Dear Facebook,

Dear Facebook,

I left you a few months ago and it was kinda tough. I mean, many people I know run their lives through you. Many groups I desire to be connected with are managed through you. To be connected to these people and these groups requires me to have a Facebook account.

But, Facebook, you are not trustworthy as is evidenced by the numerous reports and inquiries by governments into your activities. You profited substantially from the overthrow of the democratic process of the United State of America. We also know that all the incentives of our government and economic system point towards you doing as little as possible (and possibly nothing at all) to curb the abuses of your users (also known as the product you sell to advertisers).

But, I needed to be connected to some things I really valued. So, I created a new account with a fake name. This is, of course, against your Terms of Service. It’s probably the only thing that most users know is in the Terms of Service, that you have to use ‘the name you go by in everyday life.’ My thought is that you can know a few things about someone with an odd name and as long as they don’t know about ME. I’d have a few of my actual friends and be member of a few groups and all would be well. My critical connections would be maintained. But, you wants to know about ME. You want to connect what it learns about my everyday activities and what I like and dislike on pages to other public information about me: salary, home value, car purchases, whatever you can find by trolling the vast stores of data. You wants to create a detailed snapshot to sell to advertisers so they can target ads. So far, so OK. You serve to me creepily prescient advertisements, but I have the great value of connection to friends ranging back to elementary school.

But, you also sells this data to organizations that actively use it to guide your automated systems to sway opinion, encourage, and discourage voting… the net effect was you are profiting off the active undermining of our electoral system by a foreign power, all while creating a system that enabled others to nefariously use data that was never actually given for their their use.

Facebook, you can’t be trusted with the Real Me. 

You said that someone complained about my name, thinking I was a fake user. (I’m confident it was your automated systems that decided it was fake, whatever.) I’m not fake, but my account is intended to protect my identity. You implied it was OK to have a fake name if my account name was intended to protect me from abuse. I said that was the reason. Maybe I should have said exactly what the abuse was about: Your selling of data about me and ruining the institutions of the United States of America. But, I didn’t and now you’ve decided I’m not real. I’m real, but I’m also taking care of myself.

Anyway, you’ve locked me out now unless I produce a bill or ID with my faked name on it. That ain’t gonna happen. So, I guess our relationship is coming to a conclusive end.

I’m hoping you now goes the way of MySpace.

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Libertarian Capitalism Incompatible with Healthcare

The pure model of libertarian capitalism says that the mystical invisible hand of the market will necessarily produce ideal outcomes. But, as the article linked here shows, pure capitalism is inherently incompatible with effective healthcare.

To summarize the Ars Technica article: A report by Goldman Sachs says outright that curing diseases is incompatible with a sustainable business model. They point to Gilead Sciences which created a gene-based cure for hepatitis C. The cure is so effective that it is exceeding the transmission rate of the disease such that the number of people to sell the cure to has been decreasing. Therefore, revenue from marketing the cure is now decreasing.

Of course, for pure capitalists, this is an anathema.

What should be done to encourage a company seeking cures, because the forces of the market and market gurus (e.g., Goldman Sachs) encourages avoiding finding cures.

The government could offer a ‘soft landing’, something like granting 1/2 of the difference between a previous year’s earnings and last year’s reduced earnings for the life of the patent. Maybe the government could grant a perpetual patent rather than expiring patent for treatments that meet a definition of ‘cure’ (e.g., the Gilead Sciences treatment has a 90% cure rate).

More radically would be to remove pure capitalism from healthcare. Besides a properly socialized system such as every other western democracy has, the government can provide rewards for cure, exclusive sales licensing, guaranteed incomes for drug companies that develop such cures, etc.

But, as things sit, the incentives are weak for creating cures compared to the incentives for selling interminable treatments.

Facebook is Dead to Me

Yup, I’ve done it. I’ve deleted my Facebook account. It will take 14 more days for it to be finalized, but it’s done.

I went to this link to guide me:

https://fossbytes.com/how-to-delete-your-facebook-account-permanently/

I downloaded all my data (which wasn’t as much as I expected, but I’ve also not trolled through it much). It only took about 15 minutes for it to create the file and make it available to me. Took a bit longer to actually download it to my computer.

Then, the screenshots of the process after following the link on the above page:

FB Delete 1

Then.

FB Delete 2.jpeg

Finally this.

