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The Internet & Media

Facebook Co-Founder Says Break It Up

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has written an interesting opinion piece over at the New York Times, “It’s Time to Break Up Facebook”.

I’ve been off Facebook for over a year now and about six months ago stopped using Instagram and Messenger. While I had my own issues and struggles with social media use affecting my mental health and general disposition, what finally got to me was the realization that Facebook’s business model is at it’s core, unethical. While I could remain on the platform and dismiss it or monitor and curtail my use, I felt like using any of the products was a tacit endorsement of their business practices and that just didn’t sit right with me.

A few choice nuggets from the article, which I suggest you read in full if you’re at all interested in these things:

Mark’s (Zuckerberg) influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government. He controls three core communications platforms — Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — that billions of people use every day. Facebook’s board works more like an advisory committee than an overseer, because Mark controls around 60 percent of voting shares. Mark alone can decide how to configure Facebook’s algorithms to determine what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered. He sets the rules for how to distinguish violent and incendiary speech from the merely offensive, and he can choose to shut down a competitor by acquiring, blocking or copying it.

Facebook makes its money from targeted advertising, meaning users do not pay to use the service. But it is not actually free, and it certainly isn’t harmless.

Facebook’s business model is built on capturing as much of our attention as possible to encourage people to create and share more information about who they are and who they want to be. We pay for Facebook with our data and our attention, and by either measure it doesn’t come cheap.

The most problematic aspect of Facebook’s power is Mark’s unilateral control over speech. There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize and even censor the conversations of two billion people.

Facebook engineers write algorithms that select which users’ comments or experiences end up displayed in the News Feeds of friends and family. These rules are proprietary and so complex that many Facebook employees themselves don’t understand them.

You may be saying to yourself, “if you (meaning me) quit facebook, why still so much interest in it?” The simple fact is I find it fascinating. The story is – in its truest sense – far more engaging and interesting than science fiction. It’s a massive experiment being carried out on humanity in real-time. It’s like the car-crash of the digital age – one simply can’t look away. The interesting thing is that the majority of people are still in the car – and even when being told it’s about to crash opt to sit tight.

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The Internet & Media

They Got Instagram Now, Too

Back when I started dumping my social media accounts – for various reasons – the one I held on to the longest, almost a year longer than the others, was Instagram. I liked that it was primarily photo based and that seemed to invite people to post a different kind of content. There was little to almost no negativity – in my feed anyway – and it seemed to be a much more civil place than the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

I mostly followed outdoor gear and bike companies as well as athletes and my actual IRL friends, so it’s not surprising I didn’t see much else. Apparently it was there though, and continues to grow. I finally nuked my Instagram account a few months ago, primarily for personal reasons, but it seems that it has gone the path of Facebook now as well, so in retrospect, I’m glad I got out when I did.

An article in the Atlantic, Instagram is the Internet’s New Home for Hate, doesn’t paint a very rosy picture.

“Instagram is teeming with these conspiracy theories, viral misinformation, and extremist memes, all daisy-chained together via a network of accounts with incredible algorithmic reach and millions of collective followers—many of whom, like Alex, are very young.

“Following just a handful of these accounts can quickly send users spiraling down a path toward even more extremist views and conspiracies, guided by Instagram’s own recommendation algorithm.”

“Given the velocity of the recommendation algorithm, the power of hashtagging, and the nature of the posts, it’s easy to see how Instagram can serve as an entry point into the internet’s darkest corners. Instagram “memes pages and humor is a really effective way to introduce people to extremist content,” says Becca Lewis, a doctoral student at Stanford and a research affiliate at the Data and Society Research Institute. “It’s easy, on Instagram, to attach certain hashtags to certain memes and get high visibility.”

“In December, Wired reported that Instagram had become the “go-to” social network for the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm notorious for meddling in U.S. elections. A report commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee declared that “Instagram was perhaps the most effective platform for the Internet Research Agency” to spread misinformation. “Instagram has the power of Twitter to broadcast out, but the infrastructure of Facebook supporting it,” says Jonathan Albright, a researcher at Columbia University who directs a center on digital forensics. “It has the best of all platforms.”

I’m glad that I left Instagram before I came across any of this stuff. I’d seen traces of it on Facebook, which is what prompted me to get off that finally. I think that quite possibly I could have continued to use both these platforms without encountering too much of this kind of content – I was pretty particular about who and what I followed – but at it’s core, I think my decision to leave was based around the fact that by using those platforms, I was tacitly endorsing both their business models and their standards of conduct – neither of which I felt comfortable doing anymore.

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The Internet & Media

The Rise of ‘Sharenting’

Interesting article from The Atlantic, “When Kids Realize Their Whole Life Is Already Online”, about parents who share their kids’ lives and images online – now referred to as ‘sharenting’. Back when I still had social media accounts, I didn’t share much about my kids – or photos of them – more out of fear of the pervs/stalkers out there or their peers potentially trying to mess with them. I’m embarrassed to say it never occurred to me to think how my kids themselves might feel about it. I do have a ton of photos of them on my Flickr account, but they are for the most part limited so only family members can see them and they are not available via search.

“For several months, Cara has been working up the courage to approach her mom about what she saw on Instagram. Not long ago, the 11-year-old—who, like all the other kids in this story, is referred to by a pseudonym—discovered that her mom had been posting photos of her, without prior approval, for much of her life. “I’ve wanted to bring it up. It’s weird seeing myself up there, and sometimes there’s pics I don’t like of myself,” she said.”

“Once kids have that first moment of realization that their lives are public, there’s no going back. Several teens and tweens told me this was the impetus for wanting to get their own social-media profiles, in an effort to take control of their image. But plenty of other kids become overwhelmed and retreat. Ellen said that anytime someone has a phone out around her now, she’s nervous that her photo could be taken and posted somewhere. “Everyone’s always watching, and nothing is ever forgotten. It’s never gone,” she said.”

“…92 percent of toddlers under the age of 2 already have their own unique digital identity. “Parents now shape their children’s digital identity long before these young people open their first email. The disclosures parents make online are sure to follow their children into adulthood,” declares a report by the University of Florida Levin College of Law. “These parents act as both gatekeepers of their children’s personal information and as narrators of their children’s personal stories.”

I feel fortunate now that, rather inadvertently, I’ve managed to leave it up to my kids what eventually makes it online about them, especially considering my own back and forth with social media and the Internet. It took me several years and the wisdom and experience of an adult to finally sort out what sort of ‘presence’ I wanted online – I can only imagine that process being intimidating or incomprehensible to my kids – a feeling that would only be exacerbated if I’d already shared copious information about them.