Elections, not Zuckerberg

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Mark Zuckerberg seems no better and no worse than any other business owner/billionaire these days. His company makes huge profits and he still needs ever more to satisfy himself and his stockholders. This is our brand of capitalism and Zuckerberg is certainly not any more greedy than anyone else. I am not going back into the now-distant past to talk about whether he became sole owner of Facebook by trickery and theft of intellectual property. That has already been adjudicated and now is a matter for Zuckerberg’s conscience.

There are at least two different points being argued at the same time and they do connect, but they are not the same issue. One argument says here is a company that is owned by one man. It has a huge presence on the internet which gives Mark Zuckerberg a disproportionate influence over internet users. So the argument here is that Zuckerberg’s company needs some regulation.

But that depends on whether we are talking about consumerism or elections. Unlike Cambridge Analytica Mark Zuckerberg, I’m thinking, did not intend to influence a US election any more than he intended to make identity theft a more common type of crime. He did intend to use what all websites use and what Bruce Schneier, writing at cnn.com yesterday morning (March 26, 2018) called “surveillance capitalism.”

Facebook users are not that naïve. We know that, although Facebook has gotten quite picky about what privacy level we want for things we post, they still allow all kinds of other apps and sites to collect our data and that of our friends. How many times have you given up your contacts to gain quick access to a site? The problem is that this allows someone like Cambridge Analytica, an organization that has only a fiduciary relationship with Facebook to mine data that Facebook supposedly protects but actually makes accessible to all who pay to advertise on the platform.

Since our entire culture centers around making money, having money, making more money and stockpiling as much money as you can and since every company has the same goals – profit- it is hard to fault Zuckerberg for being a successful businessman. If no one ever used this data to spy, to meddle in an election(/s), then we would not be having this discussion right now.

We are at a time when meddling in American elections seems to be the project of the moment for way too many people and at least one nation. I am not talking about voter fraud. I do not think we the people are even on the list of election tinkerers. Are both the GOP and the Dems using the internet to feed false information to people who use social media? I don’t think so. Were those who stole data under false pretenses and used it to fix (or try to fix) an election only trying to stop Hillary, or did they only wish to elect Trump – or would they have tried to throw the election to any candidate on the right. It seems that the election of 2016 was very important to an awful lot of people, and that they were are all working for the right.

Regardless of who Cambridge Analytica was working for, or whether or not Putin had people trying to fix the election, or even if Hillary and the Dems were trying to fix the election against Bernie Sanders, clearly we must protect our elections from any kind of meddling. Free and fair elections are the basis of our democracy/republic. Given what we can see about the lack of any reliable privacy on the internet and the modern tendency to push media into our communities that offers partisan propaganda, but likes to pretend that it is offering unbiased facts, obviously, some real effort and study needs to be dedicated to protecting our “free and fair” elections. Since some people feel that all is fair in politics and elections this effort cannot be delayed. We have another election coming up. We have elections all the time.

It is disingenuous to try to make Mark Zuckerberg the scapegoat for what is happening with our elections. Perhaps this is more Conservative razzle-dazzle to distract everyone from noticing that most of the election meddling was done on behalf of the GOP and Donald Trump. Zuckerberg just uses the same “surveillance capitalism” that all sites use on the web (although it is possible he pioneered some of the methodologies currently in use). These tactics are invasive and annoying and they make hacking the web a gamble with a big payoff.

We do need some oversight on the internet or the internet will become so crime-ridden that it will be shunned by people who cannot take risks with their data or their money. And this very model of “surveillance capitalism” is used on all social media but Facebook has the biggest treasure trove of personal information. Can Facebook be fixed? Will we like it to death?

It also feels as if some people are feeling personally vindictive towards Mark Zuckerberg and some professional jealousy may be increasing their desires to force him to answer to Congress and take him down a peg or two. We need to keep our eye on the main focus here and that is to guarantee that our elections are free and fair. If we have to rein in capitalism on the internet, are we willing to do that at a time when our government is busily overturning all the regulations that are now in place? What we need most of all is a new government.

Facebook Community Standards – Censorship?

 

Background

I have a Facebook account which is a public account, but only my friends, family, Facebook, and advertisers can post on my timeline. I keep my politics separate from my main Facebook account. I do have a second Facebook account for my blog, The Armchair Observer.com but it is walled off from the account for family and friends. I found this perfectly acceptable because politics is such a hot button issue right now and I don’t want to have to block family and friends or be blocked by them. My blogs are not automatically published to my timeline so family and friends do not have to read or even see them. It’s a bit sad when you can’t share what you do with family but it works and I am OK with it.

