Facebook doesn’t want to be evil, but it is

This, by Nikhil Sonnad, is a superb analysis of what’s wrong with Facebook and why it’s sending the world to hell in a handcart. Much of it applies equally to Twitter.

Sonnad begins with the story of Antonio Perkins, who was shot dead as he filmed a Facebook video.

Although his death is tragic, the video does not violate the company’s abstruse community standards, as it does not “glorify violence” or “celebrate the suffering or humiliation of others.” And leaving it up means more people will connect to Perkins, and to Facebook, so the video stays. It does have a million views, after all.

The problem is that Facebook doesn’t see people as people. We’re just data.

…the imperative to “connect people” lacks the one ingredient essential for being a good citizen: Treating individual human beings as sacrosanct. To Facebook, the world is not made up of individuals, but of connections between them. The billions of Facebook accounts belong not to “people” but to “users,” collections of data points connected to other collections of data points on a vast Social Network, to be targeted and monetized by computer programs.

There are certain things you do not in good conscience do to humans. To data, you can do whatever you like.

By this reading, Mark Zuckerberg is a modern-day Victor Frankenstein. He’s created a monster and has no idea how to control it, if controlling it is even possible any more.

John Naughton makes the same point in The Guardian.

 This all became evident last week in a revealing interview the Facebook boss gave to the tech journalist Kara Swisher. The conversation covered a lot of ground but included a few key exchanges that spoke volumes about Zuckerberg’s inability to grasp the scale of the problems that his creature now poses for society.

…I can see only three explanations for it. One is that Zuckerberg is a sociopath, who wants to have as much content – objectionable or banal – available to maximise user engagement (and therefore revenues), regardless of the societal consequences. A second is that Facebook is now so large that he sees himself as a kind of governor with quasi-constitutional responsibilities for protecting free speech. This is delusional: Facebook is a company, not a democracy. Or third – and most probably – he is scared witless of being accused of being “biased” in the polarised hysteria that now grips American (and indeed British) politics.

Sonnad again:

Facebook’s value system has diverged from that of the rest of society—the result of its myopic focus on connecting everyone however possible, consequences be damned.

With that in mind, the thread running through Facebook’s numerous public-relations disasters starts to become clear. Its continued dismissal of activists from Sri Lanka and Myanmar imploring it to do something about incitements of violence. Its refusing to remove material that calls the Sandy Hook massacre a “hoax” and threatens the parents of murdered children. Its misleading language on privacy and data-collection practices.

Facebook seems to be blind to the possibility that it could be used for ill.

That blindness is already having terrible consequences. For example, the violence in Myanmar that  Sonnad refers to is attempted genocide. The UN human rights chief there, Markuzi Darusman, told reporters that social media had “substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public. Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that. As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media.” There are many individual tragedies too, such as people driven to suicide by howling online mobs. And of course social media has been fundamental in the rise of the far right and associated violence.

We’re going to look back on this social media age with horror.

It’s about time we all stood up to defend, er, bullying

There’s something very strange happening in the UK media. It’s defending the bullying of children.

Last month, Peter Hitchens claimed in the Mail that banning smacking would “come back and slap us in the face.” The state has too much power, he said, noting that “Fathers, once kings (or despots) in their own homes, have been declared officially unnecessary.” As he explained, mistaking correlation for causation:

In the days of smacking, police walked around alone in tunics with no visible weapons. Now they make their rare public appearances in pairs or squads, clad in stab vests, clubs, pepper sprays and handcuffs.

Because of course absolutely nothing else in the world has changed politically, socially, culturally or economically.

They also roped in Jan Moir to opine, after detailing the barbaric discipline that used to be commonplace in schools and telling the hilarious story of her mum using a kettle “to ding my brother on the bonce”:

we all lived through an age of crime and home-grown or class-based punishment. And it didn’t do us any harm.

Imagine! Some people think whacking a child with a kettle is bad!

Today, to mark anti-bullying week, the Church of England has updated its anti-bullying guidelines for nurseries and primary schools. If a three-year-old wants to play with toys or clothes associated with the other gender,the guidance says, they shouldn’t be told not to or mocked for it.

Here’s the key phrase:

‘A child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment’

The Daily Mail’s front page headline? No, of course it isn’t “let girls wear hard hats”. It’s “Church: let little boys wear tiaras,” because while nobody’s bothered about girls playing with boy stuff a wee boy in a tiara is clearly Satan’s work.

The article notes with disdain that “Schools are also told they cannot use the Christian faith or Bible teachings to justify behaviour that is considered to amount to bullying – for example, identifying a transgender pupil by a sex other than the one they have chosen.”

“Behaviour that is considered to amount to bullying”. So, bullying.

In an interesting coincidence, over the weekend the Mail on Sunday described how a teacher was suspended over allegations about, ahem, behaviour that is considered to amount to bullying.

“I called a trans boy a girl by mistake… and it may cost me my job as a teacher: Maths tutor suspended after praising pupil using the wrong gender,” the headline says.

He’s an evangelical pastor and the complaint against him alleged ongoing inappropriate behaviour, such as trying to shoehorn his religious beliefs into his maths lessons, and concern that he was picking on a trans child by deliberately and frequently misgendering him as well as detaining him unnecessarily. He denies “inappropriately” talking about religion in maths lessons. The word “inappropriately” is doing a lot of work there.

From the article:

He added, however, that he did not feel that he should be made to use the pronouns ‘he’ or ‘him’ and that to force him to do so was a breach of his human rights.

Like many people who find themselves represented by the Christian Legal Centre, whose dread hand is behind this story, the tutor in this story appears to be an arsehole.

