Tag: facebook

Trolling Me Softly

While the Russia probe is expanding to include naïve 36-year old Harvard graduates, pundits all over the world have been worried about elections in other countries. The massive WikiLeaks dump (pun intended) on Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in France did not work, so the next troublesome case seems to be Germany (the UK is fine, they are already leaving the EU).

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You Think You Have a Facebook Problem? The IDF and Social Media

Dan Levine sent on this great write up of the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) problems with social media.  A few highlights:

“In 2010, a soldier in the artillery corps posted this status: “Cleaning up Katana and home on Thursday.” Katana is a village in the West Bank. The status revealed the time of the planned raid and the unit involved. The other soldiers in the unit, also apparently glued to their screens, saw the update and, feeling imperiled, let the authorities know.” cute duck

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Organizing the Revolution

When I taught for three years at the American University in Cairo, my partner, who was conducting her doctoral dissertation research on Islamist political parties, would often get text messages from the Muslim Brotherhood informing us of interesting programs we might want to watch on satellite that evening or educational events around town. While I found the messages from the “banned-but-tolerated” party amusing (and useful), I was always dimly aware that the state must also be monitoring such messages. In one of my political economy classes I remember my students talking about one of their colleagues whom they suspected was being paid by the state to take notes in another lecture class. (When I asked whether they thought anyone was spying on my classes, my students all said IPE is just not that important to the regime). I think back to those stories whenever I hear people talking about the groundbreaking role of new media in organizing protests in authoritarian regimes.

While the January 25th revolution was partially organized through Facebook, activists are certainly not restricted to these new social media networks…. and make no doubt about it, this was a well organized revolution.  The Atlantic has translated pamphlets distributed to protesters on how to organize and behave.

What one notes in this pamphlet is the advice not to use Twitter or Facebook because they are monitored by the state. These pamphlets were distributed the “old” fashioned way: photocopies given out by hand.

This is not to say that new social networking sites are irrelevant. What I mainly noticed in the days leading up to the start of the protests was that many of my friends in Egypt who are on Facebook began openly posting anti-government status updates. It was surprising to me because many of them are elites or at least members of upper middle class.  In essence, one might hypothesize that the role of new social media networks is to help rally or tap into anti-government sentiment which is often not voiced loudly in public, but the actual organization and dissemination of strategy and tactics still occurs off-line.

What is Mark Zuckerberg?

An ideologue of information freedom?

A capitalist?

Something else?

Now that he’s been named Time Person of the Year (Time readers’ poll and the preferences of the Fuhrer notwithstanding), these are questions worth discussing.

A number of commentators, myself included, have positioned Zuckerberg within the wider hacktivist subculture in which Julian Assange is rooted – not because the two share a common objective (they don’t: Assange targets powerful institutions, Zuckerberg targets the social fabric) but because of their seemingly shared belief that information wants, deserves, to be free – and that the wider sharing of once-private information is a social good.

Stephen Levy, author of Hackers, described Zuckerberg this way:

In a crazy way, he’s arguing that people should share everything. He’s like the early hackers at MIT such as [open source advocate Richard] Stallman who fought for people not to have passwords or secrets. Of course Zuckerberg has a commercial interest in this. But he’s basically saying that it’s better for society if people share things… Zuckerberg has that hacker DNA.

Kashmir Hill argues for the essential interchangeability of MarkZ and JA in re the Time Magazine debate (though she argues [I disagree] that Time already did Facebook in 2006):

The two main contenders for person of the year have privacy in common — both are helping people, governments, and a big bank sometime soon become more exposed, whether they want it or not. The Information Age is becoming The You-Can’t-Control-The-Spread-of-Information Age — Zuck and Assange are the faces of that, with regard to individuals’ personal information and that of major institutions, respectively.

By contrast, I received a very interesting email from an LGM reader last week in response to this post, in which s/he questions this assumption:

I think you (or they), are wrong to analogize to Facebook or Zuckerberg and their pronouncements that “information should be free” with respect to Assange, or Hacktivism for that matter.