Facebook likes to make money from its business sites (which is how they categorize a blog site). They will push my blog posts out to a target audience for a fee to help me “sell” more. Sometimes I use this feature to try to find more readers. I find that most people only look at the title and the pictures and then either like a post or not. I have slowly increased my number of followers, very slowly. For the most part, the most active responders are “pod” people, right wingers who like to label my posts as “fake news” and then try to sway me with their brilliant Fox-generated arguments. I engage for a while to try to convince them to see another point of view but it is too frustrating, and will continue indefinitely because they always need to have the last word. The Facebook “sales” model doesn’t work as well when you are selling words (ideas, opinions). I feel that I base my opinions on facts, but of course right wingers have their own facts. I don’t feel quite right selling my opinions and I don’t have enough readers to make it profitable so I haven’t tried to monetize my blog.

Facebook has been under pressure from the Trump administration to track down “fake news”, trolling behaviors such as hate speech, and phony posts representing foreign meddling in American politics. Due to government pressure Facebook has been posting new rules. For example, the folks at Facebook ask lots of questions on my timeline about my privacy settings. I usually post inane things on my timeline such as images I think family members will enjoy, mostly of nature, florals, and gardens, birds and music/dance videos. I comment on the posts of the grandchildren and the great grandchildren and enjoy keeping in touch with distant family members. Once in a while, I post a glimpse of my personal life, but rarely.

Why I am Worried About Facebook Community Standards

Recently Facebook posted (on my timeline) their new Community Standards and these standards leave lots of room for subjective judgements made, I assume, by algorithms and/or people at some undisclosed location. Hopefully the policies will be applied to the most egregious offenders, but only future practice will reveal whether this will be a useful information sorting tool or arbitrary censorship. Offenders can be suspended from using Facebook, which I suppose is not the end of the world. Facebook sent me one of those memories they like to post on your timeline from something I posted a year ago. My niece sent out a plug for her travel website and I reposted it. So, when the memory (I imagine generated by Facebook) appeared I shared it again, since her website is still up and running.Facebook sent me a return message asking if my post was spam. Are they using a form of entrapment? IDK

Although I am mystified by my inability to grasp the intricacies of the privacy policy that Facebook keeps posting on my timeline, I more leery of their Community Standards. A lot can go awry when algorithms are used to attempt to make judgement calls by parsing complex content using code and mathematical methodologies. Even if there is an employee panel somewhere that is also involved in these judgements Facebook is likely to face personal pushback and, perhaps, legal issues. Depending on the stringency with which the standards are applied, free expression by sincere Facebook users may be censored along with posts by abusers.

You can find the Facebook Community Standards here: https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards

The most problematic section of the standards says:

“Our mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. Every day, people come to Facebook to share their stories, see the world through the eyes of others and connect with friends and causes. The conversations that happen on Facebook reflect the diversity of a community of more than two billion people.

We want people to feel safe when using Facebook. For that reason, we’ve developed a set of Community Standards, outlined below. These policies will help you understand what type of sharing is allowed on Facebook, and what type of content may be reported to us and removed. Sometimes we will allow content if newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest – even if it might otherwise violate our standards. Because of the diversity of our global community, please keep in mind that something that may be disagreeable or disturbing to you may not violate our Community Standards.

We remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety. Learn more about how Facebook handles abusive content.

 

  • Overview
  • Direct Threats
  • Self-Injury
  • Dangerous Organizations
  • Bullying and Harassment
  • Attacks on Public Figures
  • Criminal Activity
  • Sexual Violence and Exploitation
  • Regulated Goods”

There is more to the Standards and you can follow the link above to see the entire document including instructions for reporting material that you think breaks the rules. I guess that most of this does not apply to me except the “attacks one public figures” standard. It is unclear what is meant by an attack on a public figure. Does this include writing that is critical of the decisions, behaviors, or actions of a public figure. If I push out a blog post and a right winger objects can they file a report about my post? How close to the censorship line is Facebook likely to walk? Could this possibly squelch legitimate free speech? I do not believe that Facebook would have to make such a set of standards if our politics were not so fraught. I am interested to see how this plays out. Will I feel the sting if I am suspended by Facebook? Will I try to fight it? Will I just let it go? I do have some sympathy for Mark Zuckerberg, caught between a rock and hard place.And I would miss Messenger the most because it allows a far flung family to stay in close touch with each other, especially in times of family events or family crises.