Facebook , Google and Wee the People
Posted at 11:16h, 17 May 2016 in List Archive by Bonnie Halper No Comments 135 Likes Share

When he left office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the American public to beware the military industrial complex. That was then and this is now. Times may change, but people – not so much. Especially industrial superpowers, be it the Industrial Age or the Tech Age. No, people don’t change, only situations do, and were he alive today and giving that speech, Eisenhower might well have warned the American public, if not the world at large, to beware the tech uberpowers.

For the record, the term “Military-Internet Complex” is already out there.

Facebook was taken to task lately for their political bias/censorship, reportedly suppressing more conservative stories. No matter what your politics, this is dangerous: what happens if/when the shoe is on the other foot – and like it or not, trust us: the pendulum always does swing back. While Facebook denied the allegation, several former FB “news curators”  confirmed the story, telling Gizmodo that that “they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all… Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing—but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.””

And note to self: “The section, which launched in 2014, constitutes some of the most powerful real estate on the internet and helps dictate what news Facebook’s users—167 million in the US alone—are reading at any given moment.”

Not that Facebook has a lot of respect for journalism, despite the fact that news is responsible for a good deal of the FB traffic, stickiness (Want to Know What Facebook Really Thinks of Journalists? Here’s What Happened When It Hired Some. ) – and, ergo, revenue. While it may seem like a blessing to news organizations, especially in light of the difficulties they’re having staying afloat, it’s not. “Facebook needs news,” according to the Financial Times (News groups should beware the trade-off of Facebook tie-ups Publishers are making more content available to closed platforms — but at a cost). “Research shows that its users like it: about 70 per cent of (Facebook users) regularly read news on the social network, according to the Knight Foundation study. But, with the news industry suffering a collapse in print advertising and having few places to turn, its relationship with Facebook is about as one-sided as it gets…Between them, (Google and Facebook) captured two-thirds of the $20bn spent on mobile digital ads in 2015.“

Despite the fact that it was the news organizations that provided all of the content.

“A new report from the International News Media Association warns of the dangers of getting too close to the technology platforms. It points to the experience of Dell, the PC maker, which gradually outsourced every aspect of its production and manufacturing to Asus, a Taiwan-based group. Asus took what it learnt from Dell and launched its own range of lower-cost PCs. By outsourcing every aspect of its business, Dell unwittingly helped a fearsome competitor.”

How long before the social network replaces the news feeds with AI-generated pieces, and remember: AI may be able to report, but it cannot connect the dots.

If you’d like an insightful read on the inner workings/machinations at Facebook, this piece from The Guardian is a must: The inside story of Facebook’s biggest setback. It’s an analysis of Free Basic/Internet.org and the social network’s grand plan to connect millions of Indians to the internet – and how it all went wrong. In brief, what Facebook presented was “a threadbare platform that only allowed access to 36 bookmarked sites and Facebook, which was naturally the only social network available. There was one weather app, three sites for women’s issues, and the search engine Bing. Facebook’s stripped-down internet was reminiscent of old search engines that listed the early web on one page, when it was small enough to be categorised, like books in a library.

“Crucially, Facebook itself would decide which sites were included on the platform. The company had positioned Internet.org as a philanthropic endeavour – backed by Zuckerberg’s lofty pronouncements that “connectivity is a human right” – but retained total control of the platform”… with service providers footing the bill. Again, one-way street.

Side note: Indian regulators asked the public for their opinion on the Net Neutrality issue and “Every user in India who logged into Facebook was greeted with a special message from Facebook, which said: “Free Basics is a first step to connecting 1 billion Indians to the opportunities online. But without your support, it could be banned in a matter of weeks.” Below the message, a large purple button invited users to click and “send email” to the regulator. If this was not intrusive enough, many users complained that even if they declined to send the message, merely lingering on the page caused Facebook to send all their friends a notification indicating they had written to the regulator.”

