Facebook is Out of Control with Greed and Self Interest

New Orleans      With Facebook and most of the other tech conglomerates it really is no longer a question of adults not being in charge.  They are in fact in charge, but they are irresponsible in caring for their consumers and customers, blinded by greed, self-interest, and self-aggrandizement.   Let’s stop pretending these international, 100 billion dollars plus conglomerates are “doing good,” rather than being profit maximizing companies that warrant the same kind of full-throated regulation and supervision that other powerful economic and social actors should receive in order to protect the community and their consumers.

In the latest in a long running series of disclosures Facebook withheld information that Cambridge Analytics had scrubbed the usage data and information from 50 million users at the service of rightwing political campaigns run by Texas Senator Ted Cruz and current President Donald Trump.  It is impossible that this theft, likely violating a number of state and federal consumer protection laws, as well as a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission swearing Facebook to protect users’ privacy, did not have an impact on the 2016 election for president.  Reports by both the Observer in the Great Britain and The New York Times uncovered this, but also have reported that Facebook knew about this breach for the last two years without saying one solitary word to its customers.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Cambridge Analytics was just another data shop and they all do it.  This was the adopted child of Stephen Bannon and billionaire Rebecca Mercer, who invested millions in the company.  Reports from Channel 4 in the UK, based on a sting where they seemed to be seeking business, has the CEO of this outfit suggesting dirty tricks were readily available from the company including his suggestion that Cambridge would arrange for beautiful Ukrainian sex workers to seduce opposition candidates and secure compromising video.  This rightwing darling was amoral at best.

Additional reports indicate that the head of security at Facebook who until recently ran a 150 plus group to assure user safety had his team shrunk to three people and is now being forced out.  He had lost an argument within the company over the last several years by advocating early on that the Russian interference be exposed publicly to other executives on the business side that wanted the information silenced and have continued to do so even as the scandal has exploded over them and other tech companies for their lack of candor.

Their obsession with protecting the public reputation of Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg trumps their responsibility to customers and shareholders as self-interest triumphs.  The basic algorithm at Facebook seems to be that another dollar comes first in their equation and users come last.

Move fast and break this Facebook thing so that it finally puts the users at the top of their concerns.

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Facebook Could be a Powerful Organizing Recruitment Tool, If We Could Afford

New Orleans   There was an intriguing and in some ways unsettling piece in the New York Times recently about the growing power of Facebook and friends called “The Ads That Know Everything” by Burt Helm. The title of the piece in the online version lowered the “fright” index by calling it “How Facebook’s Oracular Algorithm Determines the Fate of Start-Ups.” No matter how they cleaned it up, trust me, it’s both compelling and scary.

True enough, the story was centered around a couple of buddies who ended up taking a deep dive into Facebook to create a multi-million dollar business. The heart of the piece was about the power of the Facebook algorithm matched to the vast billions of people on its platform and its ability to match smaller and smaller subsets of like-minded people or characteristics to sell stuff. Much the same could be said for Google’s work, but a social network is a social network, and one that sells stuff between friends and followers is crack to businesses.

No news there, right? But, as the Russians, hate groups, the women’s march, and #MeToo have all shown, it is also a way to combine people in affinity groups, and as sales are to businesses, recruitment of new members or activists is to mobilizations and organizations. By the time I read the piece my partner, a veteran community organizer, had pockmarked the article with scores of underlined passages and notes.

No news there either, right? Many leads in opening new countries for ACORN International have begun when I’ve received a random Facebook message over the transom of my own page. Our British affiliate has excelled in using Facebook’s public and private groups to recruit new members, especially in the Bristol area where they immediately visit, and usually sign up, any new “likes” their site.

The interesting takeaway from the Times article was how quickly one could scale the organizing if an organization had the resources to do similar experiments with the recruitment pitches and was all over it like “white on rice.” In fact, I’m sure there are large nonprofits, especially among the deeper pocketed groups like Planned Parenthood or some of the enviros that have digital organizers who use similar strategies to recruit donors or perhaps members as well. If there were unions willing to recruit general membership in the United States like there are in some cases in the United Kingdom, they could still probably finance the ad buys and constant feeding capacity to identify and recruit new members. Political campaigns like those run by Sanders, Trump, and Clinton probably were all over this technology. I don’t know for a fact that any of them are doing so, but they certainly have the opportunity following the same trail-and-error methodology to build a mass base of support.

There’s a huge opportunity here to build a mass organization if one coupled social networking recruitment with a real program and direct action involvement to build power. It was hard to escape the conclusion as I read the article that it could be done, and even done globally, but it would take real vision and patience combined with very deep pockets ready to feed Facebook and its friends.

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Please enjoy Khruangbin’s Maria Tambien.

& All That We Are by Haneen.

Thanks to KABF.

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