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.
Can’t think of a better summing-up of this astonishing and infuriating fiasco than this commentary from eiDigest (a daily newsletter I get every morning):
The Daily Mail‘s Sarah Vine thinks that as a saga of government and civil service incompetence, of ineptitude bordering on cruelty, of ingratitude, ignorance and failure, the Home Office’s disastrous misjudgment in relation to the children of Windrush arrivals from the Commonwealth countries takes some beating. That said, it’s not the first time we’ve been here: a decade ago, Gurkha veterans — natives of Nepal who have served alongside British soldiers for almost 200 years, with more than 50,000 dying in service and 13 receiving the Victoria Cross — were forced to take the Labour government of the day to the High Court in order to win the automatic right to settle here. And now, we’ve let it happen again.
In The Guardian Tanja Bueltmann says that when even the Daily Mail – usually the anti-immigration cheerleader – lambasts the government for mistreating immigrants, calling it a “fiasco that shames Britain”, it is clear that the situation really is very bad indeed. The treatment of the Windrush generation is as shameful as shameful gets, and no apology or U-turn can undo the harm already done to people’s lives. The extent of that harm remains somewhat unclear, however. Although we can get an idea from the many devastating personal accounts, the full reach is not yet known. While the immigration minister, Caroline Nokes, noted on Monday that Windrush-era citizens had been wrongly removed from the UK, it now transpires that the government does not actually know what has happened. Only now is the Home Office checking whether anyone has actually been deported.
The i‘s Oliver Duff notes it is only through campaigning reporting (from newspapers across the political spectrum) that ministers have belatedly been stirred to action. The Windrush scandal is a shameful chapter for a government that wants, and needs, to open Britain to the world. Immigration can never be reduced to numbers, despite Mrs May’s obsession: it is about people, and we are a richer nation for many of those who have chosen to make their lives on these islands.
This from the Mueller indictment of Paul Manafort:
Manafort and Gates made numerous false and fraudulent representations to secure the loans. For example, Manafort provided the bank with doctored [profit and loss statements] for [Davis Manafort Inc.] for both 2015 and 2016, overstating its income by millions of dollars. The doctored 2015 DMI P&L submitted to Lender D was the same false statement previously submitted to Lender C, which overstated DMI’s income by more than $4 million. The doctored 2016 DMI P&L was inflated by Manafort by more than $3.5 million. To create the false 2016 P&L, on or about October 21, 2016, Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that .pdf into a “Word” document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered that “Word” document by adding more than $3.5 million in income. He then sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the “Word” document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort. Manafort then sent the falsified 2016 DMI P&L .pdf to Lender D.
And here’s Jacob Brogan’s summary in Slate:
So here’s the essence of what went wrong for Manafort and Gates, according to Mueller’s investigation: Manafort allegedly wanted to falsify his company’s income, but he couldn’t figure out how to edit the PDF. He therefore had Gates turn it into a Microsoft Word document for him, which led the two to bounce the documents back-and-forth over email. As attorney and blogger Susan Simpson notes on Twitter, Manafort’s inability to complete a basic task on his own seems to have effectively “created an incriminating paper trail.”
Social media are performative spaces in which people try — and succeed — to project images of themselves as they want to be seen by others. We also see this in schools and even elite universities — where students are reluctant to meet face-to-face with their tutors. They want to communicate via electronic messaging — email, WhatsApp, FB Messenger, whatever. Why? Because they are scared of F2F encounters which will reveal their doubts, insecurities, failings, ignorance. Instead they want always to project their ‘edited selves’.
None of this is new. What is really extraordinary, though, about the case of the Californian parents who imprisoned their 13 children (and shackled three of them to furniture) is that they managed to project happy-clappy images of their family on social media.
This is the kind of thing you really couldn’t make up. From the BBC:
A life-size model of Adolf Hitler used for “selfies” by visitors to an Indonesian museum has been removed.
Pictures shared on social media show people grinning as they pose with the Nazi leader in front of an image of the gates of Auschwitz concentration camp.
It was only when the international community reacted with outrage that the De ARCA Statue Art Museum realised it had caused any offence.
The museum, in Jogjakarta, Java, said it had only wanted to educate.
The selfies show the smartphone owner with the Führer in front of a huge photograph of the front gate of Auschwitz, complete with the Arbeit Macht Frei arch.
