Tag Archives: Facebook

What Kind of SJW Are You?

I’m not one to say I told you so (OK, maybe I am) but the recent Facebook scandal has illustrated the very concerns I have been sharing for years. Social networking has exploded in the past decade with people connecting and interacting on various platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and of course, Facebook, sharing their daily lives, their ideas, dreams, concerns, dinner plans, etc. During the whole process, cries of privacy and safety concerns have come from many corners since all of the sharing reveals data that criminals could use to target new victims. The obvious culprits are pedophiles, burglars, and identity thieves, but this latest controversy has identified the real danger: data mining. The data comes from not only the profiles users build but also from user activities online, such as those inane quizzes that come across your Facebook feed. I have warned people about taking these quizzes for years.

When anyone sets up a social media account, the site requires a lot of information that seems quite logical to build a profile. Name, email, phone number, and birth date seem like reasonable information to build a profile, so people readily give up this info. But data mining sites don’t stop there. They want more. The reason they want more is not [just] to make the site more usable, but to make more money. Social networking sites sell user data to various marketing firms to generate revenue that keeps the site running. Users get ads that are targeted to them based on the information they share on social media sites. The more data provided by the user, the more targeted that ad.

The profile is not the only way that data gets collected, user activity actually provides way more data for these firms. Online quizzes ask seemingly innocuous questions that generate tons of data. These quizzes offer to let the user know what the user’s color says about them, what super hero they would be, and what their name means in Elvish among other things, and people clamor to give up their private information. Not only do they willingly do this, they also give up access to their online friend’s profiles. The data mining firms are cleaning up with all the data they have available and the marketing firms are loving sending specific ads so they can charge more to the advertisers. All this comes from those innocuous social profiles.

Now the media is up in arms about how user data has been collected supposedly to effect the presidential election. First it was Russian collusion, now it is Cambridge Analytica that ruined the Clinton presidency that the media had prepared to celebrate. The real fact of the matter is that Cambridge Analytica did nothing more than any other data firm has been doing since the birth of the Internet. They collected data and sold that data.

Was Facebook complicit in this supposed breech of public trust? Yes and no. They created the platform that makes such interaction possible and they built the system that sells the data to pay for it. Did Mark Zuckerberg set out to ruin Hillary’s presidential chances? Of course not. That was just a bonus.

Now the internet’s social justice warriors are promoting the hashtag #deletefacebook to call on users to quit the social media giant as a form of punishment. These people think that since their data—that they happily gave up on their own—was used in a way that they don’t like, the site that collected that data must be shut down.

It is just another example of how society refuses to accept any personal responsibility for their actions. They gave up the data willingly. Once you give it up, what it is used for is no longer your concern. You don’t want Cambridge Analytica to sell your data, don’t take the stupid online quizzes.

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Filed under Media, Society, Technology

The Language of Racism?

