Tag Archives: Facebook

Regarding Twitter, Free Expression, Alex Jones, Social Media Censorship, And “Fake News”

zipper on mouth

The journalism ethics site Poynter begins a story today , “Over the past couple of years, Twitter has done the bare minimum to fight fake news, avoiding the kind of negative press that has plagued Facebook in the process.”

Talk about a bad start. No social media platform is qualified to “fight fake news” except to allow participants to make their own cases regarding what is fake news and what isn’t. They can and do indulge in incompetent, biased and often partisan censorship, covering their tracks by employing “factcheckers” that themselves can’t be trusted not to indulge their biases and political agendas, of course. That’s what Facebook has been doing, and, proving that there is justice in the universe, suffering for it.

Twitter hasn’t been censoring what it calls fake news; it’s just been using double standards to ban conservatives for “hate speech” when parallel leftist rhetoric gets past the gate-keepers. Federalist writer Elizabeth Kantor, for example, was kicked off twitter for this tweet in tongue-in-cheek support for the new racist New York Times editor:

“@sarahjeong This whitey is cheering you on as you fight off the Twitter mob. Down with deplatforming! Plus, it’s clarifying abt. what kind of paper the NYT wants to be . . .”

Twitter told her had engaged in “hateful conduct” that violates Twitter’s terms of service: “Violating our rules against hateful conduct.You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin…”

Jeong, however, who had started the hashtag “#CancelWhitePeople” as well as many other anti-white, anti-male Twitter content, remains a valued Twitter user.

Twitter not only is partisan and biased, it also has no integrity. What upset Poynter is that Twitter didn’t join Apple, Facebook and others in their Sunday Night Purge of right-wing wacko Alex Jones. The fact that it banned Kantor for one innocuous political tweet and not her target for dozens of racist ones doesn’t seem to bother Poynter’s unethical ethicists, just that it hasn’t joined the effort to silence Jones online.  Twitter, its says, is failing its duty to combat “misinformation.”

Here was the message from the Twitter CEO, communicated, naturally, in a series of tweets:

We didn’t suspend Alex Jones or Infowars yesterday. We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules. We’ll enforce if he does. And we’ll continue to promote a healthy conversational environment by ensuring tweets aren’t artificially amplified. Truth is we’ve been terrible at explaining our decisions in the past. We’re fixing that. We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories. If we succumb and simply react to outside pressure, rather than straightforward principles we enforce (and evolve) impartially regardless of political viewpoints, we become a service that’s constructed by our personal views that can swing in any direction. That’s not us.Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.

In an earlier tweet from another Twitter account, Twitter stated,

“As we have stated publicly, we strongly believe Twitter should not be the arbiter of truth nor do we have scalable solutions to determine and action what’s true or false.”

Bingo. Continue reading

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Unethical Quote Of The Month: Apple, Or “Stop Making Me Defend Alex Jones!”

“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users. Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”

—-A spokesperson for Apple last week, following confirmation that it had removed five out of six podcasts by far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones,  including “The Alex Jones Show” and some of his InfoWars audio streams. 

This is a terrifying statement…almost as terrifying as the fact that so many Americans won’t understand why it’s terrifying. Unless one does not understand the First Amendment and why its principles are the beating heart of American democracy, or unless you are an increasingly typical 21st Century progressive, who feels that the Left should have the power to decide what kind of speech is tolerable, Apple is telling us that it is going to use its immense power and influence over the distribution of ideas to suit its preferences regarding what people should see, hear, and think. Continue reading

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Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/29/18: (Yes, #4 Should Be A Free-Standing Post, But I’m In A Hurry…)

Good Morning!

I love “Onward Christian Soldiers,” of course, but this is my favorite Arthur Sullivan-composed hymn…

1. Reminding me of the basic unethical and cynical nature of state lotteries...A middle-aged African American woman sits outside of our local 7-11 pretty much all day, seven days a week. I’ve written about her before, most recently when she let the door slam in my face despite our family occasionally giving her food, cigarettes and a ten-dollar bill now and then. This morning she bought 40 dollars worth of lottery tickets.

And if she hit the jackpot, she’d be back sitting out front and begging for money in a year or less.

2. My Facebook. theory. You noticed, I’m sure, that Facebook took a 100 billion dollar hit to its paper value in less than 48 hours last week. It all could have been avoided by honesty, transparency, humility, avoidance of virtue-signaling, and fealty to free speech.

