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.
Even though you can export your Facebook data into what seems like a nicely presented, local site of sorts, I’d like to be able to basically parse my Facebook timeline, and somehow migrate it to a WordPress blog.
This may be possible using an extension of the Keyring plugin for WordPress. I’d like to test this out, even though I’ve never really been able to get the Keyring plugin to work on my site.
I’d need to first configure a private WordPress site first though in case it works, and the site populates with private updates.
I think there’s certainly merit in shifting your social network over to something like Micro.blog, in the near term at least. As Enslen explains –
As the name Micro.blog implies the primary thing you can do on it is write short form posts like Twitter and Facebook. But you can also post long form posts just like you would on a conventional blog, just keep typing and when you hit 280 characters in a post a Title Field appears and you are long form posting – effortlessly. There is no friction or barriers between you and just writing.
Posting is easy, like posting on Twitter and the blog just auto-generates itself. You can post, “I like pizza.” You can post a picture of your cat plus a poem about your cat. You can post a 600 word essay about the Chicago Cubs. Whatever you want, however short or long you want. It’s one of the features I like the most. Posting photos is very easy on MB. There are quite a few dedicated photoblogs there.
And you can move. If you decide to move you can export all your posts and import them on a different blogging platform. This is exactly why MB strongly encourages you to use your own domain it makes moving easier.
There are two challenges, as I see it at the moment:
If your social graph/network isn’t using Micro.blog, it’s value for you may be pretty limited (or you can create a new network!); and
I worry that shifting over to another, single service is repeating the same mistake we all made focusing our social streams into a small number of social networks that we don’t control. Micro.blog is certainly more open than Twitter or Facebook, and you don’t even need to host your blog there to participate, so it’s better in that respect.
I’ve been using Micro.blog as a pseudo-Twitter for a little while now. My blog posts publish there automatically, and I’ve discovered some fascinating people there along the way.
The syndication aspect is why I think there’s definitely something to adopting Micro.blog as a social network, even if it’s more of a stepping stone to something else. I’d love that “something else” to be a distributed social fabric that’s informed by posts on our personal sites/blogs.
I don’t think we’re quite there yet (wherever there is?), but I’m hopeful that we can move beyond a site as a static site or as a chunky blog, to a point where a site/blog can be a source of articles, and also simpler shares like status updates, Instagram-like photos, and so on.
Micro.blog is the closest to that, that I’ve seen. Here’s Manton Reece’s overview of Micro.blog. I think it offers a pretty good perspective on what this distributed social experience could look like:
I’m not really interested in moving my site away from WordPress, and that’s not because I work at Automattic. Overall, I enjoy using WordPress, and I think it’s one of the best options out there for publishing just about everything from a personal blog, to more complex publications.
Hopefully WordPress will evolve, and incorporate technologies that feed this loose vision of a federated social Web based on personal sites that talk to each other seamlessly. In the meantime, there’s a growing collection of plugins that add these pieces along the way (such as the wonderful IndieWeb plugins).
So, perhaps Micro.blog is a good candidate for an alternative to Facebook, and Twitter*. It’s certainly a couple steps in the right direction, while we figure out what a post-Facebook/post-Twitter social Web looks like.
*well, certainly Twitter given that Micro.blog doesn’t support privacy options you may want to use in a Facebook alternative, and assuming that the people you want to follow are on Twitter too …
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:
My original sin wasn’t making a Facebook account, it was abandoning my own website that I controlled (the original site was hosted on Tripod, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d pay for web hosting.) All these years later, maybe it’s time to update Jason’s Site.
Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.
When I spent a lot of time on sites like FB and Insta, I developed the habit of stereotyping people based on what they shared. I’d unconsciously tell myself that so-and-so is all about being a parent, and my other friend is super career-minded, and yet another friend is a world traveler. Our digital projections can become so strong that we don’t really see our friends (in all their complexity) any longer. And when that happens, it seems difficult to get beneath the surface.
I believe relationships take time. Conversations. Support. An investment in one another. And in that regard, getting off Facebook acted as a sorting mechanism. I found the answer to: Who will make time to hang out? For me that’s a small group, but a treasured one. And sure, it can feel lonely while you look for your people in the flesh-and-blood world. But it gets easier the more you invest in your relationships.
I’m still undecided about Facebook, despite being especially enthusiastic about it in the past. There’s still more value having a Facebook profile than not, at least for me. My family and friends use it fairly heavily, so removing myself from Facebook tends to amount to me removing myself from those circles, to varying degrees.
As Cheri pointed out, stepping away from Facebook only really works if you put in the effort to remain connected to your friends and family. I’ve fallen short here. I tend to become pretty caught up in my day-to-day life with my wife, and our kids, and I forget to reach out to the rest of my family and friends.
If anything, Facebook probably masked my tendency to withdraw by default. The odd thing is that I don’t really consider myself an introvert. Perhaps that is something for me to focus on going forward – reconnecting, and rebuilding relationships that were artificially supported by Facebook.