I was perusing Facebook this morning and this post caught my eye: “I will not be forced to learn a foreign language to accommodate illegals in my country.”
That post had this as its first comment–which started a heated discussion on the topic: “Closed minded and hateful speech is what I just read.”
A person makes a statement asserting first amendment rights and someone practically accuses them of racism.  Why is it racist to refuse to learn a different language?
People have come to this country from all over the world since the 1700s.  People from England, Norway, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, China, Taiwan, Japan as well as many other countries all have immigrated to the United States over the years to find more freedom, a better life and new opportunities.  In the early days of this country, every one of those immigrants learned English, not because of some sense of American colonialization or because of a mandate from the government.  They learned it to form the country, because every form of government has to have one common language.
Every one.
The United States has always been the melting pot.  Dozens of cultures combined over the 240 year history of this country to bring it to where it is now.  And now, in the interest of globalization, we are are undoing some of the foundational ideas that are central to keeping our country strong.
Liberals and anti-colonialists are bemoaning what has until recently been a common trend of learning the predominate language of a country to which you wish to immigrate.  If I wish to move to Germany, it would be rude of me to ask every one of my neighbors and coworkers to learn and speak to me only in English, just because I don’t want to learn German.  Similarly, if a German comes to America, they learn English.  It is common sense.  But now it is considered rude for Americans to expect foreigners to speak English while in the U.S. and it is considered racist to expect those who wish to live here to learn the language of the country they wish to call home.
If an immigrant comes to this country and refuses to learn English, that immigrant is going to find life difficult.  So difficult that they petition our government–ours, not theirs–to produce official government forms in their language and try to assume state government offices without the ability to speak Engish.  Yet, with the mass of immigration from Mexico, there is a push to force Americans to learn Spanish and to have official government forms printed in Spanish and to have mandatory classes in our schools.  Why is this?
No one is suggesting that we force German, Greek or any other language on our citizenry.  Why Spanish? And why force any foreign language?  We live in a country that values freedom and freedom means not having the Government mandate your daily life.  Americans have the freedom of speech, and that freedom includes which language is spoken.  It does not mean that they have to speak a second language.
Having said all that, it is probably a good idea to learn another language, especially if one works at an international company or with people for whom English is a second language.  But there can be no mandate for this; it has to be an individual, personal choice.
One sure-fire way to know you have lost your country is when you are forced to speak a language different from the one spoken by the citizenry.


Filed under Politics, Society

Mogul or Scapegoat

I was all set to blog about the cold weather, but a friend of mine brought up a matter of concern. She received a chat pop up on Facebook that supposedly came from a reputable page but contained a link to a porn site. This kind of thing has been happening on the internet for years, but at this time, for this occurrence, my friend is directing all her vitriol at leveling the blame for the offense on the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, as if he personally sent the offensive link and several of her friends have joined the chorus.

Mark Zuckerberg

There has developed in this country a tendency to forgo responsibility. We do not accept it for ourselves and we do not hold those accountable who should be. This trend has been going on with gun control and crime for years. Society has long insisted that if all guns were illegal, that crime would be a thing of the past. We could have a crime-free society if only there were no guns to be had, since obviously guns turn people into criminals and make them do heinous things. Never mind that criminals do not care if guns are illegal, since they plan on committing a crime with it anyway.

Mark Zuckerberg did not invent pornography. He did not invent the internet (Al Gore did, remember) and he did not invent personal computers. He did not modify the human genome to make people want to see pornography and he did not invent the myriad websites that offer it. Mark Zuckerberg developed a website that allows people to connect to old friends and make new ones from the millions of users that share interests. It wasn’t even a new idea; several other sites had been online for years from Yahoo 360 to Myspace to Classmates. Zuckerberg mearly made the one that more people like to use.

Did he do it single-handedly? Of course not. He built the original Facebook site, but the version that is online now is so far removed from the original as Windows 7 is from Windows 3. More people have had a hand in developing that site than the team that developed your cell phone. Does he even have a direct say in all the programming and coding that goes on? Doubtful. He’s a CEO—granted one of the youngest ever—but CEOs do not do nuts and bolts development work.

What is Facebook? Is it the most powerful website in the world? Does it have the power and ability to affect change on a global level? Many people are attributing the fall of the Tunisian government to Facebook, since the protesters used the site to publicize riots and protests. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak shut down internet and cell phone access to prevent rioters in that country from using Facebook and other social networks to coordinate activity. So, where is the power? Is it in the site? No. Definitely not. The power is with the users of the site. Those calling for the ouster of Mubarak will use any website they can. They used Facebook because of one thing: it has so many users. People hold the power and when a website has as many users as Facebook, the power of all those users can be intimidating. The power is not with the website, since a website—any website, even Facebook—is merely a collection of pages and data.

Zuckerberg started what many in the media are characterizing as one of the most important social events since the internet. The internet has been a darling of the media since it first broke out of the bonds of ISPs into its own entity. It has been touted as the most significant technological development and advancement for the world and can allow even the most remote disconnected communities to join the worldwide network of knowledge and communication. Lofty praise, to be sure, but it’s a bit naïve of an assessment at best. Anytime someone discovers a new way to reach people, one of the first users of that medium will be purveyors of pornography, followed almost immediately by someone trying to make money, and then someone making money off porn. They reach out in many ways from email, to instant messaging to chatrooms. People have developed several ways to prevent these unwanted spam messages, but no sooner does someone develop a plug than the mouse will find another hole.