FB Delete 3

I didn’t get any screens that acted like my leaving would mean my friends would miss me. Maybe I bypassed it by the direct link I used from the how-to page on Fossbytes.

So, I’m about 14 days from Facebook no longer being part of my life….

Sorta.

Here’s the thing. I have a bunch of sites for which I’ve used Facebook as my login. I suspect that I’ll have to create new logins for those sites.

Oh well…

The Cambridge Analytica Scandal Explains Why Facebook Can’t Be Trusted

Vox, as usual, has a great explainer (click me!) on what happened in the Cambridge Analytica Scandal. One take-home message for me from this article is that Facebook can’t be trusted because they can’t know what other people will do with the data they obtain on or from Facebook.

It basically describes that someone created an app that several hundred thousand people played with on Facebook. The app gathered raw Facebook data on those people and all their Facebook friends which is what took it to over 50 million profiles, allegedly without notifying those who played with the apps that it would harvest from their friends, too. That appears to be against Facebook’s policies.

Furthermore, the sale of data gathered from other than the people who directly interacted with the app is against Facebook’s policies, also.

So, in a sense, Facebook is blameless? After all, it is alleged someone hacked their system and broke their rules.

For me, blameless or not, Facebook can’t be trusted with all it knows about us. The reason is that even with all the rules and protections in place that it cares to have, Facebook is unlikely to be able to detect many of these kinds of breaches and unlikely to be willing to do anything about those it detects. If my friend steals a candy bar and sells it to me, I’m unlikely to know it was stolen property and the store is unlikely to discover it was sold to another person. The only way I get connected to receiving stolen property is if the thief confesses or I mention I’ve got an unusual candy bar that I shouldn’t have. That’s what happened in the Cambridge Analytica situation, one of their worker bees let it be known that he was working with data he knew he shouldn’t have.

Without those kinds of confessions, such theft will happen without anyone knowing they have been victimized.

Furthermore, Facebook has little in the way of important and close motivators to protect data once out of their hands. Such app creators and advertisers are the real paying customers of Facebook. The money comes from them. Suing the hands that feed you is very very difficult to do. Cutting them off from access to data means cutting them off from the revenue stream. Also, lawsuits are public knowledge. Lawsuits about data mishandling are going to destroy more of the product that Facebook sells (the alleged billions of users). With every news story people choose to leave and others choose to never sign up. Competitors such as Mastodon gain a stronger beachhead with their open-source non-profit system.

So, because Facebook can’t know about data mishandling and there are few proximal motivators for Facebook to try to know, they can’t be trusted. Even if Facebook made all kinds of very nicely worded rules about how naughty app creators will be if they mishandle data, they can’t be trusted because there is literally zero reason to trust them.

I had already decided to walk away from Facebook a month ago and I feel better about it as each news cycle unwinds.

 

Facbook and Selling Data

Ah, Cambridge Analytica, the belly of this beast. At the very least, we know they were mining Facebook via “Free Personality Tests!” (bet you took one, didn’t you?), thereby learning useful things about you. Not the personality test, though if it was the Five Factor it probably helped. Nope, they wanted to know income, political leanings, things you most frequently posted about, stuff that suggested your greatest fears, anxieties, uncertainties, etc. Then, they would feed stuff to you to stoke those fears and make you think Donnie-boi would fix you up.

Cambridge Analytica even says they will supply sex workers and bribe officials to create fodder for use in blackmail and reputation destruction, according to UK’s Channel 4. They claim that their discussions of such matters were to discover if potential clients wanted to use such illicit methods. Of course, if that were the issue they could have simply asked the potential client if they wanted to use such methods directly. Example, “It’s possible, of course, to hire people who will offer bribes or send create sexual stings. Are you interested in such things being done?” Asking by acting like you have done it is just silly, watch the video. It’s towards the end. It’s worth it. Hoisted on their own stinging petard, eh?

https://www.channel4.com/news/cambridge-analytica-revealed-trumps-election-consultants-filmed-saying-they-use-bribes-and-sex-workers-to-entrap-politicians-investigation

The world is very messed up right now if these folks are creating our political landscape.

We need a national law, international law, that says that personally identifiable information cannot be sold to others, nor passed on through subsidiaries. If Facebook wants to use it, fine. But, Facebook can’t let others know anything about you nor use their ability to know stuff about you to tailor content to you. Oh, wait, does that mean their business model would get undercut. Yep. Facebook may have to get used to only making money on selling aggregated data. Reduced profits, oh my!

