Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Mark Zuckerberg and his empire of oily rags (craphound.com)
417 points by laurex on July 6, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 232 comments

> That’s because dossiers on billions of people hold the power to wreak almost unimaginable harm, and yet, each dossier brings in just a few dollars a year. For commercial surveillance to be cost effective, it has to socialize all the risks associated with mass surveillance and privatize all the gains.

> There’s an old-fashioned word for this: corruption. In corrupt systems, a few bad actors cost everyone else billions in order to bring in millions – the savings a factory can realize from dumping pollution in the water supply are much smaller than the costs we all bear from being poisoned by effluent. But the costs are widely diffused while the gains are tightly concentrated, so the beneficiaries of corruption can always outspend their victims to stay clear.

Spot on. Google's in exactly the same boat, it's just that they provide a few services which are legitimately useful (Search, Gmail), so they're targeted less right now.

How we will get out of this, I have no idea...

The fix is not complicated. I have no issue with my search data/post viewing history providing me better results or better ads.

The real damaging data to people and society at large is a different set of data. It's the publicly visible counts next to every thought and utterance reinforcing misguided beliefs and behaviour up and down the food chain constantly. Any experienced shrink, psycologist or educator, marketing/PR expert knows applying the right amount of feedback at the right time is critical to how people process info.

Remove/delay/reduce the visibility of like counts/view counts/upvotes/retweet counts that are displayed and the world will be a different place overnight.

>I have no issue with my search data/post viewing history providing me better results or better ads. The real damaging data to people and society at large is a different set of data.

Hmm, I disagree. It seems to me that both sources of data are dangerous. Yes, showing "You have 10 likes" is bad for users as social media companies iterate their way towards addiction but your search data is a toxic asset beyond just showing ads. Let's say google leaked everyone's search history tomorrow. How many marriages are going to be ruined? How many politicians are going to resign? How many future politicians will decide to never run? How many firings and never-hirings will there be based on that history?

People should be able to live normal lives without being surveilled - by governments or corporations.

What if the opposite happened? What if we all suddenly had undeniable confirmation that shitloads of people watch mannequin porn, and so fuck it, why be embarrassed by it?

It doesn't seem to work that way. When Ashley Madison leaked did people stand up and go "whoa millions of men are trying to cheat on their spouses, maybe we shouldn't be embarrassed about this"? No, they said "whoa there are millions of fucked up men."

What about when all those celebrity nudies leaked? Did people stand up and say "maybe taking and sending nude photos isn't something we should be embarrassed about"? No, they said "look at this crazy photo of <Celebrity>!"

No, we said, "whoa, there are millions more fucked up men."

You have a very optimistic model of people.

Not necessarily. If literally everybody is open to the same level of scrutiny of their lives, how quick will they be to judge others, lest they in turn be judged?

I think its more likely that the judgement will spread in a highly non-uniform manner that reflected existing social biases with some people being vastly more negatively affected by having their secrets exposed than others.

Given equal access to the sources of shame of all three, would we really expect society to apply equal judgement standards to a mother, a billionaire asshole white guy, and a black guy from the inner city?

How is that kind of bias mitigated by privacy though?

My interpretation of the argument was that taking privacy away from those who had it wouldn't necessarily cause harm because in some aggregated way everyone would have something to lose and so people would be tempered against 'throwing the first stone'.

I think that notion is false because the negative effects of the loss of privacy will spread unequally and opportunity created for those to exploit the unequal consequences against their foes.

Very quick, it turns out. Judging others is a deflective tactic against being judged yourself. "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" is great spiritual wisdom but most people don't abide by it.

That's sorta my point. If no one had any privacy, then any time you judge others you open yourself to being judged. It's like punching someone in the face, you could do it but they'll probably punch you back.

So yeah, maybe you could make a big deal about congressman so-and-so having a diaper fetish or whatever, but then people will probably want to look into your porn browsing history.

They've just been punched in the face, they can't reasonably punch back. (Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth).

I know it seems like universal surveillance could level the field and make people less likely to judge, but in practice it doesn't work that way. You say "people will probably want into [the judger's] porn browsing history", but in reality, they don't. The preemptive strike generally wins, and counterstrikes generally look like defensive posturing. So removing all privacy just gives more power to the bigger asshole.

Just had a conversation about Amazon facial recognition with a friend last evening.

Imagine ten years in the future: you did something to upset the local police officer. Maybe you didn't pick up a can like he ordered. In any case, imagine he takes a photo of you with his body camera and then using Amazon's machine learning, they're able to find likeness of you doing "illegal" things and immediately write you a ticket. Resist more? Maybe Amazon can dig deeper and find out the faces you are around often and dig out treasure trove about someone.

I agree. Without universal enforcement, universal surveillance is pointless. This is why I was glad to see TSA selecting old women on wheelchairs with oxygen masks for searching while boarding onto airplanes because what we had before that was not random searching at all. It was profiling.

I'm amazed nobody in New York talks about NYPD reflective vests in a car's dash. Clearly, the car owner is communicating that the car belongs to a police officer to avoid a ticket. Anyone who does this does not belong in our police force. However, people just don't care about it.

Look at research into school bullies; it's a somewhat similar phenomenon to what you're envisioning.


Lisa: I can't believe I'm jealous of a baby!

Bart: Hey, so am I! When you're a baby, you can just spend all day rolling around on the floor. (sighs) I miss those days.

Nelson: Then roll, baby! (Bart rolls on the bus floor) Ha Ha! Floor Baby!

Lisa: You're laughing at him for something you made him do.

Nelson: Well… you're gay!

Lisa: People who call other people gay are often covering up their own latent homosexuality.

Wait I don't get the point of this story. Is it meant to show that by the story's end, Lisa has become the bully? That's how it reads to me.

Broadly speaking, prejudice can be and often is (much) stronger than family ties, even if the perceived misdeed does not impact the family.

How well do you expect things to go if you move these sorts of situations into a context without any kind of strong, positive emotional bond?

A liberal society works not because things are allowed, but because people don't know. (And are taught to not stick their noise into other people's business).

> How many marriages are going to be ruined?

Not many, considering marriages are less popular among young people nowadays.

> How many politicians are going to resign?

Not many, considering older politicians maybe don't spent their time on internet, and younger politicians are aware of the state of privacy on internet

> How many future politicians will decide to never run?

Maybe we will discover than many more people are "cleaner" than we thought, and will become influencers

> How many firings and never-hirings will there be based on that history?

That's a good point. However, the mega-corporation isn't 100% of the employment. Small enterprises and freelancer just want the work to be done and get pay, without wondering about who did what in their lives.

As another comment said, maybe watching porn and being interested in more than one partner isn't that bad after all. It only shows the dumbness of the artificial rules older authorities (such as religion, army, states, etc) imposed on crowd to keep control on them.

Edit : anyway, I support the idea of a private internet space for everyone, where people can express their ideas and experience with new concepts without fearing retribution. Words don't kill people.

I think that this is the solution. Remove the count and who of the likes. You can still show the fact that someone liked it for some stickiness but you remove race to post only to generate likes but rather to share a point of view.

    > How we will get out of this, I have no idea...
I don't know. It was a faustian bargain we all made. It was fun for a while, but now it is getting increasingly ugly.

How does one get out of a Faustian Bargain, anyway?

> It was a faustian bargain we all made.

I didn't make that bargain, but I think the real problem these days is that it doesn't matter if you made it or not. All it takes is one weak link in the chain and suddenly you're under surveillance from a company you had no intention of being involved with.

I don't, for example, use GMail but if I communicate with people who do then my mail falls under Google surveillance. I don't use Google Drive but if I do business with a company that does then some of my data has been forked over to Google and I'm unlikely to ever know about it. I don't use Facebook but if I appear in a photo that someone else uploads and annotates then Facebook has a photo ID of me without my say-so.

It's difficult to stay clear of surveillance companies when you're constantly being undermined by the unintentional (or, perhaps more precisely, unthinking) actions of even just a few people. My data's being bought and sold every day and there is no way I can control that, opt out of it, or even get a list of companies who have my information or what they're doing with it.

If this is the information age and if information has value, then my information is my asset and I want control of it. Without the ability for a person to assert sovereignty over their own data, how can there be a balance of power between the individual and large organizations seeking to exploit everyone's data?

Spot on. Opting out of the weaponized, automated surveillance machine is not really possible.

