Today’s Untrustworthy and Unethical Social Media Platform: LinkedIn

From 2015 to 2019, LinkedIn randomly varied the proportion of weak and strong contacts suggested to users by its “People You May Know” algorithm, the company’s  system for recommending new connections to “link” to. Researchers at LinkedIn, M.I.T., Stanford and Harvard Business School then analyzed aggregate data from the tests in a study published this month in the “Science.”

In other words, users were used as virtual lab rats, subjected to changes in how the platform served their job-hunting and networking interests without their knowledge or consent. It would have been easy and ethical to alert users to this experiment and allow them to out out, but no. The New York Times, ethically inert as usual, writes, “Experts who study the societal impacts of computing said conducting long, large-scale experiments on people that could affect their job prospects, in ways that are invisible to them, raised questions about industry transparency and research oversight.”

Raised questions? What questions? Such secret experimenting is wrong, manipulative, arrogant, irresponsible and unethical. There is no uncertainty on that point. In a statement, LinkedIn now claims that it has “acted consistently with” the company’s user agreement, privacy policy and member settings. The privacy policy, while stating that LinkedIn uses members’ personal data for research purposes, does not reveal that the company will secretly play with  user’s contacts in ways that might result in career or life course changes. The company also, naturally, engaged in the now compulsory “It isn’t what it is” blather,  saying it used the latest, “non-invasive” social science techniques to answer important research questions “without any experimentation on members.”

Of course it was “experimentation on members.”

LinkedIn’s policy for outside researchers seeking to analyze company data states that those researchers will not be able to “experiment or perform tests on our members,” but no policy statement explicitly informs consumers that LinkedIn itself can experiment or perform tests on its members. “During the tests, people who clicked on the ‘People You May Know’ tool and looked at recommendations were assigned to different algorithmic paths,” the New York Times explains. ” Some of those ‘treatment variants,’ as the study called them, caused LinkedIn users to form more connections to people with whom they had only weak social ties. Other tweaks caused people to form fewer connections with weak ties.”

Then the Times adds, disingenuously, “Whether most LinkedIn members understand that they could be subject to experiments that may affect their job opportunities is unknown.” No, it’s just impossible to prove they didn’t know. LinkedIn knew damn well they didn’t know. I didn’t know, for example, not that I rely upon or trust LinkedIn in any way.

None of the social media platforms are trustworthy, and anyone who participates in them should just assume that they will abuse their power while deceiving users whenever they see profit in it. These are unethical Big Tech entities run by unethical, dishonest people. Interact with them accordingly, if you have to interact with them at all.

Comment Of The Day: NetChoice LLC v. Paxton (Item #4 In “Sunday Consequential Ethics Epiphanies, 9/18/2022”)

I am enmeshed in a disagreement with esteemed and long-time Ethics Alarms commenter Chris Marschner regarding Texas’ HB 20 signed into law last year. It prohibits social media platforms with over 50 million monthly U.S. users from censoring posts based political positions and viewpoints. To my surprise (although considering the Court, maybe it shouldn’t have been) the Fifth Circuit helding that the right to free speech didn’t include the right to censor speech, a privately-owned platform. That opinion is here. I wrote that I didn’t understand the opinion at all, meaning that while I find the way social media platforms employ bias and partisan favoritism to censor posts using double standards profoundly unethical, I also think the Texas law is screamingly unconstitutional, and is likely to be held to be so by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, I understand the opinion better than I did thanks to Chris’s advocacy.

Here is his Comment of the Day on Item #4 of the post, “Sunday Consequential Ethics Epiphanies, 9/18/2022: On Incompetence, Diversity, Censorship And More..”

***

You and I are in complete agreement on the issue of viewpoint discrimination. I will counter that the service provided is not free. It is true that monetary compensation is not used but the Users barter for the service by providing valuable personal data and rights to the content they post online on an ongoing basis.

While Facebook does not sell users data directly it does so indirectly by serving as a middleman using its algorithm to serve up targeted advertising. That is the foundation of the business model from which the service derives its income.