Facebook and Zuckerberg solely believe that information should be free (and by “free” I mean free/available to Facebook) so that they can use that information (and in particular we are talking about personal information about you or me or anyone else) to make money. They are a business and that is all that underlies any pronouncements about information being free, they believe in it not as a political philosophy, but rather a business one – and one on which their long term success depends.

Now, at first glance I’m not exactly convinced. If the argument is that a business ethic cannot also be based on a socio-political ethic, I think the socially responsible business community would suggest otherwise.

Also, I’m not sure I accept my anonymous reader’s assumption that you can only infer a political motivation if Mark Z makes business decisions in line with his ideology that otherwise do not make sense from a business perspective. This sounds like an outdated realist argument about statecraft, claiming that governments pursue their interests with what power they have, and international norms have no independent effect – or if they do, you only know it when those norms trump state self-interest. Many social scientists now understand, however, that ideas and beliefs can constitute interests themselves. Is it necessarily the case that if Mark Z has found a way to make money in line with his political ethic that he therefore lacks any political ethic besides “being a good capitalist”?

I’m not sure. And the reason that this essay reads like a series of questions instead of my fully formed answer is that I don’t feel sure one way or the other. It’s fair to ask whether something akin to a political ideology can really be distilled from Mark Z’s public statements and blog posts.* And if so, what is that ideology? Is it political, social or something else? What’s the difference? How would we identify and characterize it? How would we evaluate it?

While I wait to figure out my take on this question, I’m very interested in yours. Is Facebook simply a company or a tool for the promotion of MarkZism? If the latter, what are its tenets?

*Here are just a couple of the kinds of statements to which I refer – and they’re not just about information freedom, they’re more fundamentally about the relationship of openness to society, social relations and social order, and Facebook’s role in promoting the order Zuckerberg envisions:

“You have one identity. The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” – in The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick, quoted by Henry Farrell.

“We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are… We decided that these would be social norms now, and we just went for it.” – Interview with Mike Arrington.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

Facelift.

Thoughts, please.

A MarkZist Manifesto. Or Not.

Me: “Look, here’s ‘me and Rob Farley’.”

Stu: “Who’s Rob Farley?”

Me: “Dude. My co-blogger; also, he’s coming to dinner next Wednesday after his guest lecture on battleships in my human security class. That’s not the point. Look, look this is ‘our’ Facebook page.”

Stu: “You mean the Lawyers, Guns and Money page? I’ve visited it once or twice.”

Me: “Not the LGM page. See? Look.”

Stu: “Whoa. How did you do that?”

Me: “I didn’t do that; Facebook did it automatically.”

Stu: “How did you find out about it?”

Me: “Kid Number One told me. Her friends at high school are all over this.”

Stu: “I bet. Wow, this means you can easily research exactly what every pair of your friends has ever said to one another on Facebook? That’s pretty sweet.”

Me: “Sweet, yep. You can find out exactly how strong or weak your ties to your different friends are, relative to your other friends, much more easily now. And you can be sure that everyone else can see that too. I can imagine high-schoolers are going to have new ways to stigmatize each other now.”

Stu: “Oh, you’re always so down on Facebook. I happen to like Mr. Zuckerberg.”

Me: “I worry about cyber-bullying.”

Stu: “But come on, admit this is cool. I wonder what the algorithm is like they use to choose the profile picture they use for your page. Let’s see what we look like.”

Me: “OK, here you go…. Aww. Look at us. It’s Kid Number Two’s birthday party.”

Stu: “I look really bad in that picture. Oh look, it appears we attended the Rally for Sanity together.”

Me: “Looks like FB pledges were a pretty good indicator of the crowd size after all. Huh.”

Stu: “Hey, I want to see what ‘You and your buddy Alex’ look like. Don’t roll your eyes.”

Me: (typing) “That was a twitch, not a roll. Hmm. Now this is interesting. Alex must know some privacy settings I don’t.”

Stu: “Inconceivable.”

Me: (dryly) “I see his and my Lexulous games don’t appear here; that’s good since that’s where all the excitement actually goes on.”

Stu: “Ha, ha.”

Me: “You know, this is really invasive.”

Stu: “Why? Are you saying you have something to hide?”

