Technology and Friendships – the New Social Network?

My net is cast wider” nwow than in the past, said Lucy Schiller, 29, a recent graduate of the nonfiction writing program at the University of Iowa. “It’s a lot easier for me to engage casually with a greater number of people. I don’t know if this is a byproduct of aging, but it seems like the parameters of friendships have changed. I’d like to think they involve long walks and talking at length in person and involving yourself in shared activities, but at this point it feels like those structures have been relegated to the past and we’re skating along through very fun but very lightweight interactions.”

Two statistics from the General Social Survey in 1985 and 2004 are often invoked regarding the influence of new technology on close friendships and social isolation. The average number of confidants people said they had dropped from 2.94 to 2.08 over that time, and the number of those who had none at all went from one-tenth to nearly one-quarter.

More about “Are My Friends Really My Friends” on Friday. Thanks for following “TechtoExpress.”

Ray Myers

 

 

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Inside Washington Tech Policy Stories – a Reporter’s View

I (Cecilia Kang) feel like everyone is hunched over their phones in Washington even more than other places. This is a news-obsessed town that is texting and e-mailing at all hours. There seems to be a bit of a generational divide on the use of communications apps. Younger staffers on Capitol Hill often use encrypted apps and direct messages on Twitter. But even some of my older sources (my peers, really) can sometimes text me at all hours. It feels totally appropriate to call, text or Signal late at night or on weekends. Many an interview is done with children heard in the background at a park.

The whole attitude toward the tech industry has changed in Washington, with every growing calls for privacy regulation and antitrust enforcement of giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The biggest stories coming up will be the lawsuits to restore net neutrality, which should begin late this summer. The Trump administration and the F.C.C. have focused on the race for the 5G networks and have acted to thwart competition from China, citing national security concerns. And privacy is the big wild card. Even if stricter privacy rules aren’t introduced in the United States, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation set to take effect next month will most likely spill over in some way into American policy.

Faster is better?

Ray Myers

Empowering Everyone With Technology

Microsoft is now trying on the role as moral leader in a tech world now facing increasing public criticism. I think you all know who they are, so let’s just say that Facebook is leading the pack. Microsoft is the only one to avoid sustained public criticism about contributing to the social ills of the last couple of years..

At the same time, Microsoft has emerged as one of the most outspoken advocates in the industry for protecting user privacy and establishing ethical guidelines for new technology like artificial intelligence (A.I.). They have launched a new program. A.I. for Accessibility that will award $25 million over five years to researchers, nonprofits and developers who use artificial intelligence to help people with disabilities.

Echoing a theme he talked about at Microsoft’s conference last year, Satya Nadella, its chief, said that the industry has a responsibility to build technology that empowered everyone.

Ray Myers

Digital Revolution Is Leaving Black Americans Behind

Black Americans are frequent users of technology, and have helped build social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram into the giants they are today. But they aren’t reaping the same economic benefits of the tech boom as white Americans, and low rates of black employment in the tech industry are a large part of the reason why.

A new study released on Friday sheds light on this issue. The State of Black America 2018, a report published annually by the National Urban League, compares how black and white people fare in a number of areas, including housing, economics, education, social justice, and civic engagement.

This year’s report pays particular attention to black Americans’ access Digital Revolution is Leaving Black People Behind to jobs in the tech industry and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The study reveals that while black people are one of the racial groups most likely to use smartphones and have created thriving communities on platforms like Twitter, those high rates of usage haven’t translated into employment.

“And this is largely because the tech industry has failed to hire black STEM grads and transition them into careers in Silicon Valley, where many of these jobs are basedIn the vast majority of [social media and tech] companies, fewer than five percent of the workforce is African American,” the authors of the report note. “By contrast, at least half of the workforce in these companies is white.Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, notes that this isn’t new — black Americans have repeatedly been left behind when America’s technology makes a leap forward, be it when slavery and Reconstruction blocked black people from the benefits of farming technology, or when technological revolutions in the North were less accessible to poor black people fleeing the South. Over generations, the effect of this lack of inclusion has compounded, leading us to the disparities that exist today.

