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Zuckerberg Facebook F8 2019

Facebook used its F8 developer conference to tell the world about plans to build a private social media service. Speakers, including chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, hammered home a conference slogan about the future being private.

Zuckerberg did nothing to redeem Facebook’s tarnished reputation.

Instead he undermined the message that he and his company wanted to send.

That joke isn’t funny any more

After promising users a more private feature he went on to joke about it with the audience.

He said:

“Now look, I get that a lot of people aren’t sure that we’re serious about this, I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly. But I’m committed to doing this well.”

One of the things I often tell people about these speeches is that you have to, metaphorically, listen to the words and the music.

Written down the words look plausible. If you see a video of the speech you’ll see Zuckerberg laughing. At least it made him sound insincere. You might worry that this young billionaire is laughing at his company’s users. He has publicly disrespected them in the past.

Zuckerberg’s jokey delivery certainly fell flat with the audience. That video clip could be set to echo down the years if Facebook’s privacy plan goes sour.

Zuckerberg tone-deaf

It’s another example of a tone-deaf response from the leader of a company that has swung elections and been accused of stirring up hate crimes.

If Zuckerberg didn’t think Facebook had a problem when he made his speech. It has one now. He did nothing to address the biggest question hanging over Facebook: why should anyone trust the company?

There’s another question arising from the F8 conference keynote. Facebook is a huge business. It’s worth about half a trillion US dollars. It doesn’t make things. It’s not really a software company in the traditional sense.

Switching focus from inserting targeted advertising in a user’s social media feed to helping them communicate privately is a huge jump. There is a relation between the two, but it doesn’t map well.

Appy talk

Facebook already has a lot of messaging. There’s the Facebook Messenger. There’s also WhatsApp and the messaging feature in Instagram. Integrating the various messaging tools and building them into a new, useful service isn’t going to happen overnight.

Making messaging private means using encryption. Facebook says it will use this technology. Yet encryption is something governments don’t like. Given that a lot of governments also don’t like or trust Facebook that could see the company tied up in complex regulations.

My other fear about the news from F8 is there is too much focus on cosmetic changes to the business. Take the site makeover that was revealed. This may be intended to send a message that Facebook has changed, but it’s more a case of the leopard changing his spots.

Likewise Facebook’s Secret Crush feature. It could turn out to be creepy if poorly implemented. But you can’t help thinking it’s main purpose is to distract people.

New Zealand and France will work together to make it harder for terrorists to broadcast violence through social media. The move is a response to the March 15 attack in Christchurch which the terrorist streamed live.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron will meet in Paris next month to discuss plans. They timed their meeting to coincide with a G7 digital ministers Tech for Humanity event and a separate Tech for Good summit.

A media statement from Jacinda Ardern says:

“We all need to act. That includes social media providers taking more responsibility for the content that is on their platforms and taking action so that violent extremist content cannot be published and shared.

“It’s critical that technology platforms like Facebook are not perverted as a tool for terrorism and instead become part of a global solution to countering extremism. This meeting presents an opportunity for an act of unity between governments and the tech companies.”

Social media terrorist toolkit

This nails the problem. Facebook and other social media outlets have become part of the terrorist’s toolkit. In part they have spent recent years encouraging ever more extreme and violent content on their sites.

Social media companies know that extreme material resonates with audiences. In effect, they have turned people’s anger into rivers of gold. Rather than calm things down, they have learnt that ramping up fear and hate is a lucrative business.

Profit explains their reluctance to act in the past.

Inevitable

Given this, it was inevitable that a terrorist would one day choose to live-stream the murder of dozens of people. It happened in Christchurch, but the live atrocity could have been anywhere.

It’s good to see Jacinda Ardern work with Macron on this. Neither New Zealand nor France are able to fight these battles alone. It’s also good to involve the G7. The more allies the better. It will take co-ordination from many governments to rein-in the social media giants.

Until now the likes of Facebook, Google with YouTube and Twitter have acted amorally.

Above the law?

If they appear to believe they are above the law, that’s because in a sense they are.

The social media giants are all US-based. They can point to that country’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech as a justification for not policing content loaded on to their sites.