One might argue that the perceived value of this trade is lopsided in favor of the user because of the billions of dollars needed to create and maintain the platform while all the user exchanges for access is giving the Service intelligence about the User. The problem with that argument is that it only appears lopsided because until the business model was developed the user has no individual means to collect financial compensation for them being subjected to an endless barrage of advertisements. Through this business model Users obtain an exchange of value by creating a social media account. In a sense, Facebook, et al serves as a medium of exchange which is the primary defining characteristic of money. Continue reading

Ethics Hero (Maybe): Actor John Boyega

The British star of the third “Star Wars”  trilogy films “The Force Awakens” (2015), “The Last Jedi” (2017), and “The Rise of Skywalker” (2019) launched a social media tempest when he stated in an interview with GQ,

“I only date Black…then it’s about chemistry, personality, goals. Is there a synergy? Can I help you? Can you help me?”

He’s either very frank and courageous, or extremely naive. Naturally, the Right is pointing to him as an example of the Hollywood culture’s hypocrisy. “Imagine if a white celebrity said this the other way around,” asks the conservative “Gotcha!” site “Not The Bee.” ” If you’re putting skin color above things like chemistry and personality, however,” Holly Ash writes, “I might argue that you’re technically, per the definition of the term, a little racist.” Oh? I might argue that you are using a lousy definition. Racist means that one regards one race inferior to another, to the extent of regarding individuals of the race intrinsically inferior. What Boyega is describing as a bias, and biases are innate, natural, human, unavoidable, and yes, they make us stupid. It is our duty as ethical beings to try to recognize biases and their emotional, irrational nature, and, if possible, get past them. However, preferring the company of people more like yourself than not is a a very natural bias, especially when it comes to romantic and intimate relationships. A racial bias like Boyega’s has to be kept in its proper place, just like, say, a man’s preference for attractive women. That is his right as sexual creature, but the bias is unethical if he’s hiring a staff….unless he’s directing a “Charley’s Angels” movie, or something similar. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/20/22: ” Seeing Bad Stuff In September” Edition

Stop making me defend Scott Pelley! The conservative news media is beating on “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley for what they are calling a “softball” interview, as if every “60 Minutes” interview of a sitting President hasn’t been just as tame, or even tamer. At least Pelley asked Biden about Hunter. The truth is that Americans still prefer to see their Presidents treated with respect and some degree of deference, unless the President is Donald Trump.

It’s funny: the same outlets that are condemning Pelley as a Democratic ally and hack are wondering why Biden’s “handlers” allowed the blithering POTUS to do an interview at all. Of course the conditions demanded for the interview included no follow up questions, and a softball session. And it didn’t matter! Biden’s performance was frightening anyway, and unlike the 2020 interview with Trump, when Leslie Stahl’s clear objective was to attack throughout, the White House couldn’t complain afterwards that the President was sabotaged by a biased journalist. Pelley asked about Joe’s mental fitness, and Biden replied, “Watch me!” And so we did, and have. He continued,

And it ma—, honest to God, that’s all I think. Watch me. If you think I don’t have the energy level or the mental acuity, then — then, you know, that’s one thing. It’s another thing, you just watch and — and, you know, keep my schedule. Do what I’m doing….“I — I think that, you know — I don’t — when I sit down with our NATO allies and keep ’em together, I don’t have ’em saying, ‘Wait a minute, w— how — how old are you? What are you — what say?’ You know, I mean, it’s a matter of, you know, that old expression: The proof of the pudding’s in the eating. I mean, I — I — I respect the fact that people would say, you know, ‘You’re old.’ And — but I think it relates to h— how much energy you have, and whether or not the job you’re doing is one consistent with what any person of any age would be able to do.”

Whether it was Pelley’s intention or not, he ended up doing what ethical journalists are supposed to do: he let the facts speak for themselves.

1. On the topic of social media viewpoint censorship, this:

It takes a lot of chutzpah for YouTube to demonetize a channel because it violates YouTube’s “values” and then sell ads on the same content.

2. Oh please, please let this happen to me! In an open thread at Althouse, a commenter tells this tale,

A friend’s brother lives in Florida. They recently got new neighbors from NY, a husband and wife. A few days after moving in the wife stops over and sits down. She says, “OK, let’s get this out of the way. I am a Democrat and my husband an Independent. What are you?” Non-plussed, he says he is Republican. For the next 15 minutes he was called every expected name- Nazi, racist, etc. IN HIS OWN F-ING HOME!

