Former Facebook exec: problem with social network ‘not about Russian ads’

A former Facebook executive has said he feels “tremendous guilt” over his work on “tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” joining a growing chorus of critics of the social media giant. “This is not about Russian ads,” he added. “This is a global problem … It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.”

Former Facebook exec says social media is ripping apart society

Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world.

Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people take a “hard break” from social media.

Ex-Facebook president Sean Parker: site made to exploit human ‘vulnerability’

Facebook’s founders knew they were creating something addictive that exploited “a vulnerability in human psychology” from the outset, according to the company’s founding president Sean Parker.

Parker, whose stake in Facebook made him a billionaire, criticized the social networking giant at an Axios event in Philadelphia this week. Now the founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, Parker took the time to provide some insight into the early thinking at Facebook at a time when social media companies face intense scrutiny from lawmakers over their power and influence.

Insiders Fear Tech Dystopia

The Facebook engineer who made the “like” button is avoiding the addiction culture he created. He says even things made with the best intentions can have “unintended, negative consequences.” His answer? Setting his phone’s parental controls to keep him away from apps. He and other tech insiders are “weaning themselves off their own products,” sending their kids to elite schools where devices are banned. Now, they’re worried that social media could kill democracy. I don’t know, planned obsolescence?

Can Facebook Be Fixed?

Today, experts were asked to share how they would pick up after Facebook. The most realistic is Eli Pariser’s call to flay the social network for science. A stretch, given how it’s “very difficult, and in many cases impossible, for researchers to independently look at behavior on the platform.”

Then let’s make a public benefit corporation out of it. It’s what Tim Wu wants. Easier said than done with Facebook’s head up Russia’s bum.

Kevin Kelly must want to make things worse, requiring “real verification of real names for real people, with the aim of having 100 percent of individuals verified.” Look, it’s real-name policy, back from the dead. No thanks, I know Big Brother. He’s a scary shade of blue and makes zombies out of people.

Cute is the only word I have for Vivian Schiller’s take: “The single most important thing Facebook must do is come clean.” A bit late for that, isn’t it?

Midnight Lunch Meeting in Beijing

You haven’t caught on to the new headset quickly enough. I’m sorry Jimmy, we’re going to have to let you go. Could you imagine? I’d be devastated.

josan gonzalez
Image: Josan Gonzalez

Patrick Caughill at Futurism put together a list of Ray Kurzweil’s predictions, one of which relates to virtual reality (VR) and the future of work. Basically, brain-computer interfaces could precipitate a more ubiquitous “telepresent” workplace where we jack in whenever, from wherever—similar to how we use our phones now, but worlds more immersive. That said, I’m not sure how this would play out in line at Starbucks.

“[Kurzweil] predicts VR will advance so much that physical workplaces will become a thing of the past. Within a few decades, our commutes could just become a matter of strapping on a headset.” I don’t know about 20 years, but at some point remote jacking will be a thing, even on Mondays.

There are benefits. Barring health concerns, VR could up productivity while downgrading the effects of isolation. Jacking in for a meeting every few is better than wasting away on a train. On Wall Street, my Queens commute vaporized an hour plus each way. More with bad weather. Talk about stress.

More than a third of the US workforce freelances in some form. That’s 55 million people. Research suggests that people who suffer from loneliness are prone to serious health problems. VR could bring reluctant loners into the fold, inspiring creativity and infusing a sense of community into the daily routine. Because we all need love.

With VR and venti latte in hand, Jimmy slayed work without sacrificing a single rep of gym time, and he’d never be late for Ramen again. Amen.

Much better. But there’s something about meeting in person that beckons VR back to the corporeal. Here’s the thing about humans. We need face time. Facial and behavioral cues, however subtle, are the currency we use to navigate social contexts, especially in professional settings. Even now, leading a three-way from my cell isn’t half as good as Skype or Gchat—the limitations of which I can strongly affirm.

Space drives behavior, so this virtual gig better deliver. How and at what cost VR will cut through the noise is anyone’s guess. Will dropped calls be the same? Will the VR itself be a distraction? Either way, we’ll learn to live with the static until the interface improves. With any luck, we’ll get some work done, too. And that’s not all.

As Caughill points out, VR could even shift the urban landscape. “Without the need for people to live close to work, we could see unprecedented levels of de-urbanization. People will no longer need to flock to large cities for work or be tethered to a specific location.” I say wanderlust is more of a threat, but that’s just me.

With at least 6 billion people living urban by 2050, regardless of VR, the global economy will have its due. Hopefully, there will always be reasons for people to stay in cities. I don’t think the VR itself will make them come or go. I do believe, at least on a snowy day, it will make them happier.

Damn Algorithms

Work. It’s boring, exhausting, and counterintuitive to the creative problem solving that once drove American innovation. What the hell happened?

Algorithms, that’s what. Google made it fashionable to boost the bottom line with them. Now, they’re little more than a way to save on labor. Tim O’Reilly describes this turning narrative in tech as “a very dangerous time.”

How can algorithms give us more creative control over our work schedules? Or make it easier to collaborate remotely? How can they build trust and transparency, or fit 80 hours of work into 40? The world is smaller, our brains are bigger. It’s time we made an algorithm for working smarter.

The founder of O’Reilly Media has a huge influence on the role of tech in our lives, including the future of work. Now, he’s set his sights on job creators and “innovators” he thinks are more interested in making a buck than building products and services the world can use (video).

Is he right? Have we accepted the future as an extension of the past? How can a more sustainable workforce ensure an abundant future? Fair questions for a society on the brink of the automation apocalypse. But don’t fret.

O’Reilly says, “It’s still possible to reinvent the world. If we could make a more inclusive world with this technology, that would be a great gift.”

Facebook, Undecided on Hate Speech?

Facebook employs 7,500 to parse free speech from hate speech. Does it know the difference?

Image: “Pretty Double-Headed,” Wangechi Mutu

This morning, The New York Times launched a clever crowdsourcing campaign to help determine whether or not six “deeply insulting” statements should qualify as hate speech on Facebook.

In June, ProPublica posted the hate speech rules Facebook uses to train its reviewers. It later came under fire for prioritizing white men over Black children in the screening process, prompting it to change its policy to cover age as a protected category. Some question the maneuver’s sincerity.

Muddying the water further is the platform’s policy on modifiers. For example, “women need to be hit in the head” does qualify as hate speech, because it advocates violence based on gender (a protected category). But “female sports reporters need to be hit in the head” does not qualify. Because, as the Times observes, including occupation in the attack “negates the protection based on gender.” Weird.

One ProPublica commenter says, “The idea of censorship of social media just feels like a slippery slope. When some humans are setting a rubric for other humans, however thoughtful and logical it may seem, it makes free speech meaningless.”

Another says, “They protect based on gender identity? Tell that to their ‘real name’ policy enforcers.” ProPublica is asking users to report hate speech through its Facebook page.

Did any of the answers surprise me? Sure. Facebook considers “white men are assholes” hate speech, but saying “poor black people should still sit at the back of the bus” is okay. If the social network has taught me anything, it’s how to judge a book by its cover. Am I crazy to think so?