Me: “No, but it shouldn’t matter. The depth and nature of my relationships with my online friends shouldn’t be easier to find now than they were when I was choosing to present them online.”

Stu: “What difference does that make?”

Me: “All the difference. Everything people put on a site like FB is a carefully chosen representation of who they are and how they are connected to others, and one’s judgment about those representations is based on who you think you’re presenting it to – your understanding of who can see it – and how they can see it. This new architecture changes that, not only going forward but apparently going back, yet had this architecture been in place previously people might have chosen to present themselves online differently, more strategically.”

Stu: “I don’t think most people are as ‘strategic’ as you IR theorists are. And I don’t see how that’s Facebook’s responsibility anyway. Mark Zuckerberg and his talented crew of developers have created a cool new idea that will make it easier, among other things, to study those FB relationships. Network scholars like you should be estatic; one less thing you need to build. Perhaps Facebook will give estimates of error and validity, unlike some folks I hear about.”

Me: “It’s true that now we have precise data on ties within FB as well as on nodes. Alex will like that.”

Stu: (feigning knowingly-ness) “I’m sure he will.”

Me: “Don’t deflect my argument with your sideways comments. The purpose of Facebook isn’t, or shouldn’t be, to provide an open book for social scientists about citizens’ online behavior. It’s to connect people, but it’s to allow them to control those connections.”

Stu: “I suppose you could say the purpose of politics is not to provide an open book for studying as well, but as political scientists that might get us in some trouble with APSA.”

Me: “Facebook isn’t politics. People on Facebook aren’t public figures, they’re private citizens.”

Stu: “Isn’t the personal political?”

Me: “I do not think that means what you think it means.”

Stu: “Anyway it’s not just citizens on Facebook now. It’s everything: it’s corporations, civic groups, politicians. Facebook is basically the new internet. You aren’t uncomfortable with the Internet being open, are you?”

Me: “It may be morphing into the new Internet, but that’s not the function it was built for and it’s not what individuals signed up for when they created their accounts. They signed up for exclusivity, for the ability to create walls around their communities of friends and choose who to let in. And here’s what gets me: Zuckerberg knew that exclusivity is what would make Facebook popular. Yet over time he’s trying to undermine that with all these little maneuvers. The news feed. The ‘we own your data’ announcement. Making profile pictures public. The ‘Everyone’ default setting. And now the ‘You and X’ tool.”

Stu: “But you know what else is interesting. People who didn’t like the news feed used the news feed to argue against it. People protesting Facebook policies benefit from those policies in forming their protest.”

Me: “Just because you’re exercising voice instead of exit doesn’t mean you have to be loyal.”

Stu: “Fine, but I also don’t buy the argument that there is a “purpose” (singular) for Facebook. It stopped being for one purpose (if it ever was) a long time ago and since its graduation to a platform, the idea of The Real Purpose is even more preposterous. Facebook is a wildly popular platform for thousands of purposes. I find it interesting and worthy of study precisely for this reason.”

Me: That’s because you’re a MarkZist.

Stu: (laughing) “It’s true! I am a MarkZist. I was trained to study Karl Marx by old school Marxists. Now I study the machinations of an online world envisioned by Mark Z. To me, being a MarkZist means embracing, honoring and yes studying the distributed means of content production defined by the Internet and perfected by Facebook.”

Me: “I mean more than that. I mean that Zuckerberg subscribes to an entire hacktivist information-freedom-fighting culture that values truth and transparency for its own sake. But it’s not enough for him to hold and promote that ideology by striking against the powers that be in any way he can, like Julian Assange; Zuckerberg’s means are more nefarious. He imposes his ideology on users, seductively, through the architecture of his tool itself. People who like this ideology and are happy to see it inflicted on others through the tyranny of architecture are MarkZists.”

Stu: “I always struggle with the word ‘inflict’ in this context. There is no requirement to have a Facebook page. I do like that Facebook embraces architecture as a means for social change. It is hard to know in the moment what effect their ‘ideology’ will have on us ten years from now. After all, you’re not a Marxist are you?”

Me: “No, apparently just a socialist.”

