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On a Facebook Alternative

Over the weekend I was at a family event. There were a lot of folk snapping pictures and I (once again) asked that no one post and pictures to social media, especially not on Facebook. (Followers of this blog, if any, will know my opinion on Facebook). In the ensuing discussion, I floated an idea of a non-profit Facebook like site that was not supported by advertising, was invite only as a default, did not track/sell/mine user data, had real unfiltered non propaganda injected news feeds, and several other items that are opposite Facebook’s (and other similiar social media sites) modus operandi. It did not get too far. The business “minds” did not like the non profit public/private contribution funding model. The Facebook drones just dismissed it as a rant.

My idea is not to eradicate Facebook and their ilk, but provide an alternative and educate by establishing a platform that has both the social media aspects that people enjoy, e.g., ease of staying connected and sharing social info, coupled with news feeds that are not filtered and not based on a readers likes/dislikes and not injected by propaganda outlets of dubious sources.

I think articles and online training on critical thinking and how to evaluate the medias manipulation of emotion and other tricks would be an additional good feature. Such training works as IREX Learn to Discern Program which …”helps citizens detect and decode misinformation and propaganda.” are a good model.

At the moment 45% of Americans get their news from Facebook. News from all social media categories is even higher (source Pew Research Center News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2017.  With the Facebook allowing targeted news feeds, targeted fake advertising, direct propaganda feeds, all based on user data mining, these statistics should stand as a loud wake-up call.

Facebook and their ilk are in business to make money. Civic responsibility is simply not in their financial interest. They offer services for free to attract their prey. The only way to counter them to is offer alternative “attractions” that are free from the Venus flytrap profit motivators of these companies.

Why Equifax & others will Fail at Self Policing

The simple answer is they will not do anything to hurt their own business. They sell your information and rake in too money doing so. A credit freeze prevents that. I finally found a good article to share on this by Brice Schneider.

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This happened because your personal information is valuable, and Equifax is in the business of selling it. The company is much more than a credit reporting agency. It’s a data broker. It collects information about all of us, analyzes it all, and then sells those insights.

Its customers are people and organizations who want to buy information: banks looking to lend you money, landlords deciding whether to rent you an apartment, employers deciding whether to hire you, companies trying to figure out whether you’d be a profitable customer — everyone who wants to sell you something, even governments.

It’s not just Equifax. It might be one of the biggest, but there are 2,500 to 4,000 other data brokers that are collecting, storing, and selling information about you — almost all of them companies you’ve never heard of and have no business relationship with.

Surveillance capitalism fuels the Internet, and sometimes it seems that everyone is spying on you. You’re secretly tracked on pretty much every commercial website you visit. Facebook is the largest surveillance organization mankind has created; collecting data on you is its business model. I don’t have a Facebook account, but Facebook still keeps a surprisingly complete dossier on me and my associations — just in case I ever decide to join.

The companies that collect and sell our data don’t need to keep it secure in order to maintain their market share. They don’t have to answer to us, their products. They know it’s more profitable to save money on security and weather the occasional bout of bad press after a data loss. Yes, we are the ones who suffer when criminals get our data, or when our private information is exposed to the public, but ultimately why should Equifax care?

This market failure isn’t unique to data security. There is little improvement in safety and security in any industry until government steps in. Think of food, pharmaceuticals, cars, airplanes, restaurants, workplace conditions, and flame-retardant pajamas.

Market failures like this can only be solved through government intervention. By regulating the security practices of companies that store our data, and fining companies that fail to comply, governments can raise the cost of insecurity high enough that security becomes a cheaper alternative. They can do the same thing by giving individuals affected by these breaches the ability to sue successfully, citing the exposure of personal data itself as a harm.

If you don’t like how careless Equifax was with your data, don’t waste your breath complaining to Equifax. Complain to your government.

Facebook Wins, Democracy Loses

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Another reason (among many many) why no one with any shred of intelligence should use Facebook.

On Wednesday, Facebook revealed that hundreds of Russia-based accounts had run anti-Hillary Clinton ads precisely aimed at Facebook users whose demographic profiles implied a vulnerability to political propaganda. It will take time to prove whether the account owners had any relationship with the Russian government, but one thing is clear: Facebook has contributed to, and profited from, the erosion of democratic norms in the United States and elsewhere.

The audacity of a hostile foreign power trying to influence American voters rightly troubles us. But it should trouble us more that Facebook makes such manipulation so easy, and renders political ads exempt from the basic accountability and transparency that healthy democracy demands.


The ads — about 3,000 placed by 470 accounts and pages spending about $100,000 — were what the advertising industry calls “dark posts,” seen only by a very specific audience, obscured by the flow of posts within a Facebook News Feed and ephemeral. Facebook calls its “dark post” service “unpublished page post ads.”

This should not surprise us. Anyone can deploy Facebook ads. They are affordable and easy. That’s one reason that Facebook has grown so quickly, taking in $27.6 billion in revenue in 2016, virtually all of it from advertisers, by serving up the attention of two billion Facebook users across the globe.

[Emphasis added] A core principle in political advertising is transparency — political ads are supposed to be easily visible to everyone, and everyone is supposed to understand that they are political ads, and where they come from. And it’s expensive to run even one version of an ad in traditional outlets, let alone a dozen different versions. Moreover, in the case of federal campaigns in the United States, the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance act requires candidates to state they approve of an ad and thus take responsibility for its content.

None of that transparency matters to Facebook. Ads on the site meant for, say, 20- to 30-year-old home-owning Latino men in Northern Virginia would not be viewed by anyone else, and would run only briefly before vanishing. The potential for abuse is vast. An ad could falsely accuse a candidate of the worst malfeasance a day before Election Day, and the victim would have no way of even knowing it happened. Ads could stoke ethnic hatred and no one could prepare or respond before serious harm occurs.

Facebook has no incentive to change its ways. The money is too great. The issue is too nebulous to alienate more than a few Facebook users. The more that Facebook saturates our lives, families and communities, the harder it is to live without it.

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Our best hopes sit in Brussels and London. European regulators have been watching Facebook and Google for years. They have taken strong actions against both companies for violating European consumer data protection standards and business competition laws. The British government is investigating the role Facebook and its use of citizens’ data played in the 2016 Brexit referendum and 2017 national elections.

We are in the midst of a worldwide, internet-based assault on democracy. Scholars at the Oxford Internet Institute have tracked armies of volunteers and bots as they move propaganda across Facebook and Twitter in efforts to undermine trust in democracy or to elect their preferred candidates in the Philippines, India, France, the Netherlands, Britain and elsewhere. We now know that agents in Russia are exploiting the powerful Facebook advertising system directly.

In the 21st-century social media information war, faith in democracy is the first casualty.