Detailed analysis of the hyper-partisan Facebook "news" business

Buzzfeed presents a long (and somewhat rambling) data-driven look at the recent history and current state of Facebook's hyper-partisan news (AKA "fake news") bubble, tracing the money, growth areas, declines and personalities behind what's possibly the cause or the effect (or both) of today's political chaos. Read the rest

Norwegian Islamophobes mistake bus-seat-covers for burkhas, go bonkers

Members of the Norwegian Facebook group "Fedrelandet viktigst" ("Fatherland first") mistook a photo of an empty bus whose seats had been draped with black covers for a bus full of women in burkhas and went Brevik-bananas, decrying the rampant Islamification of Norway and generally being easily frightened, fragile Aryans. Read the rest

Facebook pitches in $500K to launch Harvard effort to fight election hacking and propaganda attacks

Joe Menn at Reuters reports that Facebook is pitching in an initial $500,000 in seed funding to launch a nonprofit that will work to protect American political parties, voting systems and information providers from malicious attacks by hackers and foreign nation-states.

Read the rest

Guide to finding and erasing your online data doppelganger

The New York Times rounds up direct links to several services surveillance opt-out screens, including some I'd never thought to look for (Amazon), as well as instructions for installing tracking blockers and no-script extensions that will limit the data trail you exhaust behind yourself as you traverse the net. Read the rest

"Big Browser is watching"

Coming after improvements to Firefox and continued unease at Google's life-pervading insight, this image is outperforming the ███████ ████ Virality Control Group today (via).

It got me thinking about all the promises that were made. Here's the earliest article in Google News to contain "Big browser" in its headline, published by Time Magazine on Nov. 18, 1994.

World Wide Web die-hard surfers -- many of whom tend to be privacy-rights absolutists -- have been horrified to learn that the software that guides them through the Internet could pose huge Orwellian problems. Over the last week or so, a growing number of heads-up E-mail dispatches have warned that some "browsers," including free and commercial copycats of the popular Mosaic program, quietly supply the Internet E-mail addresses of Net site visitors. These lists, critics argue, could soon be sold to the highest bidder --or even to government snoopers. "You'll go into a bulletin board that has an ad, and in a little bit of time, the manufacturer can start sending you junk mail," David Farber, a University of Pennsylvania computer science professor, told TIME Daily. The next step, Farber and others theorize, is a credit-card-like record of what you've bought over the Net and which political discussion groups you've perused. Web programmers, who never intended such consequences, are now talking about creating either "privacy buttons" or warning labels.

The concerns isolated:

• Browsers secretly collect and share personal data. • Aggregated data could be sold or shared to marketers and the government. Read the rest

Algorithms try to channel us into repeating our lives

Molly Sauter (previously) describes in gorgeous, evocative terms how the algorithms in our life try to funnel us into acting the way we always have, or, failing that, like everyone else does. Read the rest

Leaked Facebook docs: weird censorship standards that protect "white men but not black children"

Facebook is not responsible for bad speech by its users -- section 230 of the US Telecommunications Act says that libel and other forms of prohibited speech are the responsibility of users, not those who provide forums for users to communicate in -- but it takes voluntary steps to try to keep its service from being a hostile environment for its users, paying 4,500 moderators to delete material the company deems unacceptable. Read the rest

Office of the Director of National Intelligence admits its employee held down 15 other jobs and played games all day

Jason Leopold (previously -- Buzzfeed's public records activist, once branded a "FOIA terrorist" by the US government -- has secured records of an investigation into gross offenses by an unnamed employee of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, detailing the employee's incredible workplace conduct, from playing video games all day to moonlight for 15 separate employers while working for ODNI, to violating confidentiality rules to dig up dirt on Edward Snowden. Read the rest

Philando Castile's killers secretly tried to order Facebook to let them spy on Castile's girlfriend

After shooting Philando Castile dead during a traffic stop -- a killing that was livestreamed on Facebook by Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds -- the police obtained a secret warrant for Reynolds's Facebook account, including her private messages and deleted messages, accompanied by a gag order that banned Facebook from every discussing the warrant's existence. Read the rest

