Sunday, October 27, 2019

Facebook Circa 2005

This was the first story CBS News ran about - a website that had spread to college students across 575 schools and required a campus email address to create an account.

Notice how completely unaware this report is with what Facebook has become or the corrosive, disruptive power it has wreaked across the country and around the world?

If only we knew then what we are discovering now.

Perhaps technology is not neutral. Perhaps it fosters an increasingly destabilizing effect on existing social and political institutions - usually in ways which favor the powerful interests who control and capitalize upon these digital tools.

Friday, October 4, 2019

A "Joker" for Our Times

"Joker" is a dark, disturbing, powerful, and timely film. It is less a conventional comic book movie than a searing modernization of Taxi Driver, A Clockwork Orange, or similarly brooding cinema. It is expertly directed, performed, shot and presented. Memorable and unrelenting, it pushes the boundaries of representations of violence as entertainment and is not likely to be enjoyed so much as endured.

The film's American release has been incredibly polarizing and is rightly controversial. However, that controversy should be reflected right back upon a country festering from a breakdown of trust in political institutions, growing economic inequality, eroding public services, insufficient mental health and social assistance programs... and yet awash in guns, television, psychotropic drugs, anger, fear and resentment.

The film has something to say about all of this and more. It is a brave, bold, ambitious and perhaps dangerous work of art. By the film's searing finale, we are all but forced to consider why such a film hits so close to home as a macabre distillation of our own zeitgeist. And perhaps we realize: the joke is on us.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Social Media and Storming Area 51

"Storming" Area 51 is a criminal offense and at least one person has already been killed by security personnel while attempting to do so.

On one level, "shit-posting" memes like this are very amusing exercises in sci-fi irony.  But taken as a serious call to action, which some misguided or delusional people will predictably do, is also extremely dangerous to any actual participants.  The nearest hotel in Rachel, Nevada is already completely booked around the proposed date in question.

Further, this highly popular Facebook event (with 2 million marked as "going" and 1.5 million marked as "interested" thus far) rather clearly communicates the intent to violate federal law (such as 18 U.S.C. § 1382 - trespassing on a military facility).

I have no idea why it is still allowed on Facebook's platform. This isn't likely to end well and social media companies will again be confronted with the role they played in disseminated what amounts to the incitement of imminent lawless action.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Facebook Jailed... for Quoting James Baldwin

Apparently Facebook believes I cannot quote among the most prominent activists and authors, himself a black man who used the n-word to interrogate its meaning and use, without being put in Facebook jail?

If my comment directly quoting James Baldwin is "hate speech," is IMDb prominently publishing this quote also "hate speech?"  Is the documentary itself from which this quote was derived also "hate speech?"  🤔🤔🤔

Likely this entire process was automated without any Facebook employee oversight and is the equivalent of an AI axe doing the more careful work of a human scalpel.  Devoid of evaluating purpose, context, intent or effect, the banning of words regardless of their application represents a serious problem for public discourse on popular media platforms.

So this is an information flow challenge which Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. clearly has't effectively addressed.  The "automate everything" Silicon Valley types still seem to believe they can mechanize away all the context-dependent administrative and curation duties necessary for running giant websites which serve billions of users each day... but it turns out we still need humans to really understand what humans are saying and Facebook clearly isn't equipped to monitor that.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Mass Shootings - The Difference Which Makes a Difference

Every developed country has violent films, music, and videogames.  Every city and town around the world includes people struggling with isolation, addiction, mental illness, and stress.  And most developed countries have legal access to abortion while also maintaining a secular form of government.  None of these factors are themselves closely linked to mass shootings.  None of them.  We should stop pretending otherwise.

1. Only the USA is led by a xenophobic bigot who has made white identity politics his central animating force in pronouncement and by policy, demonizing immigrants and vilifying Muslims.  Then, online forums like 8chan and Reddit's r/The_Donald radicalize angry, isolated young men - many of whom embrace Trump's xenophobia and bigotry, then carry out attacks on marginalized communities. Domestic terrorists are waging white identity politics which the GOP is fueling.

2. And only the USA has widespread availability of military style rifles and high capacity magazines to almost anyone.  These weapons do not themselves create the underlying conditions for a mass shooting, but absolutely do increase the severity of injuries and number of deaths in a matter of minutes.  The type of bullet wounds and the number of shots fired without reloading are both essential elements in the lethality of a rampage attack.  Mass shooters know this and almost always choose an AR-15 or similar variant for these reasons.

This is a uniquely American problem and it is getting worse for the two reasons I just mentioned.  Anyone who tells you otherwise isn't paying attention to the global data set and commonalities these trends reveal.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Rush Limbaugh: Fiscal Conservatism is a Ruse

The game is up!  Rush Limbaugh finally admitted what the rest of us already knew: GOP "conservatives" don't actually care about fiscal conservativism at all and have just been using their fake outrage to oppose funding popular programs and services while encouraging more upper-class tax cuts.