  • Users should have been told, in automatic emails and in big, bold letters in disclaimers on the site, since too many of them are too dumb to figure it out, that anything they put on the free platform was fair game to be harvested, sliced, diced, used, sold, analyzed and exploited for any legal purpose, by any group, party, nation or organization, and if potential users didn’t like the terms, nobody was making them post.
  • Facebook should have avoided pretenses of virtue. It provides a useful means of networking and communication as well as cost-free mini-blogs to people unwilling to maintain real ones. It does so to make money, not to make a better world…especially since social media arguably makes a worse one.
  • It should have denied responsibility, in court if necessary, for “fake news” regardless of who created it. Any ad or “sponsored story” should have been so labelled, with Facebook’s position being “read and believe at your own risk. Check “facts” before you spread them around. It’s your responsibility, not ours.”
  • Facebook should have had faith and belief in the freedom of expression and speech, and not attempted to censor “hate speech” or “fake news,” neither of which are subject to precise identification and analysis without the corrupting influence of bias. Indeed, Facebook was obligated to support the First Amendment, as a major cultural force.
  • Facebook should have stayed apolitical. Instead, it joined the “resistance” freakout over Hillary Clinton’s loss, and signaled its virtue by agreeing with absurd and unsupported claims regarding the importance of fake and risible news stories on Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

Mark Zuckerberg is a classic example of a narrow, limited, juvenile savant whose one big idea gave him more power and influence than he was qualified to handle. Maybe losing all of that money will make him appropriately humble, but I doubt it. Such people almost never learn.

3. Is the U.S. State Department intentionally hassling trans women? This story makes a prima facie case that it is, and if that’s really what is going on, it is petty and wrong. It also is a classic Rashomon situation.  Government bureaucracies are inherently inefficient, incompetent, and screwed up beyond all reason or toleration. (Oddly, progressives want more such agencies, with more employees. Go figure.) The story linked appears to show the system trying to make things difficult for a particular group, but the individual targeted only sees how she is being treated, so it appears like obvious discrimination. That, however, is a very subjective assessment.

A member of my family is in jail for a few months, and had been granted work-release privileges so he could continue his job and career. However, those in charge of the program were openly hostile to his efforts to complete the paperwork and arrangements. They kept changing the rules, increasing requirements, threatening him, and delaying the process. When he contacted his lawyer, he was told, “these people can do anything they want to, and get their satisfaction from boring, low-paying jobs by abusing people like you, meaning anyone who would normally be their equals or better, but who is now under their thumbs. You have no choice. Do what they want, or you will suffer. Simple as that.”

My jailed family member is white, male, educated, well-spoken and polite. Eventually, after he grovelled enough, everything was straightened out. “You know,” he said ,”It I were black, there is no way you could have convinced me that I wasn’t the victim of racism.”

It could be the same with the alleged trans discrimination in the passport system. When one of the alleged victims says, “Make no mistake, this was an intentional action by the State Department to withhold recognizing my gender,” she is being sincere and perhaps naive. It may have been an intentional action by low level State Department employees to be assholes because they could be. [Pointer: valkgrrl] Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/5/18: Dinosaurs, Savages, And Censors

Good Morning!

1. Jurassic World II. I can’t honestly call this ethics, but as I posted about the film’s bad reviews earlier, I feel obligated to close the loop. I saw the movie last night, and as I knew I would, enjoyed it thoroughly, beginning to end. To those who did, I feel a bit the way I do about people who don’t like baseball, Westerns, Gilbert & Sullivan, and the United States of America: I’m sorry for you. This one even has a moment that seems to be written for those who don’t to help explain those who do, when Bryce Dallas Howard talks about her sense of wonder the first time she saw a dinosaur. Of course, the original movie better expressed the same sense of wonder in the iconic scene where Sam Neill is struck dumb by his first sight of  the brachiosaurus (and the lawyer’s only reaction is “We’re going to make a fortune with this place!”), but the Howard’s speech is no less an accurate description of how we dinosaur-lovers feel when we see these creatures on-screen.

No, it’s not the equal of the first “Jurassic World,” but it is excellent for the sequel, and better, I think, than either sequel to “Jurassic Park.” A vicious mutant raptor chasing a child through Victorian mansion is the stuff of nightmares, and a new concept; the dinosaur auction to a bunch of international bad-guys was a weird cross between “Goldfinger” and “Taken,” and several scenes, including the dinosaur stampede away from the erupting volcano, were worth seeing the film all by themselves. There were also more “Awww!” scenes than in all of the previous films combined: Chris Pratt’s home movies of bonding with the raptor babies; a mother triceratops and her adorable little one, and a haunting evocation of on of Charles Addams. best, but least funny, cartoons. I’ll leave it at that.

My biggest complaints would be that there was not enough of a role for the T-Rex, some of the deliberate homages to the earlier films were ham-handed and predictable, and that there was a fatal decision by one of the villains that made no sense to me at all. These flaws were more than compensated for by the star turn of the Pachycephalosaurus,  a species that had only cameos in “The Lost World” and “Jurassic World,” a terrific fight between a new species in the series, a Carnotaurus, and a Styracosaurus, (one of my mother’s best ceramic models in my collection) and several laugh-out loud moments authored by the dinosaurs. The film’s ending also sets up a final installment that should conclude the series, unless a “Jurassic Planet” is in the cards.

There are some ethics issues in the film, as in all of the films: respect for life, cloning, betrayal, and accountability for unforeseeable consequences. Michael Crichton had no qualms in his original novel with solving the problem of living dinosaurs by nuking the whole park, but Spielberg’s ending was better.

2. An Ethics Quiz That Is Too Minor To Justify A Whole Post. Do you find anything wrong with Donald Trump Jr. parading his new girlfriend in front of cameras at the White House before he is even divorced from his current wife? Writes Ann Althouse, “He and his wife have 5 children. He should be more discreet. Which, I know, obviously doesn’t sound like a Trump concept.” Let’s have a poll!

Continue reading

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Weekend Ethics Warm-Up, 6/9/18: PART II, The Bee-Free Zone…Facebook Friends Behaving Badly, Stupid Pardon Tricks, More On The Dancing Doctor, And Another “Good Illegal Immigrant”

Now that we have the unpleasantness of Samantha Bee out of the way, your gorge is safe. Well, sort of…

2. Short version: “Grow up!” If the long-time theater friend who just defriended me on Facebook is reading (yes, I know who you are), this is a message for all the people who can’t tolerate, or remain friends with, anyone who challenges their anti-Trump fanaticism by pointing out–nicely!– that they sound like lunatics. I know you assume that you are in the warm, comforting womb of a left-wing echo-chamber, but friends don’t let friends write stupid, or shouldn’t. You, let me remind you, stated in black and white that Al Franken was the best hope to defeat Trump in 2020 (See how nice I was? I didn’t even challenge that nonsense!) until Republicans secretly engineered his destruction. I wrote in response that this was tin foil hat stuff, which it is; that implicitly accusing Kristen Gillibrand of being in cahoots with the GOP  was bonkers, which is accurate, and that you should get help, which you should.

Your response was defriend me. Nice.

This has happened with about five theater friends, and in all cases over hysterical assertions that would be only acceptable from a 12-year-old. They, like you, are used to making ridiculous, hyper-partisan statements without being challenged, and regard a dissenting argument as a personal affront as well as the mark of Satan. You should not want to remain deluded, you should want to be called out when you write something idiotic, and you should not react with hostility to a friend who does so in good faith.

What I have learned about the resistance is that their logic, facts and debate skills are fatally flawed or absent. Their only defense against rebuttal is to censor it.

You really should not want to hang out with this crowd, my friend. Get well soon. I mean it.

And shame on you. I don’t deserve that.

3. Google is your friend, Mr. President. Yesterday, President Trump floated the idea of pardoning the late Muhammad Ali, who was famously convicted of draft-dodging during the Vietnam war. Ali, however, needs a pardon as much as I do. (Less, really, since he’s dead.) His conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. There is nothing to pardon him for.

This kind of thing is an unforced error that justifiably undermines trust in the President. It’s just inexcusably sloppy—typical, I concede, but sloppy. I don’t blame Trump for not knowing that Ali’s conviction had been reversed: I had forgotten that myself. Making impulsive statements based on flawed information and snap decisions, however, suggests that the President might take impulsive actions based on misunderstandings as well.

Well, he does that, too.

More on pardons: I have seen several news sources, including the New York Times, contrast President Trump’s political “celebrity” pardons with President Obama’s pardons of less high profile Americans. Fake news. At this point in his administration, how many pardons do you think Obama had issued?

None. Zero. Zilch. Continue reading

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Facebook’s “Ugly Memo” Is Completely Ethical.

Facebook employees were horrified last week by over a leaked 2016 memo from  Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth defending the social network’s aggressive expansion plans. Naturally, since the news media is in a Hate Facebook mode, ever since it was discovered that the social networking giants didn’t just let Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton acquire personal, data from its users: Republicans got some of the “big data” too, the Bosworth memo, nicknamed “The Ugly,” was more fodder to declare Mark Zuckerberg’s baby evil.

It may be evil, but not on the basis of the memo. Here’s what Bosworth wrote:

The Ugly

We talk about the good and the bad of our work often. I want to talk about the ugly.

We connect people.

That can be good if they make it positive. Maybe someone finds love. Maybe it even saves the life of someone on the brink of suicide.

So we connect more people

That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.

And still we connect people.

The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good. It is perhaps the only area where the metrics do tell the true story as far as we are concerned. That isn’t something we are doing for ourselves. Or for our stock price (ha!). It is literally just what we do. We connect people. Period.