What’s more, the US gives them Section 230 protection. In effect, they have legal immunity for what they publish, although there are exceptions. This sets up a climate where the big social media companies act as if they can do whatever they want.

Reputation not considered

In an ideal world, these companies would fear their reputations and long-term business prospects are risk if they don’t take more responsibility. We’re not at that point yet.

Australia has laws which could see them prosecuted for actions like showing the Christchurch terrorist attach video. Incidentally, there’s a report this morning saying these images are still online and easy to find.

Facebook, Google and Twitter can afford to laugh in the face of small governments. To a degree that’s been their strategy until now. Even medium-sized countries like the United Kingdom are openly disrespected by social media executives. Facebook even dismisses ad hoc groups of countries working together.

New Zealand, France and the G7 are a more powerful combination. They can act together. Yet that last sentence has an important word act. The countries must do more than just bat ideas around in a talk fest. They must take collective action if anything is going to change.

I talked to Lynn Freeman on RNZ Nine-to-Noon about the NZ, France effort to tackle violence on social media

Put aside for one moment the recent headlines. Forget about Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg facing politicians in Washington. And park everything you’ve heard about Cambridge Analytica.

There are problems with the way most media organisations report Facebook. It’s something no-one ever talks about.

The first problem is that media organisations are not disinterested external observers.

Media company

You could argue that Facebook is the world’s most powerful media company. You could make a case that it is more powerful than any other media company in history.

Sure, Facebook insists it is not a media company. But that idea is ridiculous. It publishes material and extracts revenue from advertising. That’s a classic description of how the media world has operated for over a century.

Even if you don’t accept Facebook is a media company, it is not separate from the media industry.

The site can channel huge numbers of readers to, say, an online news site. The fact that it doesn’t do a good job of this is neither here or there.

What’s important is that editors and publishers are wary of making an enemy of someone with that power. This doesn’t have to be conscious or cynical. Unconscious influences are as effective as deliberate kowtowing.

Desperate times

That said, some media organisations and their employees feel so desperate that they may put aside traditional media ethics when it comes to scrutinising the hand that they hope will feed them.

Never mind that Facebook is responsible for the mess those media companies are in.

The second problem with the way the media covers Facebook is that most media organisations see it as a technology company. They usually assign specialist technology writers to cover it. A lot of the time, they relegate coverage to their technology ghetto pages.

While Facebook uses technology, so does everyone else. It’s no more a technology company than, say, the newspaper publisher in your city. Sure, there are apps. But most newspapers also have apps. It uses a customer database. So does almost every other business.

There’s very little that is unique, clever or inherently technical about Facebook. The one thing it has going is a powerful algorithm for connecting people to each other, figuring out their preferences and then packaging them so advertisers can target them with, what the company would claim is, pin-point accuracy. It’s big, but in technical terms it is trivial.

Technology

Compared to Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon, Facebook is not a technology company. You could describe it as a technology-enabled business. Now go and find any global enterprise that isn’t.

The problem with this is that media organisations frame Facebook as a technology story. They categorise it in a technology ghetto. They assign the story to journalists who might be skilled at decrypting an annual report from, say, Apple or interpreting the latest software from Google.

And, let’s be honest here, most of the time they do not give reporters the time or resources needed to unpick the story behind the story. After all most stories about Facebook don’t seem worth much more than the once-over-lightly treatment.

All of this explains why the media, indeed most of the world, was blindsided by revelations about what goes on behind the scenes at Facebook. It’s not so much the company was operating in stealth mode, at least no more than any other large corporation, it’s that there’s not enough outside scrutiny.

It doesn’t matter what app it is — they are all trying to get me to turn on notifications, again and again, so that I can come back to their service. Facebook and Instagram are the most aggressive, b

Source: Still living in a Notification hell – Om Malik

There comes a point where this is counter-productive with some users. In my case I first smelled a rat with Linkedin because of the constant barrage of notification mails. The service seemed desperate to get my attention.

That got thinking about the value I got from LinkedIn — close to zero and certainly not enough to compensate for the  time lost.

