The wave of violence spreading across the United States is shocking, even as the growing protests are understandable. It boggles my mind that this country, the “land of the free”, is still mired in deeply routed racism, and inequality.
Every society has its challenges, certainly. Israel is no different. We have divides of our own. Despite that, it’s up to each of us to move beyond those divisions.
As I mentioned on Twitter earlier:
It’s the 21st century, this shouldn’t still be an issue to fight for. Racial equality should be a given. ✊
Sacha Baron Cohen recently spoke about how social media services have become the “greatest propaganda machine in history”.
Much of the media’s focus, when reporting on his remarks, was on his attack on Facebook. While he certainly targeted Facebook, he also spoke about how Google, YouTube, and Twitter shape online discourse, and how they help spread lies, bigotry, and attacks on fact-based discussions.
Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others—they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged—stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth. And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history—the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous. As one headline put it, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”
As much as we embrace free expression, we find it difficult to draw a line when liars and bigots abuse their right to free expression because doing that feels like hypocrisy.
Free expression isn’t unlimited, though. And pushing back against channels that help propagate misinformation, abuse, and false statements that impact substantial segments of the population is becoming more important.
At the very least, it’s worth watching Cohen’s talk, or reading his remarks:
We should also think carefully about how much trust we place in services that profit from the social chaos we see around us.
We watched Mark Rober’s video promoting the #TeamTrees initiative to plant 20 million trees by the end of 2019, this morning:
I was fascinated to learn how trees capture carbon to build mass. I knew that trees absorbed carbon from the atmosphere, but didn’t quite realise how. He explained this as part of his pitch to contribute to the #TeamTrees initiative that a YouTube personality, MrBeast, started with this video:
A growing number of YouTube personalities have joined the call to contribute to the cause that, in turn, donates the money to the Arbor Day Foundation. Each dollar donated will result in a tree being planted.
This initiative won’t fix climate change, but it’s a positive step in the right direction, and sends a signal that this is important. We made a contribution this morning through the site. You can donate either through the #TeamTrees site, or on YouTube where you see donation buttons like this:
Closer to home for us is the Jewish National Fund that receives donations to plant trees in Israel, like these trees in the Ben Shemen forest just outside our city:
Donate to plant trees
So, if you’d like to donate to initiatives that plant more trees, here are two options to start with:
Better gender representation is a challenge. I’m proud of our team’s efforts to better understand this challenge, and how to meet it. It’s clearly not something that’s capable of a simple fix, but I’m glad that we seem to be moving in a good direction. Here are some links if you’re interested in reading further:
I really enjoyed reading Matthias Ott’s post titled Into the Personal-Website-Verse. It’s an essay about why it’s so important to have your own space on the Web, and why IndieWeb is a great way to get there. It’s well worth the read.
There are many reasons to have your own site, at your own domain, that you control. Aside from retaining effective control over your content, the risk of entrusting our stories, and our content to centralised services like social networks is arguably greater:
One day, Twitter and other publishing platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Medium will indeed die, like so many sites before them. And every time this happens, we lose most of the content we created and with it a fair amount of our collective cultural history.
There are so many options for creating a personal site including WordPress.com*, Micro.blog, GitHub Pages, Squarespace, and many more. I prefer platforms that let me take my content out, and move it to another platform if I decide to. I think you should too.
*And yes, as you know, I’m partial to WordPress as a long-time user, and because I work for Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com.
It’s really easy to share stuff online (that’s the point of social media, isn’t it?). At the same time, just because we can share something online, doesn’t mean we should share it.
With all this talk about the term “fake news” that a certain president made popular, there is plenty of material that is misleading, and inaccurate, and yet not so easy to discern. Being able to spot the fakes is a great way to fight growing disinformation online, often from the very people who portray accurate reporting as fake.
It’s almost fashionable to bash Facebook at the moment. To a large degree, the criticism is well deserved. At the same time, we should maintain some perspective on the reports, and resist the urge to be carried away by the maddening crowds.
I read Jeff Jarvis’ post titled “Facebook. Sigh.” recently. He makes an argument that Facebook’s executives aren’t necessarily malicious, they’re just really not thinking through the implications of what they do, or even why shouldn’t do what they do.
None of this is to say that Facebook is not fucking up. It is. But its fuckups are not so much of the kind The Times, The Guardian, cable news, and others in media dream of in their dystopias: grand theft user data! first-degree privacy murder! malignant corporate cynicism! war on democracy! No, Facebook’s fuckups are cultural in the company — as in the Valley — which is to say they are more complex and might go deeper.
For example, I was most appalled recently when Facebook — with three Jewish executives at the head — hired a PR company to play into the anti-Semitic meme of attacking George Soros because he criticized Facebook. What the hell were they thinking? Why didn’t they think?
Why did the messaging partners have read/write/delete messaging access?
That was the point of this feature — for the messaging partners mentioned above, we worked with them to build messaging integrations into their apps so people could send messages to their Facebook friends.
Specifically, we made it possible for people to message their friends what music they were listening to in Spotify or watching on Netflix directly from the Spotify or Netflix apps (see screen shots below), to message links to Dropbox folders (like a collection of photographs) from the Dropbox app, and to message receipts from money transfers through the Royal Bank of Canada app.
In order for you to write a message to a Facebook friend from within Spotify, for instance, we needed to give Spotify “write access.” For you to be able to read messages back, we needed Spotify to have “read access.” “Delete access” meant that if you deleted a message from within Spotify, it would also delete from Facebook. No third party was reading your private messages, or writing messages to your friends without your permission. Many news stories imply we were shipping over private messages to partners, which is not correct.
James Ball tweeted a similar criticism of reports about the private message issue: