First Line of Defence?

Dave Winer may be a very smart guy, who effectively invented blogging, RSS, and podcasts, but he’s lost his mind in this post:

We are now all complete newbies when it comes to understanding how networks can be used to spread misinformation. We might look back in a few years and realize that our first line of defense was Facebook, Inc. Maybe tearing them down is like the press tearing down HRC in 2016. I don’t trust their judgement on this stuff, do you?

– Dave Winer, Untitled Scripting News post

The first sentence is fair enough, but the second? Facebook is the first line of attack, rather, on our democratic freedoms. See Cambridge Analytica stories, passim. Or if not the first, then the most powerful tool in the armoury of the anti-democratic forces that plague us.

The ‘them’ he refers to is, I think, journalists. Or ‘journalism,’ as a collective entity:

I judge journalism in the aggregate.

In other words, I say “journalism” did this or that.

– Dave Winer, Journalism in the aggregate

One of the main things he does these days is to rail against journalism.

From The Guardian‘s piece on what we learned in the election about the media:

One Labour MP who nearly lost their Brexit-backing seat told the Guardian that on doorstep after doorstep, people brought up Corbyn’s connections with the IRA after seeing memes and images on Facebook: “It was never used by the Tories in the campaign but there was a separate election going on, which was a Facebook-orientated campaign.”

Maybe this explains the hatred for Corbyn which so mystified me.

The next paragraph is astonishing:

The MP suggested constituents are increasingly overwhelmed by information and unsure what is real and what is not, assuming there is some sort of editing of what goes on Facebook. “People have a sense that some of this stuff is probably wrong but they have no compass. They would say: ‘But it’s on Facebook – how can there be something that isn’t true?’ They think there are gatekeepers but there aren’t.”

Emphases mine. Oh my god. How can anyone think that after all that’s happened? I realise that not everyone is as deeply into tech and politics as I am, but still.

We never had a chance, did we?

Faces and Feeds

I think I might have to develop an app for reading Facebook the way I think it should work.

There was an article doing the rounds the other week about how “our minds can be hijacked,” which was all about how terrible social networking is for us. I skimmed part of it, but got annoyed when it seemed to be about rich Silicon Valley entrepreneurs deciding to go “off-grid.” That’s all very well for them, but most of us have to make a living.

More pertinently, since the main target for the attack was Facebook, it annoyed me because I use Facebook to keep in touch with people that I might otherwise not. For that, it can be very good.

And yet… it struck a chord with, me to some degree. I realised that Facebook has increasingly become more of a time sink than a pleasure. Not that I spend vast amounts of time on it each day, but when I do open it up, I often end up spending longer than I’d have wanted to. And not reading updates from friends and family, but following links to articles and quizzes and nonsense, most of which I wish I hadn’t bothered with.

By comparison, a similar length of time spent in my feed reader lets me read blog pieces by people I actively want to hear from, and which I’m generally glad I’ve read.

But they mostly aren’t friends and family.

And then there’s the fact that the Facebook algorithm is tuned to show me what it thinks I should see, not what I want to see. What I want to see is all the updates from my friends, in reverse-chronological order. And that’s all. But there’s no guarantee that it will show me everything everyone posts, and the order is close to random at times.

One way to work round this is to visit people’s individual Facebook pages. You could see all your the posts by all your friends by going to each of their profiles in turn. But that would mean you’d have to keep track of all that: remember who you visited and when, and somehow manage the list of people.

Keeping track of things is what computers are good at. The software should be doing that for us.

So I’m thinking that what I want is an app that will do that for me: that will keep a list of my Facebook friends, and show me all their posts (which of course is what Facebook used to do).

As far as I know, no such app exists. This seems strange and unlikely, but I don’t think Facebook make a public API available for third-party clients, so such an app would have to work by scraping the web pages, which is neither good practice nor much fun.

Of course, what this means is effectively turning Facebook back into a set of RSS feeds — or now, especially as I have some experience with them, a set of JSON Feed feeds. Which would then be usable in all sorts of other places.

Web scraping may be bad and painful; still, I think I want to write this thing. Watch this space.