And, as the report indicates, none of this happens in a vacuum. When black workers are shut out of higher-income jobs, like in tech, it adds to the already significant income gap — the median income for white households is $63,155, while it’s only $38,555 for black households. There’s a persistent wealth gap as well, which hasn’t improved much since the 1960s.

“We’re trying to shine a spotlight on the fact that this is an area where the country has to improve,” Morial says.

Silicon Valley has faced mounting criticism for its lack of diversity

Unfortunately, the tech world’s lack of diversity is a stubborn problem that doesn’t seem to be going away. Despite media attention and criticism, top companies continue to hire small numbers of black employees. At companies like Uber, Twitter, Google, and Facebook, fewer than 3 percent of tech workers identify as black.

In 2015, the Congressional Black Caucus launched an extended effort to press Silicon Valley to boost its black employment numbers, with several members of Congress traveling to meet with various tech industry leaders. The efforts have led to some change — the 3 percent figure above actually reflects slight growth at places like Facebook.

The caucus has continued to pressure tech companies to improve further. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill last month about Facebook’s ability to protect users’ privacy, black lawmakers took him to task for his company’s persistent lack of diversity, saying that Facebook “does not reflect America.”

And on April 30, lawmakers traveled to Silicon Valley for a third time to engage in a series of discussions with tech companies. Some members, including Rep. Maxine Waters, have threatened that lawmakers could introduce stricter measures to regulate the industry if companies can’t improve on their own.

The CBC members argue that efforts to increase black employment are not simply due to the economic opportunities presented by a high-paying tech job but are also about increasing protections for minority users. Black people are often targeted on social media and other internet-based platforms, facing racism on Twitter, discrimination from Airbnb hosts, or exploitation from fake Facebook pages.

Morial argues that while the tech industry has said promising things about improving diversity, it needs to do more — in hiring as well as in increasing training and investment in black students and improving educational pipelines.

Perhaps another “Inconvenient Truth” as Al Gore would say!

Ray Myers

Goodbye Cambridge Analytica, Your Work is Done (for now?)

The London based firm blamed “unfairly negative media coverage” and said it has been “vilified” for actions it says both legal and widely accepted as part of online advertising. As most Americans know by now, its actions included the spreading of false news in support of the election of Mr. Trump, and to the denigration of Hilary Clinton’s campaign.

Cambridge Analytica said it has filed papers to begin insolvency proceedings in the U.K. And will seek bankruptcy protection in a federal court in New York. “The siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the company’s customers and suppliers.”

“So sad” as Mr. Trump would say.

Ray Myers

Mark Zuckerberg Threatened With “Formal Summons” by UK Parliament

The UK may issue a formal summons to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that would require him to appear in front of British lawmakers the next time he enters the country, according to a letter sent to the company Tuesday.

Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer “failed to answer fully” 39 questions when he appeared before Parliament last week, according to the letter from the Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. As a result, lawmakers are requesting the presence of the company’s boss. Schroepfer went to London in place of Zuckerberg to give evidence as part of the committee’s inquiry into the Cambridge Analytica data-mining scandal and the impact of fake news on the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Committee chair Damian Collins has repeatedly asked Zuckerberg to appear and answer questions, as the CEO did last month before Congress. Instead, Zuckerberg has twice sent other executives in his place.

Collins reiterated his request for Zuckerberg to appear in front of the committee in the Tuesday letter, asking that he do so before May 24 when the Facebook chief will reportedly visit Europe to give evidence to the European Parliament.

“It is worth noting that, while Mr Zuckerberg does not normally come under the jurisdiction of the UK Parliament, he will do so next time he enters the country,” according to the letter. “We hope that he will respond positively to our request, but if not the Committee will resolve to issue a formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK.”

Collins listed the 39 questions that the committee believes Schroepfer failed to sufficiently answer, including ones about dark ads that can only be seen by the target audience, foreign spending on election-related ads, third-party app developers, and the storage and privacy of Facebook user data.

The committee’s inquiry began last July, but doubled down on investigating Facebook’s activities following revelations in March that data consultancy Cambridge Analytica had accessed Facebook data of 87 million users.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to request for comment. I think Mark Zuckerberg may have had enough of “parliamentary” inquiries for now.

