Nel's New Day

February 2, 2019

How Facebook Damages Our Future

Love it or hate it, Facebook is ubiquitous around the world—making Mark Zuckerberg a multi-billionaire and helping elect Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) to the highest office in the United States. On Monday, February 4, it celebrates its 15th anniversary. With over 2.2 billion active users, Facebook has devastated people through the ability to “defriend” others and been the cause of millions of cyberattacks, especially among teenagers. A prevalence of violence, hate speech, and fake news has caused concerned people to look for solutions, but no one, not even creator Zuckerberg, knows how to counteract the negative aspects of Facebook.

Zuckerberg’s early use of social media was well known when he attended Harvard University, according to a piece by Claire Hoffman published ten years ago in Rolling Stone. In 2002, sophomore Zuckerberg got drunk after his girlfriend dumped him and hacked into the university websites. He downloaded female classmates’ photographs and put them next to ones of farm animals for people to rate which ones were more desirable. Pleased with himself, he blogged the process along the way. More than 450 people signed up before Harvard tracked the source and shut off Zuckerberg’s web access. In a hearing, he was accused of violating student privacy and downloading school property without permission. The praise he gained from his peers taught him a lesson that he recorded in a deposition:

“People are more voyeuristic than what I would have thought.”

After Zuckerberg launched Facebook, three classmates sued him, arguing that he stole their invention of a social-networking site after they hired him to code their creation. Zuckerberg liked the idea but dragged his heels in completing his agreement, finally telling them that they should get another programmer. He claimed that he probably didn’t start his own Facebook until after that, but he used his classmates prototype for Facebook. Zuckerberg also failed to tell his former employers that he officially registered the original Facebook site with his web provider before he told the three employers that he couldn’t finish the project. A fourth classmate said that he had already invented an online facebook. On his launch of his Facebook on February 4, 2004, he described himself as “Founder, Master and Commander [and] Enemy of the State.”

In Silicon Valley, Zuckerberg continued to take advantage of people. Former suite-mate Eduardo Saverin gave him $20,000 as a co-investor in Facebook but stayed in New York while Zuckerberg played and worked in Palo Alto. When they had a falling out, Zuckerberg sued Saverin, claiming that he froze Facebook’s bank accounts. Saverin sued, claiming that Zuckerberg never matched his $20,000 and that he used Saverin’s money for personal expenses. Zuckerberg transferred all intellectual-property rights and membership interests to a new version of the company in Delaware, unhinged Saverin’s stock from any further Facebook growth, and fired Saverin as an employee. Then, as now, Zuckerberg let no one stand in his way.

In 2007, Zuckerberg did lose one round—with his users. He sold advertisers Beacon, a program allowing them to put information about users’ purchasers on their Facebook identity. The ensuing revolt made him back off. At the same time, those close to him started to leave him. Lawyers accused Zuckerberg of hiding the code to create Facebook, and key data was missing when the hard drives were final found.

In 2015, a DDT-supporting data company, Cambridge Analytica, took personal data from tens of millions of Facebook profiles without their consent to collect voting patterns, supposedly at the request of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and for support of DDT during the 2016 presidential campaigns. Once again, Zuckerberg apologized for the “leak” that occurred when Facebook allowed a Cambridge University researcher to persuade users to share both their own and their friends’ user data. He said that Facebook stopped letting app creators access data about “friends” without their authorization, but the damage was done, damage that wasn’t discovered until after the 2016 election.

As users burgeoned, Zuckerberg used his “social media” to promote conspiracy theories and pass along misinformation, some of which greatly influenced voters. A Russian company bought Facebook ads for the 2016 presidential election. Zuckerberg enabled hate groups to proselytize, for example his selling ads targeting Facebook users self-identified as “Jew Haters.” Zuckerberg excused himself by claiming that users are self-reporting the data, seemingly ignoring his claim that his algorithms can detect and eliminate hate speech.

In one example of dangerous conspiracies promoted on Facebook, “Pizzagate” made up a story before the 2016 election that Hillary Clinton was running a child trafficking operation out of a Washington, D.C. pizza place. One believer showed up at the restaurant, waving a gun and demanding the children. The ridiculous and thoroughly debunked claim recently reemerged with an act of arson in the restaurant. Facebook’s mechanisms can radicalize users to support these conspiracy groups. Like gravitates to like, as Renée DiResta, a researcher of disinformation online, explains:

“Facebook’s recommendation engine says, ‘If you like pseudoscience, I’ll show you chemtrails and flat earth.’ Because of the increase of ominous conspiracies, you’re seeing groups around these conspiracy theories like QAnon or pizzagate being referred to people who would never search for them in the first place.”

Facebook’s “Suggested Groups” includes “Pizzagate Reports,” with this vivid photo-shopped image. From there, people are encouraged to move to groups such as “Real UFO Sightings & Strange Phenomenon,” “Official Flat Earth & Globe Discussion,” and “Q Angels.” While condemning misinformation and “fake news,” Zuckerman defends these groups, as well as Infowars, on his powerful social media. He said he would not ban Infowars although it shares “conspiracy theories or false news” and said that “there are things that different people get wrong—I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.” He plans to leave up offensive or deliberately inaccurate posts but downgrade them so that algorithms show them to fewer people. Although Zuckerberg claims that he’ll take down misinformation that incites violence, Pizzagate is still up, and the restaurant is still being threatened with posts on Facebook bragging about frightening the owner to readers’ praise.

Last year, investigators discovered that Facebook uses “ethnic affinity” (aka race) that then permitted advertisers to target or exclude users based on this category. This Facebook characteristic allowed advertisers to deny opportunities for housing and employment. Zuckerberg claimed that he couldn’t see the impact of this category, and backlash caused Facebook to stop using this category—supposedly. Facebook’s abetting racism is profitable because every user is a possible source of revenue for the corporation. The more users, the more ads, and the more user insight to generate money for Facebook.

As Zuckerberg promises to fix one Facebook scam, he creates another. Facebook is secretly paying people to install a “Facebook Research” VPN allowing the company to obtain all the user’s phone and web activity, like Facebook’s Onavo Protect app that Apple banned in June. That one was removed in August. The new Facebook approach may violate Apple policy because the social network can decrypt and analyze the users’ phone activity. Since 2016, Facebook paid users ages 13 to 35 up to $20 per month and more in referral fees to install this iOS or Android app. To hide its involvement with “Facebook Research,” Facebook documented the app as “Project Atlas” and administers the program through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest. Instagram and Snapchat ads for VPN run by uTest targeted teens 13-17 years old for a “paid social media research study” and promise compensation.

Apple blocked the app the day before Facebook promised to voluntarily pull it from Apple but continue to run the Android version. Collected data includes private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps, photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and ongoing location information from tracking apps. It works whether users’ screens and the VPN are on or off. Facebook claimed that the program is to learn how people use their phones and other services. The spokesperson said, “We don’t share this information with anyone.”

Zuckerberg plans to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger, originally independent companies. The result may be more privacy issues because WhatsApp currently doesn’t require a person’s identity, just a telephone number. It also doesn’t store messages and keeps minimal user data. Disturbed by the change, employees at all these companies are leaving. Facebook will also have additional problems in finding and stopping illicit activity and disinformation. WhatsApp blocked disinformation before the Brazilian presidential election by limiting the number of times a message could be forwarded.

In the past, I’ve worried about negative effects of Facebook usage, especially on teens. Studies show problems with self-esteem, feelings of envy, dissatisfaction, narcissism, antisocial behavior, and aggressiveness. Those concerns have moved to fears about radicalization of the far-right and control of elected officials. And Zuckerman just keeps apologizing and raking in the billions with new scams.

