Facebook – does it really matter if they share our data?

first-facebook-postSince we’re discussing Facebook and who has the rights to personal information you’ve posted, I wanted to show you my ‘Wall.’  People used to call their Facebook page their ‘Wall’, though that has become passe. As walls go, this one would be ‘liked’ by Shirley Valentine fans (cultural reference), as it suggests romance and sun-bleached beaches.

    I joined Facebook in 2009 (apparently) as this is the first image I posted. At the time we were renovating the downstairs bedroom, rumpus room laundry and ensuite. Apart from hiring a guy to lay tiles throughout, we did all the work ourselves. If I’d known better, I’d have first put a coat of sealer on the besser brick wall as it took four coats of paint until it matched the hardboard on the opposite wall.

    I resisted joining Facebook for such a long time and then when I did, my posts were few and sufficiently opaque to resist understanding by all but my inner circle.

    Facebook has proved handy in terms of keeping in touch with younger family members around the world because, as we know, they don’t write letters. So too I’ve formed loose ties with musicians around the world, which can either be a way of sharing the passion or fishing for a gig.

    Later, Facebook became a good way of spreading the news about folk music events in our small town, some of which we promote.

    Dani Fankhauser’s history of Facebook on mashable.com charts the development of Facebook from its launch in 2004 and the 18 features it used to have and either changed or discontinued. I had no idea the original idea of the ‘wall’ was that people could use it like a whiteboard, leaving messages for their friends. You could change or delete what was there and replace it with your own messages. As Dani says, at one stage it was cool to ‘de-virgin’ someone (be first to post on their wall).

    The wall disappeared and Timeline took its place. Other critical changes since Facebook was launched includes the controversial and constantly changing News Feed and the over-weaning Like button which turned social interaction into a competition.

    Dani writes that Facebook used to be like a journey down the Rabbithole, being diverted down unexpected paths to discover new and interesting worlds. Now it’s like standing in front of the fridge with the door open, not quite sure what you’re looking for. Five years ago she wrote that – has anything changed?

    The hoo-haa about fake news and private data being manipulated by computer data experts should surprise no-one. If you are on Facebook, you are the content.

    You have probably read one version or another of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The Guardian Weekly ran a two-page expose this week so if you really want to delve into it, here’s the ultimate link.

    The fall-out when this news broke was most noticeable on Wall Street. When the Observer revealed that Cambridge Analytica had harvested millions of people’s user data for political profiling, Facebook’s stock plummeted. It fell 17% between March 17 and Easter, wiping $US50 billion off the company’s value. Regulators in several countries are investigating Facebook and may try to limit how the company makes money from data.

    Meanwhile,Google, Apple and Amazon are like little kids who played a joke on someone and are now hiding behind a tree, giggling. The laugh might be on them, according to this broader story.

    There is a social movement (#DeleteFacebook), but social media analyst Andy Swan, writing for Forbes magazine, said the spike in Facebook deletions – the highest since 2004 – peaked on March 21 and has been in decline ever since.

    Most of the outrage stems from reports that Donald Trump’s campaign consultants, Cambridge Analytica, used ‘psychographics’ which allows personality traits to be manipulated.

    But what about our music pages, Mark?

    In January this year Facebook began changing the algorithms that influence what users/members see in their news feed. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the changes were made because of feedback that public content – posts from businesses, brands and media – was ‘crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other’.

    Changes started last year and as Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post, will take months to implement. “As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content (in your Newsfeed) like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard – it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

    This must be a deeply disturbing trend for mainstream media, which has hooked its disintegrating business model to the hems of social media’s skirts.

    Our local paper, the Sunshine Coast Daily (now owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd), recently ran a 150-word ‘news story’ – Keep News #1 in your Facebook feed. The article suggested Daily readers keep up with the latest local news by ‘making a simple adjustment’.

    This means first find the SCD page on Facebook, like, click ‘follow’ then click ‘see first’.

    Well yes, it works, but it didn’t take long for the stream of sensationalist stories to ‘clutter up’ my news feed and the same could be said of choosing this option for other media outlets. Beware the Paywall!

    Just for the mental exercise, I downloaded my Facebook data. It has always been possible to download your own data and if we were smart, we’d all do it every year so we at least can find copies of the photos we posted then forgot about. Just go to your profile page and click on settings (the link is at the bottom of the page).

    Just downloading your data file does not mean you are deleting your information from Facebook. Leaving, closing your account and demanding the return of the original data is not so easy.

