Channel 4 sting shows how Internet gets contaminated

To me the most disturbing thing was not the use of a Sri Lankan decoy in Channel 4’s Sting operation on Cambridge Analytica. It’s the creepy statement by the chief exec of Cambridge Analytica caught in the sting :

“We just put information into the bloodstream to the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape. And so this stuff infiltrates the online community and expands but with no branding – so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”


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Posted by on March 20, 2018 in Facebook, Social Media


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PR Stunt or Learning Moment? When protesters take over class

Student protests happen everywhere, not only during times of turmoil. When I was in Uni, students took over parts of the campus ‘kidnapped a Dean (!) and held him for a few hours. At another time some stormed the campus police station. Most student protests happen in public spaces, with rhetoric aimed at public figures – or at least those people in power.

So what do you make of a situation when a classroom (in Reed College in Portland, Oregon) was turned into a protest space? Is the audience just students like themselves, sounding off their different perspectives? Watch this and think again.

  • Is it possible that the demonstration was set up (this doesn’t seem a spontaneous turnout) to create ‘media’ and not just to hijack the space?
  • Was the debate that took place toward the end, unintended?
  • Was it an appropriate way to address sensitive issues around a Humanities 101 class?

What’s your take?

For some background, read the piece in The Atlantic in November last year.


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Facebook, just like nicotine, has no good patch

About eight years ago, I would begin a workshop with an opening line that went something like this: Facebook is the greatest, most irresistible social network ever the CIA. Not factual, or course, but it got attendees to ponder how surveillance had become so easy, with no need for wiretaps, or laws such as FISA or ECPA.

Well, it’s now normal for journalists to talk of Facebook as being the great harvesting ground of big data organizations that use it to surveil and/or target users. That includes our friends and family in our networks. Social media addiction feeds the algorithm. Here’s what Mashable’s Damon Beres just wrote that it’s time to protect yourself -and your friends –from Facebook:

“The photos you post are interpreted by Facebook’s programs to automatically recognize your face; the interests you communicate via text are collated and cross-examined by algorithms to serve you advertising. Our virtual social connections enrich this marketing web and make advertisers more powerful. And many of us open the app to scroll without really knowing why. Facebook literally presents us with a “feed.” We are users the way drug addicts are users, and we’re used like a focus group is used to vet shades of red in a new can of Coca-Cola.”

He uses the analogy of the Marlboro Man, and the rugged cowboy appeal that continued to lure ‘users’ into a deadly nicotine habit, despite the truth which tobacco companies hid, and were reluctantly forced to admit.

So what to do? Some of my friends have quit Facebook. I haven’t yet. But I do recommend limiting data that algorithms could vacuum up: birthdays, business information, opinions related to our social causes, political rants and things we purchase online. No public displays of affection for family birthdays, anniversaries and such. (Birthday cards and letters were invented for this; despite claims to the contrary they haven’t gone out of style.) And Selfies! –unless you don’t mind feeding facial recognition algorithms now being used in many, many locations.

Deleting some of this now is a bit too late, but like the nicotine patch, it’s better than the alternatives. Unless your family and friends don’t mind the creepy second-hand smoke…


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Still publishing Newsletters? We do!

I’ve often said I still read newsletters. From the quirky Trader Joes’ black-and-white ‘Fearless Flyer,‘ to those that come in the mail, often unsolicited. A good friend, a realtor, publishes and mails us an information-filled newsletter that is a delight to read each month. And there are many more – we just don’t give them enough credit in an everything’s-on-Facebook kind of era.

What’s your favorite newsletter? Does it still get printed or has it turned digital? I’m curious.

The case for newsletters has been debated ad nauseam. Most tend to get into the print vs email debate. But I don’t think it’s an either/or. It could be both. Sure, the reading habit is on life-support in some places. But we’re not going to pull the plug.

And so in school, some of us continue this tradition as a way to communicate with parents and the community as to what goes on in our classes in Music, Art, Library and Media Center, PE, and Computers & Tech. Here’s our latest Specials Newsletter – the March 2018 issue.


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Banning hate speech in Sri Lanka poses social media conundrum

The apps stopped working in Sri lanka sometime on March 7th. The blanket decision to curb the hate speech that ensued after the clashes in Kandy was both a blessing and a curse. It’s not the best strategy, but it’s often the only one left when a government is caught unprepared.

Censorship – what else could we call it?- is a curse. “Social media is a noisy and contested space,” observed Nalaka Gunawardene. After all, “many have been using the platform to counter myths, misconceptions and prejudices.” Hate speech lives here alongside the more commendable forms of social interatcion. We have seen this movie before, though. Social media companies are often unable to, or incapable of filtering out the noise. Or the conspiracy theories, or the fake news. So pulling the plug is a hard choice. But it should go with long-term preventive measures that prevent offline hate speech. Which, as has been well documented, the government has not addressed for years. Again it’s worth quoting Nalaka who observes:

We did not reach this point overnight. For many years, ultranationalists have been poisoning the public mind with racial and religious hatred. Some local language newspapers – in both Sinhala and Tamil – regularly use racially-charged language and accommodate extremist viewpoints. Privately owned TV channels, engaged in a fierce competition for ratings, have also sometimes played with fires of communalism. 

His article, a long read, is titled “Smart phones and stupid governments.”

In 1983, the outbusts of hatred and bigotry travelled over long distances with no help from phones, let alone smart phones. There was no platform to block or blame. The culprit? Politicians! People at the top of the totem pole with no crisis plan, no leadership.


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Speech infected by low-hanging fruit? Run it up the flagpole!

This is something my students in Communications will find relevant.

It’s a hilarious case of what happens when you get infected by buzzwords and cliches. Gerard Braud, a well-known media trainer and business communications speaker I follow, gives us his take on how not to discombobulate your mesage when giving a speech.

(Public Service Announcement from the Center for buzzword disease control: Never use words such as ‘discombobulate!)


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Social media self-immolation: Adults feed the beast

You know things aren’t going well in government when the folks who pass laws are caught doing things we want our children to stay away from.

  • A Texas congressman was the latest to prove that he cannot use a moble device responsibly. The details are too lewd to recount, or link to, here.
  • Then there was was the member of the House of Representative representing New York City, who resigned over a similar sexting incident involving photos on Twitter – in 2011. (There’s an entire Wikipedia entry on this.)

The list is unfortunately long and disgusting. When grown-ups taking to social media are so easily detached from their moorings, it’s no wonder young teenagers (and pre-teens!) misunderstand the fine line between private- and public-facing ‘media.’

Every time I hear a parent complain of a child who spends too much time on the phone, my response is, “So why do you continue to pay for the connection?” It’s easy to push the blame onto social media, when it’s the adult behavior that’s feeding the beast.


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