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Early Facebook and Google Employees Form a Center for Humane Technology (nytimes.com)
310 points by stanleydrew on Feb 4, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 175 comments

Facebook and other social media platforms might be heading for the type of reckoning the fast food industry had in the late 90s and early 2000s.


I wonder how much the push back against McDonald's is class based. It's not healthy, but the same can be said for a lot of the food we eat. A lot of fast casual burgers, which seem to hold a higher position in the public perception, have more calories. Of course, overall health is more complicated than just calories, but it's worth pointing out since that's one of the main complaints against McDonald's (including in the article you linked to). Cereal has declined in popularity, but it doesn't seem to have had quite the same negative stigma, even though a lot of it is simply processed flour and sugar (which was then marketed as being "part of this balanced breakfast"); neither do brands like Starbucks or Coke.

There's a good amount of sociological research on this topic, which not only agrees with your claim but also posits the obesity war is just a away for the middle and upper class (who are also overweight, at times even more so that the poor[0]) to push a moral agenda on the poor that emphasizes self-control issues of others while ignoring those of their own.[1]

[0]: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db51.htm [1]: A fascinating read on the history and current affairs of the topic: "Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food and Health"

This is very true. In India McD has a more prestige positioning (not extremely but it's a luxury for the lower class, a treat for most middle class families, and a non-shameful food destination for the upper-middle class, and no one shits on McD food as being particularly bad for you.

It's put up there with the food you will get from other similar joints (KFC, Dominos, Papa Johns etc.)—not a bastion of good eating but nothing particularly inimical.

I find the comparison with KFC, etc as odd. From my european perspective, all of these places are seen as producing unhealthy food (not to mention destroying important ecosystems such as rainforests to produce cheap meat) McDonalds is the target of campaigns only because of it's prominence and brand recognition.

In India you will have to find people who want to eat meat, to what I've heard.

I think that's more related than "luxury food"

McDonald's in India has a much larger focus on vegetarian and chicken burgers[0], avoiding the beef that's a problem for a significant portion (but not all by far) of the population.


> It's not healthy

I get a quarter pounder, a side salad, and cup of water. It's a decent, healthy meal.

>It's a decent, healthy meal.

Especially when the alternative involves a caloric-deficit. While fast food like McDonalds is nutritionally sub-optimal, it cannot be understated how effectively they deliver much-needed calories at an affordable price. Even though this is accomplished with dubious subsidies and ethically-challenged animal farming practices, superior options are few when it comes to filling your belly with a few hard-won dollars.

Is an egg-mcmuffin with no cheese and no hash-brown really that bad for you? It's literally an egg on bread.

No it’s not that bad for you.

How many people only order an egg on bread at McDonald's?

I also get a coffee (black).

it's not real egg and the processed bread-resembling muffin isn't very nutritious either

How exactly does McDonalds make eggs that aren't real eggs> I don't believe that.

There are carton "eggs" that you pour. The McMuffin really is made from fresh cracked eggs, though. I think they are delicious.

What's wrong with carton eggs? How are they not real eggs?

Just curious. What do you think those are made from?

I wasn't trying to imply whipped eggs from a carton aren't eggs.

Do you really think they'd be allowed to call it an Egg McMuffin if it didn't have real eggs? It would be a pretty clear-cut case of false advertising.

Do you read the ingredients of anything you eat/drink? This happens all the time. Read ingredients of "Apple Juice" or "Orange Juice" and it will often say upon inspection "Contains 12% juice" or something of the like.

Yeah... your Egg McMuffin probably has SOME egg in it, but that's about it.

There was a promotional document a couple of years ago which describes each type of egg they do.[0] The egg mcmuffin is actually the best, as it's entirely just an egg, cracked and cooked from scratch right there.

[0] http://static6.uk.businessinsider.com/image/54c920c1dd08950d...

Ok, so the worst thing I can find about the egg McMuffin is that it is prepared with 'liquid margerine' which appears to contain some trans fats in the form of 'partially hydrogenated soybean oil'. My understanding is anything that is partially hydrogenated is trans fats.

Apparently it is has 1/3 of you daily allowance of sodium as well.

On the other hand, if you're eating at McDonald's, I suspect the presence of trans fats in the oil isn't something you're super worried about - it's not like it's junk food loaded up with things you can barely pronounce, specifically designed to make up 75% of your recommended allowance of calories while containing as little meat/veg as possible.

McDonald's, as long as you approach the menu reasonably, is honestly probably one of the better fast food options - not something you should be eating every day, but once every couple of weeks probably isn't going to kill you any faster than anything else you do.

Find me anything with fake egg that passes itself off as Egg Something. Cadbury doesn't count, it has to be an egg substitute.

The food industry plays all sorts of games. Ever seen what's actually in "pork" sausages or "chicken" nuggets?

Do you know how narrow the definition of "mayonnaise" is (in the US)? They don't mess around.

