More on Facebook and Russia

Here is some more information on the investigation into Russian influence on the U.S. presidential election last year.  As posted on Monday, Facebook has finally come to the realization (admission) that it had been duped, but had also been rewarded handsomely by the fake news vendors.

“Facebook has now disclosed that fake accounts and pages had paid the social media giant over $100,000 during the 2016 presidential election cycle. These accounts purchased 3,000 ads, largely for the purpose of spreading false information about Hillary Clinton. The ad purchasers were, as expected, Russian. Now Robert Mueller has reportedly obtained a search warrant for records of the fake accounts that Facebook claims to have shut down earlier this month.

Wall Street Journal was the first to report on this issue, “Facebook Inc. has handed over to special counsel Robert Mueller detailed records about the Russian ad purchases on its platform that go beyond what the company shared with Congress last week, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, says reports that special counsel Robert Mueller got a search warrant for Facebook content could be “the biggest news” related to since the raid on Paul Manafort’s home. Knowing now that not only did Facebook comply with Mueller’s warrant, but that the company turned over more detailed information than that which they turned over to Congress is excellent news.

There are still obstinate deniers that Russia interfered with the 2016 president election, all of the intelligence to the contrary. Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Sean Spicer have done everything they can to frame this investigation as equal parts conspiracy theory fodder and media bullying. The more information Russia can get that directly supports Russian interference, whether through making deals or disseminating false information propaganda-style.

There are some who simply will not be convinced. After all, an astonishing number of Republicans still believe former president Obama was not born in the United States.”

Ray Myers

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Trump Attacks NFL and Russians Hack Facebook

What a week!  Trump raises the stakes on how patriotic NFL football fans should be, i.e., let’s all stand for the national anthem. You really don’t have to stand, as explained in my commentary yesterday.  And then we find out that Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook had been hacked by the Russians last year and conceivably played an dominant role in insuring Trump’s presidential victory.  I think Maureen Dowd’s column in yesterday’s NY Times explains all this much better than I ever could, please see below “Will Zuck ‘Like’ This Column?”

Ray Myers

Maureen Dowd, New York Times, 9/24/17
WASHINGTON — The idea of Mark Zuckerberg running for president was always sort of scary.  But now it’s really scary, given what we’ve discovered about the power of his little invention to warp democracy.

All these years, the 33-year-old founder of Facebook has been dismissive of the idea that social media and A.I. could be used for global domination — or even that they should be regulated.

Days after Donald Trump pulled out his disorienting win, Zuckerberg told a tech conference that the contention that fake news had influenced the election was “a pretty crazy idea,” showing a “profound lack of empathy” toward Trump voters.

But all the while, the company was piling up the rubles and turning a blind eye as the Kremlin’s cyber hit men weaponized anti-Hillary bots on Facebook to sway the U.S. election. Russian agents also used Facebook and Twitter trolls, less successfully, to try to upend the French election.

Finally on Thursday, speaking on Facebook Live, Zuckerberg said he would give Congress more than 3,000 ads linked to Russia. As one Facebooker posted: “Why did it take EIGHT MONTHS to get here?”

Hillary is right that this $500 billion company has a lot to answer for in allowing the baby-photo-sharing site to be turned into what, with Twitter, The Times’s Scott Shane called “engines of deception and propaganda.”

Robert Mueller’s team, as well as House and Senate investigators, are hotly pursuing the trail of Russian fake news. On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security told 21 states, including Wisconsin and Ohio, that Russian agents had tried to hack their elections systems during the campaign.

As Vanity Fair pointed out, Mueller’s focus on social media during the campaign could spell trouble for Jared Kushner, who once bragged that he had called his Silicon Valley friends to get a tutorial in Facebook microtargeting and brought in Cambridge Analytica — Robert Mercer is a big investor — to help build a $400 million operation for his father-in-law’s campaign.