    But it was illuminating to trawl through this 136MB file. There is an exchange (a thread) between me and a former colleague. I wished to write something about him in my blog, about the merits of academic ambition when one is supposedly past student age. Within the conversation, my former colleague revealed quite a lot of detail about his school years, what work he did on leaving school and how he came to study journalism. I used hardly any of this information in the blog which was eventually published. But it is sitting there quietly, within my (private) Facebook data files. Let’s hope it stays that way.

    So what does the Cambridge Analytica privacy furore mean for folk who just want to post photos of their cats, dogs, partners and kids? Not much, I suspect, unless you have a ‘brand’ page like the ones I use for pur stage name, The Goodwills and this blog.

    I thought it would be fair play to share Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook post. It is interesting for his over-use of marketing-speak and the sometimes snarky comments which follow his ‘community-oriented’ explanation for making business, brands and media pages less visible.

    I’m with the people who asked why couldn’t Facebook users simply curate their own news feed without having it dictated by algorithms.

    Meanwhile, if you want to keep the Bobwords brand page at the top of your news feed, click on the link, like and follow.

    Or not!

     

     

    Censorship, guns and the right to arm bears

     

    guns-bears-censorship
    This image is classified (S) for satire under FOMM’s censorship guidelines

    I was idly wondering if I should have a go at George Christensen for pulling that silly, anti-greenies gun stunt at the firing range but self censorship kicked in. What if he knows where I live? I blanched. The process known in journalism school as ‘self censorship by osmosis’ still kicks in, even 18 years down the track.

    You may have assumed I was about to jump into the very deep pool of acrimonious discourse about mass shootings, guns and gun control. Actually, no, there are enough rabid views out there from one side and the other. Perhaps you will have seen Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s repost of the kind of vile trolling one can attract by advocating for the environment (if not, don’t bother looking it up – Ed.)

    Instead, I thought we should look at a worrisome instance of censorship; where a respected economic analyst/journalist had an article taken down by the national broadcaster, the ABC. Emma Alberice’s reasoned piece about corporate tax cuts was removed by ABC management, reportedly after complaints from on high about its alleged lack of impartiality. Alberice’s article argues there is no case for a corporate tax cut when one in five of Australia’s top companies don’t pay any tax.

    After public criticism, the ABC deflected cries of ‘censorship’ saying removing the analysis and an accompanying news story were ‘entirely due to concerns about Ms Alberici’s compliance with ABC editorial policies that differentiate analysis from opinion’.

    The analysis has since been scrutinised by experts and given the seal of approval. It has even been re-posted at a public affairs website owned by the eminent Australian, John Menadue, AO. You may recall Menadue. He started his working life as private secretary to Gough Whitlam (1960-67), before forging a career in the private sector then returning to public service in the mid-1970s. He has since led a distinguished career in both public and private life, most notably as an Australian diplomat.

    Mr Denmore, one of Australia’s more incisive commentators on media and economics, wrote this in Alberici’s defence:

    Mr Denmore (the pseuydonym of a former finance journalist), sees this issue as plain old-fashioned censorship.

    He concludes that Alberice was merely offering insights, which have got the nod from some serious-headed economists, as ‘uncomfortable truths’, which those in high government office and boardrooms found too confronting.

    Now, a week later, the ABC has reinstated* Emma Alberici’s analysis, albeit with some passages removed. As former ABC journalist Quentin Dempster reported in The New Daily, the author and her lawyers negotiated an agreed form of words for the reposted analysis.

    The removal of Alberici’s original analysis coincided with a planned US visit by a high-level delegation of Australian business and government leaders.  The latest advocate of global  of ‘trickle-down economics’,+ President Donald Trump, will meet with PM Malcolm Turnbull today. No doubt Mal will be taking notes on the US president’s ‘open for business’ approach of slashing corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%. Australia’s more modest proposal, which is currently blocked in the Senate, is to reduce the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25%, over a decade.

    +A term attributed to American comedian Will Rogers, who used the term derisively, as did later opponents of President Reagan’s ‘Reaganomics’.

    The nation’s top business leaders, under the umbrella of the Business Council of Australia, will also meet with US governors and top-level US company executives. Australian State Premiers, including Queensland’s Annastasia Palaszczuk, will also attend.

    Business Council head Jennifer Westacott told the Sydney Morning Herald she feels that Australian business is “in the weeds of politics” and

    “Meanwhile in the US they’re getting on with it.”

    Westacott and Council members support the Australian corporate tax cut proposal as the only policy that can deliver jobs and growth.

    Opposition leader Bill Shorten is taking the hard line – a corporate tax cut cannot help ordinary people, at a time when companies are using tax havens and keeping wages low. Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen admits there is a case for company tax cuts, but said the LNP’s plan is unaffordable when the budget is in deficit.