I do block FB, Google and a bunch of others at the IP level. There are fallbacks, but I do end up leaking when they stand up new IP blocks, and the smaller surveillance shops are impossible to keep up with.

I also pee in their datasets sometimes, but that's a more experimental/entertainment activity. And I'm playing with some other ideas not ready for prime time.

> how can there be a balance of power between the individual and large organizations seeking to exploit everyone's data?

Regulation. That's what you do with antisocial behavior, negative externalities and worse. The transnational nature of the net adds complications and freeholds, but the big boys absolutely could be brought to heel, if people wanted to. Politically, the winds seem to be blowing in the other direction in the US, and the GDPR has been argued to death here.

But that's how the situation improves. (It will never be "fixed", absent an event that destroys the ability to run networks.)

Any more info (eg. tools + source) on how to pee in their datasets?

I shouldn't overstate what I'm doing - this is largely an exercise in reversing what they're doing. And when I figure it out I might have a little fun by way of verifying I figured something out.

Tools - I use Charles Proxy and perl with WWW::Mechanize (substitute your recreational language of choice). Sometimes JMeter is helpful, but that's kind of a rathole if you haven't had reason to subject yourself to it before.

I think a very effective way is to get much better control over your cookies, when you allow them to be set, under which conditions, on which sites.

I use a combination of CookieBro and Umatrix on Firefox for this. Cookies are only allowed for sites I actively want to log into. For sites that require cookies to function, periodic auto-deletion via CookieBro handles those.

     > ... it doesn't matter if you made it or not.
Yep, like in the film "Rosemary's Baby". It was Rosemary's husband that made the deal with the devil but it was she who ended up carrying the child of Satan.

A Faustian bargain implies that we knew the price. Facebook actively misled (and continues to mislead) us about what we were giving up to use its service.

I always get downvoted for FB criticism, perhaps by their employees, but I have evidence for what I just said: Zuck's many, many, many public apologies.

I don’t think people really can feign ignorance. What did we think was going on? FB built this huge free product out of the goodness of their hearts? Did nobody stop to think about how Zuck became a billionaire and pays all these employees?

    > Did nobody stop to think ...?
Sure, we certainly "thought".

There were the mildly provocative arguments about facebook users being "the product". Like cattle. Many just assumed they were not susceptible to ads or strong enough not to be manipulated. Folks were thinking about this on an individual basis, assuming that yes, some dumbasses would get sucked in by Farmville but that they themselves were impervious.

Turns out it doesn't matter what any one individual thinks. Facebook is all about scale and knowledge. They're selling enormous social power to whoever forks over the money. It doesn't matter to facebook if the real customer is selling soap or authoritarian government.

I think only now are we getting wise to the full implications of Facebook and the like.

I think the dichotomy was the language Facebook used to discuss their mission, not as profits but as a social company solely doing good. For example, in 2012, a book they gave to all their employees read:

"Facebook was not originally created to be a company, it was built to accomplish a social mission—to make the world more open and connected."

I wrote a tweet series critiquing this:


Here's the problem: many people in tech circles, including HN, passionately argued that their main monetization technique was selling ads, that they were incentivized to protect user data. But it has become clear that while they were profiting off of ads, they were also essentially giving away the data they were supposedly protecting. EFF and others sounded the alarm as it was happening but many people here and in other tech forums couldn't believe it was happening in 2009. But now that it's all in the open we're seeing a bit of history rewriting.

It was evidently to show you ads. Showing ads is lightly problematic, but not inheretly evil.

The privacy concerns were pretty much hidden from the public the entire time.

"Showing ads" is a phrase that covers a wide range of activity. Personally, I don't see anything wrong (and a lot of good) with a polite "hey, this thing exists" message. But once ads start trying to grab your attention, subvert your reasoning (often to your own personal detriment)... that's Evil. It's smeared out into billions of tiny bits, but that doesn't really make it any better.

Polite advertising combined with targeting is also potentially very problematic. Passive targeting (people who are interested in X do Y so I will advertise X near Y) seems fine, but it in this day and age it intersects with tracking... which brings us back around the circle.

Some of us didn't join the SN or believe in it. But then Google took the low road and most of us thought they were benevolent.

From what I understand is that people want to feel good that they were not complicit in this all along.