April 27, 2013

What’s Missing from Main-Stream Media, April 2013

While the main-stream media concentrates on the Boston bombing, here are a few items that they missed or slighted:

Mark Sanford: The former governor from South Carolina running for representative who said that he was hiking the Appalachian trail for five days while he visited his mistress in Argentina and trespassed in his ex-wife’s home after he was ordered not to do so had arrived at a new low. After the trespass was made public, he ran a full-page ad in the Charleston Post & Currier with his personal cell phone number, asking people to call him “if you have further questions.” A Democratic-aligned super PAC, House Majority PAC, included the number in a fundraising email. In retribution, Sanford published an unredacted list of all his callers’ phone numbers.

The candidate has become increasingly peculiar in his actions. Although he’s running against Elizabeth Colbert Busch, he had a debate with a full-size cardboard poster of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in Charleston. The image brings back the memories of Clint Eastwood and an empty chair at the GOP convention last summer.

Sanford debates poster

Colorado Voting Bill Mailer: Images caused problems for other conservatives, this time a group connected to Colorado’s Secretary of of State. The House has passed a voting bill to improve the state’s laws. It would allow people to register on Election Day, automatically send mail ballots to all voters, and stop fraud through a real-time voter database. Republican county clerks and Secretary of State Scott Gessler oppose the bill. Using the address of Gessler’s former firm, the “Citizens for Free and Fair Elections” have sent out political mailers using a purchased image.

Colorado mailer light skin

There is a change in the image, however, from the original. The dark-skinned face of a woman in the original photo by Mark Wilson (Getty Images) to show long voting lines in Montgomery County (VA) were in 2012 has been digitally replaced in the mailer with the photo of another woman who is much lighter skinned.

Getty dark skinn

Fox Latino friendlyFox News: In an attempt to appear “Latino friendly,” Fox News used a positive photograph featuring a Latina to illustrate its article headlined “‘Illegal Immigrant’ Dropped from Associated Press Stylebook.” Including quotes from racial justice organization The Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.org, the article discussed the controversy referred to the term “illegal immigrant” as “controversial.”

But that was in Fox News Latino; FoxNews.com highlighted the story on its front page with a different photo and headline. The headline was switched to “AP Rules: Don’t Call Him an… ‘ILLEGAL?'”

fox Latino unfriendly

Later the headline was changed to “What’s in a Name? AP under Criticism for Nixing ‘Illegal Immigrant,'” but the photo stayed—just a bit smaller.

Mark Zuckerberg: Worth $13.1 billion following his creation of Facebook, Zuckerberg has agreed with the importance of changing from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. Now his new political group, which bills itself as a bipartisan entity dedicated to passing immigration reform, is spending big bucks on ads advocating anti-environmental causes including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and constructing the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. It’s all in the name of business.

John-Mica_2-e1366991056439Washington, D.C.: The best piece of authoritarian patriarchy came last week from Rep. John Mica (R-FL). The topic was Washington, D.C., always at the mercy of Congressional whim, and its budget autonomy. Recently the city voted in favor of this by 85 percent. Unless both chambers of Congress pass a disapproval resolution which would then have to be signed by the president, the over 600,000 people in this city can decide how they spend the money that they pay into the city’s coffers.

Mica, a committee member who oversees the city’s budget, laughed at the vote and said:

“Well, when my kids were young teenagers, they always wanted budget autonomy too. But we always, you know, you allow them to go their own way, and if they get out of line, according to the Constitution, the Congress has the right to step in…As long as they are minding their P’s and Q’s, so to say, I think the government can back off. But we must remain vigilant.”

Pedro Ribeiro, Mayor Vincent Gray’s spokesman, responded to Mica, “Last time I checked, children don’t have a $6 billion local budget.”

Before he made this comment, Mica admitted the city’s finance management has vastly improved since the dissolution of a Congressional control board. After they took control of the House in 2010, the GOP tried to force the progressive district to outlaw abortion, reduce contraception access, sell more guns, block union membership, cut public transportation funds, and pay for private schools.

Washington, D.C., with almost the same population as North Dakota, has no representation in the Senate. Their one delegate in the House cannot vote on the floor. Its economy is larger than those of 14 states, and its residents pay $1.6 billion a year in federal taxes, more per capita than any state. Washington, D.C. is a prime example of taxation without representation that people fought to overturn almost 250 years ago.

