Cautious Tech Leaders

When Joe Barton, a Republican congressman from Texas, greeted Jack Dorsey at a congressional hearing last week, he sounded flummoxed.

“I don’t know what a Twitter C.E.O. should look like,” Mr. Barton said. “But you don’t look like what a C.E.O. of Twitter should look like.”

The congressman had a point. Mr. Dorsey — who sported a nose ring, a popped-collar shirt and a craggy Moses beard — looked more like a hipster version of a Civil War officer than a tech icon. Yet more striking than his look was his manner before skeptical lawmakers.

Faced with tough questions, Mr. Dorsey did not mount an aggressive defense of his company and his technology, as an earlier generation of tech leader might have. Instead, he demurred, conceded mistakes and generally engaged in a nuanced and seemingly heartfelt colloquy on the difficulties of managing tech in a complex world. Even in response to Mr. Barton’s comment about his look, Mr. Dorsey was solicitous. “My mom agrees with you,” he said.

Ray Myers

(Excerpted from NY Times, 9/13/18)

P.S.

The online Global Education Conference begins on Monday, September 17, please join in throughout the week.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-2018-global-education-conference-registration-49538109820?aff=erelexpmlt

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Twitter Bars Agitator and His Website

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple, Facebook and Google’s YouTube mostly barred Alex Jones, the right-wing provocateur and creator of the conspiracy theorist website Infowars, last month for propagating hate speech. Twitter did not.

On Thursday, though, Twitter said it would permanently suspend Mr. Jones’s account, as well as the account for Infowars. The social media company said Mr. Jones had posted messages within the previous 24 hours that violated its policies, which prohibit direct threats of violence and some forms of hate speech but allow deception or misinformation.

“Today, we permanently suspended @realalexjones and @infowars from Twitter and Periscope,” the company posted on its Safety account. “We took this action based on new reports of Tweets and videos posted yesterday that violate our abusive behavior policy, in addition to the accounts’ past violations.” (NY Times, 9/7/18)

Ray Myers

What’s So Funny, Twitter?

Some call it the “social media dopamine loop.” The short-attention-span jolt of Twitter is perfect for a few specialized things: breaking news, viral links – and presidential hissy fits. But it turns out, Twitter is perfect for jokes.

“A Twitter habit, like any other Internet addiction, is an endless dopamine loop. Your brain doesn’t have a satiety signal for social media updates. It just wants you to check your screen again and again for new content until you die. (NY Times, 7/29/18).”

Many want to opt out of the social media loop altogether. But their hedonic treadmills are turned up so fast that it’s hard to make the leap. Real life seems drab now, compared with the high-speed barrage of ironic banter online. It’s the dream of our sitcom-watching childhood come true: nothing but punch lines as far as the eye can see.

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be taking some time off during August. I will only be posting blog updates on Mondays of the month, but will resume M-W-F postings after Labor Day (no post), on September 3.

Need a Hobby? Go Online!

On Monday, I posted a blog about one NY Times’ writer’s decision to stop “Tweeting” and spend time on other pursuits. Perhaps she would like to take up a new hobby? That seems to have been the solution for many other who have now found that the Internet can be a place to learn new skills by connecting with other “hobbyists.” Pottery, painting, cooking, you name it!

While much of this is not new, the way the Internet can help steer us toward something useful bears mentioning in the name of growing digital skepticism (see Monday’s blog). It is a reminder that the Internet’s most effective trick is connecting disparate individuals into a coherent whole. There may only be a small number of potters in any given city, but online there is a whole ceramics metropolis willing to help.

Art, for example, is an empowering thing. Most people think they can’t do it, and when they realize they can, it’s amazing – it opens up a whole new world, and that world doesn’t really have time for a lot of “fighting and fussing.”

Ray Myers

I Tweet, and So Does Everyone Else!

Way back during the early years of the Obama administration, government agencies were beginning to use social media as a means of “getting our message out.” I volunteered to be a part of this “outreach” then, as a staff member at the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education. It was all new to me, and as one of the more “senior” staff, I was eager to learn some new tricks. Now I am older and so is Twitter, and it is certainly not the novelty that it once was.

I think that it still serves as a convenient “short-hand” stream of consciousness for many, but it may have become overloaded with everyone’s desire to be heard in the name of open and free expression (“TechtoExpress”). Maggie Haberman of the NY Times put it this way this past week: “To be clear, Twitter is a useful and important platform. It’s a good aggregator for breaking news. I still check my feed to see breaking news developments, and I will continue to. And it is democratic – everyone gets to have a voice, whether they work for a local paper, a small TV station or one of the biggest newspapers in the world, or are not in the media business at all. The downside is that everyone is treated equally expert on various topics.”

“Make America Great Again.” Just get a Twitter account, and tweet away. You may even be elected president?

