Unsocial Media

Like 2 billion other people in the world, I have a Facebook account. Unlike most of them, I very rarely use it.

no facebook iconI know, shocking.

I do open the site once or twice a month, primarily to see new photos from friends and relatives, and to catch up on Bloom County (which includes the only civil discussion section on the internet).

Other than that, nothing. I haven’t posted anything to my timeline in several years, rarely leave comments, and certainly never click on anything – lest Facebook track me around the web.

As to why, read the words of a writer for The Guardian who explains what caused her to stop using Facebook, and why she’s very cautious about starting again after four years.

I didn’t make a conscious decision to leave Facebook. It was similar to when I stopped smoking: every other time I’d made a song and dance about quitting I had failed, but when one day I realised that it didn’t make me feel good it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be missing out.

But it’s the messiness of my home feed that reminds me why I left in the first place. I am perplexed by some of what Facebook now thinks is a good idea: inserting into my news feed all the happy birthday messages people I know have left on other people’s walls (why? what?). Much on the news feed is a cacophony of dullness and makes for a messy interface. This I haven’t missed and is why I suspect my head has felt at least a little clearer these past four years. Just one less screaming technological wail of attention to deal with.

I completely agree. The messiness of Facebook is just one factor that never made me feel good either.

Whenever I do open my account, the page seems to be overun with advertising, mixed with that “cacophony of dullness” resulting from a random stream of mostly meaningless stories. The result is that “screaming technological wail of attention”. A phrase I’ll have to remember.

Now, I’m not a technological hermit by any means. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, but I find that platform far easier to adapt to my needs, and much more useful. I regularly share my photographs on Flickr and elsewhere for anyone to view.1 And, of course, I’ve been ranting in this space for almost fourteen years, even if the potential audience is far below 2 billion people.

Not that anything in this particular rant matters anyway. With or without me, Facebook will likely keep growing, both in users and the profit from selling them to advertisers. Little ol’ me isn’t going to slow them down.

However, I’m picky. I want to have a little more control in my online life. And much less chaos.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Optimistic Blogging

Techie and long time writer Tim Bray wants you to know he’s still blogging in 2017. Publishing in his own space in this age of massive media platforms.

Not alone and not un­read, but the ground un­der­foot ain’t steady. An in­stance of Ho­mo eco­nomi­cus wouldn’t be do­ing this ?— ?no pay­day loom­ing. So I guess I’m not one of those. But hey, when­ev­er I can steal an hour I can send the world what­ev­er words and pic­tures oc­cu­py my mind and lap­top. Which, all these years lat­er, still feels like im­mense priv­i­lege.

Not sure I would use the word privilege, but I can’t think of anything better, so let’s go with that. I certainly feel grateful that anyone besides me reads this stuff.

Cartoon: Shakespeare at a computer thinking to blog or not to blog, that is the question.

So, where is this blogging stuff going (and maybe we need a new term for that as well)?

I won­der what the Web will be like when we’re a cou­ple more gen­er­a­tions in? I’m pret­ty sure that as long as it re­mains easy to fill a lit­tle bit of the great names­pace with your words and pic­tures, peo­ple will.

I hope so. It’s fun being able to add my ideas to the great mix. And I enjoy reading the wide variety of thought bits contributed by others who still write in their own spaces.

I’m also “still op­ti­mistic about what­ev­er this thing is I’m do­ing here”.

The Price of Privacy

Sign about not having anything to hide

2

I don’t think most people understand online privacy.

They’re pretty sure the NSA and other government agencies are sucking up their data, and probably have been for years. But they largely adopt the philosphy in the image and assume their phone calls and internet traffic are not important enough for anyone to notice or care about.

Their information is inconsequential by being buried in a giant pile with trillions of other bits. Or they are resigned to the matter and offer a “what can you do” shrug. Or worse, they support the idea of that giving up some of their privacy will result in greater protection from the bogey man being presented to frighten them this week.

