Facebook Had a Bad Year

Having recently talked about how Social Media is Doomed and Another Perspective on Facebook as Social Poison, I just saw this article: 2017 Was a Bad Year For Facebook, 2018 Will Be Worse.

The article is mostly about taxation, but it does mention this:

Facebook has reacted nervously to Palihapitya’s accusations, saying he hadn’t worked at the company for a long time (he left in 2011) and wasn’t aware of Facebook’s recent initiatives. But I can’t see any practical manifestations of these efforts as a user who has drastically cut back on social networking this year for the very reasons cited by Parker and Palihapitya.

To outsiders and regulators, Facebook looks like a dangerous provider of instant gratification in a space suddenly vital to the health of society. It’s also making abuse and aggression too easy — something the U.K. Committee on Standards in Public Life pointed out in a report published on Wednesday. Sounding one of the loudest alarm bells on social media yet, the panel urged the prime minister to back legislation to “shift the balance of liability for illegal content to the social media companies.”

The article also talks about concerns related to targeted advertising.

I haven’t talked about targeted advertising, but its problems are partially related to the problems of push-based social media. One part of targeted advertising is only showing advertisements to people who might want to see them. This is a net-positive for all involved, since irrelevant advertisements are just a waste of everyone’s time. The part that’s about figuring out how to manipulate people into buying things they don’t think are a good idea, though, is far worse. It’s also related to the fundamental problem of push-based media because it’s trying to get around the adaptations people made to their environment in order to live in peace with it. Unfortunately from the advertiser’s perspective, those adaptations involve a great deal of not buying things; and hence the temptation on the part of advertisers to upset that balance which the viewer has constructed for himself.

I’d like to reiterate that my point is not that social media is evil, but rather that the push-based social media as we know it today is fundamentally flawed for human use; this makes changes to it inevitable. What form those changes take is less clear, but they are certainly coming.

Another Perspective on Facebook as Social Poison

This is a follow-up to my posts Social Media is Doomed and Staying Sane on Social Media.

I ran into an article which discusses what a former facebook executive said about Facebook’s effect on people:

Palihapitiya’s criticisms were aimed not only at Facebook, but the wider online ecosystem. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

He went on to describe an incident in India where hoax messages about kidnappings shared on WhatsApp led to the lynching of seven innocent people. “That’s what we’re dealing with,” said Palihapitiya. “And imagine taking that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want. It’s just a really, really bad state of affairs.” He says he tries to use Facebook as little as possible, and that his children “aren’t allowed to use that shit.” He later adds, though, that he believes the company “overwhelmingly does good in the world.”

Here’s the original video, in case the article goes down, or if you’d like to verify The Verge’s description of what was said:

(I haven’t verified it myself, mostly because mention it as a good expression of a concern I already have, and not as information supporting a conclusion.)

The ability social media gives to people to form instant mobs is something I haven’t talked about yet, but it’s another major problem that social media brings with it. Mobs are dangerous things; technology which allows them for form more readily is certainly dangerous. There is yet another element of push-vs-pull social media at work, but only in degree. Pull-based social media (i.e. social media where you have to actively go look at someone’s feed rather than there feed being pushed in front of you) still drastically reduces the amount of energy necessary to whip up a mob, but not as much as push-based social media. (To recap: Facebook, Twitter, etc are push-based social media while blogs, etc. are pull-based social media.) Much of the difference comes from speed: in pull-based, you have to get others to go look at the inciting material, and they will get to it when they get to it. In push-based media people can repost/retweet/etc the inciting material and spread it much faster. The faster it spreads, the more people will be having an emotional reaction to it at the same time.

There is a flip side to the information hose that push-based media causes, though, which is that no one has a good enough memory to drink from the information fire hose of push-based social media and keep track of all the things to be outraged about. This mitigates against the online mob-forming tendencies of push-based social media, in that a mob’s ire will usually not be directed at any particular target for any great length of time. Burning something requires both intensity of heat as well as duration of the heat being applied; anything can withstand a blowtorch applied for only a ten-thousandth of a second. And in fact savvy miscreants are learning how to use this to their advantage in order to avoid blow-back from their misdeeds.

To be clear, it’s not that I think that push-based social media is an unalloyed evil; only that it is fundamentally incompatible with human nature. My contention is not that push-based social media is impossible to use well. My contention is that push-based social media is simply too much strain on a human being for human beings to continue using it in its current form. I don’t think that Facebook et al will die off, but rather transform into something with so many content-curation tools as to effectively be pull-based rather than push-based. I.e. they will become something dissimilar to what they are now, though possibly under the same name.

Good Morning December 1st, 2016

Good morning on this the first day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

So once again I’m contemplating the fact that there are many dumb atheists on Twitter who are good neither at thinking nor at reading. It’s frustrating, of course, but that’s really not very important in the grand scheme of things. More important is that it is a real temptation to over-generalize. Twitter’s extremely short character limits require a fair amount of imagination, background knowledge, and good judgment in order to understand non-trivial things which are said; of those who do not understand well some just move on and some ask for clarification, but there is a self-selection in favor of people with at least some wits and wisdom keeping their mouth shut unless they have something of value to say. Twitter, therefore, selects for a great many replies (to non-trivial tweets) being very dumb, since their lack of wits and wisdom make them think they have something to say when they didn’t even understand what they’re replying to.

But any time one has a self-selection bias, it becomes a great temptation to incorrectly generalize. And there are few ways to lose credibility faster than incorrect generalizations. Of course errors tend to compound, too, so not only will one lose credibility; believing in false generalizations will mean that before long, one won’t deserve credibility either.

For the moment my strategy is to mute people on twitter liberally. It’s not optimal; all people have value, though not everything everyone says has value, but I think what most of these people need is a friend to talk with them in depth over the course of several decades. That I certainly can’t be to random people on Twitter, so I think that simply ignoring them is the best compromise in order to avoid the temptations which the spewers of idiocy pose.

On a happier note, I tried out teledoc for my reinfection of strep, and it worked really well. The first time, a few weeks ago, I went to the local urgent care facility, which wasn’t too bad. Better than a hospital and about equal with a doctor’s office, though with less annoying paperwork. Still, one has to sit around and it’s not the cheapest thing in the world, if not overly expensive. At least under my insurance, Teledoc costs $40 per consultation, and after I signed up and filled out a short medical history questionnaire, I requested a consultation by phone and a doctor (located in my state, so they say) called me within five minutes. I described the history and symptoms in two minutes, she sent a prescription for amoxicillin over to my pharmacy one minute later, and after answering my question about the relationship of amoxicillin to penicillin (they’re the same class of drug, but are not at all the same drug, like how some drugs are metabolic precursors of the same thing, i.e. they become the identical drug once they get into your bloodstream), I was done. For the sort of illness which can plausibly be diagnosed over the phone, this is a really great option, and I’d certainly prefer this over going to a physical doctor’s office. Nothing in this world comes without tradeoffs, but at least for common stuff this seems like a real improvement.