Zuckerberg is the visible FB hood ornament, but people like Umanov are arguably still ultimately calling the shots


When facebook came out, the vast majority of sites _did_ (or were assumed to) operate that way.

I was in high school when I joined. I have to say, I didn't think about it at all.

It wasn't just Facebook. Most of the valley was effectively bought off in the Instagram acquisition, and even now much of the wealth is directly or indirectly linked to FB. There's a famous Upton Sinclair quote which neatly explain the seemingly strong pro-Facebook bias here :

> It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

>A Faustian bargain implies that we knew the price.

As someone who for years often pointed out the bargain, I am not sympathetic to your position. Almost everyone I know who knew the price did pay it. Often, it was not merely the lack of knowledge, but actively putting their fingers to their ears to drown out inconvenient voices like mine.

This is one of those cases where there were plenty of "internet wackos" sounding the alarm, all the way back to the launch of Gmail, and everyone ignored them. Even those sympathetic to the point for the most part just accepted it and moved on.

The doomsayers were prescient, and to say they weren't there isn't just unfair, it's actively hostile towards societal growth and detecting this as it happens again. The first step to growth is accepting fault, otherwise there's nothing to fix.

People seem to forget how god awful email had become with spam back around gmail was launched. Gmail from my recollection was the first service that really managed to deal with spam in a way that worked, was free, was simple and which everyone could use.

That's why people used gmail and it's why people still use gmail and why even the people arguing in this thread that google are evil are all still using gmail! (I'm generalising but I'm betting most do)

When it comes down to it, despite what people say they care more about getting good services at no cost to themselves than they do about their privacy.

>People seem to forget how god awful email had become with spam back around gmail was launched.

While I used spamassassin (not simple), my friend used Thunderbird which did a good enough job.

>That's why people used gmail and it's why people still use gmail and why even the people arguing in this thread that google are evil are all still using gmail!

In the early Gmail days, I didn't know anyone who used Gmail for anti-spam use. It was all about:

1. Space (1GB)

2. Nice interface was a distant second.

Most average people I know did not care about spam during those days. I mean, they cared and complained a lot about it, but getting anyone to change their provider (or software) to handle spam better was an exercise in futility.

Keep in mind - this is during the days when IE 6.0 reigned supreme and had something like 90% of the browser share. Almost no one I knew was willing to change browsers, despite IE not having tabs, not having banner ad blocking or any other extension, and causing all kinds of Windows issues. If they're unwilling to change browsers, I can assure you they're unwilling to change email providers so easily. What tipped things in Gmail's favor was the extra space, when 50MB was advertised as large).

>When it comes down to it, despite what people say they care more about getting good services at no cost to themselves than they do about their privacy.

Agreed there.

> While I used spamassassin (not simple), my friend used Thunderbird which did a good enough job.

Err, what? SpamAssassin is a filtering system and framework, Thunderbird is a MUA. There were plugins to use ApamAssasin in Thunderbird, and there may have been some built in filtering in Thunderbird, but you'll have to do a lot better than just saying it was good to convince me it existed as anything other than a joke.

My job during the time Gmail launched and the years following was administering portions of an ISP, including mail servers and a separate set of SpamAssassin processing servers, as well as separate consulting work setting up SpamAssassin and a mail server for colocation customers.

I also used Thunderbird off and on for a number of years during this same period (when it wasn't Thunderbird, it was Mutt). No MUA without something like SpamAssasin (or some paid for service or package) was even passable during this time period, to my recollection.

> In the early Gmail days, I didn't know anyone who used Gmail for anti-spam use. It was all about:

Believe me, they did. People noticed it. ISPs noticed it. The ISP I worked for thought about shifting over all email for our customers to hosted Gmail, because the spam solution was actually better than SpamAssassin usually could do and it would offload a lot of work. It didn't happen, but it was at least thrown around as a possibility.

> Most average people I know did not care about spam during those days.

My experience fielding support requests during this time period points towards the opposite conclusion. People cared a lot more, it was much more of a problem then. Google trends backs this up.[1] It was bad enough that legislation about spam was being passed during this period, such as the CAN-SPAM act of 2003.[2]

I think perhaps you've forgotten just how bad it was, or were lucky enough to have an address that wasn't very badly affected. You were running SpamAssassin, so you would likely have been one of the better protected (and you could tweak your own rules, which might have helped if you did so).