Ray Myers

Social Media Wealthy, but Lonely at Home

The United States and other countries might have been successful at connecting young citizens to the wonders of the Internet but there also seems to have been a price to pay in terms of interpersonal relationships with their peers. Teenagers are suddenly less likely to date, less likely to leave home without their parents, more likely to put off the activities of adulthood. They are spending more time alone with their digital screens,and the greater the screen time, the greater their unhappiness. Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media are 27 percent more likely to be depressed.

“But the big issue around social media is not privacy alone. These companies are feeding the epidemic of loneliness and social isolation. It’s not that the heavy social media users are sadder. It’s not only that online life seems to heighten painful comparisons and both inflate and threaten the ego. It’s that heavy internet users are much less likely to have contact with their proximate neighbors to exchange favors and extend care. There’s something big happening to the social structures of neighborhoods (Brooks, NYTimes, 4/20/18).”

Many of us who are socially wealthy don’t really know how the other half lives.

Ray Myers

“Facebook Envy” – More Bad News for Mark Zuckerberg

Are all your Facebook friends happy and doing well? Probably not, and how would you really know anyway. Recently some researchers have attempted to evaluate Facebook’s impact on a sampling of its users in Denmark (1,097).

The experiment had half of its subjects continue their Facebook rituals and the other half abstain from them. Thirteen percent of the abstained could not keep away and wound up succumbing to their addiction. In the end, those who has no contact with Facebook during the course of a week rated their general sense of satisfaction higher than those who retained their habit. But apart from envy, Facebook seems to energize profound feelings of dread, perhaps especially for those in middle age, because it serves to to remind us over and over how many ways life can go horribly and dramatically wrong when we continuously hear the “bad news” about our friends’ lives. Maybe making our lives an “open book” has more negative consequences than we realize.

“The news is a delivery system for misery of course, especially now, but Facebook brings us news we might otherwise never encounter, supplying in bulk and elevating our relationship to it. The value of this remains dubious (Bellafante, NY Times, 4/15/18).”

Ray Myers

Sex-Trafficking on the Internet

“Pressure has been mounting for social media companies and other internet giants to be better stewards of their powerful platforms (NY Times, 2/28/18).” A bill to force these companies to better monitor their online content passed the House earlier this week.” A similar bill in the Senate is expected to pass soon.

Facebook, in particular, has come under pressure over the spread of misinformation and the exertion of foreign interference during the 2016 presidential election. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for regulations, including disclosures on political advertising, but those efforts have been slow to gain wide support. Some experts have concluded that there is clearly not a willingness for the government to pursue fundamental business model changes.

Sex, politics, and profits, in any order you choose.

Ray Myers

Visual Artists Shift from Galleries to Social Media

Now female artists see a marketplace online that is more profitable than the traditional bricks-and- mortar art gallery. “An online presence using an art e-commerce platform is therefore likely to be a more attractive option for sales for females, who have more to gain by circumventing the traditional channels of the dealer and gallery, and hence my intuition that female artists are more prone to move online (Powell, Maastricht University, 2018).”

Given the growth in online art sales globally, making such a shift would be a smart move for the artists. A report last year by the insurer Hiscox showed sales on the online art market in 2016 were up 15 percent over the previous year, reaching $3.75 billion. In 2015, sales were at $3.27 billion, a 24 percent increase from 2014. For now, the two business models, off and online, coexist.

What a change the virtual world has made. Online art, anyone?

Ray Myers

Leaping Lizards, The Truth About Tech!

So what do technology usage and lizards have to do with your brain? Maybe more than you think? Roger McNamee with the Center for Humane Technology has put it his way: “Facebook appeals to your lizard brain – primarily fear and anger. And with smartphones, they’ve got you every waking moment.” He said the people who made these products could stop them before they did more harm. He sees his association with the Center for Humane Technology as an opportunity for him to correct a wrong.

Sort of reminds me of Dr. Frankenstein who tried to kill the monster he created, but this is not really like a horror novel/movie. Or is it? Is too much technology addicting our children (and adults?) to habits that are “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” The Center for Humane Technology, along with the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media, is also planning an anti-tech addiction lobbying effort and an ad campaign at 55,000 public schools in the United States. It is titled “The Truth About Tech.”