I though that too "oh no look at those chavs" at MacDonald's Supersize me also did not see what happened to you if you eat a full xmass dinner every day for a month did it.

It might be a mistake asking this, but what the heck is a 'chav' ?

It’s an English word for rougher lower class young men. People look down on them, it’s partially a class thing and partially how they dress and how they’re just boisterous. Don’t know what the equivalent word in the USA is but in Australia we say Bogan which is similar.

Equivalent words for lower class people in the USA often have a racial slur component involved so you don't see them used in the same context. I thought the word "bro" might be close but bro has a upper or middle class connotation, being derived from frat brother, rather than lower class.

Chavs certainly don't have to be men. Also I'm pretty sure the youth requirement has atrophied now, and it's more of a direct class-epithet.

I don't think there's a race-neutral equivalent in American English, but "white trash" captures much of the spirit.

Interesting. I was under the impression that 'bogan' was sort of the Aussie equivalent to the classic American "hillbilly" -- and there's a slight (and depending on how it's used, sometimes not-so-slight) negative connotation to it here in the US as well.

Kinda sorta! It's definitely class and geographically based in Australia, and definitely negative.

The Australian equivalent is a "lad". As in "eshays adlay".

Bogan seems to be roughly equivalent to hick from what I gather.

There is no American counterpart for euro chavs, and it’s too late for that now. Euro chav fashion has been very influential in America over the last decade. A lot of Americans think chavs were hip as a result.

> Euro chav fashion has been very influential in America over the last decade. A lot of Americans think chavs were hip as a result.

I don't think I've ever seen a hipster rocking the chav look.

To be fair, I lived in Portland from 2013-2017. But I don’t think it was a ever a staple as much as a statement.

It's an English term for a young, obnoxious lower class person wearing tacky clothes.

Apart from when they got into Burberry - which the marketing tem refer to (with a shudder) as "The Time"

"Council Housed And Violent" (unless that's a backronym)

It's the British version of white trash.

Absolutely. When will governments (EU?) step the hell up and regulate this huge part of our lives?

Why don't you regulate yourselves?

The article posted above was suggesting that Facebook is more a detriment to society than a plus. Society is typically safeguarded from toxic products through regulation. So, if Facebook is a perfectly engineered attention trap, you or I self-regulating, which plenty of us here do anyway, helps society in no meaningful way.

McDonalds is still a viable business. When Facebook goes, it will evaporate like MySpace did. And not a moment too soon.

I'm not too sure. I think there's a lot of value in a centralized identity management system. Facebook seems to have filled that role. I can see a near future where it acts as a sort of SSO for the web. That doesn't necessarily sound like a $550B company, but could still be worth quite a bit.

I wonder if their rampant quest for click-money (annoying users with constant emails, useless spammy notifications, ads, sponsored content) is going to poison that well, though. I anecdotally know a lot of people in their early-mid twenties who have already deleted their accounts. If too many people start doing that, Facebook loses its one trump card.

Similarly, tv channels on YouTube (for the UK, see BBC, C4, E4) appear to be jumping on the bandwagon with clickbait, videos empty of genuine content, misleading titles and clips repeatedly churned through different videos.

This appears to have short term benefits (huge view counts), but surely it turns people off long term and impacts the brand.

centralized identity management system. Facebook seems to have filled that role.

They blatantly cannot do this unless they actually implement their real names policy. Which they won’t.

The number of sites that tie their cart to that horse is pretty low. Most sites offer their own authentication or offer multiple ones besides FB.

Don't know why this is so downvoted much. Just because Facebook evaporates doesn't mean the very concept of "social graph" will go down altogether with it.

Facebook will probably be replaced with more flexible identity and social graph architecture that's more decentralized.

It's different from McDonald's because humans have to eat, and McDonald's can always pivot or acquire other companies to provide the type of food that's more in vogue, but what Facebook has created is equivalent to a nightclub. When a nightclub loses its reputation it's very hard to recover.

How would it be decentralized? You and your webpage on your box gave rise to yahoo and then google.

There will always be a market for a dominant social media platform, just like there will always be a market for a dominant search provider, os, office suite, document interchange format, etc. All tech with a wide reach needs uniformity.

Whether or not we have reached the maturity with social media to make facebook as difficult to unseat as apple, adobe, microsoft, or google remains to be seen. But they will not just evaporate like the wonky myspace of old. Times have changed.

I personally think they have reached that level, and also do not use them because I greatly dislike social media in just about any form. But I am self-aware enough to know I am part of a tiny minority.

Looking at their website, they should really swap the landing page [0] with their "Problem" page [1] if they mean to communicate the strongest message they can about this issue. The landing page isn't as clear at what they're looking so solve.

I'd love for them to have a sort of "shop" to raise awareness. If I could just get my hands on some stickers, I'd be posting them around in public to point people to the /problem page.