The Mail on Sunday – and today, the Sun – has also dragged up (pun fully intended) a story from back in June:

Drag queens are being brought into taxpayer-funded nursery schools so that children as young as two can learn about transgender issues.

The cross-dressers are reading nursery rhymes and singing specially adapted songs ‘to teach children about LGBT tolerance’.

The performances, which are being trialled in a grand total of one nursery, are so newsworthy that the Sun has made them its front page story.

There’s a really horrible final sentence to the Mail’s version, too. Noting that the nursery in question decided to trial the performances in response to increasing hate crimes, it says:

Reported hate crimes rose 29 per cent in the last year, Home Office figures show, although only one in six was considered serious enough for a suspect to be charged.

If you find yourself defending the beating of children and campaigning against anti-bullying initiatives, this video may resonate.

Not all comments are welcome at the Daily Mail

I tried to comment on a Daily Mail article earlier. It’s a report about the inquest into the death of a young woman from a heart attack, and the report goes into quite a lot of detail because – and here is the “public interest” bit – she was sexually aroused and watching pornography when she died.

As one poster on Fark.com put it:

instead of simply putting up a brief article saying that she died of a sudden heart arrhythmia and that foul play isn’t suspected, they have to print every freaking detail down to her state of dress, the sex toys, the laptop showing porn, etc. Her family and friends are devastated by this, and now she’s been turned into an international joke because a bunch of reporters thought it would be funny to point at the woman who died fapping.

I tried to put a comment on the article – you should be ashamed of yourselves for printing this – but for some mysterious reason the comments system is running very slow today and spent several hours saying that no comments had been submitted. Now the commenting bit has been removed altogether. Funny that.

Who needs facts when you have faith?

There’s a truly extraordinary article by AN Wilson in today’s Daily Mail which, after something of an online storm, has been tweaked – so it’s no longer illustrated with a picture of Hitler, as it was this morning.  I’m not going to link to it because I’m increasingly convinced that the Mail runs really crazy stories for no other reason than to boost traffic.

It’s incredible, though.

The trouble with a ‘scientific’ argument, of course, is that it is not made in the real world, but in a laboratory by an unimaginative academic relying solely on empirical facts

Imagine people relying solely on empirical facts!

Mr Wilson then compares scientists with their empirical facts to Dr Mengele, and suggests that Science = Hitler. I’m not making this up.

The only difference between Hitler and previous governments was that he believed, with babyish credulity, in science as the only truth

Here was me thinking one of the differences was that Hitler was a crazy motherfucker. Apparently not.

I am not suggesting that any British scientists are currently conducting experiments comparable to those which were allowed in Nazi Germany or in Soviet Russia. But I see the same habit of mind at work in Professor Nutt and his colleagues as made those mad scientists of the 20th century think they were above the moral law which governs the rest of us mortals.

Professor Nutt dared to suggest that government drugs policy was based on politics rather than reality. That’s not quite Mengele.

In fact, it is the arrogant scientific establishment which questions free expression. Think of the hoo-ha which occurred when one hospital doctor dared to question the wisdom of using the MMR vaccine.

That’ll be the hoo-hah which occured when one doctor made shit up and newspapers ran with it, seriously damaging the vaccination programme for no good reason and exposing children to potentially fatal illnesses. The worst offender? Yes, the Daily Mail.

The point here is not whether he was right or wrong

He was wrong. And here we are, years later, still suggesting that Wakefield is a victim rather than an offender (with pure intentions, perhaps, but the effect was still parents abandoning vaccination and exposing children to unnecessary risks). Scientists? It’s the newspapers we should be scared of.

“I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours / but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humour…”

Remember the attempts by Christian Voice to prosecute various people over Jerry Springer: The Opera? And the £90,000 costs awarded against CV’s Stephen Green? It seems Green is asking for some good old-fashioned Christian charity from the very people he tried to prosecute.

The money is due to be paid today, but Stephen Green doesn’t have it.

He has written to both Mark Thompson and Jonathan Thoday inviting them to waive their costs in the interests of goodwill and justice.

Apparently chasing him for legal costs would be “vindictive”. Media Watch Watch says:

Vindictive? Like Green’s relentless self-interested pursuit of the BBC and John Thoday, and his gloating over the dearth of royalties accruing to Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas as a result of his censorship campaign wasn’t vindictive?

While we hesitate to celebrate anyone’s financial ruin, it is hard to feel sympathy for the whingeing hypocrite as he begs Thompson and Thoday to waive their charges. And we seriously doubt it will shut him up.

Chicken Yoghurt is amused, while Richard Bartholomew points out that Green was solely responsible for the “adverse, grotesque costs” and that he targeted two individuals rather than a public body.

Green says:

It is outrageous that a public-spirited individual should be dissuaded from upholding standards of public decency in a public body because of the fear of adverse, grotesque costs orders.

Which is an interesting way of looking at it. As Bartholomew notes, there’s a reason why Green should pay up or face bankruptcy.

without the risk of losing money there would be many more enemies of free speech using the courts – and the very same threat of high costs – to silence ideas they didn’t like.

Computer games, diddies and the breakdown of society

This morning’s episode of Radio Scotland’s Morning Extra was about videogame violence and GTA IV (yep, I was the one who called in at the end to call irresponsible parents “diddies”, heh). I know phone-ins don’t exactly attract rocket scientists – I mean, they let me on air – but even by the usual standards of jaw-dropping nonsense I was gobsmacked by one caller. He thinks violent videogames are bad. He, er, lets his eight-year-old play 18-certificate video games for hours on end. He doesn’t approve of this.

WTF?

*bangs head on desk*