

2) Using silicon to make glass for the microscope

These two allowed us to see the macro and micro universe around us.

3) The silicon chip.  Computers with their ability to do many calculations quickly allowed us to model the process of how things work.

4) Silicon for fiber optics in the communication age.

From http://www.cbstelephone.com

Although of course at the time of the speech we didn’t use satellite as much as we do today, but there are still a lot of computer chips involved in those!  The point is that Douglas Adams saw the power of being able to communicate with people remotely as a powerful tool.

Yet when we look at this great age where the world is being connected we tend to get overwhelmed by stories of social media addiction, the loss of time spent in the physical world, face to face communication, and some often harmful interaction.

It is this last one that is on my mind right now.  I watched the interview recently with Jon Ronson on The Daily Show and he has a new book where he talks about internet shaming.  One of the people he focuses on in his book is Justine Sacco.  You may remember her, she was the one who made a joke tweet on her way to South Africa from Heathrow and from only having 170 followers to a landslide of people waiting to lambaste her at the end of her flight.  His book looks at the history of shaming and what it means in todays day and age.  He wrote a good piece in the New York Times if you don’t want to read the book.  It’s a great article, long, but most definitely worth a read.

After years of using digital media for communication there are many challenges to overcome.  I think that ultimately when you write things that people are going to read, you have to be a great writer.  Without our physical gestures and voice intonation it’s easy for meaning to get lost.  It’s easy for a joke to sound serious.  It’s easy for well meaning advice or information to sound condescending.  It’s easy for sincerity to be taken as sarcasm.  But I was thinking that good writers are not so unambiguous and we pick up things like sarcasm and sincerity better.  Maybe when we communicate through writing we need to think about how we say it more deeply before we do so.  I think part of the illusion lies in the fact that we think we are actually having a conversation and try to type out things like we are, but in fact communicating through writing is not very much like a face to face conversation at all.  Justine Sacco’s life was destroyed for making a joke to her few twitter followers, poking fun at white privilege and walked out of a plane into an absolute hellscape of a virtual mob who wanted her to hang.  Someone on twitter was even there to take her picture as she walked off the plane.

This story also reminded me of recent events concerning the pizzeria owners who said they wouldn’t cater a gay wedding.  A friend of mine linked me an article about how we really don’t benefit from publicly shaming those owners regardless of how discriminatory and prejudiced their views might be.  Seeing that those bigots had over $800,000 raised in their name infuriated me and I could feel the anger rise in me and wanted to join the mob of people shaming the for their views.  Luckily it occurred to me that being upset and shaming bigots doesn’t really change anything and that it would be better to put goodness into the world instead and decided to set up a fundraising account for an LGBT youth group in Indiana that does a lot of good work in schools and for young members of the LGBT community.

It’s amazing how easily we can succumb to being part of “the mob” through digital media.  I’ve been caught up in it and I am sure many who read this have as well.  When you reflect on it, it’s an empty feeling though.  You get to feel bold for being part of

From http://www.killyourdarlingsjournal.com

a righteous fight, and yet remain anonymous in that sea of virtual people calling out for someone’s blood.  This is the other facet of the age of the internet is that posting comments behind the veil of a computer screen, or smart phone screen is that we feel protected and thus we say and do things we wouldn’t normally do.  Everybody is familiar with “trolls” and the divisiveness they cause with their comments.  In the end best advice really is “don’t feed the trolls”, but someone always does and arguments ensue.  I know for me the internet allows me to be bolder than I am perhaps in real life and while sometimes I think it helps me gain some additional confidence in myself, more often I just use the internet as a shield to give compliments and say things I am too shy to say in person.  Too often I also find myself assuming a more negative intention in the comments of others because the internet is full of people saying things that I don’t think they would say to your face.  It’s kind of like how drinking affects people.  Some people become open and honest in a kind way, others become belligerent and mean.  For me I feel that it’s something I have improved on and need to keep improving to be the man on the internet that I am in real life.