[0] http://humanetech.com

[1] http://humanetech.com/problem

Their hearts are probably in the right place, but I wonder if there's a more effective strategy than what they're suggesting; trying to teach teens about the dangers of tech via ads. That hasn't been a very effective strategy historically. If anything, it feels like it just produces the opposite desired effect.

I've found teens react fairly well to messaging on how to avoid 'the man' from manipulating you.

I think we've had enough ads about how books make you smart and tv makes you stupid to know that whatever is cool and enjoyable is more likely to win in that crowd, no matter what well meaning parents and teachers and PSAs try to tell them.

I think the "TV makes you dumb" propaganda worked just fine over time, and in big part because it was honest and non-aggressive (as opposed to something like DARE). I know it is just anecdata, but out of the people in their 20s that I know, very few have cable, and those usually do it because with their provider it is cheaper to have it bundled as opposed to internet alone.

Well it’s now YouTube that makes you dumb.

I would argue that YouTube makes kids way more dumber then TV used to.

Amen, hallelujah, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc

With that out of the way:

> Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft can help solve the problem, because keeping people hooked to the screen isn’t their business model.

Isn't it? "How often do I use my phone, and how much does the price work out to in $/minute used?" is a real metric I consciously use to determine how expensive a phone I can buy. If I only used my phone for calling, texting, maps and e-mail, I would buy the cheapest phone possible. But the more apps I use, the more sense it makes to get a more expensive phone.

I assume most people would act the same way, in the end, no? That sounds like a pretty significant issue with this position they're taking. Or is it not relevant?

The big 5 is a misleading concept because Microsoft, Apple and Amazon make money by providing actual products and services. The whole sleazy attention-economy stuff could be outlawed tomorrow and they wouldn’t skip a beat. Unlike the other two.

Amazon in particular has AWS, I think as a majority of profit. Apple and MS might care due to secondary effects, such as a reduced rate of mobile device replacement? It would probably not matter too much though, and they could adapt.

FB and Google would just implode with a wet thuck.

I suspect Google could get a lot of people to pay for a "Google Prime" subscription if they had to.

Sub to what? Their search engine? I’d rather use DDG most days without Google trying to charge me. To something like YouTube? How is YouTube Red going?

Search engine + maps + docs. Yes, there are others (just like there are alternatives to Amazon) but my bet is that most people would rather pay than switch.

(That's entirely speculative on my part, but I don't think a few people preferring DDG is a compelling argument. There are alternatives to Amazon Prime too.)

You’re not really pretending that Prime isn’t first and foremost, about shipping products, right? Google exists because people are slow to associate non-monetary costs with their services. I mean, I think Bing is a bad joke, but Google erecting a paywall would be a gift to MS, and Apple.

Fortunately I can’t believe that anyone at Google believes more than a fraction of a fraction of their current user base would pay.

When I heard about YouTube Red I honestly believed YouTube had bought Redtube

YouTube what?

I guess I just made your point.

Counterpoint: I subbed to YouTube Red because I watch hours of content per week (pretty much replaced all OTA TV for me) and I didn't want to see ads any more.

With smartphones being ubiquitous, and we all have a few minutes here and there to spare...we just need to come up with a better and productive way to kill those time where you are idle. Any suggestions? Right now I'm waiting on my wife to get ready before we head out and spending it here on HN, but still, it's not productive.

Meditation and mindfulness can be used as a direct replacement for smartphone usage to kill time, in all such situations.

Seriously, this is a very good thing to do. All those annoying meditator-commenters on the Internet are right.


...but my most common smartphone time killer is reading long-form articles I've emailed to myself.

Maybe I missed the bulletpoint when I was born that said “you shall be productive every single second of your existence”

Procrastination is a healthy part of live! Whether you do that on Facebook, poking your nose or playing chess...it’s all fair game!

I am reminded of an old zen saying:

"Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and grass grows by itself."

We seriously underestimate the importance of boredom. I used to be like OP,constantly seeking stimulation/engagement with either books/mobile when bored but reading this https://hbr.org/2010/06/why-i-returned-my-ipad has deeply impacted me. While commuting, waiting in queue etc. I just let my thoughts wander and wonder at its nimbleness. Thank you for the quote.

What is wrong with being idle? Why has everything have to be productive?

This. I think we should appreciate some idle time occasionally. But my brain is currently wired for maximizing time on computer, doing programming or relwted tasks.

Idle time is good. I have close to a one hour commute, each way. Just me in my car. I dont rush or drive aggressively so my mind can be relaxed. My mind can wander, be idle. Most of the time the radio is not on, or just serves as background noise. Interesting to find the replies in this thread that assumes I'm always trying to do something, when already 2 hours a day I am not.

I wasnt assuming anything. I was giving an example from myself. Even when i drive my brain occasionally thinks about work, side project or some idea that i should definitely try.

Vacations are very boring for this reason, for me. It is not my thing to do nothing that challenges me in some way. Sitting at beach talking arbitrary things is not me, for example.

