Social media, society and technology 2017 –

Written by  //  March 21, 2018  //  Media, Science & Technology  //  No comments

21 March
Zuckerberg breaks silence on Cambridge Analytica crisis
(The Hill) Zuckerberg said his company would take new steps to prevent other actors from using its platform in the way that Cambridge Analytica did, including investigating apps with similar access to user data, restricting developers’ data access and being more transparent with data collection.
Moving forward, the company said it will ban developers that do not comply with audits on what Facebook user data they have, strip developers of access to data they have on users who haven’t used their apps in three months and introduce an easily accessible tool to let users figure out what data apps are acquiring from them.

20 March
Does Cambridge Analytica have my data? I have no idea. That’s the problem.
by Anne Applebaum
(WaPost) Cambridge Analytica, like every other political consultancy in existence, does have access to a new kind of delivery system: the amazing marketing tool known as Facebook. Cambridge Analytica used it both legally (Facebook not only allows but encourages all marketers, whether pushing xenophobia or soap, to “target” their advertising at people whom they think might particularly appreciate it) and possibly illegally: The company surreptitiously gained access to the Facebook data of 50 million people through a fake research project and used it to fine-tune its delivery of fear and smears. Worse, Facebook knew about this purported violation of its platform policies in 2015, yet chose not to suspend the company from the network until the story was exposed this month.
… Until now, we’ve been focused on the ways in which Russian operatives manipulated the Internet. But they are hardly alone. Covert political advertising makes a mockery of election laws in every country that has them. As Turnbull put it so eloquently, the new practitioners of propaganda don’t want their old-fashioned smear campaigns to look like “propaganda,” because if it did, you might ask, “Who’s put that out?” But “Who’s put that out?” is exactly what voters have the right to know. If the Internet platforms won’t conform to that minimal standard on their own, it’s time to regulate them.

19 March
How to delete your Facebook account once and for all
This is the tough love you were looking for.
To permanently delete your account, go to this page. To deactivate your account, go here. Just be warned, Facebook uses a weird combination of psychology and desperation to try and prevent you from quitting.

17 March

The absolute must-read and cornerstone of almost all recent reporting is the very long and worthwhile Guardian piece: The Cambridge Analytica Files — ‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower . The Guardian’s Cambridge Analytica Files are the go-to source these days. CBC has a number of stories linked from Canadian whistleblower on why he exposed ‘problematic’ Facebook data misuse by Trump consulting firm

12 March
Expert warns of “terrifying” potential of digitally-altered video
(CBS News) It’s part of a wave of doctored audio and video now spreading online.
“The idea that someone could put another person’s face on an individual’s body, that would be like a homerun for anyone who wants to interfere in a political process,” said Virginia Senator Mark Warner. He believes manipulated video could be a game-changer in global politics. Warner is asking the major tech companies to work with Congress to rein in false news, and now also false video.
… And there is an Adobe program that can create new audio from written text.
“Right out of the gate, that’s terrifying,” Farid said. “I mean, that is just terrifying. Now I can create the president of the United States saying just about anything.”
Adobe calls this an “early-stage research project.” While the company acknowledges the potential for “objectionable use,” it believes “the positive impact of technology will always overshadow the negative.”
CBS News reached out to a number of tech companies for comment and heard back from Reddit and Facebook. Both companies are aware of this false video phenomenon and are looking for ways to regulate it.

8 March
Obama in Talks to Provide Shows for Netflix
(NYT) Mr. Obama has long expressed concerns about how the flow of information — and misinformation — has the power to shape public opinion. In the last several months, Mr. Obama has discussed with technology executives and wealthy investors the threats to American democracy from the manipulation of news.
He has seethed privately and publicly, about what he says is the manipulation of news by conservative outlets and the fractured delivery of information in the internet age.