Bangladesh Factory:  The most disastrous event of last week was the crumbling of the Rana Plaza building, housing a major Bangladeshi garment factory. Over 350 people have died, hundreds more are injured, and as many as 900 are still missing. This tragedy, the third in five months, is even worse than the fire at the Tazreen Fashion Factory last November that killed 112 garment workers.

The second-largest exporter of garments in the world, this country relies on garments for 80 percent of its exports. Duty free access offered by Western countries and low wages turned Bangladesh’s garment exports into a $19 billion a year industry. Sixty percent of the clothes go to Europe, 23 percent to the United States takes 23 percent, and another 5 percent to Canada. Gap, Walmart, and other retailers of cheap clothing have fought any reforms that could stop such disasters.

Bank employees in the building escaped the danger after a crack developed in the building because they were told to stay home the next day, but garment workers were ordered to return.

Two years ago, labor groups tried to get the factories and buyers to sign onto a plan that would establish independent inspections to replace the infrequent and often corrupt government inspections. Unsafe facilities could be shut down as part of legally binding contract signed by suppliers, customers, and unions. Companies would provide up to $500,000 per year to pay for the inspections.  All the companies—including Walmart, Gap, and Swedish clothing giant H&M—turned it down.

Walmart’s representative said it was “not financially feasible … to make such investments. Gap, which owns the Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic chains, said the company refused because it did not want to be vulnerable to lawsuits and did not want to pay factories more money to help with safety upgrades. H&M wants factories and local government to take on the responsibility.

After last year’s Tazreen blaze, the labor group tried again to get the independent inspector plan adopted, but the factories and the big brands would not agree. Siddiqur Rahman, former vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, denied the factories are responsible for killing the plan and blamed the buyers.

Companies claim that they do private audits. Those don’t work, according to a lobbyist for garment workers, because of their confidentiality. If a company pulls its business after safety problems, it won’t tell competitors who will continue to place orders which keeps the unsafe factory open.  Thus we continue to buy cheap and be complicit in killing hundreds of garment workers, almost all of them women.

May 29, 2012

Getting Facebooked – Borowitz’s Take

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:38 PM
Tags: , ,

Facebook stocks are still going down–down  almost 10 percent just today to $28.84 today from a high of $45 a few days ago.  The $35 billion loss debacle has even resulted in a verb–Facebooked–probably meaning investors’getting screwed over and then suing everybody involved.

A few days ago, Andy Borowitz wrote this satire, a serious problem because the entire situation is a satire. What he has to say may be prophetic. (But it is still funny!)

A Message about Facebook

From Founder Mark Zuckerberg

MENLO PARK, CA (The Borowitz Report) – The following letter to Facebook users was issued today by Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg:

Dear Facebook User,

Hi, it’s Mark.

As you may have heard, our IPO last week didn’t go quite as well as expected.  How badly did it go, exactly?  If you live in a major city, you’ve probably seen homeless guys huddled around bonfires of Facebook stock.  More ominously, I just received a call from my attorney telling me that I probably didn’t need a prenup after all.

If you’re a Facebook investor, you already know what this means: it sucks to be you.  But what if you’re one of the billion Facebook users in the world?  Well, it also sucks to be you, because I am writing to you now to ask for your financial support to help save Facebook.

It’s only fair.  Since its founding in 2004, Facebook has totally revolutionized the way you waste your life.  Without it, you would find yourself in the unpleasant and awkward position of having to speak to your family.  And so, to keep Facebook alive, I am instituting the following new usage charges:

— $1 per poke

— $5 for every ex you crop out of a profile picture

— $10 for every time you stalk someone from high school, college, or job you were fired from because of that HR “incident”

— $15 for every “friend” you have never met (no charge for friends you know, if any)

— $20 for every sheep, bird, or the Scrabble letters Z, X or Q

With your financial help, Facebook should be around for many years to come, providing you with hours upon hours of pointless and isolating activity.  Without your help?  I’ve just got one word for you: Friendster.