Get ebooks and read.

[edit] sorry for being curt, but seriously: that can be all there is to it. It changed the way I use my phone.

Nah, I didn't think you were curt. This was my solution for a while. Problem is when I read I hate to stop mid sentence or paragraph. While if on FB, or HN I can close without a care. I may need to take up less serious reading material I guess, hah. I will probably go back to this, though.

Any books you can recommend that helps fill those few minutes of void?

Aphorisms are good for that! I don't have a phone, but e.g. I've been reading The Art of Worldly Wisdom (17th C Spanish book) as a toilet book for a year or more, it's wonderful. I have a tiny book version, maybe 6x4x1cm. It's all in little sections of a half-dozen lines, great for reading 20 seconds or a couple of minutes at a time. An e-version would be great too I guess. So much wisdom in that book.

Also other aphorists - La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyere, Lichtenberg etc. La Rochefoucauld is savagely dark and funny about you (yes, you); La Bruyere similar but sunnier, fairer; Lichtenberg's kind of like an 18th C hacker writing - a scientist/mathematician writing his little thoughts about everything.

Almost all of Nietzsche's writing is in aphorisms or short paragraphs, he'd be great for that. I find him endlessly fascinating on a thousand subjects, and very funny too.

Thanks. I just got the art of worldly wisdom. Had $2 of Amazon digital credits to spend and the Kindle version is $2 :)

For light reading, I recommend:

Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, by Mil Millington: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Things-Girlfriend-Have-Argued-About...

and form the acting world (but these are totally great to read on their own) I can recommend:

Awkward Conversations With Animals I've Fucked by Rob Hayes: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Awkward-Conversations-Animals-Fucke...

and The Truth, by Florian Zeller: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Truth-Florian-Zeller-ebook/dp/B01CV... (side splitting performance in London two years ago)

and if you're into it: http://www.hpmor.com/ . A bit fringe, but worth a shot if you've read the original books.

All of these are lighthearted and fun.

Another option is reading web comics or manga. For me those tend to be easier to consume during shorter periods of time than ebooks.

When I'm reading I like being able to sit down and really get into it.

I'll usually end up on Hacker News if there's nothing on my queue, though. But HN is largely content focused.

Think, or meditate, or simply zone out. When I give myself the time to do this I end up more productive overall.

The problem isn’t just online. There’s so much noise (both visual and auditory) these days that you don’t really have time to simply muse outside your home (if there).

Except this "productivity" you speak of is not productive.

So it's a false dichotomy between feeling like you are doing something and not "doing something". It's like buying a gym membership and saying you're fit now.

I guess I should rephrase what I tried to say. If I have 2 minutes to kill, what is better than browsing Facebook or Hacker News.

Just sit there and wait.

It's becoming a lost skill.

The extra time I have is usually 15 or so minutes before starting at work. Sometimes more than that, depending on how smooth traffic was getting to work. What I've been doing lately is to do programming. On my phone.

I have a secret gist at Github. Enable desktop mode. Resize the screen just right. It allows me to get a little bit done here and there, and it helps that what I'm working on is pretty simple. Update the gist when I'm done. Later, at home, I can pull the gist, fix it up, make it work, and recommit.

It's painful though. My phone's software keyboard is horrible for doing development work. But it works.

Flash cards. I’m learning my music notation.

Unless you can just chill, then chill.

I try to trigger myself to do a quick session on learning a foreign language. It’s not easy at first, but apps like Memrise, Duolingo or Drops support such short sessions.

Install a chess app?

Can recommend Lichess [1], the puzzles are a lot of fun! I can also recommend Wordfeud (a Scrabble clone), and Duolingo (an interactive language-learning tool by professor Luis von Ahn (creator of reCAPTCHA)). But I can also recommend mindfulness, or listening to music which makes you relaxed such as classical or ambient music.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lichess

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duolingo

Self-plug: I built a 5 minute word game for this very reason (diffuse mind time) that fits right in with your list of options.


That's cool, just didn't know how to confirm at start.

Reminds me of a game by Microsoft. I really like Wordament. What I like about it, is that if you select the same language, you get the same puzzle. So you can play against a friend who's sitting in the same room! Who'd have thought I'd love a game by Microsoft (for Android!). Only annoying this is the ads; I wish I could buy a premium version.

Will check out Wordement. I definitely plan on incorporating heads up mode, as I love the competitiveness of blitz on lichess and similar. But it introduces a whole new level of engineering challenges, so first building out solo mode.

Cool game!

Is there a chance to get longer words in the mix? I could be blind, but the longest word I was able to spot was 5 letters long, I think.

Thanks! Sure are. Words currently go up to 7 letters long... I will probably increase to 10 soon, so long as that size dictionary doesn’t impact performance.

Not using facebook or a smartphone is the new 'I don't watch TV'. The parallels and complaints are fairly similar.