A vending machine in a Moscow shopping mall sells Instagram likes

Journalist Alexey Kovalev is in Moscow, whence tweeted this picture of "a vending machine in a mall for buying Likes for your Instagram pics." Read the rest

How this teen's life changed after deleting all social media

Corey Alexander estimates he spent about three hours a day on social media, almost 5,000 hours since he got a phone at age 13. He lists the seven changes he's noticed since going cold turkey and deleting all of it three months ago: Read the rest

Facebook offering "vulnerable teens" to advertisers shows it is willing to be used as a weapon

Facebook was caught offering advertisers a direct line to psychologically vulnerable teens. Nitasha Tiku writes that this exposes the deeper danger of its insight into our lives: it's not the data that's the problem, it's how it could be "weaponized in ways those users cannot see, and would never knowingly allow."

The company had offered advertisers the opportunity to target 6.4 million younger users, some only 14 years old, during moments of psychological vulnerability, such as when they felt “worthless,” “insecure,” “stressed,” “defeated,” “anxious,” and like a “failure.” ...

If the users in question weren’t teenagers—or if the emotion wasn’t insecurity—Facebook’s public statement might have been sufficient; the uproar from privacy advocates may have been duly noted, then promptly forgotten.

Instead, as Kathryn Montgomery, a professor at American University and the director of the school’s communications studies division—who is married to Chester—tells WIRED, The Australian’s report served as “a flashpoint that enables you to glimpse Facebook’s inner workings, which in many ways is about monetization of moods.”

As Tiku points out: "It’s not a dystopian nightmare. It’s just a few clicks away from the status quo."

The fences you put up are meaningless if Facebook owns the land.

Read the rest

Thailand is losing the war on dissent, thanks to user notifications and HTTPS

Thailand's insane lese majeste laws make it radioactively illegal to criticize the royal family, reflecting a profound insecurity about the legitimacy of the ruling elites there that can only be satisfied through blanket censorship orders whenever one of the royals does something ridiculous, cruel or both (this happens a lot). Read the rest

Thai King strolls through mall in tiny crop top, then threatens to sue Facebook for showing video

Last year, the Thai Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (who became King of Thailand in December) walked around a Munich shopping center sporting a little yellow crop top, exposing tattoos on his belly and back. He was with a woman who was similarly dressed. They looked like an ordinary couple on a beach vacation.

But the new King is not happy that a video surfaced on Facebook last month, posted by Somsak Jeamteerasakul, "a prominent Thai historian and critic of the monarchy who lives in France," according to The New York Times. The King has had the video blocked in Thailand, but today he threatened to sue Facebook if it wasn't immediately removed from the site.

The video has been blocked in Thailand but was still available outside the country on Tuesday.

Facebook, which opened an office in Thailand in 2015, declined to answer questions about its operations in the country or the pages that the government wants to remove. A spokeswoman, Clare Wareing, said only that the company’s policy was to comply with requests by governments to restrict access to content that officials believed violated local laws.

“When we receive such a request, we review it to determine if it puts us on notice of unlawful content,” Ms. Wareing said in an emailed statement. “If we determine that it does, then we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory and notify people who try to access it why it is restricted.”

In Thailand, it's illegal to poke fun of the king, queen, or crown prince, and can carry a maximum sentence of 15 years. Read the rest

Leaked confidential memo reveals Facebook program to identify and target "insecure" kids

The Australian reports on a leaked memo -- described but not published -- marked "confidential" and created and distributed internally by Facebook that describes how the system's surveillance tools can identify children and teens in "insecure" moments when they "need a boost," explaining that they had identified markers to tell them when a young person was feeling "stressed", "defeated", "overwhelmed", "anxious", "nervous", "stupid", "silly", "useless", and a "failure." Read the rest

Vietnam complained of "toxic" anti-government Facebook content, now says Facebook has committed to help censor

Vietnam's government today said Facebook has promised to work with the communist nation to prevent the publication and distribution of banned online content.

Read the rest

Facebook use is a predictor of depression

A pair of social scientists from UCSD and Yale conducted an NIH study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology on the link between Facebook use and mental health, drawing on data from the Gallup Panel Social Network Study combined with "objective measures of Facebook use" and self-reported data for 5,208 subjects, and concluded that increased Facebook use is causally linked with depression. Read the rest

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