Category: facebook

The People Who Really, Really Love Mark Zuckerberg:

“Something funny is going on in these comments,” the NBC News reporter Ben Collins tweeted last Thursday, watching a Facebook live-stream of Mark Zuckerberg giving a speech at Georgetown University.

Zuckerberg’s talk was about the company’s commitment to “voice and free expression.” He elaborated on Facebook’s recent decision not to vet political ads for lies, before outlining the difference between Facebook’s policies and those of one of its main rivals, the Chinese company TikTok, which has been criticized repeatedly for censorship.

All the while, comments streamed down the side of the video, often so many at once it was hard to read them. They were nearly universally positive. Many were gushing. Almost all of them seemed to be about Mark Zuckerberg as a person—a great person!—and virtually none were even remotely related to the content of the speech. Not only had these people tuned in by the tens of thousands on a Thursday to watch a software company’s CEO discuss corporate policy, but they were blessing him with prayer-hand emoji and hearts, thanking him for his genius and his generous spirit, and occasionally, it seemed, trying to flirt with him.

“You’re looking very handsome and dashing …” one read, with a kissy-face emoji. “Looking very sweet and cute … Lots of love for you.” It ended with a fire emoji and a peace sign. “This man left an indelible footprint in the sands of time. Thanks a lot for this wonderful platform called FACEBOOK,” went another.

The replies to Collins’s tweet were full of suspicion. These had to be spam, or bots gravitating toward any video with sufficient engagement, or an astroturfing campaign organized by Facebook’s PR team. There could not possibly be this many people who love Mark Zuckerberg this much. Fast Company quickly published a piece that said the comments “sure look censored”; minutes later, Facebook was on the record with several outlets denying any interference. When a post or video has an extraordinarily high volume of comments, Facebook automatically sifts through them using “ranking signals” to filter out inauthentic or “low-quality” posts, a spokesperson told The Washington Post, but nothing was different for this particular stream.

Once the stream ended, it was easy to go back and find negative comments (“LIZARD,” “Liar,” “Oppressor of free will, free speech, and the king of manipulation of the weak-minded!”), as well as a fair amount of total gibberish, but it was also fairly obvious that the thousands-upon-thousands of super-positive comments were not from bots. They were too specific and strange not to be real.

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 5: Messiah

What is the real impact social media is having on gang violence, turf warfare and youth identity?:

While spending time with gang members in the South Side of Chicago to conduct fieldwork for his forthcoming book, sociologist Forrest Stuart would regularly check Twitter and Instagram. He’d be surprised to find that the young men he was hanging out with, often in perfectly mundane situations, were posting pre-prepared images and videos of themselves wielding guns.

“I discovered all this flexing on social media,” he tells me over Skype. “I’d be standing right next to these guys and realise they were posting things that were nothing to do with what we were actually doing.” Some of the young men didn’t own and had never used a gun. They simply borrowed them to stockpile photos and videos of themselves holding weapons, later curating an intimidating social media profile that they would drip feed onto the internet over the coming days and weeks.

Drill artist Digga D has found a young, engaged audience through social media, despite some of his videos being banned

“I’d be driving them across town in my car, and when we’d pass a rival block they’d start taking selfies out the window, pretending they were on their way to do a drive-by,” Stuart continues. “Another time, in a cold Chicago winter, I was sat with a young man who was babysitting his little sisters. We were in his living room watching music videos on the television. But when I checked Instagram, he was on there posting photos pretending to be stood in the blizzard outside protecting his block.”

It is no secret that social media platforms are shifting human behaviours, habits and interactions all over the world. People are increasingly able to use digital profiles of themselves to extend or invert their physical realities, and thus manipulate their social, professional and moral worlds for all sorts of benefits and incentives: the prospect of meeting a new lover, the lure of branded money from sponsors, the endorphin-hit of likes and shares, and chase votes and political power.

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 3 – Character Witness

How Philadelphia’s Social Media-Driven Gang Policing Is Stealing Years From Young People:

By the end of his senior year in a Philadelphia high school in June 2017, Jamal had missed out on completing his certification in the culinary arts, playing on the basketball team, attending prom, and walking across the stage at his graduation. He was barred from working a job to help his mother pay the bills. He wasn’t even allowed to leave his home — all on the order of a judge. But Jamal hadn’t been convicted of a crime. Jamal lost a year of his life because — like many testosterone-filled young men — he acted tough on his social media accounts.