Don't even have to go far to see that. Open any thread on HN that is about Facebook or has it in the title, and you can already predict half of the comments, with a variation of "I quit facebook N months/years ago, and if you are still using it, you must be a sheep" being in the top 5. As soon as someone reasonably objects to this by saying that facebook is helpful to plan and coordinate events with friends, there will be the token reply saying "if they are real friends, they would reach out to you specifically through other means, no matter how impractical that is." It's as if some people live in this fantasy world where everything is binary.

Is there any trend currently for young people or new college grads to avoid these huge manipulative companies like Facebook or Google? I honestly have no idea, I haven't talked to a student or recent grad in awhile, but after the events of the past 24 months I wonder what a 20 year old pondering internships thinks about all this?

When I graduated in '98 the most "cool" thing was to work for the biggest name possible (so Microsoft or IBM at the time), but I imagine things have changed.

This is purely personal experience based on what my university colleagues tell me, but I think the solidarity gets surprisingly diluted as money is thrown in their faces. Tech aside, money is really the game changer in getting people to cave on their personal values. As long as these companies have huge salaries to throw around, people will take it, even if it means biting their tongue and closing their minds. It's depressingly ironic how many students will vocalize their anti-Facebook or anti-Google sentiments, then turn around and interview with those same companies because who doesn't want to make $200k+ with cushiony perks after living off fast food and dealing with college debt. Then if they leave after 2-3 years, the next batch of hired help comes in to run the machine, and it's just rinse and repeat for Facebook and Google.

I think the allure of working at Google/FB is too great. Facebook pays insane amounts to new grads. Then there is the google recognition, where simply having google on your CV seems to open every door around. Startups advertise their companies as being founded by “googlers” more than they actually try to sell their business ideas half the time. The brand recognition is powerful.

I have observed a dangerous sort of fashionable cynicism based on the (claimed) belief that things are so bad in general—in politics, in industry, and in society—that surely working for such a company, or on Wall Street, isn’t such a big deal. In other words, that this is just how things are.

In fact it seems like some sort of perversion of the Protestant ethic where instead of undeserved salvation being witnessed by material success through hard work, so-called intelligence and maturity—“ironically” acknowledged to be the fruits of privilege and good fortune—are evidenced by holding reactionary (“centrist”) views and by taking these sorts of jobs.

This accounts for many of the upper middle class new grads I see (kids who couldn’t guess how much their family earned within 100k and wouldn’t see that as unreasonable).

When it comes to lower income or many international students, there is definitely an advantage to the Google/Facebook brand on your resume, magnified when you are talking about using your resume overseas. And of course in that case or if you expect to have to pay medical bills for aging parents soon it is a grand sort of luxury to turn down such a job offer.

The consequence, ironically, is that both the fashionable cynics as well as the idealistic new grads who turn away from Google/Facebook thus end up being mostly affluent and (debatably) largely white. Go to the careers page of some social-good startup and check out their photos!

That covers the pull factors I’ve seen. In terms of push factors you have to also account for Google/Facebook just having an order of magnitude more recruiting money and brand recognition.

I'm currently a CS senior graduating this semester, and there's definitely still a draw for CS students to go work for the "Big N" and other large tech companies. That said, there are still students (me included) that don't want to work for those companies for various reasons, including not wanting to contribute to these companies' goal of "surveillance capitalism".

Not any meaningful trend that I have realized. Most kids still flock to the large companies. Working for them for the prestige and pay is always the aim for the super ambitious, but, with the fat checks they get, working for Facebook is just the beginning of compromising ethics.

Oh, this is the Time Well Spent movement - I thought it sounded like them but it wasn't in the article and wasn't until halfway down their landing page [1] that they mention this. I first heard about this via Max Stossel's talk at Google: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkeZJh937sE

[1] http://humanetech.com/

> Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, told The Guardian last month that he would not let his nephew on social media

Does anyone else wonder how old the child in question is? Much of the media attention has been framed as "Tim Cook wouldn't let a kid use social media", ignoring the fact that the statement was about one child—not all children. We can't really draw meaningful conclusions about Cook's philosophy without knowing if this kid is 9 or 17.

From http://fortune.com/2015/03/26/tim-cook/ : "He plans to give away all his wealth, after providing for the college education of his 10-year-old nephew."

So presumably 12 when he said that.

Cool, I'm in. That said, using a Facebook group as a way to "get involved" is on a whole new level of ironic.

I think it’s rather un-ironic. The central thesis is not that the technology itself is flawed, but that it needs to be done in a way that is more adaptive to the needs of humans. The best way to reach people is where they are, and people are overwhelmingly on Facebook.

>people are overwhelmingly on Facebook

Is hypercentralization not a major problem of tech at the momemt, both in terms of security and freedom of thought?

Hypercentralization is a contributing factor (and indeed an enabler) of the main problem, which its the exploitation of attention. It is, in itself, not bad, and not in itself a problem. The same issue that this organization is fighting could also occur in an attention economy dominated by no major player.