1: https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&geo=US&q=s...

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAN-SPAM_Act_of_2003

The Bayesian spam filtering in Thunderbird was really good because it could be trained to the kind of spam you received personally. It was not a joke; I survived on that for my work email for half a decade before they finally bought an appliance to do the heavy lifting.

I guess it was, I'm seeing reports of it working well in the bugzilla for Mozilla from around that time period, so I'll concede that Thunderbird had filtering and it may have been fairly good.

I think my larger point, that Spam was a major problem of the time period, and that Google was seen as having very good spam detection, still stands.

A Faustian Bargain is the pinnacle of deception. We had no idea of the "real" price in the early naughts. You are right about them misleading us.

Then immediately doing the thing again for which he apologized - not to forget. It is called, plainly, being a notorious liar.

Did he say he wouldn't do it again? Or did he only say he was sorry?

You're probably being sarcastic, but I remember him saying "we have to get much better at this" about privacy. It was before new dark patterns UI, to accept tracking, that clearly violates GDPR, was rolled out.

"How does one get out of a Faustian Bargain, anyway?"

Well, Goethes Faust got away pretty well, beeing gods favourite .. and a grammar exploit in the bargain.

(the bargain was, Mephistopheles serves him, until he says some specific words (Verweile doch, du bist so schön) ... and in the end Faust says, now I feel like I could say "Verweile doch..." Mephistopheles thinks thats it, summons his demons, to prepare for it. Faust dies, beeing old ... but since god was the all powerful judge and Faust his favourite, ... well that was enough to save his soul. And the demons had to go away accomplishing nothing)

So any lessons for the real world? I don't see any...

edit: maybe to give more context: Faust made the deal, because he was not content, mainly about the limitations about understanding the world, but also in general. And the words of the bargain mean something like, now I am content. So Mephistos part was to make him content, or even too full of this world. But it is somewhat complicated, beeing Goethe.. but worth a read, at least in german. Don't know, if the translations are good enough, because much of the greatness of the book, is the powerful language and verses, which at least I could never translate adequately.

Let's hope Zukerburg isn't a fan of Marlowe then.

I believe the standard process is to win a fiddle contest.

All the violin virtuosi are probably on Facebook, so they can get us out of the bargain.

If you win, you get a solid gold fiddle and out of the contract. If you loose you get a smaller silver fiddle and they kill one of your friends.

Touché !

Be ye angels?

Nay we are but men!

> it is getting increasingly ugly

This is what's scary. The ugly part is just starting, because we haven't even gotten to the point where their AI systems have super-human intelligence and can use all of your "whole-life/everything you've ever done" data against you.

How bad is this going to be in 20 years? And does anyone really think Google and Facebook will "self-regulate" sufficiently on this, without extreme outside pressure?

A good start is to get rid of your Facebook account and try to find alternatives to Google.

Sure, DDG is not quite there, but for most of my queries it's just fine.

Having "deleted" my Facebook account some four years ago was a real liberator, though.

DDG is definitely "good enough" for 90+% of my searches. I occasionally have to reword something or change a keyword. Maps and Gmail on the other hand...

I don't get why people recommend DDG. It's mostly a different skin on bing search results. Why is relying on bing better than relying on google? If DDG had its own engine, I could see the "they're the small underdog focused solely on this" angle, but as-is, you have the choice of Microsoft or Google.

Look up filter bubbles[1]. The problem with a search engine that (helpfully) tailors its results to you, and keeps improving that tailoring over time, is that it will cut you off from results that others would see (unless the others are exactly like you). In the short term, having better results is great, but in the long term you are in a bubble.

While DDG does use Bing (and others), the DDG searchers are getting the same results because Bing can't track and tailor your results.

Many also like DDG's bang[2] which easily lets you direct your search elsewhere. For example if you search for "example" and don't like the results, then "example !g" sends it to Google. I like it for slightly more obscure stuff - eg "example !homedepot" does what you'd expect. For us python folk, it is nice to do "example !py2" or "example !py3" depending on the codebase.