Facebook is not the only offender, when it comes to public manipulation. You probably haven’t even noticed Google’s sketchy quest to control the world’s knowledge, writes the Washington Post. “If you’ve ever Googled a person, place or thing — which, survey suggests, you almost definitely have — then you’ve encountered (Google’s) aggressive, bold-faced (“knowledge panels”), one of Google’s many bids for your fleeting attention. Since their quiet, casual introduction in 2012, knowledge panels and other sorts of “rich answers” have mushroomed across Google, appearing atop the results on roughly one-third of its 100 billion monthly searches, not only in response to simple, numerical queries like “Betty White age,” but also to more complex, nuanced questions like “capital of Israel” or “D.C.’s best restaurant. To Google, that’s proof of its semantic search technology; to Googlers, it’s a convenience that saves them a few clicks. But to skeptics, of whom there are a growing number, it’s a looming public literacy threat — one that arguably dwarfs the recent revelations that Facebook’s trending topics are curated by humans… Since Google frequently does not cite its sources — a ploy, Dario Taraborelli (head of research at the Wikimedia Foundation and a social computing researcher who studies online knowledge production) says, to make it seem more authoritative — there’s no way for users to double-check “answers” for bias or error, which doubtlessly exist.”

It’s manipulation of a different stripe, and since many take answers from a Google search as gospel, it’s potentially far more insidious – or at least equally insidious – as the censorship that presently has Facebook under the microscope. Now the Feds are once again getting involved (Sources: Feds taking second look at Google search), “asking questions again about whether Google has abused its dominance in the Internet search market, a sign that the agency may be taking steps to reopen an investigation it closed more than three years ago, according to sources familiar with the discussions.”

Google also faces record-breaking fine in Europe for web search monopoly abuse.

And remember when Facebook was experimenting with users’ emotions in its news feeds? Without users’ consent or even their being aware of it, of course. Makes you wonder who they may be working with, unbeknownst to the general population, and why.

Not that that this latest blowup is Facebook’s most egregious foray into censorship (Facebook’s war on freedom of speech), which notes that “one of the most sinister stories of the past year was hardly even reported. In September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook at a UN development summit in New York. As they sat down, Chancellor Merkel’s microphone, still on, recorded Merkel asking Zuckerberg what could be done to stop anti-immigration postings being written on Facebook. She asked if it was something he was working on, and he assured her it was.”

Facebook is practicing censorship, pure and simple, and at its ugliest. According to this must read piece in The Verge, (The secret rules of the internet The murky history of moderation, and how it’s shaping the future of free speech) censorship policies are treated as industrial secrets. “As law professor Jeffrey Rosen first said many years ago of Facebook, these platforms have “more power in determining who can speak and who can be heard around the globe than any Supreme Court justice, any king or any president.”… Without greater transparency, users, consumers — the public at large — are ill-equipped to understand exactly how platforms work and how their own speech is being regulated and why. This means that the most basic tools of accountability and governance — public and legal pressure — simply don’t exist… users are not so much customers as uncompensated digital laborers who play dynamic and indispensable functions (despite being largely uninformed about the ways in which their labor is being used and capitalized).”

What’s even more troubling, is this is How Facebook Became The Old Media, Only Worse: “As with Twitter, our social media giants are squandering the promise of the new Internet media. Everything that was supposed to be a revolutionary improvement about the media in the new era of the Internet — no gatekeepers, no filters, power to the people! — is being dismantled.”

For the record, Zuckerberg did meet with two conservative media figureheads – Glenn Beck and Dana Perino – whose base is traditional broadcasting rather than the Internet. Wonder how many FB ‘editors’ have similar backgrounds.

Let’s not forget that Facebook holds sway over a sizable online population and Google certainly commands its place as a global influencer. Because they occupy the so-called virtual world, their reach and influence is no doubt wildly underestimated: He who controls the onramp, controls the world. And considering Google’s and Facebook’s ability to manipulate/control the information that’s being disseminated, that may someday literally be the way it is.

Google has become so ingrained in the zeitgeist, is there any other tech company whose name has morphed into a verb? The name ‘Facebook’ may not readily lend itself to that, but the company does so often shoot the dice to see just how much it can get away with that we often find ourselves wondering what the ‘Bookies (which is what we personally call the Powers That Be at FB) are up to this time. Hopefully the news outlets, who seem to be giving away their IP, will wake up soon and find a more equitable solution to their quandary and hopefully, it won’t be too late the dawn. As for whether or not the ‘Bookies will come up with some other way to solidify the company’s position as a walled garden, and some other form of population manipulation, frankly, and speaking of ‘Bookies, we just don’t like the odds. Onward and forward.