Hypercentralization is an intrinsic part of it. The VC money for operating at a loss is only available because VC's dream of hypercentralization. And if they didn't have VC backing and had to turn a profit and run ads on day 1, they wouldn't be able to beat the free as in freedom platforms where attention wouldn't be exploited.

Hypercentralization is bad when it leads to data hoarding because it creates a "jackpot" of information for hackers

Younger generations are increasingly not on Facebook. They're on other various social platforms.

Which is why Facebook buys them out.

They might not be "on Facebook", but many of them use Facebook Messenger extensively.

There certainly appears to be a swell of anti-Facebook sentiment in recent times.

Leading in from a lengthy public discussion around it's role in Russia influencing the Presidential Election (the facts of that matter rendering the discussion almost comical), and a recent high-profile call-out by George Soros, I've noticed a glut of hand-wringing articles alleging it's clear-and-present-danger to the population and, in particular, children.

While I agree with many of Facebook's detractors, I will be paying particular attention to what solutions are proposed as the narrative develops. Given that some of the louder-voices were also heavily in favour of "Net Neutrality" regulation, I'm anticipating calls for direct regulatory intervention (as opposed to, say, pursuing violations of existing anti-competition laws, and eliminating anti-democratic lobbying influence of these and other entities).

I feel like mobile gaming is Facebook at a smaller scale but 10x worse...not only are they trying to hook you but the hook is actively extracting money from you.

Both prey on our increased dependency on an instant dopamine release.

In the movie,The Insider (1999) a Big Tobacco CEO says "We are in the nicotine delivery business", substituting nicotine to dopamine and you have your Tencent and Facebook. They now are increasingly targeting women for social media gaming. [0]https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-07-31/fueled-by...

you are right. there was an interesting discussion on 'lootboxes' couple of days ago on HN..

Nice idea but I think this is only really going to change when either the incentives change (i.e. not ad-based) or there’s legislation/regulation of some kind.

Until then, the BigCos will keep doing what they’re doing, because that’s how everything is set up.

People are fleeing facebook in droves. Read last week's release. Something's gotta change, it's more of a debate as to what or how.

Yes for Facebook owned Instagram...

Meet the new boss.

It's not quite that simple, but yes insta is helping facebook hide their problems due to them stealing everyone from snapchat.

There's something sublimely humorous about the fact that ex-employees from the world's largest ad distributors are working to start an ad campaign.

It's a hot niche right now, that's for sure.

People don't stop using horses until they can go out and buy a car. So, what's the product? I read their site, it seems to just complain about all of the downsides of social media. Is this just for awareness? I like some of their ideas, but I don't really understand how they aim to change things.

If the current technology services are like cigarettes, then the solution is to solve the disease and addiction problems, so people can smoke in a safe way. That's kind of what vaporizer technology is attempting.

Facebook and Google are built on old technology, and it's technology that we now know to have fundamental flaws.

The answer to out-dated bad technology is next-generation good technology. Technology is supposed to work for us, and to the extent it doesn't, that's a bug to be resolved.

No amount of warnings or education is going to solve the problem. No panicked response is necessary. If you want to fix the problem, just create, fund, and promote the new and improved technology.

> No amount of warnings or education is going to solve the problem

The most effective solutions (the closest we've got to "solving the problem") to habitual cigarette smoking so far seem to be regulation; increasing prices, making things socially arduous.

> The answer to out-dated bad technology is next-generation good technology.

The problem is not technology, and neither is the solution. There's nothing that technologically innovative about aggregating and re-ordering images/hyperlinks via a PHP app.

The problem is one of power, control, informed-consent, and incentives.

If the problem isn't modern technology such as Facebook and smartphones, then why didn't we have this problem in the past? And if it is modern technology, then why couldn't it be the solution?

As one example, why can't we create a social network that's designed to help users mitigate the negative aspects of using it?

What about Facebook is modern technology?

> Governments can pressure technology companies toward humane business models by including the negative externalities of attention extraction on their balance sheets

What does this mean? I'm genuinely curious. Meanwhile, easier: tax ads.

I think you have effectively come to the same conclusion, but without the abstract idea to back it up.

What social media does to mental health is comparable to what cigarettes do to the lung health.

This has a Silicon Valley episode written all over it.

its a community.. if you are non-SV and join you can help steer the direction, become a prominent member :)

the problem, i think, is very real.. many people in this thread seem not to be affected, and that is good. but people are getting addicted in droves.. and they need the help!

sure, it is fighting bad tech with more tech - but that will be _good_ tech, hopefully.. besides that more regulation is needed - as others have rightfully stated. but this is not an either/or choice.. both are needed and tech is not going to be ditched any time soon.. on the contrary i would think :)

So, it sounds to me like "Tech is eating our world. Let's create some more tech to counteract that!"