Help me,

Mark

 

 

May 24, 2012

Investors Upset about Facebook IPOs

Almost everyone I know seems to belong to Facebook; worldwide the number of members is up to 900 million. I belong only because I had to join in order for a conference get-together four years ago and I can’t get off after losing my password. Occasionally the desire from someone to “friend me” wanders into my email, and I just delete it with the resolution to get rid of my Facebook relationship.

There’s also been lots of discussion within the past year about whether teachers and students can be “friends” and whether employers can demand applicants and employees’ restricted Facebook passwords. Some schools are even asking students for their passwords. (They can look at my Facebook page if they’ll only take me off!)

Last week, however, media attention surrounding Facebook ratcheted up after the company decided to go public. As many people know, it began with the company belonging to the 28-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg providing something called “initial public offering” (IPO) and continued with the brouhaha surrounding the Brazilian co-founder Eduardo Saverin giving up his U.S. citizenship to take his $67 million—tax free—to Singapore where he maintains residency. Singapore doesn’t tax capital gains.

Initially Facebook stock soared from $38 per share to $45, before shooting down to $31, losing $2.9 billion for investors. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg walked off with over $1 billion dollars in his pocket before he got married last weekend.

The investment loss resulted in lots of finger-pointing. Facebook’s CFO David Ebersman decided to increase the number of shares offered to investors by 25 percent just days before the IPO. NASDAQ’s computer systems failed on the morning of the deal; investors couldn’t place orders or cancel orders or find out if their orders had been placed or canceled. A modest stock “pop” probably caused some institutional investors to immediately dump their shares, causing a greater price decline.

The biggest problem, however, may be that estimates developed by the underwriters to determine a fair price were cut partway through the debacle. Facebook told the underwriters, but not the investors, that its business outlook had deteriorated. Institutional investors were okay; individual investors weren’t.

Investors are not happy about the loss, but they’re really not happy about finding out that underwriter Morgan Stanley had cut revenue forecasts before the offering, an action that investors didn’t know until after the stock was listed. Underwriters JPMorgan Chase (of the famous multibillion-dollar losses this spring) and Gold Sachs also “selectively” changed their estimates early on, letting special clients know earlier than the others.

Yesterday, riled investors filed a proposed class-action suit in federal court against not only Zuckerberg but also Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and other underwriters of the IPO, arguing that they were not informed of the trim in revenue expectations. The state of Massachusetts issued a subpoena to Morgan Stanley for documents related to the IPO. Investors also sued the Nasdaq OMX Group because the exchange struggled to process orders during the first half hour of trading.

SEC is trying to figure out what to do: Chairwoman Mary Schapiro said that regulators are “looking into” the “issues.” Congressional lawmakers have raised questions about the deal. Chairs of both the Senate Banking and the House Financial Services committees are getting information about what happened  to see if they should have hearings.

Morgan Stanley has a history and a culture of tricking their own clients into making lousy investments. CNBC reports, “Morgan Stanley may have spent billions of dollars to support the [Facebook] stock price by buying shares in the market.”

Before losing up to $4 billion—so far—in its botched derivatives scam, JPMorgan Chase gave up billions more to settle charges stemming from its rampant foreclosure fraud, which involves mass perjury and forgery, and its bribing of public officials.

Goldman Sachs lied to prospective investors about mortgage-backed securities and illegally shared confidential information with its preferred clients.

Conservatives like to talk about the virtues of a “free market,” but the lack of regulations gives the entire game to the financial corporations. Investors can’t know until it’s too late what the banks are doing to take all their money. In summary, the Facebook IPO demonstrates how shady traders make money by hyping stock while secretly betting against it.

These huge financial corporations can break any law that they want. When they get caught, they just pay a fine that they can afford because they have stolen so much money that it isn’t a problem for them. Maybe losing money will teach Republican investors that their party doesn’t benefit them as individuals.

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