Some lawmakers suspect that the Russians had help in figuring out which women and blacks to target in precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Senator Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee looking into Russia’s intervention in 2016, has a suspect in mind. “Paul Manafort made an awful lot of money coming up with a game plan for how Russian interests could be pushed in Western countries and Western elections,” Heinrich told Vanity Fair.

ProPublica broke the news that, until it asked about it recently, Facebook had “enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of ‘Jew hater,’ ‘How to burn jews,’ or, ‘History of “why jews ruin the world.”’”

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s C.O.O., apologized for this on Wednesday and promised to fix the ad-buying tools, noting, “We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way — and that is on us.”

The Times’s Kevin Roose called this Facebook’s “Frankenstein moment,” like when Mary Shelley’s scientist, Victor Frankenstein, says, “I had been the author of unalterable evils, and I lived in daily fear lest the monster whom I had created should perpetrate some new wickedness.”

Roose noted that in addition to the Russian chicanery, “In Myanmar, activists are accusing Facebook of censoring Rohingya Muslims, who are under attack from the country’s military. In Africa, the social network faces accusations that it helped human traffickers extort victims’ families by leaving up abusive videos.”

The Sandberg admission was also game, set and match for Elon Musk, who has been sounding the alarm for years about the danger of Silicon Valley’s creations and A.I. mind children getting out of control and hurting humanity. His pleas for safeguards and regulations have been mocked as “hysterical” and “pretty irresponsible” by Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg, whose project last year was building a Jarvis-style A.I. butler for his home, likes to paint himself as an optimist and Musk as a doomsday prophet. But Sandberg’s comment shows that Musk is right: The digerati at Facebook and Google are either being naïve or cynical and greedy in thinking that it’s enough just to have a vague code of conduct that says “Don’t be evil,” as Google does.

As Musk told me when he sat for a Vanity Fair piece: “It’s great when the emperor is Marcus Aurelius. It’s not so great when the emperor is Caligula.”

In July, the chief of Tesla and SpaceX told a meeting of governors that they should adopt A.I. legislation before robots start “going down the street killing people.” In August, he tweeted that A.I. going rogue represents “vastly more risk than North Korea.” And in September, he tweeted out a Gizmodo story headlined “Hackers Have Already Started to Weaponize Artificial Intelligence,” reporting that researchers proved that A.I. hackers were better than humans at getting Twitter users to click on malicious links.

(Musk also tweeted that it was a cautionary tale when Microsoft’s chatbot, Tay, had to be swiftly shut down when Twitter users taught her how to reply with racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic slurs, talking approvingly about Hitler.)

Vladimir Putin has denied digital meddling in the U.S. elections. But he understands the possibilities and threat of A.I. In a recent address, the Russian president told schoolchildren, “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Musk agreed on Twitter that competition for A.I. superiority would be the “most likely cause of WW3.”

On Thursday, touring the Moscow tech firm Yandex, Putin asked the company’s chief how long it would be before superintelligent robots “eat us.”

Zuckerberg scoffs at such apocalyptic talk. His project this year was visiting all 50 states, a trip designed by former Obama strategist David Plouffe, which sparked speculation that he might be the next billionaire to seek the Oval Office.

As Bloomberg Businessweek wrote in a cover story a few days ago, Zuckerberg has hired Plouffe, other senior Obama officials and Hillary’s pollster. He has said he is no longer an atheist and he changed Facebook’s charter to allow him to maintain control in the hypothetical event he runs for office.

Yep. Very scary.

Summer Rerun – Tweeting Away at the National Conventions in U.S.  (Originally posted on July 13, 2016)

You too can be commenting on the activities at the national conventions thie election year. Now people around the world can “experience democracy in action.” What a concept! And Twitter is making this all possible. Social media can now become political media. I guess we already have some of that on PBS when they broadcast the proceedings from the House and Senate floors. But let’s be honest, most of the time all we see are politicians milling around on their chambers’ floors while some random tweets are scrolling on the bottom half of the TV screen. I guess the conventions will be a lot livelier, but who knows?