Um, maybe we should fix healthcare and affordable housing and institute maternity leave and other policies so parents can spend time with their kids instead of having the iPad babysit them?

I know. Radical thought that maybe something other than more tech is the solution to our tech problem. Like... less tech.

But someone had to toss out the stupidly obvious answer.

That's loss of productivity.

It's interesting how all of these early employees can now speak out about the ills of their former employers after they have cashed out all of their RSUs and gotten rich...

interesting indeed.. but any persons can repent and change their ways, so let's see where this is going :)

Fear mongering lobbying group for traditional media.

that is a tiny bit easy.. read their problem statement and tell me if you don't see these things in your everyday life :)

if not, are you living off-grid? (which is also interesting, but a different topic altogether)

> Ads warning teens about the dangers of technology, that's definitely going to work.

That's a good point of course, but on HN if you make your point as a snarky dismissal, we get lousy discussion. So please don't do that. There's no point worth making that can't be made thoughtfully.


Edit: since the comment was edited (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16304414) I'll detach this bit and mark it off-topic.


Much better! I'll detach the original reply so your comment can run free.

Title is misleading. Harris's job at Google was the same thing he is doing now (but obviously he realized he could do it better from outside), so he's not "fighting what he built".

If you or anyone can suggest a better title, we can change it. A good title is accurate, neutral, and uses representative language from the article.

Edit: I took a crack at it above.

It's always fun to see what rich people do to find meaning.

Maybe so, but that's no reason to post unsubstantive comments to Hacker News.



Snarky dismissals aren't allowed here. Regardless of how right you are, you end up damaging the container of this community by posting this way. Please don't do that.


Go get those speaker fee’s and book deals!

Seriously though...this is such hyperbole! Quotes taken out of context, etc.

Follow the money folks

"It will be aimed at educating students, parents and teachers about the dangers of technology, including the depression that can come from heavy use of social media."

So, treating the symptoms rather than the disease, and at any rate nothing to do with these companies' pervasive and invasive data practices. Maybe they still have positions in their former employers, I don't know, but following the money will have to be a task for the future.

All I can say is, "good luck." I'm sure some good speaker fees and book deals will come of this.

Please don't post reflexively dismissive comments to HN, especially when talking about other people's work, and extra-especially when it's the first comment to a thread. You might have a good point, but the genre itself drowns it out in a medium-is-the-message way. Discussions are sensitive to initial conditions and we're hoping that HN can be better than that.


I think the pattern where the comments usually disagree with the article is healthy. It's a point-counterpoint argument structure, where the odd layers in the tree are arguing opposite to the even layers.

The article makes its case, the first comments make the case that was missing from the article, the replies make the case missing from them... and so on.

You're right, and we're not asking commenters to always agree with an article—but when disagreeing, to reflectively engage rather than reflexively dismiss. The article doesn't necessarily deserve such treatment, but the community does. We all share an interest in HN being a place for quality discussion, and this is how quality discussion emerges.

It is most important early in the thread, because discussions are sensitive to initial conditions and the blank page is most vulnerable to rapid, shallow responses. By the time the more thoughtful ones have had time to emerge, the thread is often already choked by faster-growing weeds.

I read the article before posting, it's not reflexive.

I believe you, but the comment itself contains one commonplace criticism ("data practices"—an important issue, but not so relevant in this context and very widely discussed elsewhere) followed by two cheap insinuations. That's not good enough. That combo of shallow and inflammatory is exactly what takes threads into hot mediocrity.

That's a bit harsh and I definitely don't mean to pick on you. It's a systemic problem. I'm hoping we can gradually persuade the community to be more conscious of it.

> So, treating the symptoms rather than the disease

If you want to convince people with the point you're trying to make you I suggest you address the why and come up with one or more alternative, viable solutions. IOW, in short you must be constructive and I gave two examples how.

What I quoted from you reminds me of Schneier's essay Data Is a Toxic Asset [1].

I'm not as intelligent as Bruce Schneier so instead of using my own interpretation I will quote his essay instead.

The relevant part in understanding the why:

> There are three reasons. The first is that we're in the middle of the hype cycle of big data. Companies and governments are still punch-drunk on data, and have believed the wildest of promises on how valuable that data is. The research showing that more data isn't necessarily better, and that there are serious diminishing returns when adding additional data to processes like personalized advertising, is just starting to come out.

> The second is that many organizations are still downplaying the risks. Some simply don't realize just how damaging a data breach would be. Some believe they can completely protect themselves against a data breach, or at least that their legal and public relations teams can minimize the damage if they fail. And while there's certainly a lot that companies can do technically to better secure the data they hold about all of us, there's no better security than deleting the data.

> The last reason is that some organizations understand both the first two reasons and are saving the data anyway. The culture of venture-capital-funded start-up companies is one of extreme risk taking. These are companies that are always running out of money, that always know their impending death date.

