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!

     

     

    The risks of losing our digital photos and memories

    digital-photo-memories
    South Brisbane (Southbank), circa 1978), just prior to construction of the Queensland Cultural Centre) Author’s photo scanned from a colour slide.

    Whenever I think about going through our thousands of family and travel photos, be they in digital form, colour prints or scanned to the computer, I develop what migraine sufferers assure me is not a migraine, just a headache.

    The problem begins with the lack of a system. Few people other than professional photographers or serious hobbyists catalogue their photos and negatives in a logical way. So good luck looking for that photo of your little brother skateboarding when he was 10. It’s in there somewhere.

    Recently, a family member took on a big project – to collect photos across seven decades to put in a book for my brother-in-law’s 70th birthday. This social media-savvy young person wisely, I thought, decided to capture the images permanently in a printed book.

    The early contributions of course were box brownie snaps from somebody’s shoebox, scanned and photo shopped where appropriate. Some were from colour slides, also scanned and photo shopped, usually to obtain a larger image. Then we delved into photo albums from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, until the digital folders began.

    Maybe we were late adaptors to digital cameras, but we seem to have left film and negatives behind only in the early years of the 21st century. By that time, they’d been in common use for a decade, even though Steve Sassoon of Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975. We came home after a six-month sojourn abroad in 2004 with 60 CDs of photos we burned from images downloaded on to a borrowed computer.

    Since then, my non-system has accumulated piecemeal on laptops, back-up drives and memory sticks. She Who Also Takes Photos has a smarter system in that she can readily find images by subject.

    No such luck on my computer. For example, a folder labelled ‘March, needs sorting’ on review contains just 15 (of 97) images worth keeping. In the late 1990s, we both clung to shooting film on SLRs and sending the film off to a cut-price mail order business. Digital cameras and later cameras in smart phones replaced this process, which was costly.  You often had to wait a week or more until you could relive the memories from Aunt Gladys’s 90th. If only she hadn’t blinked.

    I recall learning how to produce my own prints from negatives, albeit in black and white. Few young people today would know the thrill of seeing a photo you took that day materialise in a tray of chemicals.

    If you watched the Netflix series, The Crown, you’d have seen a dramatization of one of the best film photographers of the time in action. Tony Armstrong-Jones is depicted in the dark-room with his latest amour (Princess Margaret), trying on what appears to be a well-rehearsed seduction technique. He’d taken an intimate shot, with bare shoulders – against mores of the time (1959). Margaret, who comments, “It’s a Margaret nobody has seen,” resists his blandishments (but not for long, Ed).

    Film and self-processing makes a comeback

    As Alexandro Genova wrote in Time magazine last year, there is a small but determined resistance to digital photography among amateurs and professionals alike. Some are effusive about film and its “unexpected palette, the grain and dynamic range”.

    Portraitist Ryan Pfluger says of Kodak’s decision to revive Ektachrome film, that the “creamy ’70s tone” channels his fascination with memory and nostalgia.

    Genova’s article is framed by a stunning shot of a wildfire in Glacier National Park, Montana. The image is by professional photographer and artist David Benjamin Sherry, who processes and prints his own work.

    “There’s a spirituality that’s connected to it. I go out to take the pictures and at the end of the day I’m by myself, alone with my thoughts, in the dark room. It becomes very meditative,” he told Genova.

    No doubt the majority of hobbyists, oblivious to this meditative magic, will continue to snap what used to be called ‘candids’ on their smart phones. They can then post instantly to Facebook, Instagram, or other social media outlets.

    The 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean revolutionised the way media covers news. Digital Spy’s correspondent Hunter Skipworth says the stark images of the tragedy were filmed by ordinary people, using their phones to capture images and video. From then on, anytime a major news event happened, anywhere in the world, it would be filmed by a citizen on their smart phone. That was a fairly short advance from the first commercially available digital SLR in 1991 (Nikon’s 1.3 megapixel camera, intended for use by press photographers). By the mid-1990s Casio, Kodak, Sony and others joined the race to produce an affordable digital camera. Digital Spy reveals that Apple had a short-lived flirtation in this field in 1995 with the QuickTake 100. Apple went on to focus on the Iphone with built-in cameras. Good move, Steve.

    Most smart phones have cameras which have at least 4 megapixels and often up to 12mp – good enough quality for a ‘citizen’ photo. The practise is so widespread now most newspapers carry a regular ‘reader’s photo’.

    However galling that may be to professional photographers and videographers who spent a lifetime learning their trades, it comes down to who first captures the image.

    Facebook, which had a modest debut in 2004, surfed in on an explosive wave of change. The introduction of the iPhone in 2007, universal access to broadband and perhaps the invention of the ‘selfie stick’, all helped Facebook become the behemoth it is today.