Stu: (continuing) “And I wouldn’t say he’s fighting for information to be freed as an end in itself. I would say he imagines that freedom of information sobers people’s behavior.”

Me: “Who wants sobriety? People want the freedom to be human, to have secrets and different masks for different social contexts. And they don’t want information to be free, except about others in power over them; they want the freedom to control information about themselves.”

Stu: “Then they shouldn’t be on the Internet.”

Me: “I see. Anyone who doesn’t get in line behind MarkZism should be excluded from the information economy and the modern age. Sounds like totalitarianism to me.”

Stu: “It’s not totalitarianism. It’s capitalism.”

Me: “This isn’t about profit for Zuckerberg. He’s got a social agenda that he promotes through his company.”

Stu: “So does the entire green business community.”

Me: “But Zuckerberg’s agenda isn’t to save the planet or promote the common good. It’s to undermine our liberties. He has come out and said that he believes the age of privacy is over, all our identities should be public and he is planning to teach us these new social norms through his tools. And I for one think there is something rather frightening about that agenda.”

Stu: “Not everyone is as hung up on that as you. And just because someone’s frightened of something doesn’t mean it’s bad. No one should be punished simply for openly subscribing to MarkZism.”

Me: “Don’t dismiss me as some fear-industrial-complex mouthpiece. Yu know who else is ‘hung up’ on this? Congress is. Henry Farrell is.

Stu: “Who’s Henry Farrell?”

Me: “A blogger who might be very concerned about the software you’re building to allow people to study Facebook and Twitter feeds.”

Stu: “Tell him 30 days free trial is normal, but for him, 45. (chuckling) Anyway, that’s a perfect example. Our software only captures public information on Facebook feeds, whatever users share with “Everyone” using the API Open Graph. It can’t see anything that’s actually private. Folks could change their settings, after all.”

Me: “Fine, but my whole argument is that Facebook has made it so difficult to maintain your privacy that most people don’t even realize how public their information is. And now not only can anyone in the world see it who’s looking for it, but people like you are incentivizing the looking by making it easy and interesting to capture, archive and study those social relations.”

Stu: “But people have the responsibility to inform themselves. I mean, it’s true that some people will say, are you building tools to spy on folks? Of course not, I say. People are using other tools and platforms like Facebook and Youtube to spy on themselves and we just make it a bit easier.”

Me: “Spoken like a true MarkZist.”

Stu: “If they don’t like it, they can leave Facebook.”

Me: “It’s not that easy to commit a Facebook Suicide. That’s like saying, ‘America: Love it or Leave it.'”

Stu: “Please. You’re honestly comparing relocation out of one’s country to the choice of whether or not to switch software applications?”

Me: “Absolutely. In fact, I think leaving one’s physical country is actually easier than leaving one’s online social network, because so much of our social activity now is based on the Internet rather than on face-to-face interactions within our country. Thanks to Facebook, you can emigrate without losing your social network whom you rarely see anyway, but you can’t kill your Facebook page and keep your friendships intact because they’re so embedded now in social media.”

Stu: “That’s a tough sell.”

Me: “Well, maybe if you read some of my blog posts, you would understand why you’re wrong about that.”

Stu: “It’s cute how shocked you are that I don’t read all your posts. Look, I’ll prove how specious this argument is. I’ll delete my FB account right now. It’s not hard.”

Me: “Go for it. Delete your account. It’s harder than you think, and if you succeed, you’ll no longer be able to promote your software or your research articles through your FB page to your network; you’ll no longer have any idea what my ten brothers and sisters are saying about you; you won’t receive “hi cutie-pie” notes from me anymore; and most important you’ll have no way to keep track of what my friendship with Alex looks like on Facebook. Are you really going to give all that up?”

Stu: (pause) “OK, I’m going to think about it first, then delete my page. (thinking) OK, OK you have a point. But I’m making a choice to stay. And so I need to be prepared to accept whatever the Mark has in store for me.”

Me: “Ah, yes. Facebook: the opiate of the masses.”