On the other hand, whatever the attitude towards government surveillance, most people seem quite complacent when it comes to Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other tech companies collecting their data2. In fact, they upload their personal information to these sites at a furious pace every day. And a growing number of people are happily adding to that data pile by buying devices that keep a running record of what they say and do.

For some reason, people seem to assume these billion dollar corporations (and a vast of array of cool startups) have their best interest at heart. The settings Facebook provides by default will assure their privacy. Amazon won’t tell anyone about the products I’ve bought. Google will keep my search history and email contents secret.

Sure. Except for the information provided to the marketing departments of thousands of companies. Companies who pay large amounts of money so you can have “free” services. When you pour all of that data together into some increasingly sophisticated algorithms, they gain some very valuable information. About what you buy (or want to buy), where you travel, who communicate with, and much, much more.

Now, I could very easily drop into conspiracy theory territory in this post, and I don’t want to go there. Many of these free online services have great value. In fact, I add many little bits of personal info to Google’s massive data pile every day. I even teach classes on their map-related resources to help teachers use them with students, and I have no illusion that Google isn’t collecting information from interactions with those maps.

But I’m also very picky about which services I use and what information I will provide. For example, I don’t post anything to Facebook (I do have an account) for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is their TOS. And I’ve actually read more than few terms of service documents, and keep a short list of interesting translations and sites that help others understand what they are agreeing to.

Regardless of my personal preferences, however, this is a topic that all teachers need to better understand. They must help their students learn to protect themselves online, as well as doing a better job of evaluating the software and web services they bring into the classroom.

It may appear that Google, Microsoft, and the other companies (big and small) are keeping their free/cheap education web services “closed” to the outside world. But students (and you) are still providing data with everything they do. (Just look at what can be learned from a single photograph.) And those corporations are getting better everyday at monetizing your information.

Legislating Government Censorship

In May 2014, the high court of the European Union declared that EU citizens had a “right to be forgotten” online, derived from the Union’s stringent personal privacy laws. The information is actually forgotten, of course, just removed from our collective memories, also known as Google.

The “right to be forgotten” in the European Union originated from a court ruling demanding Google and search engines remove links to a story that embarrassed a Spanish man because it detailed a previous home repossession. The story was not factually inaccurate. He insisted it was no longer relevant and that it embarrassed him, and the court agreed he had the right to have the information censored from search engines.

Recently courts in the EU have found exceptions to that absolute right, but here in the US many lawmakers and pundits have speculated as to whether we should have the same right and the Europeans.

This week, two members of the New York legislature decided the answer is yes, and have introduced their own interpretation that actually goes beyond the rights granted to European citizens. Because if anything is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.

Censorship 1

Their bill would require the removal of “content about such individual, and links or indexes to any of the same, that is ‘inaccurate’, ‘irrelevant’, ‘inadequate’ or ‘excessive’”, from both search engines and the original website, within 30 days of a request.

Basically, with some exceptions for information about certain crimes and matters of “significant current public interest”, the law requires anything posted on the web that someone claims is “no longer material to current public debate or discourse” must be forgotten. Under penalty of some heavy fines.

What could possibly go wrong with a poorly defined (at what point does content become “excessive”?) law like that?

So, under this bill, newspapers, scholarly works, copies of books on Google Books and Amazon, online encyclopedias (Wikipedia and others) — all would have to be censored whenever a judge and jury found (or the author expected them to find) that the speech was “no longer material to current public debate or discourse” (except when it was “related to convicted felonies” or “legal matters relating to violence” in which the subject played a “central and substantial” role). And of course the bill contains no exception even for material of genuine historical interest; after all, such speech would have to be removed if it was “no longer material to current public debate.” Nor is there an exception for autobiographic material, whether in a book, on a blog or anywhere else. Nor is there an exception for political figures, prominent businesspeople and others.

I’m not a Constitutional expert, but even I realize a law like this would never survive a many First Amendment challenge.

But beyond the legal issues there is a far more concerning 800-pound gorilla. Right now we have far too many “leaders” who lust for tools that would allow the government to review and censor the online discussions of it’s citizens.

We don’t need a right to be forgotten in the US as much as we do a right to be left alone.