Facebook, 2 Billion, For Realz?

Of course, this kind of post will come off as me dissing that which I once did. It’s like the reformed alcoholic or former religious adherent laying on the negativity to resolve the cognitive dissonance between new behavior and old behavior. That’s valid. I do have cognitive dissonance to resolve, that’s for sure.

Facebook is alleged to have 2 billion persons. Besides the many people who have two accounts there (I did for a few weeks), there are many accounts that represent no living or formerly living person.

Facebook, and their ilk, create a kind of currency that is then exploited to manipulate our feelings about things. And, not just Facebook, but Amazon, comment sections of news sites, and so forth. The exploitation comes through creation of fake accounts, taking only a few minutes each, which then are sold to click farms and the like that use these fake personas to make it appear that a new product is awesome/horrible, an idea is brilliant/destructive, etc.

The Russians didn’t invent subverting social media to influence opinion, they just took it to its natural next step: influence an election. They’ve been doing it for years in smaller countries of the Baltic, maybe elsewhere. They’ve learned defensive measures. Practice makes perfect and they went for the big fish, the USA.

It starts here, probably not for Russians, but for the folks who use these methods for comparatively mundane purposes. A ‘onlining’ farm in Cebu City, Philippines, young women make money to go to college hoping to build a life that resembles the lives they create at the rate of one every 3 minutes.

https://newrepublic.com/article/121551/bot-bubble-click-farms-have-inflated-social-media-currency

Leaving Facebook

I have been thinking about leaving Facebook for a while now. It’s the kind of thing that pops up for many of us from time to time, I’m sure. But, it’s really taken root with me lately due to several factors. Some of the factors are personal, some are ‘big picture’.

Exiting Facebook is also difficult. It is difficult because Facebook is psychologically ‘sticky’ and practically sticky. That is, we form relationships unique to the site with individuals and groups and we fear losing our ‘social capital’ by leaving. And, Facebook does NOT make it easy to figure out how to kill an account (in fact, I’ve got work to do figuring that out).

Reasons, Personal:

My personal reasons involve feeling upset while using it, spending too much time, and weak in dealing with the system of Facebook.

I often feel upset while on Facebook nowadays, and really for many years. Facebook ‘knows’ that I will share a lot of political posts, and I’ve liked and followed dozens of sites, too many to remember. So, it feeds me more angst. Psychology moment: When we have negative feelings we want to act to reduce those negative feelings. By sharing something we feel like we’ve ‘done something’ and the negative feeling is reduced, a little, we get a little dopamine hit by doing something. Then we have buddies who comment, sometimes constructively, sometimes in despair, sometimes jokingly, sometimes aggressively… and it reminds you of the pain you were trying to alleviate…. angst again. Repeat cycle. Sharing jokes, puns, etc. is nice, but not enough. Learning about the good things in friends’ lives is AWESOME and helps a lot. But, friends also post their hurts, heartaches and frustrations and I’m sad. And, some friends engage in constant ‘look how awesome I am’ posting and social comparison kicks in (automatically, we can’t control this) and sadness. Even when the friend posts sad things and we can think how much better off we are, it’s still sad if you actually care about the friend.

I spend way too much time on Facebook. Anyone who cares to look at my timeline and posting behavior would easily see that. The reason for it being a horrid time sink is tied to the system of Facebook. It is expressly designed, as noted by several of the creators and higher-ups of Facebook, to capitalize on hijacking our learning processes in nearly precisely the same way that psychoactive drugs hijack our learning processes.* By accentuating our rate of receiving dopamine hits, we become ‘addicted’ to the site and seek more. It is classical conditioning at it’s most basic. Pavlov would be salivating over how stunningly effective his methods are put into play here. I don’t think Facebook started out intentionally designing with this in mind. They put out varying versions of their systems and sees which ones generate the most hits, the most shares, the most time spent viewing. Their goal is to make money by knowing a lot about you and feeding you targeted advertising, anything that fills that bucket of knowledge about you leads to profits.

I feel weak, I think we all are weak, in the face of the systems Facebook employs to keep you sharing, viewing, seeing ads, clicking ads, commenting, clicking, sharing, commenting… pushing the response lever. If we are on Facebook a lot, we live in a Skinner box. Facebook has admitted that it is designed this way. Maybe not overtly intentionally, but their method of determining what ‘works’ to keep people on the site, clicking, and sharing is guaranteed to be hard to break (referring to that addictive dopamine pumping system it leverages).