    My friend Mr Shiraz is slowly collecting images of his now adult children (and their offspring), with the idea of permanently preserving them in photo albums. He’s not alone in this quest.

    Like others with Gen Y and Gen X offspring, he can see the potential for a catastrophic fail arising from the ubiquitous habit of impulsively posting memorable photos, trusting the archiving to that most nebulous of beasts, The Cloud.

    Here’s an example, from the days when hacking mischief was in its infancy, of what can go wrong. In 2001 our computer was infected by the I Love You virus, which among other nasty deeds corrupted all JPG files. It was not such a disaster for us as we were still mainly wedded to film.

    As we plough through our old photos, a common problem arises. Here’s your father as a young lad, standing with…now who are those three other people? There’s nothing written on the back and the people who could tell you are long gone.

    The same fate awaits the millions of images consigned to the ‘cloud’ –data servers located, well, somewhere. You can establish when the image was taken, but not by whom. Nor, unless someone has ‘tagged’ the images with people’s names, can you determine who is in the photo or where it was taken.

    What is even more annoying is not knowing who took the photograph: surely that matters? I’ll leave you with this rare snap of The Goodwills busking in Melbourne’s Bourke Street (a while ago).

    No, I don’t know who took it. Perhaps it was a ‘selfie?’

     

    In search of quality news

    Maleny-sunset-tree
    Where I go to escape the news, fake or otherwise

    Some of my Facebook friends have been on a search for quality news – and a way to divert Donald Trump stories and memes from their news feed. There was just too much analysis, too many suspect ‘news’ stories from unfamiliar sources and hundreds of derogatory memes which only serve to confirm readers’ biases.

    Australian comedian and folk singer Martin Pearson had evidently had enough too. He shared an insightful infographic (see below) which makes plain where media outlets sit in terms of quality news and partisanship. Pearson shared Vanessa Otero’s media infographic with a plea to his 1,520 friends to check the sources of news, especially if it is about Donald Trump:

    “Please, you should all follow SNOPES on FB straight away; you get a good supply of reporter-checked news and fact-checked news straight to your page. And take a look at the info-graphic. If a news story confirms your bias, check its source.”

    Vanessa Otero is a US patent attorney who enjoys snowboarding, reading, writing and observing communication patterns. Her infographic, originally posted on Twitter, was re-posted and shared so many times Otero went to her blog to explain in detail the reasoning and methodology.

    quality-news
    News Infographic by Vanessa Otera (Creative Commons)

    The infographic places media outlets on a chart which clearly suggests where the publication or electronic media outlet sit in terms of quality news and partisan bias. The ‘utter garbage/conspiracy theory’ news outlets, be they conservative or liberal (that is, left of centre), end up on the extremes of the chart, grouped as ‘don’t read this’ or ‘Just no’. I note with a chuckle Otero places local TV news, US Today and CNN (dressed in partisan blue), as ‘sensational or clickbait’, though apparently relatively unbiased, so earning the category – “better than not reading news at all”.

    Otero writes: “I wanted to take the landscape of news sources that I was highly familiar with and put it into an easily digestible, visual format. I wanted it to be easily shareable, and more substantive than a meme, but less substantive than an article.”

    That much worked – the infographic was shared 20,000 times on Facebook and viewed one million times on Imgur. Otero said this is evidence that she accomplished the goal of reaching people who hardly ever engage with lengthy editorials. And as she self-deprecatingly acknowledges, very few will read her “boring-ass article” about the methodology behind it.

    “Many non/infrequent readers are quite bad at distinguishing between decent news sources and terrible news sources. I wanted to make this chart in the hopes that if non/infrequent readers saw it, they could use it to avoid trash.”

    Otero has said that considering all feedback, she’d make some changes to future versions of the chart (like moving The Economist more to the centre).

    Otero’s chart is no one-off, though. Business Insider cited the Pew Research Centre to compile an infographic on the most (and least), trustworthy media sources in AmericaThe most trusted news outlets, that is, purveyors of quality news, are British, topped by the BBC and The Economist.

    Conversely, BuzzFeed and The Rush Limbaugh Show are at the bottom.

    There’s a difference between trusted and most popular, however. Pew polled 3,000 Americans in a random sample to find that they get most of their news from local TV, Facebook, and major networks like CNN and Fox News.

    Some Australians who reacted to Otero’s publication wanted to know when someone would do a similar exercise on the highly concentrated Australian media market.

    I suspect an Australian version of the search for quality news would look quite different; less crowded and lack the dubious news sources which appear to flourish in the US. There have been attempts in recent years to loosen the stranglehold a handful of media companies hold over Australian media audiences. They include Crikey, The Monthly, the Saturday Paper, New Matilda and The Conversation, the latter a collaboration between academics and journalists. Whatever subject you wish to research has probably been turned over there at least once and if not, send them an email and suggest a topic.

