Most Facebook users are entirely unmoved by the Cambridge Analytica scandal

Sad (and predictable) but true — from Reuters:

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Most of Facebook’s U.S. users have remained loyal to the social network despite revelations that a political consultancy collected information about millions of accounts without owners’ permission, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday showed.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll adds to other indications that Facebook has so far suffered no ill effects from the episode, other than a public relations headache.

The national online poll, conducted April 26-30, found that about half of Facebook’s American users said they had not recently changed the amount that they used the site, and another quarter said they were using it more.

The remaining quarter said that they were using it less recently, had stopped using it or deleted their account.

That means that the people using Facebook less were roughly balanced by those using it more, with no clear net loss or gain in use.

In a way, all this does is confirm the fact that the vast majority of our fellow-citizens is deaf to ethical considerations. We’ve seen this for the best part of a century in the UK, where the vast majority of the population read (and pay for) ethically-dubious and politically-biased tabloid newspapers.

Why is WhatsApp founder quitting Facebook? You can guess the answer

This morning’s Observer column:

Early in 2009, two former Yahoo employees, Brian Acton and Jan Koum, sat down to try and create a smartphone messaging app. They had a few simple design principles. One was that it should be easy to use: no complicated log-in and authentication procedures; instead, each user would be identified by his or her mobile number. And second, the app should have an honest business model – no more pretending it’s free while covertly monetising users’ data: instead, users would pay $1 a year after a certain period. Searching for a name for their service, they came up with WhatsApp, a play on “What’s Up?”

Read on

Theresa May’s ‘hostile’ environment: straight out of Kafka

Terrific essay by William Davies in the London Review of Books. Sample:

It is difficult to imagine anything more Kafkaesque than the experience the ‘Windrush generation’ has undergone at the hands of the British state in the past few years. Cases are accumulating of individuals seeking NHS treatment, passports, jobs or housing only to find themselves having to prove their right to live in the country where they have been legally resident for more than 45 years, or risk being deported. Harrowing stories have emerged of individuals being made homeless, jobless and stateless, after they failed to produce proof they were never given in the first place. One man suffered an aneurysm which he believes was brought on by the stress the situation caused him, only to be presented with a bill for £5000 for his NHS treatment – again because his paperwork didn’t measure up – while also losing his job and his home. He was left on the street. As it turns out, the one source of evidence that might have put a stop to this torture – the landing cards that recorded arrivals from the Caribbean until the 1960s – was destroyed by the Home Office in 2010.

The Windrush generation’s immigration status should never have been in question, and the cause of their predicament is recent: the 2014 Immigration Act, which contained the flagship policies of the then home secretary, Theresa May. Foremost among them was the plan to create a ‘hostile environment’, with the aim of making it harder for illegal immigrants to work and live in the UK. By forcing landlords, employers, banks and NHS services to run immigration status checks, the policy pushed the mentality of border control into everyday social and economic life. The 2016 Immigration Act extended it further, introducing tougher penalties for employers and landlords who fail to play their part in maintaining the ‘hostile environment’, and adding to the list of privileges that can be taken away from those who cannot prove their right to live and work in the UK.

Another key feature of the 2014 Act was that it empowered the Home Office to deport people more quickly and cheaply, avoiding lengthy and repeated appeals. The ‘deport first, appeal later’ provision was eventually ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court. The Act greatly restricted the right to appeal via tribunal, replacing most appeals with an administrative review carried out by the Home Office itself. Before the Act was introduced, 50 per cent of appeals were upheld at tribunal; at administrative review, the figure is 18 per cent.

The more we learn about what has happened to these people, the worse it seems. It demonstrates above all what can happen to a society when a section of it becomes paranoid about immigration.

The infantilism of Mark Zuckerberg

Sometimes, one has to marvel at the naïveté and ignorance of the Facebook boss. Yesterday, he gave an off-the-record talk to a group of selected journalists, one of whom (thankfully) was Adrienne LaFrance. Here’s an excerpt from her report:

According to Zuckerberg, the way you find common ground—a common set of facts—is not through professional news outlets, but via individuals. And Facebook, with its 2 billion or so users, has plenty of individuals. But while Zuckerberg said Facebook has begun ranking news outlets by trustworthiness, in person, he didn’t seem to distinguish among the quality of opinions.

“I do think that in general within a news organization there is an opinion,” he said. “I do think that a lot of what you all do is have an opinion and have a view.”

And Facebook, he says, simply “has more opinions.” Show users more opinions, and you give them more options. “It’s not about saying here’s one view; here’s the other side,” Zuckerberg said when I asked him to reconcile the contradiction. “You should decide where you want to be.”

Deciding what to believe based on other people’s opinions is not only not journalistic, it’s arguably hostile to the press as a democratic institution. The truth may be nuanced, but reportable facts are often quite straightforward. As any journalist can tell you, the best answer to the question “what happened?” is not why don’t you ask a bunch of your friends what they think, organize their views along a spectrum, and then decide where to plant yourself.