Jamal, a young black man — whose name has been changed at his request due to confidentiality concerns — was swept up in Philadelphia’s Focused Deterrence program, an initiative meant to crack down on gang violence but which has instead been used to criminalize entire social networks of young black and brown people. Philadelphia police arrested him in September 2016 on a gun charge after an officer in the department’s South Gang Task Force identified Jamal as a member of a gang. How had that officer made that determination? As officer Matthew York, a member of the task force, later testified in court, it was largely based on photos and tweets that appeared on Jamal’s social media and which York believed associated him with a gang, as well as Jamal’s appearance in a friend’s music video, a video that the officer believed was “gang-related.”

Philadelphia’s Focused Deterrence program, like similar programs in cities around the country, relies on internet surveillance. Police officers mine social media for possible gang affiliations of young people, then compile that “data” and feed it into gang databases. Police officers target young people in the databases — who may be included for as little as flashing a gang sign in a Tweet to bragging about a crime in a music video on YouTube and Facebook — for on-the-ground policing. State and federal prosecutors also get their hands on the social-media “data,” using it to shore up criminal cases. Philadelphia modeled Focused Deterrence after criminologist David Kennedy’s “Ceasefire” policing model, which, as I previously reported in IThe Appeal and The Nation, focuses policing on small groups of individuals (often referred to by police departments as “gangs”) that purportedly drive community violence. The Kennedy model and its offshoot programs have been deployed by many cities, including Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans.

But the “data” police feed into these databases, for the most part, has little bearing on reality. Indeed, in December the City of Chicago settled a lawsuit with a man who was falsely included in its sprawling gang database. Across the country, young people are swept into these databases and then targeted by police — just because they bragged about actions they had no part in or made threats against rival groups they have no intention of following up on…

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 3 – Character Witness

‘Vast Majority’ of Online Anti-Vaxxers Are Women:

We didn’t get into the fine detail of Dr Naomi Smith’s research into the dynamics of Anti-vax communities online, but the research is fascinating, and vital to understand. I hope there’s more to come in the future.

To get a better idea of how anti-vaxxer Facebook communities function, Smith and co-researcher Tim Graham, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian National University, who has a joint appointment in the Research School of Social Science and the Research School of Computer Science, dug into the groups’ posts, likes, shares and comments. They found the following:

  • Anti-vaxxer posts are highly shared, meaning that people frequently “shared” posts on their own Facebook pages or on their friends’ pages, Smith said. In all, there were more than 2 million shares across the six groups during the two-year period, she said. “This means that the page’s reach is much greater than the number of people who ‘like’ it,” Smith said.
  • Participants were moderately active across several anti-vaccination Facebook pages, “suggesting that users’ activity on anti-vaccination is more than just a product of Facebook’s recommender system” — a system that recommends like-minded groups to people, Smith said.
  • Despite their large size and high levels of activity, anti-vaccination groups are relatively loose-knit. “That is, they do not necessarily function as close-knit communities of support with participants interacting with each other in a sustained way over time,” Smith said. [Top 10 Golden Rules of Facebook]
  • Even though they are “loose,” these groups show features of “small-world” networks. “In small- world networks, information diffuses quickly and easily through the network, in this instance through user-generated comments,” Smith said. However, it’s difficult to say whether these small-world effects are due to the nature of the anti-vaxxer movement itself, or are an artifact of Facebook, a platform that can help spread information quickly, Smith said.
  • The sentiments expressed in these Facebook pages were “quite negative in tone, suggesting that users of the anti-vaccination pages feel not only morally outraged about the practice of vaccination, but structurally oppressed by seemingly tyrannical and conspiratorial government and media,” Smith said. Moreover, many posts had conspiracy-style beliefs placing blame on the government and media, Smith said. A 2011 survey found that conspiracy-style thinking is common among the general public and more pronounced in anti-vaxxers, a 2014 study in the American Journal of Political Sciencefound.
  • Anti-vaxxers had concerns about state-sanctioned harm and interference with their autonomy. “In particular, anti-vaccination Facebook pages commonly compare vaccination to the Holocaust, illustrating a strong sense of persecution,” Smith said.

Digital Human: Series 16, Episode 2, Snake Oil

Digital Human: Series 16, Episode 2, Snake Oil

Think Facebook has an anti-vaxxer problem? You should see Amazon:

In November 2012, the Welsh city of Swansea was hit by a unusually destructive measles outbreak. Sparked off by a handful of children who picked up the virus after returning from a holiday camp, over six months the epidemic would would infect at least 1,202 people and lead to the death of one 25-year-old man.

But the seeds of the Swansea measles epidemic were sown 16 years earlier.