Stu: “You’re one of those masses. When you write up your thoughts from this conversation on your blog and post the link to Facebook, won’t you be glad it goes viral precisely because of the architecture they’ve created? It’s like you’re saying that Facebook should never innovate.”

Me: “No, I’m saying that companies should innovate in a way that lets consumers opt in to the new features. What they should not do is significantly change the architecture unbidden, and along with it the meaning of people’s previous speech acts online. For example, FB could have announced the You and X feature, and made it possible to activate it for certain friends and not others, or made it possible to change the settings so I could see my relationships with certain friends (and they would have to agree) but others could only see those relationships if both I and my friend want them to.”

Stu: “But look at it from the point of view of Zuckerberg. He needs to make money somehow. He makes money by innovating.”

Me: “But he makes money with ads, and by selling those silly little FB credits in Walmart. And you don’t have to be evil to make money. Even Google thinks Facebook is hypocritical. Google, Stu. Do you remember when that GoogleZon video first came out on YouTube? You were the first person to be scared of the idea that one company would dominate digital information on the web. And now Facebook is trying to turn itself into the new web, only with a very different architecture deliberately sculpted to mold society in line with one man’s vision, a vision that over-writes centuries of Enlightenment norms.”

Stu: “But his vision isn’t about information domination. It’s about a new kind of transparency. It is a belief that everyone gets to have their fifteen minutes of fame and the fifteen people who think they are the bees knees. MarkZists think you can have this everyday and that their innovations make it happen more often for more people than ever before. It’s about letting people create and use data in nifty ways we cannot predict. As far as the history of capitalism goes, they are the fastest growing company ever. Those are marketplace votes; validation of a vision.”

Kid Number Two: “Can you guys stop arguing?”

Me: “Oh, we’re not arguing; we’re just having a spirited and very reasonable discussion.”

Kid Number One: “Whatever. What are we having for dinner?”

Stu: “More to the point, what are we having for dinner when this Rob guy comes to visit?”

Me: “Um, I think he’s a fan of potions.”
_____________________________________________

EPILOGUE: Kid Number Two: (later, at dinner) “So. What were you two arguing about anyway?”

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

I wonder if he’s got facebook?


A former Israeli soldier posted pictures on facebook of herself with Palestinian prisoners who were tied up and blindfolded. In a photo album called “The Army …The Most Beautiful Time of My Life,” Eden Abergil posted these pictures and responded to friends’ comments.

One is particularly striking: a facebook friend of Abergil’s commented that she looked sexy in the pictures. Abergil responded:

Yeah I know lol honey. What a day it was. Look how he completes my picture. I wonder if he’s got Facebook!

I wonder if he’s got a facebook. I wonder if he’s got a facebook. Really?

Certainly, problems with the mistreatment of prisoners aren’t new. And maybe even the level of detachment from that treatment that is required to consider tying up prisoners sexy, take pictures of yourself doing it, post them on facebook, and wonder if the prisoners you tied up would like to be tagged on facebook can be found in earlier wars and conflicts in different forms. But it feels so cavalier, so base, so debasing reading it in the New York Times that it just seems like something different, something worse, something we should think is an emergency.

I guess, though, in the end, its not about whether this is worse than whatever came before it but instead about what can be done to communicate a message of unacceptability. That seems like a more complicated question, and one that I’ll be doing a lot of thinking about at a couple of conferences on Just War Theory over the next couple of weeks. More on these issues soon.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: “We Decided That These Would Be the Social Norms Now”

I am so prepped already for social constructivism day in my World Politics 121 class. Check out Zuckerberg’s answer to the second question (about 3:00). Zuckerberg claims that the new changes to FB privacy settings – which make it impossible to protect your photos and extremely difficult to prevent “everyone” from knowing your current affiliations and other information previously shared only with those you choose – are simply FB’s efforts to reflect [Zuckerberg’s understanding] of “current social norms” on the Internet:

“We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are… We decided that these would be social norms now, and we just went for it.”

So instead of allowing the social norms to evolve naturally through user choice, Zuckerberg has decided what they will be and imposed them architecturally on millions of users. But is justifying them based on the idea that they were already there. Fascinating.