It’s my contention that the left now knows its flaws are becoming obvious and are overcompensating to hear themselves repeat their failing worldview…

Continue reading

More “Little Mermaid” Ethics: The White Ariel Version Of The Black Ariel Version Of The White Animated Ariel

In yesterday’s post, “Stop Making Me Defend Disney!,” Ethics Alarms looked at the controversy over Disney’s live-action version of its 1989 classic animated film “The Little Mermaid” that casts a black performer, Halle Bailey (not Halle Berry) as the Hans Christian Anderson heroine. Well, this one is moving fast.

One of the many fans who object to imposing “diversity, equity and inclusion” on “The Little Mermaid” announced via Twitter that technology was now available that could digitally transform Bailey into a white, red-haired mermaid just as Disney had transformed its original Ariel into a black one:

Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Strict Pilot

This is a new one on me.

A Southwest Airlines pilot threatened to turn the plane around and return to the departure gate after one of the passengers on board received nude photos via AirDrop and reported the incident to airline staff.

He told the plane,

“So here’s the deal. If this continues while we’re on the ground, I’m going to have to pull back to the gate, everybody’s going to have to get off, we’re going to have to get security involved, and [your] vacation is going to be ruined. Whatever that AirDrop thing is — quit sending naked pictures, let’s get yourself to Cabo.”

Southwest Airlines defended the pilot, saying that the safety, security, and wellbeing of customers and employees was its “highest priority at all times…
When made aware of a potential problem, our employees address issues to support the comfort of those traveling with us.”

And will, therefore, even punish everybody to support that comfort…

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Was the pilot’s threat responsible, fair and competent?

Continue reading

“So here’s the deal. If this continues while we’re on the ground, I’m going to have to pull back to the gate, everybody’s going to have to get off, we’re going to have to get security involved, and [your] vacation is going to be ruined. Whatever that AirDrop thing is — quit sending naked pictures, let’s get yourself to Cabo.”

Southwest Airlines defended the pilot, saying that the safety, security, and wellbeing of customers and employees was its “highest priority at all times…
When made aware of a potential problem, our employees address issues to support the comfort of those traveling with us.”

And will, therefore, even punish everybody to support that comfort…

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Was the pilot’s threat responsible, fair and competent?

Continue reading

Observations On Larry Tribe’s Latest Trump-Deranged Tweet…

I can only find out about EA post-worthy tweets second-hand, as I killed my Twitter account after the platform censored the Hunter Biden laptop story. I actually followed Tribe’s tweets before that, because his public descent into demented hackery after such a distinguished legal and academic career had the tragic fascination of gruesome car wreck as well as conveying a useful lesson in mortality: I have asked my wife to bash in my head with a brick from behind should I ever jump the cognitive shark as obviously as Tribe has.

This time, Ann Althouse was my tweet source, though her post’s subject was another, slightly less whacked-out tweet re-tweeting Tribe by author Joyce Carol Oates. Tribe’s tweet, in turn, only quoted a typical piece of furious Trump-Deranged venom from Times columnist Maureen Dowd. Before his brain started to melt, the idea of Prof. Tribe appealing to the authority of the likes of Dowd would be like imagining Henry Kissinger quoting “Mark Trail.”

All clear now? Observations: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/11/2022: Twitter Wars And More

But first, a cheerful song, because it’s all downhill from here…

Speaking of music, some opening notes are in order:

  • Yesterday was the anniversary of the much-heralded Scopes “Monkey Trial,” a 1925 ethics train wreck that I wrote about extensively last year, here and here.
  • Today, July 11, marks two of the most vivid examples of how random chance changes everything—history, culture, values, traditions– in ways that cannot be imagined. The first was the foolish duel in 1804 between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr that resulted in Hamilton’s premature death (but ultimately in a boffo Broadway musical!). The second was Count Claus von Stauffenberg’s close-but-no-cigar assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler in 1944.
  • Nearer to the present, the apparent collapse of Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter is disappointing, because it would make reporting on various Twitter-Twiggered ethics issues a lot easier if I could start an account again in good conscience, as I was prepared to do once the service got out from under the clutches of its current censorious and progressive-biased masters.
  • I also haven’t felt like participating in Facebook of late, as the Woke Hysteria among my once rational friends there over the recent SCOTUS decisions is too great a temptation–as in “target”— for me. Right now they just want an echo chamber to scream in, and that’s what they have. Someone somewhere on the web opined yesterday that late night talk shows,  “Saturday Night Live” and its ilk were no longer primarily about comedy, but rather therapy sessions for angry and depressed progressives and Democrats, with the shows using mockery and insults to reaffirm their convictions about “the others”—those dumb, evil, racist conservatives. I think that may be a perceptive analysis. “Saturday Night Live” is a particularly vivid example: the show that once reveled in portraying Gerald Ford as a bumbling klutz and George W. Bush as an outright moron week after week while they were in the White House now hesitates to exploit the comedy gold represented by Biden’s misadventures and Kamala Harris in general. It proves that SNL is more interested in hanging out with the cool kids than actually being funny—which is supposedly its mission. This is a conflict of interest, and the producer and writers aren’t even attempting to resolve it ethically.