Can we stand the truth? I hope so.

Ray Myers

Gorging on Social Media

My apologies for not posting on Monday of this week. Let’s just say that I was “in transit” and had a “tech-free day” which leads me to the to the message of today’s post and the one that you will see on Friday as well. It’s all about limiting our daily digital diets. Or as those scholarly Jesuits used to teach us: “Moderation in all things.”

Social media’s “role in your life has grown without your permission. No one had that in mind when they signed up for Facebook to stay in touch with their college roommate . . . There is a lot of complexity and uncertainty in the role that these technologies should play in personal and professional life. We’re past the stage where they’re novel, but not to the point where they’re stable (Cal Newport, Georgetown University, 2018).” A common complaint seems to be that there is too much news: I need a break. And fewer tweets from the White House might help (maybe none, remember those days)!

We have gone from “TechtoExpress” (sound familiar?) to “TechtoConsume.”

Ray Myers

Googling and Spending in Washington, D.C.

Maybe a better title for this post would be: “Technology Companies are Now Biggest Spenders in Lobbying Congress.” It just all seems to make sense when you consider how wealthy all these companies have become, i.e., Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, etc. “These are companies that are touching so many parts of the economy . . . So it’s inevitable that they are going to engage in a host of political and policy issues (Washington Post, 1/24/18).”

Amazon, for example, spent nearly $13 million in lobbying last year, a 16 percent increase from 2016. The tech industry’s ballooning lobbying budgets may also be an indication that the companies will fight hard to protect the data they collect on Americans. Some experts now worry that the government will struggle to pass new and meaningful consumer protection laws. Others say that the increase in lobbying simply coincides with the tech sector’s rapid growth and larger role in society. Any way you look at it, the tech industry is now the biggest lobbying machine in Washington.

I just worry about whose lobbying for the technology consumers?

Ray Myers

P.S.

I will be taking a “winter break” next week. Back on Monday, February 5th

Cyber Security – Mueller Learning on the Job

This is not meant to be a critique of the Special Counsel’s performance in his investigation of the Russian involvement in the election of the so-called President. It’s more a commentary on “why did it take so long? “Some in the legal world have wondered why Mueller had not previously tapped a cyber prosecutor to join his team.”

Legal analysts have said that one charge Mueller might pursue would be conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, if he can demonstrate that members of Trump’s team conspired in Russia’ s hacking efforts to influence the election. So now we have gone long past the days of scrutinizing “hanging chads” in efforts to determine the intentions of American voters. Those were the “good old days.” Now we are probing those dark corners of cyber space controlled by international “evil doers.”

From Russia with Love?

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be back on Wednesday, January 17th. Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Copyright Infringement Posts on Facebook, Oh My!

Not to worry, Facebook has already removed these nearly 3 million posts – including videos, ads and other forms of content from its services during the first half of 2017 after complaints about copyright and trademark infringement. Now I am really curious about why it has been so difficult for Facebook to account for all those Russian-based posts during the last Presidential election that were basically falsehoods or propaganda intended to enhance Mr. Trump’s chances and defame candidate Clinton? I don’t think these were ever taken down en masse but were “reviewed” individually and removed or retained in a very sluggish (and arbitrary?) manner.

The global data on intellectual-property-related takedowns is a new disclosure for Facebook as part of its biannual “Transparency Report.” Aggregate data shows that Facebook received about 377,400 complaints from January through June, with many referencing multiple posts. About 60 percent of the reports related to suspected copyright violations on Facebook. Determination of copyright infringement, of course, can result in the awarding of monetary compensation for damages.

So we can all rest assure now that American (global?) commercial interests have been protected by our courts where even Facebook has to be judged for its transparency. But please still don’t believe everything you see or read there, comrade!

Ray Myers

P.S. Please have a look and listen at mypeacecorpsstory.com, podcast #018, where I discuss my “technology-free” Peace Corps years in India, 1966-68.