Ray Myers

Political Messaging on Facebook

Trump is now the single biggest political advertiser on Facebook. So what’s your favorite addiction? Politics or social media? I think it is now safe to say after the last election, that if you like to get your “fake news” online, you were among those who were the most helpful in getting Trump elected. He may not have gotten the most individual Americans’ votes, but he certainly knew where the most counted and where to place his political ads, Facebook.

He still continues today and will probably continue to take the most advantage of Facebook’s hypnotic hold on those who believe that everything that they read or see online must be true! This is now the age of believing in your own opinions, regardless of what the facts may be. “If it’s online, it must be true.” As discussed on this blog on Monday, political consultants have said that Democrats who are running for election are spending a smaller percentage of their ad budgets on digital ads than their rivals, sometimes as little as 10 percent versus 40 percent for Republicans. That has spurred volunteer efforts in Silicon Valley, which is widely regarded as liberal, to help bring Democratic campaigns into the digital age.

The new digital political age? And if you can’t get enough followers, make them up.

Ray Myers

Twitter to Purge Fake Followers – Back to the USSR

Timing is everything as the old saying goes. Trump may have been the recipient of some good timing in terms of his world travels next week when he visits with his good buddy Vladimir Putin.

“For Twitter, the reform comes at a critical moment. Though it is a smaller company with far fewer users than Facebook or Google, Twitter has been sharply criticized for allowing abuse and hate speech to flourish on its platform. And along with other social networks, Twitter was a critical tool for Russian influence during the 2016 election, when tens of thousands of accounts were used to spread propaganda and disinformation. Those troubles dampened Twitter’s prospects for acquisition by a bigger firm, and the company, which went public in 2013, did not turn a profit until the final quarter of last year.”

I wonder how many followers Trump will lose? Maybe his Russian followers will still find a way to “influence” him, and increase his number of (fake?) followers. He will be visiting with them next week?

Ray Myers

Twitter is Trump’s Song Bird

Twitter used to be an apolitical forum where you could type and hashtag away just about anything that seemed important or “interesting” to you. But times have changed as we all know, and the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has turned it into his most powerful propaganda tool. But can’t Twitter do something about that? A Washington Post reporter recently (Manjoo, 7/5/18) asked that same question to Vijaya Gadde, head of the legal policy and trust office at Twitter. “She declined to answer directly, pointing instead to a January statement in which the company stated that blocking a world leader’s tweets ‘would hide important information people should be able to see and delete.’ But what if that important information conflicts with Twitter’s mission to promote a healthy public conversation? Sooner or later, Twitter’s executives and employees are going to have to make a decision about which is more important, Mr. Trump’s tweets or the company’s desire to promote a healthy public conversation. It’s hard to see how both are tenable.” Ray Myers

Cartoonist Plans to Trump White House Tweets

I am a fan of political cartoons that taunt and tease political leaders. Particularly in the case of over-bearing, pompous, and presumptuous elected officials who believe they are beyond reproach. I think you may have known one or two, but if you don’t, please take a look at the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Rob Rogers, a political cartoonist with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 25 years, recently lost his job for not being politically correct in the eyes of the newspaper’s owners. Here is how he described his ouster by the owners: “I was trained in a tradition in which editorial cartoonists are the live wires of a publication – as one former colleague put it, the ‘constant irritants.’ Our job is to provoke readers in a way words can’t. Cartoonists are not illustrators for a publisher’s politics.”

Rogers promises that: “The paper may have taken an eraser to my cartoons. But I plan to be at the drawing table every day of this presidency.”

Ray Myers

Death by Twitter – a Cautionary Tale

The most popular show on ABC (American Broadcasting Company), Rosanne, was canceled last week because the star of the show, Roseanne Barr — known for saying and writing stuff that would get most of us fired — did exactly what she was known for doing and got fired. ABC now looks like it is run by idiots because, really, who didn’t see this coming?

The network now has to explain to its licensees, which deliver shows to you and me, why they no longer will be able to get the ad revenue that otherwise would have been coming to them. I guess Rosanne will still get paid, but I really don’t know, and truthfully, don’t care. Twitter has become our most popular and most abused form of social media. Oh yes, the current White House resident is very fond of using it as well.

Maybe he too will get fired some day?

Ray Myers

Loving to Tweet, but Not Engaging with the World

I know this is not my typical tweet about using technology to express and engage with others, so please indulge me for this “special” moment. Trump’s behavior at the recent G-7 meetings was despicable and dangerous in its expression of “I” will not play if “I” can’t have it my way! He does not have that right as OUR elected official. His way or the highway? Don’t believe all the lies and self-aggrandizement he spews forth on his Twitter site, or any place else.