    The attempt to gag debate on this subject is, however, more worrying than the toadying going on in Washington. Australia ranks 19th in an international survey of countries judged on press freedoms. Reporters without Borders (RSF) maintains the list of 180 countries, many of whom oppress the media in far more serious ways than plain old censorship.

    Australian media freedoms pursued by stealth

    At first glance, 19th from 180 sounds good, but Australia has some issues, not the least of which is concentration of media ownership. The risk of self censorship is high, given the lack of job opportunities elsewhere. The 2017 survey notes that new laws in 2015 provide for prison sentences for whistleblowers who disclose information about defence matters, conditions in refugee centres or operations by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.

    I sometimes fret about a FOMM I wrote before these laws were introduced – an eyewitness account of US Marine movements after a chance encounter at a Northern Territory roadhouse.

    “Aw shucks, we all just stopped to use the latrine, Ma’am.”

    There’s more: a new telecommunications law has opened the door for surveillance of the metadata of journalists’ communications. Federal police raids on Labor Party parliamentarians in 2016 violated the confidentiality of sources. The Reporters without Borders report says the latter showed that authorities were “more concerned about silencing the messengers than addressing the issues of concern to the public that had been raised by their revelations”.

    Meanwhile, a new draft national security bill seeks to restrict foreign interference in politics and national security. It contains secrecy and espionage provisions that could result in journalists being sent to prison for five years just for being in possession of sensitive information.

    Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, called the draft bill “oppressive and ill-conceived”.

    “If this bill were passed, journalists receiving sensitive information they had not sought would automatically be in violation of the law. If this law had existed in the United States in 1974, the Watergate scandal would never have come to light.”

    The free-wheeling nature of social media ensures that dissenting discourse does not stay banned for very long, though often exposed to a much smaller audience.

    You may censor me, but never my T-shirts

    I suppose now you want me to explain the relevance of the Right to Arm Bears T-shirt, eh? This now threadbare item was bought from a tourist shop on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls in 2010. I have been trying to find and purchase a replacement online. The manufacturer (Gildan) has similar T-shirts but none as fetching as the grumpy-looking bears wearing hunting jackets.

    Wearing a shirt that makes a political point, however ironically, is an individual’s right in a free country to express an opinion. In my case it succinctly states my position on American gun laws, just as another T-shirt bought from a stall at Woodford, depicting a full-masted, 17th century sailboat (”Boat People”) says a lot about my attitude to refugees. Perhaps I should replace it with a Save the ABC shirt. Seems like the ABC needs all the friends it can find.

    *Read Emma Alberici’s revised analysis here:

    More on press freedom.

    Take me to your leader – the quest continues

    leader-politics
    (Leader image, old man in park taking time out from politics and spin), Bob Wilson circa 1978

    Imagine a flying saucer lands in your back yard and an alien (drooling or not) alights.

    “Take me to your leader,” it telepathically commands, as it is from an advanced civilisation, intent upon savings ours.

    “Aw yeah, mate.” (pointing). “That’s our leader over there, the one in the striped designer shirt, mingling with the homeless folk.”

    If you dig around on the Internet long enough you’ll find lists of world leaders people would rather not introduce to their granny, never mind to an alien. The lists are usually described as ‘the 10 or 20 worst world leaders’ and include despots like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir.

    Alas Malcolm Turnbull, PM of Australia; the only list I found him on was the ‘hottest heads of state’ leader ladder, languishing in 12th place behind total spunks like Canada’s Justin Trudeau, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, France’s Emmanuel Macron or Haiti’s Jovenal Moise.

    One ought not to touch on politics when striking up conversations at Christmas parties. At one such event, I ventured that the Australian Federal Government was having an ‘Annus Horribilis’ and seemed incapable of making firm and sensible decisions.

    I had voiced what I thought was a commonly-held theory, but soon found out what I should have known; on average, at least one-third of people voted for that motley group of indecisive dual citizens who went to work on just 64 days in 2017.

    “So what do you think about Turnbull’s piss-weak energy policy?” I began at another Xmas do, when I probably should have said, “Strange weather for this time of year, don’t you think?”

    That person moved away, but left me a clean run at the cheese platter.

    From my point of view, the LNP in Canberra blundered from one disaster to another in 2017, momentarily making itself look good by introducing marriage equality laws, which in truth should have been enshrined in 1980-something. The poll was estimated to cost the taxpayer $122 million and then we endured weeks of angst while the same-sex marriage law was debated, after 61.6% of the 79.5% of people who voted had told them that’s what they wanted in the first place.