    In this article from December 2016, authors Tim Dwyer and Denis Muller explore the concentration of media ownership in Australia.

    They cite market research firm IBISWorld’s findings that the industry’s four largest players, News Australia, Fairfax Media, Seven West Media and APN News and Media, accounted for more than 90% of industry revenue in 2015-16. A very small list of owners, notably News Australia and Fairfax Media, publish content that reaches the large majority of Australians.

    Since then, 12 Queensland and NSW regional daily newspapers and 60+ non-dailies and 40+ websites were sold to News Corp for $36.6 million.  APN News and Media agreed to sell Australian Regional Media (ARM) last June (News was already a 14.9% shareholder). It was approved by the foreign investment and competition regulators in late December. For Queenslanders, this means that Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd owns every substantial newspaper in the State, from the Cairns Post in the north to the Tweed Daily News in the south and the Toowoomba Chronicle in the west.  News also publishes Brisbane’s suburban weeklies.

    Only the Fairfax-owned online newspaper, Brisbane Times, stands out as a daily voice of difference.

    The latest iteration of newspaper monopoly in Queensland has received surprisingly little coverage or analysis − much less so than when Rupert Murdoch took over The Herald & Weekly Times group in 1987. That transaction delivered him ownership of every daily newspaper in Brisbane. The competition watchdog ruled that Murdoch must sell one of these to an ‘independent’ owner. So he kept the Courier-Mail, The Telegraph and Sunday Mail and sold the Daily Sun and Sunday Sun.

    As for the ARM/News merger, The Australian quoted Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims:

    “The ACCC reviewed the acquisition very closely, as News and ARM are the two largest newspaper publishers in Queensland. However, feedback from readers raised very few concerns and suggested that there is not close competition between the paid daily Queensland papers published by News and ARM.”

    Having said surprisingly little about this, the ABC’s Mediawatch made its 2017 return on Monday with a special on ‘Fake News,’ a term now so pervasive it has wormed its way into the Macquarie Dictionary (and FOMM).

    As Mediawatch host Paul Barry said:

    “Fake news is hardly a new phenomenon, nor is believing stuff that defies all evidence.

    “But in a world where anyone can set up a website and so many are on social media, it can spread like wildfire. Almost 2 billion people log onto Facebook every month. And Facebook works by giving them the news they want.”

    Craig Silverman of National Public Radio (NPR) said in December, fake news works because “we love to hear things that confirm what we think and what we feel and what we already believe.’

    “It tells people exactly what they want to hear. It makes them feel very comforted and it gets them to react on the platform. And the platform sees that content does really well and Facebook feeds more of it to more people.

    So as Martin Pearson advised, and I concur, be sceptical, subscribe to a source that fact checks (Snopes, The Conversation).

    Above all, don’t immediately share something on Facebook or Twitter without reading first, thinking about it and doing some checking.

    We can only hope that’ll happen…LOL

    http://bobwords.com.au/elephant-captured-nullarbor-plain/

     

    Time capsule tips

    Time-capsule-photo-of-Colin-Meads
    Photo of Colin Meads: Commons wiki/File:Colin_Meads_Sheep.jpg

    From the misty annals of childhood comes a memory of the town fathers burying a time capsule, not to be opened for 100 years. They had asked the townsfolk for suggestions as to what the capsule should contain and our little urchin’s cabal suggested such items as an alarm clock (with two bells atop), a gob-stopper, that famous photo of All Black Colin Meads with a sheep under each arm, a train ticket and a can of pick-up-sticks. Somebody said we should get an episode of Life with Dexter and put that in too.

    Digression alert: it is untrue that Meads (1960s rugby version of Paul Gallen), kept fit running up and down hills on his farm with a sheep under each arm.

    Historians and archivists may scoff, but the practice of encapsulating the trivial lives of a cross-section of society for future generations is still in vogue. Time capsules are often buried beneath the foundations of a new building to mark a special occasion, a centenary, perhaps. The idea is to set a date in the future when they should be dug up and opened.

    General interest in the concept increased after Westinghouse created one as part of its exhibit for the 1939 New York World Fair.

    The 2.3 metre long, 360kg capsule, made of copper, chromium and silver alloy, contained items including a spool of thread and doll, a vial of food crop seeds, a microscope and a 15-minute newsreel. There were also microfilm spools containing such prosaic fare as a Sears Roebuck catalogue.

    Wikipedia’s entry says Westinghouse buried a second capsule in 1965. Both are set to be opened in 6939, that is, 4,922 years from now.