Watching Donald Trump has been a lot more entertaining when compared to Republican candidates of prior campaigns, but I think the TV networks recognized his entertainment value to the detriment of his political rivals. “The Donald” probably knew this too, and now that he has succeeded in securing the nomination may decide not to run at all! What a country! What are we doing? We would rather be entertained than challenged to make a choice about what direction the country should go. And the most successful candidate may be the one who best panders to all our fears and prejudices. My biggest worry is that political intolerance will grow in this country, and tuhat our thirst for demagogary will increase at the expense of substantive debate (remember those Republican debates!)

In the meantime, let’s keep tweeting while “Rome burns.” Twitter may help us better follow the machinations at the upcoming political conventions, but realistically, they are currently treading water in an ocean of social media. Their stock price has fallen by over half in the last 12 months, and user growth has stagnated at roughly 310 million regular monthly visitors. Everybody wants to be on Facebook. Maybe Mark Zuckerberg can help us with the election process four years from now?

Ray Myers

Summer Rerun from Last Summer:  Tweeting Away at the National Conventions in the U.S. (Originally posted on July 13, 2016)

You too can be commenting on the activities at the national conventions thie election year. Now people around the world can “experience democracy in action.” What a concept! And Twitter is making this all possible. Social media can now become political media. I guess we already have some of that on PBS when they broadcast the proceedings from the House and Senate floors. But let’s be honest, most of the time all we see are politicians milling around on their chambers’ floors while some random tweets are scrolling on the bottom half of the TV screen. I guess the conventions will be a lot livelier, but who knows?

Watching Donald Trump has been a lot more entertaining when compared to Republican candidates of prior campjmaigns, but I think the TV networks recognized his entertainment value to the detriment of his political rivals. “The Donald” probably knew this too, and now that he has succeeded in securing the nomination may decide not to run at all! What a country! What are we doing? We would rather be entertained than challenged to make a choice about what direction the country should go. And the most successful candidate may be the one who best panders to all our fears and prejudices. My biggest worry is that political intolerance will grow in this country, and that our thirst for demagogary will increase at the expense of substantive debate (remember those Republican debates!)

In the meantime, let’s keep tweeting while “Rome burns.” Twitter may help us better follow the machinations at the upcoming political conventions, but realistically, they are currently tread ing water in ocean of social media. Their stock price has fallen by over half in the last 12 months, and user growth has stagnated at roughly 310 million regular monthly visitors. Everybody wants to be on Facebook. Maybe Mark Zuckerberg can help us with the election process four years from now?


Ray Myers

Faked Out by Fake News

Oh, those automated algorithms!  One day they are riding high as our anointed saviors from being duped by fake news and exposed to gory live streaming, and the next day we are not quite so sure (see my post on May 3).  So what is Mark Zuckerberg and others to do?  I guess they will have to hire more humans or, as they are called in the business, “screeners.”  So how many for how long?  And why are we so gullible, and so intrigued by gory spectacles we can watch on demand.  Sounds like the old days of the Roman Empire when they threw the Christians to the lions.  Only now you can watch it at any time and any place thanks to technology.  Not to mention reading the fake news to fill in your spare time.  Can Mark Zuckerberg or anybody really solve this problem

Despite Zuckerberg’s pledge to do a better job in screening content, many Facebook users did not seem to believe that much would change.  Hundreds of commenters on his post related personal experiences of reporting inappropriate content to Facebook that the company declined to remove.  So who are these reviewers and what standards do they apply?  Most of them are low-paid contractors overseas who spend an average of just a few seconds on each post.  A National Public Radio investigation last year found that they inconsistently apply Facebook’s standards, echoing previous  research by other outlets.  Hmmmm, I wonder if some of these same people work in those famous “call centers” that American companies have established abroad?

Sounds to me that we may be “faked out” for a long time to come.

Ray Myers

P.S.  I will not be posting on Friday.  Busy weekend ahead.  Enjoy yours.  Back on Monday.