    The great shame, or should I say sham, is that the Turnbull government, deliberately or not, distracted the people from more serious issues (climate change, the Adani coal mine, Manus Island), by turning the same-sex marriage debate into an expensive, non-binding referendum-style exercise. They could have used one of those 64 sitting days to have a free vote. We’d have achieved the same result and deployed the $122 million to more laudable outcomes (like finding emergency accommodation for the 6,000 or so Australians who sleep rough each night).

    We’ve seen from recent State elections and Federal by-elections that the people are not happy with the mainstream parties. The drift towards the Greens on one side and One Nation on the other mimics the rise of populism the world over.

    Political commentator Michelle Grattan, speaking at the launch of The Conversation Yearbook in Brisbane, said so many people in Australia are disgusted with politics they are ‘‘tuning out”

    “People think (politicians) are behaving badly, because they are behaving badly. They (politicians) alienate the public – they are aware of it, but it’s beyond them to regain the people’s trust.”

    Grattan said focus groups in north Queensland, ahead of the State elections, saw through Malcolm Turnbull’s ploy to cancel a week’s parliamentary sittings. This was ostensibly to allow the House and the Senate to resolve the citizenship issue and to work through the same sex marriage debate.

    But here’s the thing: the NQ focus groups didn’t much like Malcolm Turnbull, but neither did they warm to Bill Shorten as an alternative leader.

    The Queensland election continued a national, if not international trend: voters are fed up with mainstream parties and are casting their votes elsewhere.

    In Queensland, 30.9% of first preference votes went to minority parties, while the informal vote was higher than average, at 4.58%. In the Bennelong Federal by-election, 10 minor parties grabbed 19.15% of the first preference primary vote, although that did not stop the LNP’s John Alexander (45.05%) taking the seat.

    So what else happened in 2017?

    While it wasn’t a party political issue, the rise of the social media hashtag #MeToo movement had its high point when Time Magazine chose #MeToo as its influential “Person of the Year”.

    If you had been living under a rock, #MeToo is a movement where women who have been harassed, assaulted, bullied and otherwise vilified (primarily by men), came out and stood with their sisters.

    The movement started with casting-couch revelations about Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein and flushed out similarly bad behaviour all over the world. The Australia media chimed in, outing former TV gardening host Don Burke for a series of alleged indiscretions. Sydney’s Telegraph made an allegation about Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, who responded with a writ for defamation.

    On a more positive note, 2017 turned up an unlikely winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize went to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The organization received the award for drawing attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.

    There were other examples of positive news in 2017, amid the political scandals, terrorist attacks, humanitarian crises and natural disasters.

    A December 19 report by Katrina Sichlau, News Corp Australia Network, found that renewable energy employed 10 million people worldwide.

    (Aside – that makes the Queensland Premier’s contested claim that the proposed Adani coal mine would employ 10,000 people look rather sad).

    The same article said France and Britain had launched a Clean Air Plan which will make sense to people who have visited either country this year or last. In a year when Queensland’s land-clearing reached Brazil-like proportions, Pakistan planted one billion trees.

    If I may add to this optimistic list, New Zealand elected a woman in her 30s as Prime Minister (Jacinda Ardern), largely at the whim of (Queen)-maker Winston Peters, a veteran politician who saw sense in forming an alliance with the savvy young Labour leader.

    Probably the less we say about Donald Trump the better, as he seems to thrive on publicity, be it good or bad. Trump continues to use Twitter like a flame-thrower, this year setting diplomatic fires in North Korea, Israel, and Germany and within the US itself.

    Trump reportedly plans to go ahead with a visit to the UK in 2018, despite the recent twitter row with UK PM Theresa May. If you’ll recall, Trump retweeted videos posted by radical right group Britain First, inaccurately blaming Muslims in the UK for terrorist attacks.

    There has been much misreporting about Trump’s ‘working’ visit to the UK. The White House at one point thanked the Queen for her “gracious invitation” to meet with President Trump at Buckingham Palace. The Guardian Weekly reported on December 15 that a formal state visit was not envisaged. “The Queen is likely to be preoccupied with preparations for a Commonwealth summit.”

    As myth-buster Snopes points out, there is a long standing tradition that the Queen does not intervene in political disputes.

    We wish you all an ‘annus mirabilis’ in 2018.

     

    John Hewson and integrity in a post-truth world

    john-hewson-integrity
    Photo of John Hewson – Crawford School of Public Policy

    Nobody can call out an errant politician better than former Liberal Opposition Leader John Hewson. In the 22 years since he resigned from politics, Hewson has become a respected academic, the darling of TV panel shows like Q&A, and a regular on the celebrity speakers’ circuit. Yesterday, Hewson was a keynote speaker at Griffith University’s two-day summit, Integrity20.