    Sometimes time capsules rise to the surface before the appointed time. When the statue of John Robert Godley, the founder of Christchurch, toppled to the ground during the 2011 earthquake, workers pawing through the rubble found two time capsules under the plinth. A glass bottle containing parchment and a long metal container were handed to the Christchurch museum.

    Director Anthony Wright told the Daily Mail a third capsule was discovered beneath the base of the cross of the badly damaged Christchurch Cathedral. All three capsules were opened a month later and were found to contain items including old newspapers and photographs, a City of Christchurch handbook (1922-23), what appears to be a civic balance sheet, a few coins and a brass plate.

    So what’s it all about, then? As self-confessed time capsule nerd Matt Novak writes, time capsules rarely reveal anything of historical value. In many ways, time capsules are like small private museums which are locked up for 100 years or more and nobody is allowed to visit.

    Buried-capsule-seeds
    Time capsule in Seattle containing seeds. Photo by Eli Duke (flickr)

    The exemplar of the genre so far is the 200-year old Boston time capsule, discovered in January by construction crews. The capsule was set into the cornerstone of a building by one of the nation’s founding fathers, Samuel Adams, and patriot silversmith Paul Revere. The contents of the capsule (coins, newspapers, photographs and a silver plaque inscribed by Revere), now belong to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

    The National Archives of Australia maintains a web page dedicated to serving people who are planning to bury a time capsule for posterity.

    The NAA says careful choice of materials to be included in a time capsule will contribute to the longevity of both contents and capsule.

    The latter is worth bearing in mind, given that witnesses to the Christchurch unearthing said one of the capsules ‘smelled like blue cheese.’

    The International Time Capsule Society estimates there are between 10,000 and 15,000 time capsules worldwide.

    The notion is popular with schools, particularly those with a strong sense of tradition. In celebration of its golden jubilee in 2007, Epping Boys High School of Sydney (whose alumni includes rock musician Iva Davies and barrister and TV presenter Geoffrey Robertson) invited Prime Minister John Howard to plant a new time capsule but also, as the Old Boys Union reported, open the one buried in 1982 (the silver jubilee). Alas, the school was closed for the holidays, so your intrepid reporter was unable to unearth a description of the capsule’s contents.

    This set me to thinking just what should be inside a time capsule buried, for example, in the foundations of a massive new public housing eco village planned for, say, Wentworth.

    It would have to be a big-arse capsule, because I’d be recommending items for posterity include the mechanical rabbit from Wentworth Park. If that is not possible, then at least include a Dapto Dogs racebook, so citizens 100 years hence can ponder the curious sport of dog racing.

    The capsule should contain a large lump of brown coal (they won’t miss it, honest), so future generations can see why the planet went amiss.

    She Who is Glass Half Full This Week says we ought to include some Aussie inventions: plastic money, the electronic pacemaker, the black box recorder, the cochlear implant…

    Countering all this world-changing innovation, we need to show the substance abuse issues of the 21st century – a hemp shoulder bag filled with all the illicit drugs of the day, and for good measure a bottle of whatever young kids turn to when binge drinking, and a packet of fags, adorned with graphic images of tongue and lip cancer.

    It might not work in a hundred years’ time, but we should include a smart phone, charger and spare battery, along with a hard-copy cheat sheet. And yes, what 2016 time capsule would be complete without a victorious Queensland State of Origin team photo, hunkering down, singing aye-yai-yippy-yippy in 17 different keys, making odd, triumphant finger gestures.

    The NAA might warn us not to use ephemeral recording materials, but what else do we have? I’d suggest a special DVD edition of Q&A with Alan Jones, Steve Price, Andrew Bolt, Phillip Adams, John Pilger and Marcia Langton discussing indigenous land rights, refugees and free speech, with Tony Jones trying to keep them all on point.

    One could have such fun filling a time capsule. Items bound to puzzle people in 2116 could include: a (new) disposable nappy, a coffee pod, a Go Card, a government-issue hearing aid, one of those ear-expanding discs some young people wear so they can look like primitive tribes from darkest Africa. We could employ a taxidermist to stuff a cane toad and a feral cat and include literature explaining their stories. I’d be tempted to Include copies of every newspaper editorial before (and after) the 2016 election, just to show that whatever passes for punditry 100 years from now was always thus.

    It could be fun to somehow preserve a ‘best of Facebook photo album’ to show future generations what people did with their spare time. It would not take long to curate images of tattooed people, pierced people, nude bike riders, hipsters, cats and dogs doing odd but cute things, photos of what people had for lunch, independent bands nobody ever heard of (now or in 100 years’ time), absolute proof that the earth is flat, out of focus selfies, a video of a serious young dude performing a handfarting cover of a Pink Floyd song (this really is on YouTube. Ed) and 17 versions of the same sunset.

    Oh, and let’s not forget to include a laminated copy of that Friday guy’s take on time capsules.