I think The NY Times had it right in Tuesday’s editorial: “But no. Instead, as photographs from the Quebec resort showed, Mr. Trump faced the other leaders with arms defiantly crossed and faced locked in a pout. It was a confirmation that so long as Mr. Trump was on the White House, and maybe beyond that, something fundamental in the community of Western democracies will be missing. America, the leader of the free world and architect of so much of the modern world order, had decided to go its own way.”

How did we get here? Maybe Russia knows?

Ray Myers

Tweeting for Freedom with Russia Watching

Bill Browder, a London-based investor who has styled himself as a nemesis to Vladimir Putin of Russia, documented the latest episode in his thirteen year game of cat and mouse with the Russian government, live-tweeting his brief arrest by the Spanish police on Wednesday.

Mr. Browder who was once the largest foreign investor in the Russian stock market ran afoul of Mr. Putin in 2005 and was kicked out of Russia. He was convicted of tax fraud in absentia and sentenced to nine years in prison. He documented Russia’s efforts to arrest him in a 2015 book, “Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice.”

Unfortunately, our current White House resident who likes to tweet, but has not read a book since who knows when, will probably not benefit from knowing his story. Too busy tweeting lies that promote his agenda. So sad!

Ray Myers

Not a Twitter Matter, Mr. Trump

Someone please tell the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington , D.C., that he is not an Emperor.  He can not decree or demand that things be done to his liking simply because he wants them.  Or, in his case, simply “tweet” out his demands.  It’s time to tell him “he has no clothes” when he refuses to recognize that any power he has comes from the citizens of this democratic republic.  No number of petulant tweets can supersede that!

On Sunday, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter: “I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for political purposes – any of any such demands or request were made by people within the Obama administration.

FYI, former President Barack Obama wrote a piece in the Harvard Law Review last year in which he stated: “The president does not and should not decide who or what to investigate or prosecute or when an investigation or prosecution should happen.”  Good advice, I think.

Ray Myers

P.S. Happy Memorial Day. Enjoy the holiday. Back on Wednesday, May 30.

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

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

The New Anti-social Media – #TechtoAbuse

Thanks to Maureen Dowd at The NY Times (2/11/18) we now have a litany of anti-social remarks and behavior by the current White House resident who has twisted his presidential prerogatives into weapons for use against his political enemies, real and imagined. And in many cases, for his own personal and private business profitability. Twitter attacks are just part of his arsenal. Below is a sampling of what she captured in her Sunday commentary.

“We don’t want a president who’s bends over backward to give the benefit of the doubt to neo-Nazis, wife beaters, pedophiles and sexual predators – or who is a sexual predator himself. We don’t want a president who thinks #me is more important than #metoo.”

“We don’t want a president who flips the ordinary equation, out of some puerile sense of grievance to honor Russia and dishonor the F.B.I.”

“We don’t want a president who is on a sugar high of ego, whose demented tweets about nukes and crowd size scare even Omarosa.”

“And finally, we surely don’t want a president who seeks advice on foreign affairs from Henry Kissinger. Ever. Again.”

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

We Still Have Football!

As we all know, Trump and company have shut down the federal government, but we still have Super Bowl football and all its hype to entertain us over the next few weeks. I am not sure which is more entertaining over the long run, but we shall find out. But what can I say about all the technological tools involved in informing us about these “winter spectacles.”

Will we all be better informed this time around? Will Twitter be overloaded with barbs and updates about our political and football fanaticisms? I am afraid so. Depending on your personal or political view, are we now headed for a “winter of our discontent” or content for some?

I am sure there are parts of New England where there are many people happier to be watching Tom Brady on the football field than follow all the tweets from the so-called president in the Oval Office, when he is not in Mar-a-Lago.

Ray Myers

Just Deserts: Fire and Fury in the White House!

I have been waiting and hoping to write this blog for nearly a year. How sweet it is! The “fake news” Master himself is now accusing others (Michael Wolff, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”) of writing falsified accounts of the inner workings of his White House during his first year in office. He has continually maintained that he can post anything he wants to say on Twitter with impunity – no need for fact-checking or censorship when he wants to go on the attack. So far he has been able to hide behind a tortured definition of “newsworthiness.” Twitter, please stop this madness. Let’s take a look at the Twitter official explanation.

“In this latest incident with Trump’s tweets, Twitter doesn’t believe that the tweet Tuesday night about the size and effectiveness of the President’s “Nuclear Button” broke its rules. In a statement to Business Insider, Twitter said the tweet was not a “specific threat” and therefore wasn’t banned by its rule against “specific threats of violence or wishing for serious physical harm, death, or disease to an individual or group of people.”

I just can’t wait to read all the “fake news” in Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” I don’t think it contains any “specific threats of violence or wishing for serious physical harm, death, or disease to an individual or group of people.” It just might be “real news.”

Ray Myers