Zuckerberg has been widely misquoted as saying “the age of privacy is over,” which I don’t hear in this clip. However he does seem to imply that since people are choosing to share more information than ever, that they don’t care about the ability to make that choice themselves. On whether this is indeed a “social norm,” Zuckerberg needs to go read some basic social theory. Constructivists would say that the evidence as to whether a social norm exists is whether people react badly when you break it. I think the uproar over the FB privacy changes is enough to prove him wrong on this point.

Facebook Back in the Hot Seat

A few weeks ago Facebook unleashed its new Terms of Use on the unsuspecting user community. As anyone with a FB site knows, though the changes were touted as enabling greater user control over personal information, FB’s new default settings enabled “Everyone” to view users’ information unless users were savvy enough to update their settings – a change that caused the Electronic Privacy Information Center to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Even worse, FB initially included profile pictures and friend lists as “public” information that could not be made private even by savvy users – a move so blatantly in violation of privacy rights that it quickly resulted in an outcry on web-pages like “Facebook Restore My Privacy Rights.” (Facebook quickly “tweaked” the options to make it possible to hide one’s friend lists, though it is unclear to me whether this would protect people whose friends have their lists visible to the world.)

Not all agree that these changes are worth the uproar. A joke going around on Facebook belittles the concern: “If you don’t know, as of today, Facebook will automatically start plunging the Earth into the Sun. To change this option, go to Settings –> Planetary Settings –> Trajectory then UN-CLICK the box that says ‘Apocalypse.’ Facebook kept this one quiet. Copy and paste onto your status for all to see, if we survive.”

I’m with those who see the civil liberties implications of these changes as troubling and significant. My concern is not so much with the changes themselves but the inability of users to opt out of them. I fear the genuine real-world conflicts between online expression and physical security – the young student stalked by an angry ex-lover, the dissident persecuted by her government.

But the row over Facebook’s privacy rules is not just about civil liberties. It’s also about the very constitutive rules governing the construction and presentation online social identities. People really do see their pages as online versions of themselves – avatars if you will – not necessarily reflections of their whole real-space being, but an online representation constructed in relation to a particular community of friends that simply becomes socially dysfunctional when forcibly shared with everyone.

And the evidence of this is emerging in online practice. Consider the growing popularity of Facebook “Suicide” websites like Seppukoo.com, which offer Facebook users a ritual means by which to exercise “exit” under the rubric of “reclaiming your offline identity.” According to Kaliya of Identity Woman.net:

The Web 2.0 Suicide Machine offers “suicide” for Facebook, Myspace and Linkedin. It highlights its time saving nature taking just under one hour vs. over nine hours to go through the process manually with 1,000 Facebook friends. Their FAQs are great:

“If I start killing my 2.0-self, can I stop the process? No!

If I start killing my 2.0-self, can YOU stop the process? No!

What shall I do after I’ve killed myself with the Web 2.0 suicide machine? Try calling some friends, talk a walk in a park or buy a bottle of wine and start enjoying your real life again. Some Social Suiciders reported that their life has improved by an approximate average of 25%. Don’t worry, if you feel empty right after you committed suicide. This is a normal reaction which will slowly fade away within the first 24-72 hours.

Why do we think the Web 2.0 suicide machine is not unethical? Everyone should have the right to disconnect. Seamless connectivity and rich social experience offered by web2.0 companies are the very antithesis of human freedom. Users are entraped in a high resolution panoptic prison without walls, accessible from anywhere in the world.”

Whatever you think about the bleak humor of a Facebook “suicide, those who’ve left – or are thinking about leaving – are talking about their decision in terms of freedom.

Facebook has responded to Seppuko.com with a cease and desist message – interestingly, in the name of the privacy rights of its users. Seppukoo.com issued a reply shortly before Christmas.

The suicide metaphor suggests this is not simply the civil liberties of users at stake, but people’s entire sense of whether an online “life” separate from their physical lives remains “worth living.” I don’t know about this narrative of inherent dysfunction between one’s online and offline representations. I like both. We all have different masks we wear in different contexts; a networked expression of ourselves online is no different and is a uniquely functional means of remaining connected in a world where social distance has shrunk while geographic and physical barriers remain wide.