Someone found a way to use facebook to send messages containing porn or porn links. Facebook has tools in place to prevent most of them, and I would imagine they are very successful, given the sheer volume of spam that my email filter catches. So, one link managed to get through the gauntlet and pop up because a hacker managed to exploit a hole in the system. This is not Zuckerberg’s fault. He did not engineer the hole. He did not initiate the link or build the porn site that the link points to, and contrary to public opinion, he does not make any money when something like this happens.

Sure, Zuckerberg is not hurting for money. Neither is Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or any of the other people who have created the tools we use to connect on the internet. But none of these people are to blame for the social ills that profligate on the net. Just as bad things happen in a mall, or on main street, bad thing happen on the net. We cannot blame those who create things when that which they create are used for nefarious purposes.

The movie “The Social Network” depicts Mark Zuckerberg as a geek or nerd with poor social skills. In fact, many who knew him have called him various negative names and assailed his character, but none of them have called him evil.

We simply must blame those who actually commit the offenses. Blame the person who sent the link. Blame the person who built the porno site. Heck, you can even blame Facebook friend who failed to keep their profile secure. But it is not Zuckerberg’s fault.

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Speech Isn’t Always Free

A high school basketball player in Nashville, Tennessee may be the pawn that defines free speech in the networking age if his case goes to the courts. Taylor Cummings, a 17-year-old student at Martin Luther King Magnet school, posted some derogatory and derisive messages on his facebook account after a falling out with his coaches. The school responded by first suspending, then expelling the senior 10 days later.

Taylor Cummings and his Facebook page

The posts included one that said “I’ma kill ’em all.”

Now, there have been cases where school administrations have taken action against students who post on social networking sites, and these cases have agitated free-speech advocates who contend that the first amendment protects students from these actions. The flip-side of the argument is a question: what constitutes free speech?

Courts have long held that community standards set the bar for issues of obscenity, and congress has set the standard for material covered by national security. People who break non-disclosure agreements are subject to legal action for saying or writing material that is covered by those agreements under the auspices of contract law. So, not everything we say is protected free speech.

Neither is what we write.

The written word has long been established as indelible, permanent, involatile. The words of Yul Brenner’s Pharaoh come to mind: “So let it be written, so let it be done.” Writing gives weight to what is said. It makes it seem more important and less ephemeral than the spoken word. It is tangible. It is real. It is important. It commands attention. So Let It Be Written, So Let it Be Done One does not casually put into writing that which one does not truly feel. The love letter is cherished, while the significance of saying “I love you” fades after the first time it is said. There is a whole school devoted to the significance of writing in society. This significance, however, is eroded by social networking sites and texting.

Texting has the immediacy of speech. People send texts as easily as they think what to say. There is no social norm or convention for standardizing texting the same way we do for writing. Once we hit send, it is as if we uttered the phrase, never to be retracted. Since one can post to a twitter feed or facebook wall just as easily as texting, it offers even more problems. While texting generally is a one-on-one conversation, the wall or feed is akin to the jumbotron at a sports arena. What you say is out there for everyone to see. One must take care deciding what content to place in such a public venue.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first amendment is a blueprint for all the other amendments that follow. It is the headliner of the Bill Of Rights. These rights are provided to American citizens as demonstrated freedoms that we all enjoy. These rights were paid for in blood in every war this country has fought. Just because it is a right, however, does not mean we can take them for granted. We have to be responsible stewards of these rights, use them wisely; use them carefully. We cannot use them to hit others over the head with our own ideas. There needs to be polite discussion when differences are encountered in order to bridge them.