Facebook under pressure to halt rise of anti-vaccination groups:

Tom, U Up?: Contemplating a move back to MySpace:

There’s been a lot of talk among my actual friends and social media “friends” about leaving Facebook behind in favor of less data-breachy outlets. It’s hard to imagine people will want to spend time rebuilding their Facebook worlds on another platform, but I understand the impulse. We see less of our friends’ posts every day and more advertising — nevermind the whole accidental-toppling-of-our-democracy aspect of Mark Zuckerberg’s platform.

As I started seeing more “I’m logging off forever” Facebook posts, I evaluated whether one option might be a return to the start of my social media life, back before “social media” had a name. If I say goodbye to Facebook, might I once again say, “Hello, MySpace”?

Digital Human: Series 16, Episode 1: Gentrification

Did Whites Flee the ‘Digital Ghetto’ of MySpace?:

Danah Boyd, author of the chapter, stirred up controversy once before, in 2007, by noting that during the period beginning in 2006 when teens began to flock to Facebook, teens’ preference for either MySpace or Facebook appeared to fall along lines of race and class.

Subsequent statistical analyses of the characteristics of users of online social networks by researchers, marketers and bloggers, she notes in her latest work, backed up her claims that white and asian teens who belonged to higher socieconomic strata (and who aspired to college, with which Facebook at the time was associated) were attracted to Facebook, while latino, black and working-class teens tended to opt for MySpace. Boyd notes in her chapter:

Analysts at two unnamed marketing research firms contacted me to say that they witnessed similar patterns with youth at a national level but they were unable to publicly discuss or publish their finding, but scholars and bloggers were more willing to share their findings.

Boyd’s current work argues that MySpace took on many of the aspects of a “digital ghetto” in the minds of teens who used the site, leading to “white [and asian] flight” from the site, analogous to the white flight from the city to the suburbs that took place in the U.S. beginning in the 1960’s. Boyd continues:

Consider the parallels. In some senses, the first teens to move to the “suburbs” were those who bought into a Teen Dream of collegiate maturity, namely those who were expressly headed towards dorm-­‐based universities and colleges. They were the elite who were given land in the new suburbs before plots were broadly available. The suburbs of Facebook signaled more mature living, complete with digital fences to keep out strangers. The narrative that these digital suburbs were safer than the city enhanced its desirability, particularly for those who had no interest in interacting with people who were different.

Boyd argues that MySpace’s inability to deal with spammers added to the feeling of urban blight that overtook the site, leaving derelict profiles “covered in spam, a form of digital graffiti… As MySpace failed to address these issues, spammers took over like street gangs.”

Subsequent media coverage of the “death of MySpace” was a direct result of this flight, says Boyd. For example, she cites a 2009 New York Times article that was entitled “Do You Know Anyone Still on MySpace?” despite the fact that at the time Facebook and MySpace has roughly equal numbers of users.

“The New York Times staff was on Facebook and assumed their readers were too,” concludes Boyd.

Intriguingly, the comments under that news item support Boyd’s thesis:

“My impression is that Myspace is for the riffraff and Facebook is for the landed gentry.”

“Compared to Facebook, MySpace just seems like the other side of the tracks – I’ll go there for fun, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

Boyd’s conclusion is that online environments are merely “a reflection of everyday life,” and that online communities are immune to the techno-optimist belief that the internet eliminates the deep divisions between people in real life. As Boyd notes in her own responses to earlier critiques of her work, this is either a controversial or an obvious thesis – what do you think?

Digital Human: Series 16, Episode 1: Gentrification

How Facebook let a friend pass my data to Cambridge Analytica:

There is an unwitting mole amongst my friends. Without my permission, they passed my personal information to a Facebook app called “This Is Your Digital Life”, which eventually ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, the company famed for using questionable tactics in an effort to influence election campaigns.

Facebook won’t say for certain exactly what happened, nor which friend was involved. Only 270,000 people ever used the This Is Your Digital Life (TIYDL) app, but Facebook estimates that data from 87 million people ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica this way.

As a result, Facebook’s boss Mark Zuckerberg spent last week being grilled by the US congress. In the UK, a legal team is gathering claimants to take Facebook to court for mishandling their data. Where did it all go wrong?

Personal information can sound so vague, so let’s be specific. People who used the TIYDL app gave it permission to access their friend’s Facebook public profile page, date of birth, current city and pages they had liked. Facebook also says that “a small number of people” gave permission to share their own timeline and private messages too, meaning that posts or correspondence from their friends would have been scooped up as well.

Digital Human: Series 15, Ep 1 – Jigsaw