I killed my LinkedIn account. Nothing bad happened. In all the years I was a member I got maybe, one small freelance writing gig from LinkedIn. Since leaving my work in-tray is as full as it was and I’ve eliminated a time-sink.

Leaving Facebook is harder. There are people who are important to me who I’m in touch with there. The don’t seem to have any alternative online life. So the account lives, but I’ve turned off all notifications. In fact I’ve turned off almost all notifications from every online service or piece of software.

The only exceptions are where I need to react fast for business reasons. And, anything relating to my immediate family.

Here’s the thing. Nothing bad has happened. If anything I’m more productive.

Notifications are often not about serving our needs, but are about someone else’s business model.

starry night

Scientists say a meteor hit the earth 66 million years ago and wiped out most dinosaurs.

Journalists know how they felt. A meteor crashed into our world in the 1990s.

The internet’s effect wasn’t immediate. Now, two decades on, mostformer journalists work in other industries. The media companies that employed them have either gone or are shadows of what they once were.

After the apocalypse

A handful write on. At times it feels like life in post-apocalypse science fiction.

Some ex-journalists eke out a living in what remains of the media. A few adapted to the new conditions, new rules, new demands and disciplines [1].

A decade or so after the first meteor hit, a second one arrived. Facebook threatens to kill off what’s left of the independent media.

The Empire strikes back

The cover story of this week’s The Economist nails it: Facebook is an empire. That’s no metaphor. The social network’s power and reach rivals that of the USA.

Facebook has more inhabitants than China. It owns more souls than any religion. It makes more money than almost anything. It knows more about you than the CIA or any other spy agency in history.

The numbers are daunting. There are 1.6 billion users. The Economist says around a billion of them use Facebook every day. On average they each spend 20 minutes at the site.

As a result Facebook is the sixth largest company in the world. And it continues to grow. Founder Mark Zuckerberg isn’t done yet.

Facebook is impressive. It appeared almost overnight. It innovates, takes risks and adapts to external changes at internet-speed.

Welcome to the new internet, not like the old internet

In some third world countries Facebook is, in effect, the internet. It controls the networks delivering services to users.

Facebook wants to have the same dominance elsewhere. The business is spreading into entertainment, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. There has never been a walled garden like this before.

Because Facebook knows so much about you and everyone else, it can target advertising with precision. This makes it valuable to advertisers.

Today Facebook is only second to Google in delivering online advertising. Together the two companies account for half of all mobile advertising. Their share is growing.

Advertising

Advertising is the media industry’s oxygen. With Facebook and Google sucking up an ever larger share, there is less, far less, left for publishers. And that means less to pay for journalists. In turn that means fewer valuable stories, less information, a less informed public.

Many media companies stopped fighting cat Gifs and click-bait. Instead they fill their channels with their own junk content in an attempt to protect market share.

Last year Facebook moved directly into the media space by launching Instant Articles. It is a technique to push out content faster. Instant Articles means media companies have to play ball with Facebook to make it work. That means sharing the thin advertising gruel with the online giant.

Media response

Many publishers have, in effect, yielded to Facebook. They are no longer masters of their own destiny. That’s risky, Facebook has its own agenda. It changes policy and strategy overnight. It does what it damn well pleases. It has never been a good partner.

Another risk is that Facebook acts as a censor. It has a prim approach that plays well with America’s mid-west, but doesn’t translate to other cultures. It gets to decide what is and isn’t allowed. Far right and extreme left views may not be acceptable. Conservative social opinions may not be tolerated.

Whether you agree with the censorship decisions or not, this leads to bland, homogenised media. It could mean important new ideas don’t get a proper hearing. It could send dangerous ideas further underground.

Until now, freedom of expression has always been a given online. That could go.

Facebook not friend

Facebook has a low reputation for trustworthiness by big company standards, mainly because it makes money from selling personal data to advertisers. It changes its own rules to suit its needs. Overnight private data can be made public. This is not the best organisation to filter and distribute news or other timely information.

It’s hard to avoid Facebook. But we need to stay wary and critical. I post my story links there, not being on the site isn’t a practical option. I wish it was. Perhaps even thinking that way makes me a dinosaur. If so, it’s a badge I wear with pride.


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