1. Twitter Wars #1: @Ka1zoku_Qu0d, an idiot of the sort that literally clogs Twitter, posted this: “Hold on I want to make sure I say this carefully. Yeah Anne Frank had white privilege. Bad things happen to people with white privilege also but don’t tell the whites that.” This caused so much static on the platform that “Anne Frank” ended up “trending.” Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: GOP Congressional Candidate Carl Paladino…Oh Yeah, This Is Just The Kind Of Person Congress Needs

Carl Paladino, a Buffalo businessman and former candidate for New York governor now running for Congress as a Republican, re-posted to Facebook a ridiculous conspiracy theory by a fellow idiot claiming that the mass shootings at the supermarket in Buffalo and the school in Uvalde were “false flag” operations. There are screenshots of the since-deleted post, which you can read at your peril.

Continue reading

Thursday Ethics Theorizing, 5/19/2022: Book Banning, Another George Floyd Victim, And A Lucky 911 Botch

I don’t put many Ethics Alarms posts on my Facebook page. The bubble there is so overwhelmingly lazy-leftist and Trump-Deranged that the responses just make me sad and depressed about the state of public discourse and my social circle. I posted about Kamala Harris’s “working together” attack, and predictably two (lawyer!) friends immediately defaulted to “but Trump!” The response that really annoyed me, however, was to my link to the tattooed baby story. Two relatives (one is 94, so she gets a pass…kind of) complained that “with all the problems and threats” (you know, like the threat that a spectacularly incompetent performance by the entire Democratic Party might cause voters to look elsewhere for leadership, which, of course, will doom democracy…but I’m just guessing) the nation is facing, why care about a woman using her baby as a self-promoting human canvas? My answer is simple: unethical conduct matters whether it is big or small, and it’s my job to do what I can to explore both. The site is called Ethics Alarms, and alarms are dulled and muffled when so-called “trivial” ethics abuses are shrugged off. (See: the Rationalization List) In addition, almost none of the over 300 friends (I’m slowly paring it down: more than a hundred gone since January) on my list ever bother to read the blog, which would help save their imperiled brain and values if they did. I cover seven to ten issues every day, more than 50 topics a week. There have been over 14,000 posts on Ethics Alarms in about eleven years; I assume that readers would be bored or worn out if we only explored the big stuff, and even if they wouldn’t be, I would.

1. Remember, the political right is untrustworthy too... After Virginia Beach schools voted two books  from their libraries’ shelves following a school board member’s complaints, Virginia Beach attorney and State Delegate Tim Anderson is representing a client suing Barnes & Noble for making the book accessible to minors, because it is “obscene.” This is just one more sign that if Republicans get the power they crave their most extreme party members will work day and night to make them just as seem just repulsive and fanatic as the Democrats are behaving now. Book banning is as much as an assault on free speech as the current progressive mania, censorship. Book stores are already endangered species: making them responsible for what minors buy there like a 7-11 selling beer will finish them off. Parents should be thrilled that their kids are reading at all. The law suit is a goner, but it will waste a lot of time and money while making the public dumber just by its presence. [Pointer: valkygrrl]

2. Thanks, HBO, but I got my fill of George Carlin while he was alive…George Carlin’s American Dream” will premiere on HBO this weekend, and my sock-drawer is calling. Carlin is a resurgent hero again among the Woke, which is appropriate. His leftist political comedy was often just as shallow and pandering as what we (when I say “we” I mean “not me”) hear from virtually all comics today who have full membership in the Progressive Propaganda Club. He called golf “racist.” I just heard a spectacularly unfunny environmentalist rant in which he claimed that he rooted for natural disasters because humans deserved them. Continue reading