Going Global with Mark Zuckerberg 

He says we need a “social infrastructure” that goes global.  Now who’s not for that?  In his own words: “There’s a social infrastructure that needs to get built to deal with modern problems in order for humanity to get to the next level.  I just think it would be good of more people thought about things like this.”  He came to realize that more people were feeling left behind by globalization, and by societal and technological changes.  “We have to build a global community that works for everyone.”

Maybe this is the technological dawning of the astrological “Age of Aquarius.”  (See the play or the movie “Hair” if you are really not that old).  Now back to the Facebook generation.  Mr. Zuckerberg also is emphasizing Facebook’s role in keeping communities well-informed, which will necessitate tackling misinformation and highly polarized news (sign me up!).  He alluded to Facebook’s shifting role as a distributor of news, saying the social network is “not just technology or media.”  I think he sees a better future in creating more tightly knit online groups that would make traditional institutions, like government, religious groups, and other communities that share interests, even stronger.

Some say that Zuckerberg is attempting to buck the tide against increasing isolationismm and nationalism that is rising around the world.  Can Facebook save us?

Ray Myers

P.S.

I will be taking a late winter break until next Monday.  Thanks for following TechtoExpress.


Facebook Wants You!  Young Muslim Jihadist.

Some call this guerrila marketing in an attempt to persuade young potential jihadist NOT to join Islamic State.   Michael Lumpkin at the State Department realized that “You’re not going to convince die-hard jihadists.  We were not resonating with the audiences that we needed to resonate with.  We needed to engage with with people who haven’t yet joined ISIL.  It’s how you starve them out of recruits.”  By buying ads on Facebook – something never before attempted in this way – the officials found that they could tap into vast troves of data on the interests and browsing habits of legions of Facebook users, allowing them to pinpoint individuals who showed an affinity for jihadist groups and causes.”  Maybe Mr. Lumpkin can help Mark Zuckerberg in his efforts to ferret out fake news?

Mr. Lumpkin further argues that the efffort remains a critical one for a reason that has been long apparent to terrorism experts around the globe:  Extremist ideologies can’t be defeated with conventional weapons alone.  “We are not going to message our way out of this conflict, nor are we going to kill our way out.  We have to have a layers and balanced approach.”  Unfortunately Mr. Lumpkin has to leave his position on January 20 (he was not a career civil servant, various types of “political appointments throughout the federal bureaucracy).  He left with this message:  “For $15,000 you can buy an audience.  And you can make sure you’re hitting them with the best information based on their profiles.  That’s good business.”

And we were always afraid that “Big brother was watching.”  In this case, I am a little less concerned since he seems to be watching us and others who may do us harm.

Ray Myers

Tweeting Away at the National Conventions in U.S.

You too can be commenting on the activities at the national conventions thie election year.  Now people around the world can “experience democracy in action.”  What a concept!  And Twitter is making this all possible.  Social media can now become political media.  I guess we already have some of that on PBS when they broadcast the proceedings from the House and Senate floors.  But let’s be honest, most of the time all we see are politicians milling around on their chambers’ floors while some random tweets are scrolling on the bottom half of the TV screen.  I guess the conventions will be a lot livelier, but who knows?

Watching Donald Trump has been a lot more entertaining when compared to Republican candidates of prior campjmaigns, but I think the TV networks recognized his entertainment value to the detriment of his political rivals.  “The Donald” probably knew this too, and now that he has succeeded in securing the nomination may decide not to run at all!  What a country!  What are we doing?  We would rather be entertained than challenged to make a choice about what direction the country should go.   And the most successful candidate may be the one who best panders to all our fears and prejudices.  My biggest worry is that political intolerance will grow in this country, and that our thirst for demagogary will increase at the expense of substantive debate (remember those Republican debates!)