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

[2] https://duckduckgo.com/bang

It took me forever to figure out that their bang feature exists. Not that I didn't want the privacy stuff eliminated when using search, but a filter bubble is REALLY useful for solving programming problems. Straight DDG gives terrible results for engineering questions. Especially when they are edge cases. Bang is rad. They should really make it more obvious when you're using the site.

The problem DDG has is not understanding the search terms. eg "usb 3 voltage" will get you lots of results as though you had left out one or two of the words (there are far more pages about "usb voltage" than "usb 3 voltage"). You know the 3 is critical, but they don't. A general rule of thumb is that 3 or more words in your DDG search dramatically worsens the results. (Amazon search is even worse where two words begins the spiral of spectacularly bad results.)

That said DDG often does get reasonable results. And if you don't like them, just add in !g to see what google gets. (Conceptually I like to give DDG first crack at a search, and then fallback to google if DDG didn't do well.) What I have noticed is google's results are getting worse, as sites are getting better at gaming google.

Meh, to look outside your filter bubble you can just open google in an incognito window. I do that from time to time, and for web search, filter bubbles don't have much of an impact imho. I mostly search for technical things though.

There's that little thing that they don't track and bubble you.

They do have their own engine.

Not for regular search results.


What is a "regular search result"? Your link says:

"DuckDuckGo gets its results from over four hundred sources. These include hundreds of vertical sources delivering niche Instant Answers, DuckDuckBot (our crawler) and crowd-sourced sites (like Wikipedia, stored in our answer indexes). We also of course have more traditional links in the search results, which we source from Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex."

I use DDG because I like its !bang searches and I genuinely prefer its Instant Answers and page layout over Google's.

The last part of your quote is what most people associate search results with.

I don't like to comment on downvotes on my posts but seriously? Do people really think that the actual links when you search are not the primary search results?

Good question. (I didn't downvote you!) Reading DDG's FAQ, it's not clear to me if "more traditional links in the search results" means the search results (after the Instant Answers) after exclusively sourced from Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex or if they mean "mixed in" with links from the other sources.

Is the web too big for a new search engine company to compete with its own crawler? Or are Google, Bing, Yandex, and Baidu the only search engine companies big enough to crawl the web effectively?

DDG themselves elaborated a bit about that in their previous Sources page:

> Bing and Google each spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year crawling and indexing the deep Web. It costs so much that even big companies like Yahoo and Ask are giving up general crawling and indexing. Therefore, it seems silly to compete on crawling and, besides, we do not have the money to do so. Instead, we've focused on building a better search engine by concentrating on what we think are long-term value-adds -- having way more instant answers, way less spam, real privacy and a better overall search experience.

Legislation. Vote for politicians who care about these things (increasingly many do, especially the younger ones). Or stand up and run on a platform of providing a safer internet for all of us, free from the kind of tracking that we take for granted.

I agree it may not be easy. But we desperately need more tech-savvy politicians in these technological times.

You have to Faustian Haggle.

So after a long article about Facebook, the first comment is about Google.

If Tesla kills a driver, it's Tesla and Waymo.

If Facebook is selling your data, it's Facebook and Google.

Why don't we stop pretending and just say we all hate Google, irrespective of who is actually at fault? That will save us trouble of having to find any evidence proving our claims.

The article is about the dangers of large companies tracking users to such a high degree that it's dangerous for us, profitable for them. Facebook is an example. Google is also an example. Personally I'm more worried about Google because they have all my e-mails and everything my phone does. I don't have Facebook anymore.

It's not about hating Google, it's about recognizing the power and ubiquity they have, and how for many in HN, it dwarfs Facebook in terms of potential personal impact.

Yeah. He is right. Anyway, thank you. I couldn't read an article so long to communicate so little, so I just went into the comments here. Thanks again.

Lots of people come to the comments without reading the article. I wonder how many of your downvotes came from people who did just that.

While I am also concerned about the growing depth of surveillance, there hasn't been any _real_ evidence that Cambridge Analytica's methods were effective (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Analytica#Assessment...). That they were mostly ineffective seems to me the more reasonable null hypothesis. Why assume these shady micro-targeting campaigns are such a big deal in the face of the huge, multidimensional propaganda wars that are political campaigns?

Without the presumption that the micro-targeting is super effective, nothing looks like it's on fire.