I am not down on the communication age, I just feel like we’ve invented an important bit of technology that we haven’t figured

from http://harvardpolitics.com

out how to use to the best of its ability yet.  I think that there are a lot of important ways that the internet can be used that our too valuable to ignore.  We can learn about issues all over the world that can foster our love of humanity and can help us see that we do truly live in a global community.  Social media was used to organize a revolution in Egypt to overthrow a terrible dictator (sorry Egypt it hasn’t gotten much better), when in the past there would have been no easy way to send the message to everybody simply through a land line.  Social media has been used to bring things to the light that would have caused more harm.  A video of cop shooting a man in the back, racist chants from a sorority in Oklahoma, a video of a NFL football player knocking out his wife (not really about exposing the football player, but how it helped exposed how the NFL organization tried to cover up evidence they had about the incident) are examples of how the sharing of certain information has value.  But I think we owe it to ourselves to try and take ourselves away from the mob mentality.  What if Justine Sacco had made her joke to your face.  Even if you weren’t clear that it was a joke would have you ran down the halls calling her a racist?  You probably would have just removed yourself from her social circle, but you could have also taken her aside and turned it into a teachable moment about why her joke might not be found as funny, or asked follow up questions to understand her intention.  Shaming is a terrible thing and how many of us have made jokes or comments we regret?  How many times have we been wrong in our attitude or thinking and needed a chance to learn from our mistakes to come out better on the other side?  Doesn’t everybody deserve that chance?  Is it necessary to traumatize somebody for a few thoughtless words?  Let’s instead try turn negatives into positives.  Let’s try to teach instead of shame.  Let’s try to understand instead of judge.  I am no saint in this area, but I’m going to keep trying, because the benefits of this communication age I think are enormous.  It is our disconnection from each other that leads to fear and mistrust I believe, and we can know and understand so many more people and issues today than we could 30 years ago and I truly believe that the power of the internet can lead to a new golden age for humanity.

 

 

Silly Christmas Parody Poem

Twas the night before Christmas, and Facebook was quiet,
No winter weather whines or Phil Robertson riot,
I examined a link, posted without care,
Of the 20 hottest celebrities without any hair.

As I pondered on my next riveting status,
I heard a faint tapping at my window lattice,
I should have got up, for I was no craven,
But I was distracted by a meme of Poe and The Raven,

Then out on the lawn there arose a loud clatter,
So I quickly checked Twitter to see what’s the matter,
No tweets about accidents or troublesome boys,
I even searched for the hashtag, #whatsthatnoise

Then back to my news feed, but still hearing the scuffle,
Couldn’t think of a status with this annoying kerfuffle,
What’s all this jingling, hooves clomping on wood,
Perhaps a little snapchat would do me some good.

From somewhere above a voice so merry and thick,
I wondered if this could be the fabled St. Nick,
If it is I should make this my status forthwith!
But according to Snopes it’s just urban myth

So I went back to scrolling through pop culture ga-ga,
And turning down invites to play Candy Crush Saga,
Then a rustle coming from the chimney behind me,
Oh…party tomorrow, thank God Facebook reminds me

So I clicked yes to join and asked what can I bring,
Then watched a you tube video of bad carolers sing,
I coughed as I waved away all the soot in the air.
While enjoying a clip of Mr. Stephen Colbert.

Was that heavy boots stomping over to the tree,
I probably should get up and have a look see,
But this post about Lymphoma, a disease we must beat,
Says I must love cancer if I don’t repost this toute de suite.

It must be my wife carrying some neatly wrapped boxes,
Hey there’s that video about the sound made by foxes,
I can’t get enough of hearing them yelp,
I’m sure my honey will tell me if she needs any help.

Then a whole bunch of statuses appeared in a flurry,
Santa has been sighted!  To your window! Please hurry!
I laughed and I scoffed and replied “No thank you, I’ll pass”
And browsed some pictures of Kim Kardashian’s ass.

But Facebook friends rebuked and begged me to look,
But I had no interest in a fat clumsy crook,
Locations of the statuses were all in my town,
But Santa’s not real can we all please calm down?

I decided to end this hysteric aberration,
And get the final truth from the folks at Fox Nation,
You see Santa’s a commie or a socialist at best,
Giving handouts to children at Obama’s behest

As I started a feud between the left and the right,
There was a crack of a whip that gave me a fright,
So I decided to get up and saw tracks of a sleigh,
I guess Facebook was right, it HAD snowed today.

Then it struck what status that I knew I must type,
Before talking to family in the morning on Skype,
The Christmas spirit filled me with joy and delight
“Merry Christmas to all!” Would you all please click Like?