Social media, society and technology 2017 –

Written by  //  October 3, 2017  //  Media, Science & Technology  //  No comments

Does Even Mark Zuckerberg Know What Facebook Is?
The same company that gives you birthday reminders also helped ensure the integrity of the German elections.
(New York Magazine) We can talk about its scale: Population-wise, it’s larger than any single country; in fact, it’s bigger than any continent besides Asia. At 2 billion members, “monthly active Facebook users” is the single largest non-biologically sorted group of people on the planet after “Christians” — and, growing consistently at around 17 percent year after year, it could surpass that group before the end of 2017 and encompass one-third of the world’s population by this time next year. Outside China, where Facebook has been banned since 2009, one in every five minutes on the internet is spent on Facebook; in countries with only recently high rates of internet connectivity, like Myanmar and Kenya, Facebook is, for all intents and purposes, the whole internet.
In a recent essay for the London Review of Books, John Lanchester argued that for all its rhetoric about connecting the world, the company is ultimately built to extract data from users to sell to advertisers. This may be true, but Facebook’s business model tells us only so much about how the network shapes the world. Over the past year I’ve heard Facebook compared to a dozen entities and felt like I’ve caught glimpses of it acting like a dozen more. I’ve heard government metaphors (a state, the E.U., the Catholic Church, Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets) and business ones (a railroad company, a mall); physical metaphors (a town square, an interstate highway, an electrical grid) and economic ones (a Special Economic Zone, Gosplan). For every direct comparison, there was an equally elaborate one: a faceless Elder God. A conquering alien fleet. There are real consequences to our inability to understand what Facebook is. Not even President-Pope-Viceroy Zuckerberg himself seemed prepared for the role Facebook has played in global politics this past year. In which case, how can we be assured that Facebook is really safeguarding democracy for us and that it’s not us who need to be safeguarding democracy against Facebook? (1 October)

Google and Facebook Failed Us
The world’s most powerful information gatekeepers neglected their duties in Las Vegas. Again.
(The Atlantic) In the crucial early hours after the Las Vegas mass shooting, it happened again: Hoaxes, completely unverified rumors, failed witch hunts, and blatant falsehoods spread across the internet. But they did not do so by themselves: They used the infrastructure that Google and Facebook and YouTube have built to achieve wide distribution. These companies are the most powerful information gatekeepers that the world has ever known, and yet they refuse to take responsibility for their active role in damaging the quality of information reaching the public.
Alexis C. Madrigal details why algorithms aren’t up to handling breaking news.

29 September
Google Conducting Broad Investigation of Russian Influence
Google also talking with congressional officials who are investigating Russian interference in election
By Jack Nicas and Robert McMillan
(WSJ) Google is conducting a broad internal investigation to determine whether Russian-linked entities used its ads or services to try to manipulate voters ahead of the U.S. election, according to a person familiar with the matter, a move that comes after Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. said Russian actors used their sites.
Zuckerberg’s Preposterous Defense of Facebook
(NYT op-ed) A more astute observer of American politics than Mr. Zuckerberg might consider that Mr. Trump’s comments are part of an effort to depict Facebook as anti-conservative, lest outrage about the company’s role in the 2016 election prompt the site to adopt policies that would make a repeat of 2016 more difficult.
For those of us who are tolerant of a wide range of ideas and arguments, but would still like deception and misinformation to not have such an easy foothold in society, Mr. Zuckerberg’s comments do not inspire hope. Indeed, people across the political spectrum should be able to agree that not making it so easy, and so lucrative, for fake news to spread widely is better for all of us, since fake news isn’t necessarily a right-wing phenomenon.

7 August
How to Mentor From Miles Away
Dispensing with the usual meetups over coffee, two biomedical engineers created a platform to more easily connect young people with professional guidance.
(The Atlantic) In 2011, Keshia Ashe and Tiffany St. Bernard, who both work in the biomedical-engineering field, co-founded ManyMentors, an “e-mentoring” nonprofit that connects tech professionals with young people interested in the field. Potential mentees cover a broad spectrum of ages, from middle-schoolers to college students. The organization, which has over 400 mentors and mentees, started in Connecticut and has branched out to New Hampshire and upstate New York.
Ashe compares the program to a social network: Students use an app to pick a track, such as academic success or college prep, and that shapes how they’ll be mentored. For The Atlantic’s mentorship series, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” I spoke with Ashe about how her organization nurtures online-only relationships and how she thinks about networking. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

4 August
BlackBerry’s reign in Ottawa draws to a close
(Globe & Mail) If you’re a government employee in the National Capital Region and you’re reading this newsletter on a smartphone, there’s a good chance that the smartphone you’re scrolling through is a BlackBerry. The Canadian technology company has long been the go-to provider of secure mobile devices to federal bureaucrats but its grip on the market is about to change. The Globe has learned that Shared Services Canada, the department in charge of overseeing IT for the federal government, is set to offer alternatives to bureaucrats over the next 18 months as part of “a new approach to mobile service to better serve its clients, use new technology and adapt to changes in the marketplace.” Samsung and its line of Android-powered smartphones was the first to be approved by Shared Services, but only after two years and several tests showed that Samsung’s phones passed military-grade requirements. For the Korean tech giant, Canada will become the 30th government to use the Samsung Knox security software. If you want to keep your BlackBerry, however, you should be able to —  Shared Services said the smartphones will be available until the department’s inventory of devices is emptied.

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