    Who better to address the opening topic “Post-Truth, Trust and the Ethics of Deceit?” Hewson has been speaking out about fake news and the propensity of politicians to stray from the facts, long before Donald Trump made it a catch phrase. He is also an advocate for evidence-based public policy, often identifying where politicians have used models and commissioned reports to suit their version of the facts.

    So to Hewson’s opening address yesterday, where he used the climate change debate to support his argument for ‘evidence-based public policy’.

    “We had a very hard-line position as a response to the climate challenge back in the early 1990s. I was calling for a 20% cut in emissions by the year 2000 off a 1990 base. We are yet to know how we are getting the 5% reduction in emissions by 2020 off a 2000 base. And of course, we’re committed under the Paris Accord to cut emissions by 26% to 28% by 2030.

    “What’s happened over that period is drift – the issues have been left to drift. Housing affordability’s been left to drift, the climate response has been left to drift and the final line of that drift is the mess we have in the energy sector. Electricity and gas prices are running away to the point where the average household is struggling to afford to pay its power bills.

    “These are the outcomes of negligent government over a very long period of time.”

    Hewson believes the situation can be turned around, but it will take some years to reverse the damage. He said what the country needed was an honest debate about leadership.

    “And leadership is going to be about telling people honestly the way it is. To get good policy up we have to educate people to accept the magnitude of the problem.

    “But we don’t have any debate now in this country – it’s all negative. One side puts its hand up and says let’s do X and the other side immediately says no.”

    One in three voted for someone else

    He said people had lost faith in the two-party system. In the last election, one in three people did not vote for one of the major parties. The protest vote was not just something that had happened only in Australia, he added, citing Brexit, the US, France and Germany as recent examples.

    “It’s a longer term trend and it will get worse before it gets better.”

    The path to restoring voter confidence, he said, was by focusing on the issues that affect people – the cost of living, health, housing, childcare and education.

    But the main problem was that the ‘wrong people’ were in government.

    “If you asked them why they went into politics, they’d say to make a difference and leave a better world for their grandchildren.

    “And then they do the opposite.’

    Hewson, who will be 71 next Sunday, had a distinguished career in politics. He was leader of the Australian Liberal Party and Leader of the Opposition between 1990 and 1994. Before and after politics he has worked as a senior economist for organisations, including the Australian Treasury, the Reserve Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

    In this context, it seems uncharitable to recall that in 1991 he advocated an unpopular goods and services tax. He lost the 1993 election to Paul Keating over the “Fightback Package”, of which GST was a central element. Ironically, Paul Keating (who first advocated a GST in 1985), shamelessly exploited public opinion to thwart Hewson.

    All that aside, Hewson at least clearly outlined what he was going to do in 1991-93 and stuck to it. He is known still as a straight shooter, a man who once said he lived in hope of ‘spin-free politics’.

    Day one of the Integrity20 Summit was not just about politics and truth. ABC presenter James O’Loghlin chaired a panel discussion about solving the world’s problems through innovation.

    Inventor and futurist Mark Pesce showed a short video of a robot working on a farm in Indonesia. He described it as just two wheels, an axle and a smartphone on the end of what looks like a selfie stick, collecting data and producing crop reports. These robots cost about $2,500 and can be shared around a farming community. He also demonstrated how 3D printers, aligned with a simple robot used in smart phone technology, can reproduce all the plastic parts to build another 3D printer. Eventually, robots will also be able to assemble the printers – and that’s just the edges of the innovations universe.

    CSIRO scientist Stefan Hajkowicz said the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the future of work had been greatly over-stated. He thought there were many areas where robots and humans would work side by side – in hospitals for example. The robot would do the blood test and the nurse would soothe the patient’s concerns.

    But it turns out robots are crap at irregular tasks we humans take for granted, A robot cannot tie your shoelaces, for example. And, as Hajkowicz added, they can’t fold towels. They tried to get a robot to fold a towel. It took 20 minutes and did the job badly.

    Today I attended the final full-day session of Integrity20, hastily scribbling notes and pressing stop/start on my hand-held recorder. You may wonder how I met my deadline – marvel at my prowess.

    M.Y Prowess (sub-editor): “Isn’t it time I had a byline?”

    BW: Ghost writers should be read and not heard – and try using commas instead of dashes – please – some of my readers find it tiresome.”

    Next week: Bryan Dawe on satire, media censorship and the global rise of populism.