19 February
How an Alt-Right Bot Network Took Down Al Franken
White nationalist provocateurs, a pair of fake news sites, an army of Twitter bots and other cyber tricks helped derail Democratic Senator Al Franken last year, new research shows
(Newsweek) While everyone has been focused on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election to support Donald Trump, the Franken takedown originated in—and was propelled by—a strategic online campaign with digital tentacles reaching to, of all places, Japan. Analysts have now mapped out how Hooters pinup girl and lad-mag model Leeann Tweeden’s initial accusation against Franken became effective propaganda after right-wing black ops master Roger Stone first hinted at the allegation.

16 February
How IT Threatens Democracy
By Kofi A. Annan
(Project Syndicate) Social media could be just the start of a slippery slope leading to an Orwellian world controlled by Big Data Brother, accelerated by convergence with the sensors in our devices and rapid advances in artificial intelligence. Some authoritarian regimes are already marshaling these developments to exercise control on an unprecedented scale.
If even the most technologically advanced countries cannot protect the integrity of the electoral process, one can imagine the challenges facing countries with less know-how. In other words, the threat is global. In the absence of facts and data, the mere possibility of manipulation fuels conspiracy theories and undermines faith in democracy and elections at a time when public trust is already low.
The printing press, radio, and television were all revolutionary in their day. And all were gradually regulated, even in the most liberal democracies. We must now consider how to submit social media to the same rules of transparency, accountability, and taxation as conventional media. …
Technology does not stand still, and nor should democracy. We have to act fast, because digital advances could be just the start of a slippery slope leading to an Orwellian world controlled by Big Brother, where millions of sensors in our smartphones and other devices collect data and make us vulnerable to manipulation.

5 February
This simple solution to smartphone addiction is now used in over 600 U.S. schools
(WaPost) “What degree of privacy can we expect in a public sphere?”
The topic is complicated, but the answer he came up with was simple: Ditch the phones.
[Graham Dugoni ]founded a company, Yondr, whose small, gray pouches swallow phones and lock them away from the fingers and eyes of their addicted owners. Since it started in 2014, hundreds of thousands of the neoprene pouches have been used across North America, Europe and Australia. … At this point, more than three-quarters of adults in the United States possess a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center. It has become “a path of least resistance,” Dugoni said, even as it erodes age-old group dynamics.

25 January
At Davos, George Soros tears into Facebook and Google
(Quartz) “Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age. Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy. The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies. It takes a real effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called “the freedom of mind.” There is a possibility that once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it. This may have far-reaching political consequences. People without the freedom of mind can be easily manipulated. This danger does not loom only in the future; it already played an important role in the 2016 US presidential elections.
But there is an even more alarming prospect on the horizon. There could be an alliance between authoritarian states and these large, data-rich IT monopolies that would bring together nascent systems of corporate surveillance with an already developed system of state-sponsored surveillance. This may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined.” (The New Yorker) How George Soros Upstaged Donald Trump at Davos

2 January
Will 2018 Be the Year the Internet Kills Old Media?
Experts share their fears—and their hopes—for another year of reckoning with the digital apocalypse
Mike Allen, Axios co-founder: “Will social platforms truly reward — with real monetization — publishers who produce first-class, worthy content without trashy, clunky web pages, annoying pop-up ads and hidden trackers that slow load times?”
Clay Shirky, an Internet expert at New York University: “Most of what’s in a paper has more than adequate substitutes online, from display ads and sports pages to the horoscope and classifieds. The one irreplaceable function—actual journalism—has to be supported by the people who need it. 2018 will tell us if there are enough people who care enough to keep that journalism alive.”


16 December
Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are manipulating our lives and threatening our democracy
(CBC Radio Ideas) The internet began with great hope that it would strengthen democracy. Initially, social media movements seemed to be disrupting corrupt institutions. But the web no longer feels free and open, and the disenfranchised are feeling increasingly pessimistic. Dr. Taylor Owen argues that the reality of the internet is now largely one of control, by four platform companies Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple — worth a combined $2.7 trillion — and their impact on democracy is deeply troubling.
“Far from the decentralized web imagined by its founders, the internet of today is mediated by four global platforms companies: Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. These companies shape our digital lives, and increasingly what we know, how we know it, and ultimately who we are. They determine our public sphere, the character of our civic discourse, and the nature of our democratic society.”