Lovely photograph of Abe, looking statesmanlike. It was taken by Mathew Brady, a celebrated photographer of the Civil War era. I found it in Errol Morris’s review of Peter Manseau’s The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost. Here’s what Morris writes about the picture:
“Lincoln did not look much like a statesman as he stood in Brady’s posing room. The photographer drew up Lincoln’s collar to shorten the appearance of his neck, and determined that he could put his artists to work taming Lincoln’s hair after the image had been developed. They also might smooth the crags in his face — whatever might be done to make him appear more presidential. As a final touch, Brady placed Lincoln’s hand on a book, as if the senator were already taking the oath of office.”
Now, of what does this remind me? Oh yes, Emmanuel Macron and the care he took over his presidential portrait (the one that hangs in every Mairie in France.
Lovely analysis of the semiotics of this photograph here.
Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘defence’ of Facebook’s role in the election of Trump provides a vivid demonstration of how someone can have a very high IQ and yet be completely clueless — as Zeynep Tufecki points out in a splendid NYT OpEd piece:
Mr. Zuckerberg’s preposterous defense of Facebook’s failure in the 2016 presidential campaign is a reminder of a structural asymmetry in American politics. It’s true that mainstream news outlets employ many liberals, and that this creates some systemic distortions in coverage (effects of trade policies on lower-income workers and the plight of rural America tend to be underreported, for example). But bias in the digital sphere is structurally different from that in mass media, and a lot more complicated than what programmers believe.
In a largely automated platform like Facebook, what matters most is not the political beliefs of the employees but the structures, algorithms and incentives they set up, as well as what oversight, if any, they employ to guard against deception, misinformation and illegitimate meddling. And the unfortunate truth is that by design, business model and algorithm, Facebook has made it easy for it to be weaponized to spread misinformation and fraudulent content. Sadly, this business model is also lucrative, especially during elections. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, called the 2016 election “a big deal in terms of ad spend” for the company, and it was. No wonder there has been increasing scrutiny of the platform.
This morning’s Observer column:
Last week, much of the tech world was temporarily unhinged by a circus in Cupertino, where a group of ageing hipster billionaires unveiled some impressive technology while miming the argot of teenage fandom (incredible, amazing, awesome, etc) and pretending that they were changing the world. Meanwhile, over in the real world, another tech story was unfolding. Except that this is not just a tech story: it’s a morality tale about how we have come to inhabit a world in which corporate irresponsibility, incompetence and greed goes unpunished, while little people can’t get a loan because they have an incorrect blemish on their credit records, which is almost impossible to detect and correct.
This story concerns Equifax, an outfit of which I’m guessing you’ve never heard. Nor had I. It’s one of the three largest American credit agencies (the others are Experian and TransUnion). Its business – its only business – is to collect, securely store and aggregate information on more than 800 million individual consumers and nearly 90m businesses worldwide…
Oh, and there’s a UK angle on this…
CREW [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington] have lodged a Freedom of Information request with the US Treasury Department. They are seeking:
- copies of all records concerning authorization for and the costs of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s use of a government plane to travel to Lexington, Kentucky on Monday, August 21, accompanied by his wife Louise Linton.
- copies of all records concerning authorization for and the costs of Secretary Mnuchin’s use of a government plane for any purpose since his appointment as Treasury Secretary.
On August 21, 2017, Secretary Mnuchin and his wife Louise Linton travelled to Lexington, Kentucky, purportedly for the Secretary to present remarks along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at a luncheon sponsored by the Louisville chamber of commerce, Greater Louisville Inc. Afterward, Secretary Mnuchin and his wife “headed to Fort Know…to tour the bullion reserve at the Army post and view the eclipse.”
The requested records would shed light on the justification for Secretary Mnuchin’s use of a government plane, rather than a commercial flight, for a trip that seems to have been planned around the solar eclipse and to enable the Secretary to secure a viewpoint in the path of the eclipse’s totality. At a time of expected deep cuts to the federal budget, the taxpayers have a significant interest in learning the extent to which Secretary Mnuchin has used government planes for travel in lieu of commercial planes, and the justification for that use.
Footnote This all stems from a spectacular own goal by Mrs Mnuchin (aka Louise Linton).