The article specifically claims that Cambridge Analytica's techniques _didn't_ sway opinion, merely that they allowed them to locate specific voters. The wikipedia section you linked says much the same:

> Research discussed by Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College showed that it is extremely hard to alter voters' preferences, because many likely voters are already committed partisans; as a result, it is easier to simply mobilize partisan voters.

Yup, you don't need to change peoples' minds to affect election outcomes, you just need to encourage the right people to vote. Send messages about hot-button issues to people who are already likely to be enraged by them, and you'll get more of them turning out to the polls.

A friend of mine volunteered on the Clinton campaign in the months before the election. The strategy wasn't to knock on random doors and convince people to vote for Hillary, it was to find people who are already likely to lean left (but maybe aren't likely voters), and remind them of the upcoming election and where to vote, etc. Online ads take the same approach, just subconsciously.

So is there any evidence for that hypothesis? Namely that Cambridge Analytica's campaigns resulted in a higher turn out of Trump voters?

Finding swing voters is what a lot of these companies really want. I worked at a company about six or seven years ago that had a Conservative pollster as a client who badly wanted to identify the swing voter. They told us they didn’t care about anyone else because those people were going to vote with their team regardless. So they wanted to find the people they could sway.

And how did they want us to locate them? Through Facebook.

I think Doctorow's analysis makes more sense than the typical rhetoric about Facebook and CA. But I still default to thinking that CA was largely ineffective. How many "latent klansmen" were there unaware that Trump was more their candidate than Clinton? Trump's stances were completely public, hugely well-known. What more did CA provide? I just don't really buy it. (Political advertising is very ineffective from what I've read and I just need some reason to expect CA to be more successful.)

I'm worried about the surveillance system for other reasons, like finding targets for censorship, discrimination, and hatred.

I think the proposed theory is that there is a rather broad class of could-be voters that typically don't engage in politics or vote. One example of a small category of people would be klansmen, I imagine for a group that is often sidelined they probably think their vote is wasted and therefore don't typically show up at the ballot on election day.

If your party can identify and connect with those individuals and spark a sense of outrage in them, you are likely to be able to get some portion of them to the ballot on election day.

So it is more meta than educating somebody on Trump/Clinton's politics; it is more about behavioral manipulation via outrage, fake news, etc. The goal isn't to change knowledge or opinions (which is extremely difficult), it is to fan the flame of targeted groups' collective outrage enough to bump election day participation. In many places getting just a 1-3% edge is the difference between winning and losing the election.

My personal takeaway from this is that improving general access to the ballot by making it easier to participate and vote should obviate the effectiveness of this strategy. Each step approaching 100% voter participation forces smaller and smaller returns on the strategy of motivating extremist voters.

that doesnt explain anything though, it just kicks the can a bit further down. He's not clear whether the problem is facebook, the fact that majority of voters are gullible idiots, or democracy itself?

There's a distinction between changing someone else's political views and inflaming their existing views via outrage, fake news, etc.

If one is easier than the other, then this article does indeed explain things. Cambridge Analytica may be unable to change political views, but it may have been capable of mobilizing a select group of disenfranchised voters that it carefully selected.

Given low voter turnouts, you can increase chances of your candidate winning by merely improving turnout for a select group.

> via outrage, fake news, etc

Also via politicizing their identity, their gender etc. Taken to the extreme, anything that has emotional impact can manipulate people. Taken to further extreme, such an argument means that democracy is useless and based on very flimsy and wrong assumptions about human nature. But we can be reasonable instead of extreme.

I didn't mean to imply a stance about whether they were swaying opinion vs galvanizing extremists vs discouraging their opposition. All of those I would consider "being effective". It's just that the only people who seem to claim CA was effective are journalists sensationalizing the scandal, and CA themselves.

If they are ineffective, then why is there so much money in online advertising?

>It’s as though Mark Zuckerberg woke up one morning and realized that the oily rags he’d been accumulating in his garage could be refined for an extremely low-grade, low-value crude oil. No one would pay very much for this oil, but there were a lot of oily rags, and provided no one asked him to pay for the inevitable horrific fires that would result from filling the world’s garages with oily rags, he could turn a tidy profit.

Given the number of trackers that my ad-blocker blocked while reading this, isn't this article, Locusmag.com, and Cory Doctorow himself sprinkling just a little more oil on the pile of rags?

