Facebook Escapes Responsibility

New Orleans    The reviews are in on Mark Zuckerberg’s trip to Washington to visit with Congress. Amazingly, he seems to have emerged largely unscathed from two days of hearings.  All reports indicate that the political class was befuddled and confused, didn’t really understand social media or grasp the full range of the business model, and let Zuckerberg skate on question after question with responses that he would have his “team” look into it and get back to them.

Is this the way a Congressional grilling works?  Is this accountability from Facebook?  An apology and another, “we’ll try harder” is about all that emerges clearly here.   That’s a bag of potato chips for dinner kind of response.  Very unfulfilling!

Not that I’m quitting.  It’s too vital for our communication.  Just minutes ago, I got a message needing urgent advice on a tenant problem in Virginia.  We use Facebook as an organizing tool many places.  We’ve opened up whole countries for ACORN organizing based on a first reach out via a message sent over the internet transom that Facebook facilitates.

Furthermore, reading how difficult it is to quit, it is also pretty clear that they have pretty much all of my information and everyone else’s as well.  I got the Facebook message that one of my almost 3000 friends had opened some random app that made me one of the 80 odd million folks that Cambridge Analytics had sucked up through their scam.  The message wasn’t a remedy and didn’t offer a fix.  Just a note that I’m one of the millions, so it’s too late for me.

But, why is this so hard to fix?  I’ve never opened an app on Facebook and never clicked on an ad.  How hard could it be to require that Facebook ask for permission to use my data?  How hard could it be for Facebook and its algorithms to block random apps from getting my stuff?  This isn’t complicated.  Why when Facebook turns its other cheek are we getting the cold shoulder?

Not that Facebook is any better than Google or any of the others.  The business model is based on ads and pimping me out along with everyone else I know to advertisers.  For the life of me I can’t understand why Congress finds that confusing.

I want a team.  I want our team in Congress to get back to Facebook and tell them to wipe the smirk off of their faces and toe the line for real not with more than vapid apologies.

How hard is it for Congress to pay attention, do its homework, and do right?  And, if it’s too hard for them to regulate Facebook and its friends, then how hard is it for us to find some new folks to go to Washington to figure it out?  The answer is simple:  it’s not that hard really.

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Rent Control Fights Popping Up All Over California for Affordable Housing

Activists disappointed after an Assembly committee blocked a bill to
lift statewide restrictions on types rent control demonstrate in
California’s Capitol on Thursday. (Katy Murphy – Bay Area News Group)

Detroit  I may be meeting with organizers in Detroit about how to convert abandoned houses into affordable housing and land contracts into mortgages, but it was heartening to read on the plane about the activity in a number of communities, including the capital city of Sacramento, to bring some order to rental pricing in the form of rent controls.  Reading the piece in The New York Times seemed like old home week as well.  There was Davin Cardenas in Santa Rosa ready to go back to the well and turn an earlier narrow defeat into a hopeful victory this time around.  There were pictures of organizers pushing an initiative campaign in Sacramento from ACCE, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, the former California ACORN, who were the field troops in the campaign there.  In fact, there was the Los Angeles AIDS Healthcare Coalition where I had interviewed an organizer with their innovative persuasion canvassing operation, Lab, on Wade’s World for KABF a couple of years ago.  There’s hope for tenants on the West Coast!

Not that it’s easy.

Santa Rosa had won rent protection and rate security from the city council there but faced an onslaught led by the real estate interests who put them through a ballot proposition and an expensive campaign which they narrowly lost in recent years, but that was before horrific fires in the area have brought the issue back to the forefront as rents have soared with families desperate for housing during the rebuilding.  Cardenas reports that people are knocking down the community organization’s doors imploring them to try again and bring it the ballot themselves.  The fight is never over until it’s won!

In Sacramento, organizers are clearly worried about making the 50,000 number for the signature goal to get the rent issue on the ballot there.  That’s not a good sign, though they are clearly in it to win it as well.  Too often a difficult signature campaign leaves too much energy and resources on the streets and not enough gas in the tank to wage a winning campaign.  Win or lose, the organization will build power in Sacramento in the process which would put tenants in a much stronger position for the future there.

This is a national crisis, not a California one, and in too many areas states have tried to preemptively take away the prospects for rent control so that real estate lobbyists can stack the deck in the state legislature to prevent organizations and our allies to outflank them at the city level where the rents are soaring and gentrification is out of this world.  Just as we have seen in the efforts to raise minimum wages in cities, apartment owners’ associations have also followed the ALEC, National Restaurant Association, and small business groups in blocking city home rule capacity in the area of rents in more than half of the states.

That’s not an excuse of course.  There are other policy avenues:  impact areas like in Scotland, more aggressive zoning, community benefit requirements, and tax incentives for capping costs on developments among other options.

This fight is expanding. You can even see evidence in the language.  In Scotland it’s an ACORN affiliated campaign called Living Rent which speaks to the issue of rent that has to be affordable – like wages have to be sufficient – for living.  Even the headline in the Times spoke of “affordable living,” rather than affordable housing.

People are catching up with this crisis, and that’s a good sign for all of us engaged in these campaigns.

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