Fakebook & the like. Seems like there's too much ugly farting over there. There's a war of words (& pics) going on. High level officials are not amused. Fakenews, hate speech, trolling are to be outlawed. How & by whom? Innocent bystanders, take heed. Strange saviours are on their way.
The Economist recently carried a piece on Facebook and that crowd, propelled as scary stuff on its cover: "Social media's threat to democracy". Inside, the 4-page article was mastheaded by the same kind of seductive salesmanship: "How the world was trolled". You can look it up at the library, it's the November 4th issue, 2017, of course.
Embedded in the semi-educated rant, there are however some interesting facts. Concerning, for instance, the concentration of power of the industry: "Facebook and Google account for about 40% of America's digital content consumption." The wording is quaint. Imagine the librarian asking you "Well, dear, what content do you wish to consume today?" Or, during a pause at work, a colleague, at loss for better conversational vistas, raising the question: "Read some good content lately?" In both cases, raised eyebrows suspecting brainwashed jargon. The statistics, however, are noteworthy. Here's more: "Combined, Facebook and Alphabet, Google's parent company control half the world's digital advertising." Not bad. And indeed scary.
Dumb US, again
There are also some figures on the American Way of Life. Americans (of the US, supposedly), The Economist tells us, "touch their smartphones on average more than 2.600 times a day (the heaviest users easely double that)." And "The population of America [read: the US] farts about 3 million times a minute." And "It likes things on Facebook about 4 million times a minute." There, I had to look it up: the new use of the verb "to fart". I didn't know that one actually "farted" when interacting with the screen scenery. It does make sense somehow. Next time you "post" something, remember that you're actually caught in the act of farting. Well, these figures are hardly something people in the US can be proud of. But it's hardly surprising. As Samir Amin pointed out recently, the US may be the most advanced capitalist country in the world, it is also the place where socialist conscience is at its weakest globally.
But, then again, it's sometimes hard to take the figures seriously. There's a graph, for instance, purporting to show how many hours are spent online daily (excluding work) in a number of countries. Hong Kong tops the list: almost five hours. Britain comes next: a little over four hours. Then the US, almost four hours, Japan, just over three hours, with France and Russia close behind. Only Mexico seems to be in a sorry state: way under two hours. Daily, mind you! At this point, you're welcome to say What the Hell! How can one possibly measure the time spent online by all the people of an entire country? For one thing, one cannot but assume we're dealing with averages. And averages tend to be quite misleading. Say you have a population of two of which one spends two hours online daily and the other zero, he or she couldn't care less. Well, then the average is one hour. This means that the on-lined addict's time expenditure is halved, and that the wiseguy, wisegirl or whatever who couldn't care less gets loaded with a fakenewsy excess of one full hour. Somebody better call the police.
The Russians, again
There's more. Our valiant journalists at The Economist then turn to Russian mind-grab of the US elections process. Lo and behold! According to Facebook, Russian "content" reached 126 million people in the States, thus kidnapping the minds of "around 40% och the nation's population". This midlly paranoid assessment is of course not substantiated by the slightest information on the method used by Facebook to produce these figures. Do they, for instance, include connections to the Russian news agency RT (Russia Today), these days officially branded as infested by "foreign agents"? According to Wikipedia, it reaches some 700 million households spread over a hundred countries, including quite a few US denizens presumably. Now, even supposing the figures only pertain to undercover fabricated pseudo-news maliciously sprayed by mayhem-raising Russian operators, who in his right man will believe that the 126 million people supposedly concerned in the States would, en masse, be brainwashed in the event. If so, 40% of the nation are plain stupid. Maybe they are. There are those who think so. We'll the matter rest.
Lord Justice, again
But there's more. The Economist goes on to explore the ways the industry, and its regulators, are fretting about the protection of stupid people, those that swallow "bad" content hook, sink & liner. So, for instance, YouTube is said to have been experimenting with "redirecting jihadists away from extremist videos to content that contradict what they've been watching." There's also a proposal to use warning pop ups interrupting smartphone addicts with this kind of motherly advice: "Do you really want to share this? This news item has been found to be false." Now: "has been found": by whom? Who's to decide what's true and what's false? Or, for that matter, what should be qualified (by whom?) as hate speech? Some angelic Lord Justice incarnated? The issue is not theoretical. In Germany, "social media companies" are required "to put down hate speech such as Holocaust denial, and fake news within 24 hours or face fines of up to 50 million euros." How this will done, and by whom, remains unclear. One thing is clear, though. The industry doesn't like it.
In France, where a similar law proposal is toyed with, the authorities have been lobbied to forget all about it. On November 9th, so the weekly Canard enchaîné tells us (edition dated 15th November), a staff member of the French Culture minister met with Benoît Loutrel, formerly a civil servant in a French regulatory body (it helps) presently working as an errand boy for Google. And this was his piece of advice: "Now's not the time for France to adopt too compulsory a legislation, given the country's stake in the digital. Our investments depend on it too." There's a word for that. Corruption. Of the soft well-behaved kind, not punishable. Business as usual.
There's a hitch, a catch. The subtext, in The Economist paper as in most highfalutin condemnations of Fakenews (Ms Theresa May, lately) is that what they say is correct, true and unbiased. And that people (dumb & stupid by definition) can't tell the difference. We've heard that before.