While this all seems rather academic, young mister Cummings has added one more aspect to the issue. “I’ma kill em all” is not just any old rant. Not like “Coach so-in-so is stupid,” or “I hate the coach,” or even “I wish coach was dead.” No, “I’ma kill em all” is a direct threat. It conveys a plan of action with a specified outcome. This kind of message has already been held in the courts as conveying a threat, whether spoken or written or, as in this case, facebooked.

Now, he and his mother and a civil rights attorney have all said that it was regrettable and more to the point, that Cummings didn’t mean it. It was just the ranting of a disappointed adolescent. That may be true, but it is not the same as hollering into an empty room. Once the words are written, then the message becomes deliverable. Had he just scribbled it on a piece of paper, then tore the paper into bits and trashed it, the issue would have been trashed. But he posted it the message to a public forum, where any of his friends, who may have other friends, can read it. This conveys the threat and this is where he got into trouble.

Had he said “Coach so-in-so is stupid,” or “I hate the coach,” or even “I wish coach was dead,” the school would have no actionable issue. He is expressing his opinion and doing so is covered by free speech. Conveying a specific threat is not. The school board was correct in taking action against Mr. Cummings, who should feel fortunate that they are not pressing criminal charges against him. People need to take greater responsibility with what they put online.

Perhaps this case will set a precedent so that the courts have a template to follow in future cases. More to the point, however, perhaps it will teach kids that they cannot use the internet so cavalierly as to put their innermost thoughts and feelings out into the public. It is not a private journal, it is a public forum and there are rules that need to be followed. This is not free speech, it is bought and paid for speech. Treat it as such.

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Filed under Media, Politics, Society

Got any Wooden Nickels?

Hey pal! Bills got you down and you need some extra cash? Your wife spent your paycheck on cosmetics and forgot to pay the rent and you’re about to be evicted? The dog ran off with one of your slippers and hasn’t come back? Is that what’s troubling you bunky? Well have I got a deal for you! Just send me your social security number and the account numbers of all your bank accounts and I will make sure you have no more money problems.

Does this sound ridiculous? It should. But chances are someone was about to do it until they read this paragraph. The common axiom is that “It takes all kinds” to make up the world. Other common axioms include “There’s a sucker born every minute” and “a fool and his money are soon parted.”

Once was a time when the flim-flam man was a traveling gypsy with potions galore in small vials in a worn leather case that offered the cures for whatever ails you from baldness to gout to bursitis. These con men would score some victims, then skedaddle when people got wise to their hustle. Today, they don’t appear in the town square, they pop up in your email, or on your Facebook wall.

Some are quite nefarious and have bankrupted the gullible souls who fell for the scam. These usually come in the form of an official looking letter from Nigeria claiming they need help disposing of funds from an account by routing the funds through the victims’ account offering to let the victim keep a good portion of the money. The victim gives the scammer their routing and account numbers and is shocked to find in short order that their life savings have vanished.

The more innocuous are the ones saying that if you forward an email to everyone in your address book, Microsoft or Nokia or google or some such firm will give you a free computer or money. These are all hoaxes, and many people even realize they are fake and follow the instructions anyway. The more annoying are the hokey sob stories that claim good fortune will befall you if you forward the sob story to at least 5 friends. If you fail to do so, bad luck will come instead.

There are all kinds of hoaxes on Facebook. The latest claims that if you join a fan page, that a “dislike” button will appear on your wall. This won’t happen. If there was a dislike button, it would already be on your wall. No user has to join a group or type a code or any such thing to get Facebook functions to appear. Other scams are the ones that say “click this link, you won’t believe it!” You won’t believe that you fell for it either, when they hijack your profile and start sending your friends the same link.

There is no shortage of people looking to take advantage of the good natured and gullible. A sad fact is that many don’t even do it for profit. They do it just to do it. They seem to enjoy putting one over on the next guy. Just because they can. In this day of Identity Theft, these scams can cause serious damage to people and families, but sometimes they just want to be mean.

The axiom to keep in mind for all these scams and hoaxes is “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” “Err on the side of caution” and “Don’t take any wooden nickels” are good examples too.

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