That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in. The work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it.

The natural state of the world is not connected. It is not unified. It is fragmented by borders, languages, and increasingly by different products. The best products don’t win. The ones everyone use win.

I know a lot of people don’t want to hear this. Most of us have the luxury of working in the warm glow of building products consumers love. But make no mistake, growth tactics are how we got here. If you joined the company because it is doing great work, that’s why we get to do that great work. We do have great products but we still wouldn’t be half our size without pushing the envelope on growth. Nothing makes Facebook as valuable as having your friends on it, and no product decisions have gotten as many friends on as the ones made in growth. Not photo tagging. Not news feed. Not messenger. Nothing.

In almost all of our work, we have to answer hard questions about what we believe. We have to justify the metrics and make sure they aren’t losing out on a bigger picture. But connecting people. That’s our imperative. Because that’s what we do. We connect people.

Anyone who thinks this is a horrible or unethical sentiment doesn’t understand the fallacy of consequentialism, doesn’t comprehend moral luck, and doesn’t understand ethics or the concept of liberty. The section in the memo that has the Left’s new moralists suffering from the vapours is this one:

“So we connect more people. That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.”

That’s not “ugly.” That is a statement of reality, though admittedly one that certain political groups can’t understand, or choose not to accept. The value of tools that expand human power and experience is not diminished because they can be, and predictably will be, misused by some people, sometimes tragically. The nation was built on a basic understanding and embrace of that concept. Recently, a powerful movement has arisen challenging the assertion that personal; liberty is a universal good, on the grounds that liberty can be abused..  Here are some of the parallel and equivalent statements that this group currently challenges, often in  angry and demonizing terms: Continue reading

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Big Data Ethics: The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Affair

This is supposedly the big ethics story of the past ten days. There are ethics elements involved, but the main ethics stories are how the facts are being spun to try to make this yet another example of sinister doings by the Trump campaign, and how incredibly incompetent and naive social media users are.

In 2016, the Trump presidential campaign paid about $6 million to a firm called Cambridge Analytica to put together a voter database with profiles to allow targeted messaging. Global Science Research was hired by the firm, and reportedly paid Facebook to post a personality quiz and an app that 270,000 Facebook users ultimately consented to. The app allowed the firm to harvest personal likes, attitudes and preferences from 50 million Americans through access to the consenting users Facebook friends. Originally we were told that Cambridge Analytica had used all of that data to target voters during the 2016 presidential election, but that claim seems increasingly dubious. The Trump campaign ended its relationship with the firm well before the election.

Facebook claims it was lied to, and has now banned the firm, which could be fairly classified as misdirection. Facebook, as it has done before on its own, permitted its platform to be used to gather psychological profiles on its users without full disclosure regarding what the data would be used for.  Now Facebook stock is plunging in the U.S., Facebook advertisers are leaving, some users are leaving too, and Congress wants hearings.

What’s going on here?

  • If, in fact, Facebook was deceived into allowing the quiz, that was unethical. Gathering data through such means is not illegal, however, and the ethics of Big Data gathering and analytics are murky at best. The legal profession, for example, has no clear regulation of it or guidance from bar associations.

Facebook did not inform users whose data had been harvested, and that could violate laws in Britain and some  states.

  • The tenor of much of the news reporting and punditry, however, has been  pure fear-mongering and hyperbole. That Cambridge Analytica was evil is presumed, I gather, from the fact that Steve Bannon was one of the founders. The New York Times in various articles described the data gathering as an invasion of “private information,” which is an inflammatory and misleading description, and described “misuse” of the information, as if such use isn’t routine in 21st Century commercial marketing. Here’s the Times, for example,

“The researcher hired by Cambridge Analytica, Alexandr Kogan, told Facebook and his app’s users that he was collecting information for academic purposes, not for a political data firm owned by a wealthy conservative. Facebook did nothing to verify how the information was being used.”

Ah…if it’s for a firm owned by a wealthy conservative, that makes the data gathering sinister, I guess.

  • It is unethical not to let people know why their preferences are being requested, and how they might be used, except that a strong argument could be raised that anyone who didn’t know they were creating a Big Data-base for Facebook is too naive to be allowed on the web without a leash.  Facebook isn’t free: providing data is one of the ways users pay for it. There has certainly been plenty of publicity about this, and it’s not just Facebook. Google, Amazon, Twitter: this is what these companies do.

If it were possible to feel sorry for Mark Zuckerberg (it isn’t) one could conclude that the massive backlash he is receiving is contrived and unfair.

  • The episode is also being called a “breach,” as if there was hacking, or information was stolen.

There was no “breach.” Continue reading

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