And some solutions:

> We can be smarter than this. We need to regulate what corporations can do with our data at every stage: collection, storage, use, resale and disposal. We can make corporate executives personally liable so they know there's a downside to taking chances. We can make the business models that involve massively surveilling people the less compelling ones, simply by making certain business practices illegal.

Some of his other essays as well as his most recent book Data and Goliath also covers the subject (and also addresses solutions though the solutions are unfortunately not easy; they're difficult). In one of the chapters he suggests taking a smartphone with you is a conscious choice and that we should shift from a default always taking it with you to seeing the pros and cons of such a decision.

[1] https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2016/03/data_is_a_tox...

simply by making certain business practices illegal.

"Shit's Easy Syndrome," from a great Steve Yegge post: http://steve-yegge.blogspot.com/2009/04/have-you-ever-legali...

Unfortunately I'm more cynical than Mr. Schneier. His three reasons are true, but irrelevant, because the companies don't even have to care how valuable the data is right now. It's already free and clear, outside of maybe COPPA. It's the territory of privacy that they have stored for anything they can think of in the future, while right now it's fine to be used as an excuse to sell mundane ads based on it. I feel the regulation he desires is unlikely to happen because now the big data companies have more money than God, as well as much more focused interests than "a group of Facebook users," and can use that money to lobby. All the while us mooks are left to set up GoFundMes and hashtags 8 years before someone, somewhere gets standing in court. If they get past arbitration, that is.[1]

There is effectively no consequence to any use or misuse of data on the ownership side and I don't see that changing, not the least because data is the very lifeblood of the businesses that have been formed around it, it is the family jewels, and it will be protected from outside forces of all kinds. A data SarbOx isn't going to be more effective than the ineffective original because nobody's really going to tell them what they can do with their data. They have conquered frontiers of privacy, and we're already on the way to a new regime oriented around them. Can they be beat back? Who knows.

This is why setting up what sounds essentially like an informational campaign that tells you that all this is happening is a bit of the old horse and barn door, and I'm pessimistic that they would ever run anything that might threaten the financial prospects of these companies. Perhaps it could even be seen as a submarine campaign to ease the transition into a new concept of privacy, anchoring the other side of the debate (wittingly or unwittingly, it doesn't matter).

We can be smarter, sure, anything's possible, but it's not that simple. A lot of smarter people also work for these companies (and in government) and are fine with the way things are.

Now I feel like reading up on the taming of the American West, there might be some relevance here. Putting that on my list, and as far as solutions go I think that's the best I can do right now.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaz2hxZLycY

> “The largest supercomputers in the world are inside of two companies — Google and Facebook — and where are we pointing them?” Mr. Harris said. “We’re pointing them at people’s brains, at children.”

I'm not sure if I should be concerned that the leader of this initiative is wrong about something so trivial.


You should be considered that you are intentionally missing the point by using an overly narrow and domain-irrelevant interpretation of "supercomputer".

Do you think that the users of any of those supercomputers would turn down an offer to run their projects on Google or Facebook's fleet instead of their "one" supercomputer (given some time to adapt their software)

This brings me back to something I discussed here in the past - are there scientific problems that are simply not compatible with running in the cloud, and require a supercomputer? I can't, off the top of my head, think of anything where the performance would degrade enough with the increase in communication latency between components, that the increase in available (on-demand!) resources wouldn't keep up.

Well, 3D physics simulations a la finite difference or finite element are not trivial to break up for parallelization, because the state of individual cells is mathematically dependent on the state of its neighbors, so communication latency between loop cycles would be a bottleneck on a distributed system without some kind of clever optimization.

Edit: for clarity, finite difference and finite element simulations both involve discretizing a 3D volume into individual cubes (I believe other geometries exist, but are less common) and running an update loop which performs calculations for each of millions or more cells. Of course, models with spatially small divisions, and/or those designed to handle high frequency wave propagation, require potentially enormous amounts of memory (e.g. climate simulation, or large seismic dataset processing). Depending on what math you're solving, there are heuristics which you may be able to use to update only a subset of active cells, or divide up the model to split among multiple machines with minimal loss of accuracy while retaining high precision.

Depends how Googles network is set up and how fast and over provisioned it is - how much budget you have for networking also comes into it (that's the power budget btw)

Brad Hedlund has some interesting articles on the challenges


That's a good point. Thank you

While the wording by the author is technically incorrect in that Google and Facebook aren’t operating a single supercomputer, the computing resources in possession of each company would almost certainly exceed any entry in the top500.

The author used the wrong name, surely what he means is the biggest group of computers working as one system software-wise.

But that really doesn't strike a chord, especially for lay people.

I think it's a metaphor tbh.

Yes, and putting the term between "quotes" (or rather, these 'quotes') would've avoided the confusion/discussion.

Technically true, but if you were measuring raw compute power it's possible that tech companies can beat super computers. (Numbers are hard to come by because companies are secretive about how many servers they have)

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