Homophobia in SF Fandom

As well as being in charge of the website of the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA), I also admin the association’s Facebook group. Yesterday a member posted a link to the BBC story about the sexuality of the new companion in Doctor Who. “Doctor Who gets first openly gay companion,” it says. Nice to know, but no big deal in 2017, right?

Wrong, sadly. I woke to 81 comments on the FB post. That’s a huge number by the normal standards of the group. It’s not very chatty. It turned out that a raving homophobe had stormed into the group and started to shout about the corruption of youth and I don’t know what all. The comments were a combination of his, and of calmer and more tolerant heads both calling him out and trying to debate rationally with him. To no avail.

I had no choice — nor any desire — but to kick him out the group and block him. I wrote the following, and I thought I should preserve it here;

I’ve just had to eject a member from the group for making offensive remarks to other members. And worse, making remarks offensive to other members.

Specifically he was being offensive to all our LGBT members, and everyone who supports them, or who just supports humanity and common decency.
Oh, wait, that’s all the other members, isn’t it?

Folks, I don’t need to tell you this, but it’s 2017. You can no longer argue that characters in popular TV programmes should not reflect the whole range of people in society. Nor can you make the argument that a character’s sexuality should have no place in Doctor Who, when it plainly has had a place at least since 2005.

Or don’t these people remember Rose being in love with The Doctor? Martha pining over him? Hell, go back further: Jo went off and married a male ecologist. And I’m sure at least a couple of other female companions went off with guys.

Flaunting their heterosexuality.

We won’t get any of that with Bill, at least.

Unless the next Doctor is a woman.

Intrusive login options

I’ve not really had many dealings with the Huffington Post, but I thought I’d drop a comment on this piece about a cover versions album of Nirvana’s Nevermind. The writer, Michael Vazquez, describes himself as being ‘part of the generation that just-missed Punk’, and goes on to say he’s 45.

Thing is, I’m just a year older, and I didn’t miss it. I lived right through it. Not, it’s true, at its bleeding, safety-pin-punctured heart.1 But still, I was aware of it, was introduced to the music by friends, listened to Peelie. Formed bands, for god’s sake, which is what it was really all about.

I can only conclude that Vazquez was a late developer.

Anyway, my point wasn’t about that, it was about commenting at the Huffington Post. You have to be registered to comment; fair enough, that probably keeps the spam down a bit. There are a number of login options, as is common nowadays: Twitter, Facebook, a dropdown for others.

I tried the dropdown and chose to use my Google account. A popup pops up, saying, ‘This site wants to know your email address and your contacts.’ Email address, fair enough, that’s normal for registering at most places. But my Google contacts? I think not.

I cancelled, tried Twitter. ‘This site wants to see your contacts, add contacts, post tweets…’ Get, as we say in my part of the world, tae fuck!

Oddly, it asked less of Facebook; but I can’t be bothered going back to check exactly what.

In the end, not wanting to be thwarted, I registered with them by giving them a username and my email address, in the old-school way. Obviously I unchecked the ‘Please spam me’ box.

Is this normal behaviour nowadays? Certainly seems odd to me.

  1. Copyright (c) Cliches-R-Us, 2011. ↩︎

Who Lays Flowers for a Murderer?

When I sent this tweet:

Floral tributes for murderer just because he camped out for a while, apparently. Very strange.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

I was thinking about the literal, physical flowers that some misguided people had laid on the river bank where Raoul Moat died. Misguided, or possibly, grieving family members. Just because someone is a murderer, it doesn’t mean that no-one grieves for their death.

But now, it seems, things have gone beyond that. Facebook tribute pages celebrating Moat’s life, and especially his last few days in hiding from the police.

Go on the run, camp out for a bit, become a kind of hero: all very well (though I can’t say I’d recommend it as a career path) if the crime were minor, or victimless.

But this guy murdered a man, and shot two other people. One of them has been left blind. The other is still in hospital.

This guy wasn’t some Robin Hood figure. He was in no way a good guy. He was a grade ‘A’ bampot, a fuckpig of the first water. And I’m disgusted that anyone could think of celebrating his acts.