I’ve tried several ways to upset this process, to get control and ownership of my behavior. I’ve used Social Fixer which can hide posts with key words, but can’t do anything about images with key words embedded. And Facebook changes its code moment to moment so that Social Fixer is continually needing revision to keep up.

I’ve tried blocking people and blocking sites. But, Facebook has very clever software. It’s impossible to block literally every source of something. Most messages have several sources you can block. And, if several friends post it, and you like it, suddenly the blocks you’ve instituted are bypassed. Eventually, all those blocks go away. I ‘unfollowed’ a friend who posts dozens of messages a day that I politically agree with. Within a few weeks, all of his postings were coming through as if I’d done nothing. IMO, Facebook puts in these tools because people want to feel they have control, and they work, but are also made so that they ‘wear away’ and are bypassed. So, they give an illusion of control (psychology: Often, if we merely feel like we have control, it makes us feel better about something, even if the control is not used or actually does nothing).

I even created an alternative persona on Facebook. Blech. Devoid of life. If I were to fill it with any of Me, I would suddenly be plunged back into the Facebook Amalgamated System of Angsting and Manipulative Software.

So, I now feel powerless against the software systems of Facebook.

I don’t like feeling powerless…

Key Insight Moment: I’m tired of Facebook knowing more about how to manipulate my behavior than I know how to stop Facebook from doing it.

That’s an abusive relationship and the only way to stop it is to leave the relationship.

So, I’m leaving… but there’s more, there’s the Big Picture.

Reasons, Big Picture:

Facebook has been shown to have been a substantial reason for the increase in political polarization in this country and in dividing our nation socially. It keeps us all even more in our homes, away from actual human interactions in which we learn about the inherent humanity of people with whom we may differ on important matters. By participating in that system through my reading of posts, sharing of posts, and writing of posts, I’m making this worse.

Facebook has sown and nurtured the seeds of discontent. I feel Facebook has done evil. I don’t think it intended to.

It’s just the natural consequence of capitalism that all efforts are for the bottom line and social consequences are NOT ever to be taken into account, except those required by law. The natural side effect of capitalism is that corporations necessarily act as a psychopath. We should never expect the unchecked corporation to act differently.

I can choose to not be part of that system.

So, I’m leaving.

Those are my reasons.

Now the consequences, and difficulties.

I have made new friends on Facebook, people I would never have met if not for Facebook. It is sad to leave them behind. I have reconnected with friends of my childhood and college years. It will be sad to leave them behind. I have discovered groups and opportunities for fun on Facebook. It is sad to leave them behind. I play games with friends on Facebook and I don’t want to stop those social games. But, if I can’t find another way to be involved in those games with them, I’ll leave it behind.

So, I’m actively looking at using stand alone apps, alternative social communication that I hear are much less prone to these issues and with which I have near zero history of usage. Twitter is a danger, but I’m going to be very careful to have only game and soccer buddies there.

Students in my Cyborg Future class have told me that Instagram is much less likely to involve the kind of social fighting that Facebook has. So, I’ll try it out (yeah, I know it’s owned by Facebook). Discord is where role-playing gamers meet. I’ve never abandoned Big Soccer for soccer discussion. Many groups that have Facebook presence also have Twitter, Google +, Youtube, and other presences. So, I think I’ll know what I need to know.

That’s it, I’m leaving… but you may want to know how this happened…

How this happened

I’m teaching a class this semester named “Our Cyborg Future”. It’s intriguing to watch my students talk about their current lives so embedded with social technologies and sometimes even cynical about any thoughts of the problems with it, yet vigorously argue that they would never have such social technology directly embedded in their bodies or brain. In our discussions we are doing a lot of self-examination of our use of technology and it can’t help but affect me. I didn’t expect this, but I should have. It has made me quite aware of how I’m mistreating myself in my use of technology. We’ve discussed the relative merits of many of these. Nearly all the students describe Facebook as a wasteland that is kinda awful and intrusive. They are into Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter (to a much lesser extent) and simply text chatting. If we are not learning from our students, then we are not being good models of being intellectually honest.
So, I’ve done some listening, to my students, and to myself.

*Many addictive drug processes also hijack our dopamine production system. I’m loath to call all habitual behavior that do not involve ingestion of chemicals an ‘addiction’. But, there are physiological similarities that are unavoidable such that calling out those similarities is fair.