Disney and 21st Century Fox are preparing for what will be the largest-ever show-business merger: Disney will acquire most of Fox’s assets and transform the media market in a way that could be dangerous for streaming companies, consumers, and even Disney itself.
Everybody Should Be Very Afraid of the Disney Death Star
The first episode of the Streaming Wars is over. The rebels won. Now the empire strikes back.
(The Atlantic) The yuletide haul includes some of the most famous properties in television and film. In the transfer of power, Disney would receive the 20th Century Fox film studio, including the independent film maestros at Fox Searchlight (Best Picture Oscar–winners include: Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave, and Birdman), the X-Men franchise, Fox’s television production company (worldwide hits include: The Simpsons, Modern Family, and Homeland), the FX and National Geographic cable channels, and regional sports networks, including the YES Network that broadcasts New York Yankees games. Disney also acquires a majority stake in the TV product Hulu, which it may use to kickstart its entry into the streaming wars

14 December
New York state AG to sue over net neutrality reversal
(Reuters) – New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and at least two other state law enforcement chiefs said on Thursday he would lead a multi-state legal challenge to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission vote to reverse landmark 2015 net neutrality rules.
The attorney generals of Washington state and Pennsylvania also said they planned to file suit.
The Internet Association, a trade group representing companies such as Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc and the American Civil Liberties Union both said they opposed the reversal and were weighing legal options after the 3-2 vote by the FCC.
The ACLU said it “and our allies will be fighting back in every possible arena to restore these crucial protections.”
US regulator scraps net neutrality rules that protect open internet
Decision a major victory for FCC chair and Trump appointee Ajit Pai
Critics warn plan will hand control of the web to big cable companies
Net neutrality’s advocates argue that an open internet has been essential to the creation of today’s web, and has allowed companies like Skype to compete with telecoms providers and Netflix to change the media landscape. They say the removal of the rules will affect consumers worldwide.
Cable companies have attempted to block or slow competing services in the past, and the rules were meant to prevent such cases arising in future. Removing the rules, critics argue, will stifle the online innovations that have been enjoyed by people worldwide and set a dangerous precedent for other countries looking to take firmer control of the internet or to hand oversight to corporations.
Evan Greer, campaign director for internet activists Fight for the Future, said: “Killing net neutrality in the US will impact internet users all over the world. So many of the best ideas will be lost, squashed by the largest corporations at the expense of the global internet-using public.”
Michael Cheah of Vimeo said: “ISPs probably won’t immediately begin blocking content outright, given the uproar that this would provoke. What’s more likely is a transition to a pay-for-play business model that will ultimately stifle startups and innovation, and lead to higher prices and less choice for consumers.”
The FCC just voted to repeal its net neutrality rules, in a sweeping act of deregulation
(WaPost) Federal regulators voted Thursday to allow Internet providers to speed up service for some apps and websites — and block or slow down others — in a decision repealing landmark, Obama-era regulations for broadband companies such as AT&T and Verizon.
The move to deregulate the telecom and cable industry is a major setback for tech companies, consumer groups and Democrats who lobbied heavily against the decision. And it marks a significant victory for Republicans who vowed to roll back the efforts of the prior administration, despite a recent survey showing that 83 percent of Americans — including 3 out of 4 Republicans — opposed the plan.
Led by Chairman Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission and its two other GOP members on Thursday followed through on a promise to repeal the government’s 2015 net neutrality rules, which sought to force Internet providers to treat all online services, large and small, equally. The agency also went a step further, rejecting much of its own authority over broadband in a bid to stymie future FCC officials who might seek to regulate providers. …
The result is a comprehensive redrawing of the FCC’s oversight powers in the digital age, at a time of rapid transformation in the media and technology sectors.
The move is also a prominent example of the policy shifts taking place in Washington under President Trump. With Republicans controlling the levers of government, federal policy has swung to the right, in some respects eclipsing what would have been considered middle-of-the-road conservative positions just a decade ago, said Jeffrey Blumenfeld, co-chair of the antitrust and trade regulation practice at the law firm Lowenstein Sandler.

13 December
Koch nonprofit president’s anti-net neutrality campaign
For the past three years, American Commitment, a small nonprofit with ties to the donor network spearheaded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, has been actively opposing net neutrality with social media, commentaries, and a little-known coalition whose members include other Koch nonprofits and prominent conservative groups.
FCC vote won’t end net neutrality fight
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote this week to repeal net neutrality won’t end the fight over the regulation.
Opponents are already lining up to sue the agency, which voted 3-2 to scrap the rules on Thursday, while Democrats are pushing legislation that would prevent the repeal from going into effect.
The FCC said that the net neutrality repeal has to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget before it can go into effect — a process that could take months.

12 December
France is banning mobile phones in schools
(WEF) On Sunday, France’s education minister announced that mobile phones will be banned from primary, junior, and middle schools, calling it a matter of “public health.” While phones are already prohibited in classrooms in France, starting in September 2018 students won’t be allowed to use them on breaks, at lunch, or between lessons either.
“These days, the children don’t play at break time anymore,” Jean-Michel Blanquer said, according to the Local, an English-language publication. “They are just all in front of their smartphones and from an educational point of view, that’s a problem.” …
Research is on Bloomberg—and the French government’s—side. According to a 2015 working paper (pdf) published by the London School of Economics, schools that banned mobile phones saw test scores for their 16-year-olds improve by 6.4%, or the equivalent of adding five days to the school year. “We found that not only did student achievement improve, but also that low-achieving and low-income students gained the most,” economists Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy told the BBC.

5 November
Kremlin Cash Behind Billionaire’s Twitter and Facebook Investments
Leaked files show that a state-controlled bank in Moscow helped to fuel Yuri Milner’s ascent in Silicon Valley, where the Russia investigation has put tech companies under scrutiny.
(NYT) Obscured by a maze of offshore shell companies, the Twitter investment was backed by VTB, a Russian state-controlled bank often used for politically strategic deals. And a big investor in Mr. Milner’s Facebook deal received financing from Gazprom Investholding, another government-controlled financial institution, according to the documents.

3 November
‘We’re designing minds’: Industry insider reveals secrets of addictive app trade
A look at the science behind the ‘technological arms race’ to keep people fixated on their phones
(CBC Marketplace) The average Canadian teenager is on track to spend nearly a decade of their life staring at a smartphone, and that’s no accident, according to an industry insider who shared some time-sucking secrets of the app design trade.
CBC Marketplace travelled to Dopamine Labs, a startup in Venice, Calif., that uses artificial intelligence and neuroscience to help companies hook people with their apps.
Named after the brain molecule that gives us pleasure, Dopamine Labs uses computer coding to influence behaviour — most importantly, to compel people to spend more time with an app and to keep coming back for more.
Co-founder Ramsay Brown, who studied neuroscience at the University of Southern California, says it’s all built into the design.

20 October
How Fiction Becomes Fact on Social Media
(NYT) For all the suspicions about social media companies’ motives and ethics, it is the interaction of the technology with our common, often subconscious psychological biases that makes so many of us vulnerable to misinformation, and this has largely escaped notice.
Skepticism of online “news” serves as a decent filter much of the time, but our innate biases allow it to be bypassed, researchers have found — especially when presented with the right kind of algorithmically selected “meme.”
Stopping to drill down and determine the true source of a foul-smelling story can be tricky, even for the motivated skeptic, and mentally it’s hard work. Ideological leanings and viewing choices are conscious, downstream factors that come into play only after automatic cognitive biases have already had their way, abetted by the algorithms and social nature of digital interactions.

3 October

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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