Sex Trafficking on Social Media

Just say “no.”  Remember that one.  It was a slogan used by the federal government in the Reagan days to combat drug trafficking. Thank you Nancy Reagan.  Now we have the Internet and social media at our disposal if we chose to “traffic” in illegal activities.  Sex trafficking is one of the more flagrant abuses that, up to now, has gone unchecked.  Congress has now gotten involved, enacting legislation that will hold online sex traffickers accountable and help give trafficking survivors the justice they deserve.

Tech titans such as Facebook, Twitter and Google have finally relented and agreed to grant victims the ability to secure the justice they deserve, allow Internet platforms to continue their work combatting human trafficking, and protect good actors in the ecosystem.  It will hold online sex traffickers accountable and give trafficking survivors the justice they deserve.  Consumer advocates said that the law also put bigger media companies on notice as well.

In reality, and perhaps unfortunately, the Internet of Things can be whatever we humans make of it.

Ray Myers

Facebook and Google and Amazon, Oh My!

Don’t worry, Dorothy, these tech giants aren’t as dangerous as those “Lions and Tigers and Bears” that you worried about in the land of Oz, or are they?  I guess I just get worried when I hear words like “lobbying Congress” on behalf of more transparency in government regulation – not that there is anything wrong with that.  But it seems that the people who are making the most financial benefit at this point are the lobbyists on K Street, D.C.  Now I know that those lobbyists are real “truth-seekers,” and maybe they do know all about “disinformation” campaigns, but how do you legislate for transparency on the Internet?  Do we currently make all advertisers on public and commercial media do that now?

“The lawmakers behind proposed ad transparency legislation said the bill is designed to prevent another Russian-backed disinformation campaign that ran on Web platforms during the 2016 elestion.  Facebook said that it will take its own steps to increase the transparency of political ads and that it generally supports legislative efforts to do the same.”  I think that this is all very interesting since Facebook seemed to be the favorite vehicle for Russian-backed disinformation in the 2016 campaign.  But why should I worry.   All these Congressional leasders are servants of the American people first!

This is what was recently reported by Hamza Shaban the Washington Post: “Lawmakers behind the proposed ad transparency legislation said the bill is designed to prevent another disinformation campaign.”  Good luck with that!

Ray Myers

Social Media Becomes Hate Media

So how did all this happen?  We have gone from “fake news” to hate mongering on social media sites such as Facebook.  A student was recently stabbed to death at a bus stop on the University of Maryland campus.  I guess those Russian hackers really paved the way for co-opting our technological prowess and turning it in to a tool for disinformation and now, tragically, a tool for hate and deadly crime.  This is NOT what was supposed to happen.

This slaying sparked national outcry after police announced that they were investigating the accused murder’s connection to a Facebook page called Alt-Reich.  University of Maryland Police have said that the content from that page was full of racist and inflammatory material.  University police also said that drugs and alcohol may have played a role in the case.  What a deadly combination!

And what can the so-called president do to help social media be more social and less hateful?  One suggestion: stop tweeting about how “right” he always is, attacking any opposition on a personal (ad hominem) basis.

Ray Myers


Russia Targets U.S. Military Community with Facebook and Twitter

It just keeps getting “curiouser and curiouser” as Alice once said while traveling through Wonderland.  But you really don’t have to go to Wonderland to have this feeling.  I think I am having that feeling right here in the U.S.A. as we discover more about the Russian interference in last year’s election with every passing day.  Social media has become political media and our comrades in Russia are showing us how it’s done.  So maybe this is how you really achieve world dominance after all.  Here is how it was reported in The Washington Post on October 10 by Craig Timberg.

Russian trolls and others aligned with the Kremlin are injecting disinformation into streams of online content flowing to American military personnel and veterans on Twitter and Facebook, according to an Oxford University study released Monday.

The researchers found fake or slanted news from Russian-controlled accounts are mixing with a wide range of legitimate content consumed by veterans and active-duty personnel in their Facebook and Twitter news feeds. These groups were found to be reading and sharing articles on conservative political thought, articles on right-wing politics in Europe and writing touting various conspiracy theories.