Without user choice over what can be shared with whom, however, and without clear-cut rules intelligible to a reasonably literate user community, those identities will become as bland as people’s professional websites. Who will post interesting personal pictures, or even their faces at all, on their profiles if anyone in the world can view them? Who will say anything funny, if everyone in the world must be counted on not to get offended at the joke? Friend lists take on a completely different meaning if in order to avoid awkward conversations with visibly excluded peers they get constructed not based on a user’s preference, but based on one’s estimate of people’s perception of those preferences as a visible part of their public profile. This not only constrains choice but the very social structure in which online identity construction occurs. It demands, indeed, the death and remaking of existing identities to conform with new rules.

No wonder users are up in arms. I hope users keep the heat turned up on the architects of Facebook and other social networking utilities, rather than pointing the gun at their online selves. EPIC is continuing to press the FTC not only to restore user choice but to make the default settings err on the side of privacy rather than openness.

And as of they this week they can do so by keeping close tabs on Facebook’s job search for an “Advertising and Privacy Counsel,” the job description for which is to “ensure compliance with advertising and privacy laws.” Readers interested in applying can read the job requirements here, which include not only a JD, state bar experience, and experience in privacy issues, but also “a sense of humor.”

Threat Detection

At the request of the US Secret Service, Facebook has removed this poll from its site:

According to ABCNews, the Secret Service is investigating the creator of the poll “to determine intent.” But if the goal is to identify threats to the President rather than police hate speech, wouldn’t it be more logical (and easier) to go after those who voted “yes,” “maybe” or “if…”?

“The Week in Facebook”

More bric-a-brac in lieu of genuine posts of a quasi-analytical nature. This shall continue until the NSF Political Science Division’s target date for research proposals passes. At least now I’m posting bric-a-brac. (Don’t worry, before long I’ll be back with an onslaught of political insights from my wild roadtrip west, and by the start of the semester, back to blogging as usual.)

Today’s throwaway post is inspired by my current immersion in questions about how Web 2.0 is affecting the study, teaching and production of international affairs. Radio Free Europe obliges me (left) with a handy visual to either prove or poke fun at my point. For their full and very funny Facebook-ization of last week’s current events, click here.

Confessions of a Scrabulous Addict Afficionado

The big news story of the day seems to be the “demise” of Scrabulous. “Scrabulous is dead,” claims Slashdot. “Scrabulous No More,” begins the equivalent post at Digital Savant.

Well no, Scrabulous is not dead (not yet anyway), no matter how many laments may appear on Facebook status messages. You can still play Scrabulous, for pity’s sake, just not on Facebook. Instead, you must create an account on the regular Scrabulous site, and play there. (Or, try out Facebook’s new Hasbro-owned application, boringly named “Scrabble.”)

While Facebook users are bemoaning the loss of a popular application, some commentators are claiming this could be a good thing. Dan Drezner‘s Facebook status message today read “Daniel Drezner is confident that labor productivity will boom and the economy will rebound with the suspension of the Scrabulous feature.” His sentiment is echoed by Floyd Sklaver at Justout and Helen Popkin at MSNBC.

Well, I don’t care what Drezner or anyone else says. Scrabulous on Facebook made me more productive, for three reasons:

1) It was a fun way to keep my brain on its toes when I might otherwise have degenerated into more passive forms of online entertainment, such as watching the Clerks’ Jedi Politics YouTube video clip again, or trying to figure out Where the Hell Matt is on Google Earth.

2) It was also an incentive to take a healthy five-minute break here and there – I vaguely recall that in my old retail days before becoming a professor, employees were actually allowed regular five-minute breaks, and at least one 30-minute break, mandated by law, because this was known to boost productivity and also, just to be a really nice idea.

3) Finally, Scrabulous served a valuable professional networking function, keeping in me in touch periodically with colleagues and friends I too seldom connect with in real-space, or for anything other than work online. Those social relations are the grease in the cogs of intellectual productivity. This is why the National Science Foundation encourages grantees to spend taxpayer money on “synergistic activities” that bring together researchers in social settings – because it knows the best ideas happen when the nerds actually put the books away and sit down over drinks.