Michael Hayden on working for Trump

Very interesting and sobering NYT OpEd by the former head of the NSA and the CIA, Michael Hayden. I was particularly struck by this passage:

A few months after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, I got a call from a colleague who thought he might be on a very short list for a very senior position. He asked my opinion. I told him that three months earlier I would have talked to him about his duty to serve. Now I was telling him to say no. “You’re a young man,” I said. “Don’t put yourself at risk for the future. You have a lot to offer. Someday.”

When asked for counsel these days by officers who are already in government, especially more junior ones, I remind them of their duty to help the president succeed. But then I add: “Protect yourself. Take notes and save them. And above all, protect the institution. America still needs it.”

Zuckerberg for Pope?

Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor who has been sounding the alarm about the social media giant since the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, is not letting up.

In an interview with the Mercury News, McNamee talked about why he thinks Facebook should be reined in — and possibly broken up.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the AT&T consent decree planted the seed for Silicon Valley,” McNamee wrote. “One of the many fundamental patents in AT&T’s huge portfolio was the transistor. The combination of freely licensable patents and restrictions on AT&T’s ability to enter new markets enabled entrepreneurs to create today’s semiconductor, computer, data communications, mobile technology and software industries, among others.”

McNamee told this news organization that the changes Facebook is making now don’t go far enough, and that “nobody can make them” enact change that would truly address the myriad problems with the platform, including possible manipulation of Facebook’s massive number of users.

“There are 2.2 billion people on Facebook each with their own ‘Truman Show,’ ” McNamee said. “Everybody has their own set of facts.”

In addition, he takes issue with the attitudes of Facebook’s top executives.

Facebook is “almost the same size as Christianity,” McNamee said. “When you are presiding over the largest interconnected organization in the world, that gets to your head after a while.”

Zuckerberg for Pope?

The nauseating White House Press corps

I’ve always been revolted by the annual dinner of the White House Press Corps, but never more than this year — after the pompous umbrage the hacks have taken to the scathing monologue delivered at the dinner by comedienne Michelle Wolf.

The Economist‘s US correspondent is no admirer of the event, either, and has written an equally scathing commentary on it. Extract:

Calls for press-corps civility are in fact calls for servility, and should be received with contempt. Some might argue that insults do not deserve the same protection as investigative journalism, but that is a distinction without a difference. Anyone who wants to outlaw or apologise for the former will end up too timid to do the latter.

In open societies, self-censorship—in the name of civility, careerism or access preservation—is a much greater threat to the media than outright repression. The only person owed an apology here is Ms Wolf, for being scolded by the very people who invited her to speak, and who purport to defend a “vigorous and free press.”

Right on! But there’s a serious point here. Trump and his acolytes treat serious journalism with contempt. (See Jay Rosen’s splendid NYRB essay). Given that, why should they be entitled to civility or respect?

Facebook: stay tuned for more disclosures

That’s the message they’re giving to investors.

“We anticipate that our ongoing investments in safety, security, and content review will identify additional instances of misuse of user data or other undesirable activity by third parties on our platform.”

Well, well. Maybe Cambridge-Analytica is just the thin end of an interesting wedge.

How people get things wrong — and then murder innocent people

I’ve been thinking and lecturing recently on disinformation and about what we might do about it. One of my heroines, danah boyd, gave a very thoughtful talk about it recently — starting with the (liberal) proposition that ideas like greater ‘media literacy’ might help. (She doesn’t think it will, and neither do I.) But I was particularly struck by one passage in her talk:

In 2012, it was hard not to avoid the names Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, but that didn’t mean that most people understood the storyline. In South Carolina, a white teenager who wasn’t interested in the news felt like he needed to know what the fuss was all about. He decided to go to Wikipedia to understand more. He was left with the impression that Zimmerman was clearly in the right and disgusted that everyone was defending Martin. While reading up on this case, he ran across the term “black on white crime” on Wikipedia and decided to throw that term into Google where he encountered a deeply racist website inviting him to wake up to a reality that he had never considered. He took that red pill and dove deep into a worldview whose theory of power positioned white people as victims. Over a matter of years, he began to embrace those views, to be radicalized towards extreme thinking. On June 17, 2015, he sat down for an hour with a group of African-American church-goers in Charleston South Carolina before opening fire on them, killing 9 and injuring 1. His goal was simple: he wanted to start a race war.

It’s easy to say that this domestic terrorist was insane or irrational, but he began his exploration trying to critically interrogate the media coverage of a story he didn’t understand. That led him to online fora filled with people who have spent decades working to indoctrinate people into a deeply troubling, racist worldview. They draw on countless amounts of “evidence,” engage in deeply persuasive discursive practices, and have the mechanisms to challenge countless assumptions. The difference between what is deemed missionary work, education, and radicalization depends a lot on your worldview. And your understanding of power.

Great talk — worth watching in full. And she helpfully includes the transcript below it for those who are cash-rich but time-poor!