In some cases, the disinformation reached the friends and families of military personnel and veterans as well, the researchers said. But it was not always clear who was creating the content. Twitter, for example, makes it easy for users to hide their true identities.

“The social networks mapped over Twitter and Facebook include both genuine accounts created by U.S. military organizations, by service personnel and veterans themselves, and by groups seeking to influence those users,” the report says. “Some of the accounts are pro-Putin accounts pushing out significant amounts of Russian-oriented content.”

The report by Oxford’s Project on Computational Propaganda, which has been studying ways that fake news and propaganda reached Americans during the 2016 election and its aftermath, is the first in which the group sought to explore the spread of disinformation on both Twitter and Facebook, and also how links are shared back and forth across these platforms.

Facebook and Twitter both declined to comment on the report, advanced copies of which were shared with the companies by the researchers.

To examine the kind of information that reaches military personnel and veterans, the researchers analyzed content between April 2 and May 2 on Twitter including popular hashtags such as #GoArmy or #Iraq to determine what users of these hashtags posted. In some cases, said Philip N. Howard, an Oxford professor who co-authored the report, known Russian trolls were using those hashtags to draw attention to content they were promoting.

They researchers also tracked information on several military-themed websites and used the traffic to these sites — along with the Twitter data — to determine what Facebook accounts promoted similar content on publicly available pages. That yielded maps of online interaction showing, for example, that accounts that linked frequently to veterans and military issues also in many cases linked to content related to Russia.

Russian trolls and others aligned with the Kremlin are injecting disinformation into streams of online content flowing to American military personnel and veterans on Twitter and Facebook, according to an Oxford University study released Monday.

The researchers found fake or slanted news from Russian-controlled accounts are mixing with a wide range of legitimate content consumed by veterans and active-duty personnel in their Facebook and Twitter news feeds. These groups were found to be reading and sharing articles on conservative political thought, articles on right-wing politics in Europe and writing touting various conspiracy theories.

In some cases, the disinformation reached the friends and families of military personnel and veterans as well, the researchers said. But it was not always clear who was creating the content. Twitter, for example, makes it easy for users to hide their true identities.

“The social networks mapped over Twitter and Facebook include both genuine accounts created by U.S. military organizations, by service personnel and veterans themselves, and by groups seeking to influence those users,” the report says. “Some of the accounts are pro-Putin accounts pushing out significant amounts of Russian-oriented content.”

The report by Oxford’s Project on Computational Propaganda, which has been studying ways that fake news and propaganda reached Americans during the 2016 election and its aftermath, is the first in which the group sought to explore the spread of disinformation on both Twitter and Facebook, and also how links are shared back and forth across these platform.

To examine the kind of information that reaches military personnel and veterans, the researchers analyzed content between April 2 and May 2 on Twitter including popular hashtags such as #GoArmy or #Iraq to determine what users of these hashtags posted. In some cases, said Philip N. Howard, an Oxford professor who co-authored the report, known Russian trolls were using those hashtags to draw attention to content they were promoting.

The researchers also tracked information on several military-themed websites and used the traffic to these sites — along with the Twitter data — to determine what Facebook accounts promoted similar content on publicly available pages. That yielded maps of online interaction showing, for example, that accounts that linked frequently to veterans and military issues also in many cases linked to content related to Russia.

The kind of information shared by and with veterans and active-duty personnel span a wide range, with liberal political content also common, though not as common as conservative political content. The online military community, the researchers found, also shared links about sustainable agriculture, mental health issues such as addiction, and conspiracy theories.

No one subject dominated the online content flowing among these communities, but the largest individual categories dealt with military or veteran matters. Russian disinformation was a smaller but significant and persistent part of the overall information flow.

“The very idea that there’s aggressive campaigns to target military personnel with misleading content on national security issues is surprising. It’s disappointing,” Howard said. “Because they’re opinion leaders, they get more attention from governments and people who spread misinformation.”

The other authors of the report, titled “Junk News on Military Affairs and National Security: Social Media Disinformation Campaigns Against US Military Personnel and Veterans,,” were John D. Gallacher, also of Oxford, and Vlad Barash and John Kelley of Graphika, which uses social media data to analyze online relationships and influence.

Ray Myers