After a day of experimentation, I can honestly say, however, that the off-Facebook version will make me less productive – at least if I play by email. In this version of the game, every time your partner makes a move, it will show up in your email inbox insistently, rather than appearing quietly in a secluded corner of Facebook where it waits patiently until you happen to log in and check whose turn it is.

Also, the email version reduces the benefits while increasing the risks. It’s more distracting, so you can afford to play with fewer friends simultaneously without getting addicted. Goodbye social networking! On the other hand, being forced to play regular Scrabulous may help me network doubly well because I’m no longer limited to those friends who are on Facebook, nor must I go through the awkward process of recruiting new friends to Facebook to entice them to a game.

Anyway, as Lawrence Lessig has famously argued, architecture constitutes governance, just as do norms, laws, and markets.Today, Scrabulous did not die; its architecture was modified. How this will ultimately affect the nature of interactions that the game facilitated remains to be seen, but so far I’m adapting, Borg-like, instead of donning black.

So what’s the point of this little tirade? Sorry, I’m not sure I have one and anyway no time to explain, I see I have just received an email from one of my two lucky remaining Scrabulous partners…

Which Dictator Are You?

This weekend I discovered Facebook’s “Which Dictator Are You?” application. This is a seven-question quiz that spits out a result with some basic historical information on a dictator and some cheeky comments about how the application inferred a match from your answers.

I have some unanswered questions about how the quiz works and some preliminary thoughts on how history is being communicated through such a device.

1) First item of note is the questions themselves. They arguably tell you very little directly about a person’s leadership style. They include things like musical taste, whether you buy girl scout cookies, and how you behave when stuck in a line at the bank. This contrasts to more straightforward “Which Dictator Are You” quizzes like the one at PoisonedMinds.com, which ask questions like “What’s your preference on facial hair?” “Who are the handy scapegoats for why your country sucks?” “What is your weapon of choice?” and “What kind of building do you live in?” – things that can be easily correlated to the actual behavior of historical figures.

2) Secondly, the questions measure how people see themselves – and actually, on how they wish to present how they see themselves publicly, since your Facebook friends can view the results of your quiz. So it’s not based on anything objective. If you’re going to correlate this to the personality traits of specific dictators, the matches should be generated on the basis of how dictator see themselves (thru memoirs perhaps?), not “objective” history. How is the matching actually done I wonder? (It could be completely arbitrary – two friends of mine with completely different personality types IMHO have gotten identical results.)

3) Regarding what lessons of history are being taught to the general public through four-sentence snapshots of historical figures: there is a curious gender disparity in the results I’ve been able to see so far. First, there are relatively few female dictators in the sample, at least, as far as I can tell – seems I am limited to looking at my friends’ quiz results, so I’ve only seen a handful out of the possible outcomes. (According to other Facebook user reviews of the application, many other dictators are also missing from the population.) But more interestingly (because of course fewer women have been in power historically) is the variation in commentary for male / female dictators. Compare the descriptions of Hitler and Castro, which emphasize their deeds and leadership styles, to Theodora, an 11th-century Byzantine ruler.

“You and Adolf may party hearty and crash hard, but you do know how to comfort and rally those who are panicked. If you’re not careful, though, your empire will peak as quickly as Hitler’s, and you could end up with the whole world on your tail. I think you’re nicer than him, though.”

“You and Fidel Castro have strong nationalistic pride, and can get by without many resources, resorting to ingenious guerilla tactics. Some even call Castro a benevolent dictator (and hopefully you’ll end up this way!) but sadly he resorts to the same oppression he fought against.”

“You and Theodora aren’t bad off, and you both vigorously assert your rights and work hard for what you want. You also shatter traditional ideas about gender roles on a daily basis.”

So let me get this straight: Theodora shatters gender stereotypes and asserts her own rights (standard feminism), and that makes her a dictator (defined by Facebook as having “sole power over his state and [being] usually oppressive or abusive”)? Hmm.

4) Hat tip to Facebook, though, for including Western dictators in their population. Turns out I’m “Abraham Lincoln.”

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