In the meantime, let’s keep tweeting while “Rome burns.”  Twitter may help us better follow the machinations at the upcoming political conventions, but realistically, they are currently treading water in ocean of social media. Their stock price has fallen by over half in the last 12 months, and user growth has stagnated at roughly 310 million regular monthly visitors.  Everybody wants to be on Facebook.  Maybe Mark Zuckerberg can help us with the election process four years from now?

Ray Myers

China Syndrome – No Google, etc. for You!

Google is really just one of over a hundred websites blocked in mainland China.  How do I know this, besides reading about it in the New York Times?  As I mentioned in previous posts, I landed in Guangzhou, China, in flying to and from Hanoi over the past two months.  I politely told one of the hostesses in the airport travelers’ lounge that I was unable to connect to Google, and received a very terse reply, “No Google.”  Once over the border into Vietnam, I again became part of the Internet world, or at least to that part of the connected world where I spend a lot of my time.  

I only revisited this topic in reading the Times’ article this week about China’s Internet Czar, Lu Wei, “stepping down” from his post.  He had visited the U.S. this year and met with some of Silicon Valley’s giants such as Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg (I think he even wore a tie for the occasion).  The Times article describes this leadership change as “a surprise move, but unlikely to signal a change in restrictive digital policies.”  As for Mr. Wei, please don’t worry too much.  China experts predict that he will likely end up getting a promotion in another area of the bureaucracy.  It’s not uncommon for these important positions to be moved around frequently.  Not exactly like the “up or out” policies in many other workplaces around the world.

What will happen next in terms of China’s digital policies is really anyone’s guess.  Now if you had access to Google, you could probably just type in “social media in China.”  I just did and got “very local and fragmented.”  I guess that’s it, for now?

Ray Myers



Shopping Online With Your Chatbot

Need someone to go shopping with?  Well maybe that’s not done so much any more, and you probably don’t need someone after all if you have Chatbot.  And you really don’t need a salesperson to help you since you will be online, and Chatbot will be there programmed to answer all of your anticipated questions.  At this rate there may not be any brick and mortar stores (malls?) to stroll through in the near future.  What’s going to happen to all of those gigantic shopping malls and parking garages?  As more shopping goes online, maybe they will morph into “distribution centers” where your purchases are shipped to your home, saving you from the inconvenience of having to go to a store to shop.

This is the future that many social media entrepreneurs are banking on.  “Facebook said it was opening up Messenger, it’s own messaging app, so that any outside company – from Applebee’s to Zara – could create a bot capable of interacting with people through the chat program.”  And Facebook may be the logical and most profitable place to begin.  It already has 900 million regular monthly users of Messenger with more than 15 million businesses having an official brand page on Facebook.

So this is shopping in the virtual world.  But don’t forget that you still need a home with a real address to have everything shipped to.  Or maybe you can just get a really big post office box?  After you buy all that stuff online, you may have to invest in a bigger home that will truly become your castle!

Ray Myers


Facebook in India?

Over a billion people connected to each other in India (and beyond?) on Facebook.  All I can say is good luck, Mark Zuckerberg!  Or maybe not!  Let’s face it, is this really going to help the vast majority of Indians living in rural villages with minimal access to reliable human and social service infrastructures.  Maybe that is why this Facebook project is targeted to the larger numbers of mobile phone users in more urban settings.  Mobile phone ownership and usage in India remains a privilege for the more economically empowered.

I think the reality of Indian history and the persisting disparity of resources between the “haves and have nots” presents a daunting challenge to anyone trying to use social media for real social and political change in such an ancient culture and economy.  Perhaps I should be more optimistic as we approach a new year, and I stand ready to admit the error of my pessimism if things turn out the other way.   Please believe me that I will gladly welcome any impact that results in new opportunities for upward mobility for those who have historically been told there is no upward path.

Gandhi led a peaceful revolution against foreign domination and freed his countrymen in the last century.  I believe that the economic and social challenges ahead for India in this century and beyond can not be overcome by social media alone.  True political leadership must seek to empower all Indians, regardless of their economic or social status.

Ray Myers