Don't forget to smash that share button!

> Cory Doctorow himself sprinkling just a little more oil on the pile of rags?

I just looked, and this is mirrored on his blog[1], and it appears to have very little or no tracking set up. Feel free to read it there.


Thank you for this link. Thanks GP also, for pointing out the irony that an article discussing our digital society's deep dependence on advertising is itself hosted on a space that has to rely on advertising to stay afloat (and thereby engages in precisely the sort of pernicious tracking that the article is dissecting).

Is it still mirrored? It appears to be only a 3 paragraph excerpt.

That's a much better link!

That's a tricky one. At this point, there are very few media outlets that haven't made a deal with the de^H^H ad and social media networks. As a result, any freelance writer, even one who is also a privacy advocate, has to make a choice between avoiding any involvement of their work in surveillance capitalism, and getting paid and having their work be read.

I have a hard time faulting Doctorow for choosing to be relevant.

FTA: > absolute bastards like Turkey’s Erdogan and Hungary’s Orban.

I wonder what Viktor Orbán has done according to Doctorow to be put in the same ballpark as Erdogan.

From https://turkeypurge.com/ :

Turkey’s post-coup crackdown: 151,967 dismissed / 140,452 detained / 79,774 arrested / 3,003 schools, dormitories and universities shut down / 5,822 academics lost jobs / 4,463 judges, prosecutors dismissed / 189 media outlets shut down / 319 journalists arrested

since July 15, 2016 / as of June 25, 2018

This kind of thing: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/democracy-is-o...

It's not quite so advanced in violence as Turkey, but it's definitely along the same path.

I read nothing in that article that hints at any government violence in Hungary, so I don't get why you even bring this up.

Sure, there's lots of innuendo about how the EU is trying to teach a lesson about democracy and human rights to a reluctant Hungary.

The thing is, if we have to choose among Orbán and Jüncker the leader with the most democratic legitimacy, then Orbán wins hands down.

Hardly anyone in the EU voted for Jüncker, except for a few Luxemburgers. Hardly anyone knew what the program of his party, the EPP, was at the time of the election.

Orbán on the other hand enjoys a huge amount of support from the Hungarians. You may disagree with his viewpoints, but that doesn't make his leadership any less democratic.

He is careful not to follow the example of Western Europe with its disastrous policies of mass immigration and - as a result - islamisation. This viewpoint is shared with all governments in Eastern Europe and - at last - a growing number of people in Western Europe.

He tries to raise awareness about the Soros-funded no-borders NGOs, which are an attempt from outside the country to make the Hungarian press and politicians talk and behave a certain way. The article in the Independent tries to paint this as anti-Semitism, but in another article they admit that even Israel disagrees with this viewpoint: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/george-soros...

The only reason the unelected leaders of the EU put pressure on Orbán is because he poses a threat to their power. Of course they use words like "human rights" and "democracy" to cover their real motivations. Look at the non-reaction of the EU when the Spanish Rajoy government locked up Catalonian political prisoners (by the way, do you know of any polical prisoners in Hungary?). Why didn't they defend democracy and human rights at that time? The reason is that the current EU leaders see the Catalonian independence movement as a threat to their power.

When comparing Hungary to Turkey, the "awareness of Soros" thing actually is a caution point to me.

From my point of view, Orban is using Soros as a boogeyman, with huge over-emphasis on this single personality, far more than Soros's actual impact in Hungary, to project disagreement with certain attitudes and things going on in the world. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/once-fringe-soro...)

In Turkey, many of the statistics you cite are in part because Erdogan also had a boogeyman: Fethullah Gülen. Many of the statistics you cite for Turkey were "justified" by Erdogan's accusation that the coup was part of a Gülen plot. (It is uncertain, of course, that this was actually the case, but it was certainly a convenient excuse for rounding up all the "adversaries").

Hungary may be nothing like Turkey at this time, but never trust a leader with an authoritarian streak and a convenient "enemy boogeyman" to demonize against.

Yeah it took a decade or so for Erdogan to start doing really bad stuff. Give Orban time to get in his swing.

Unlike Turkey, Hungary is a small country surrounded by EU countries, dependent on EU economic relations, so there are limits how far Orban can go.

But he and his cronies have pocketed a lot of EU money, that's for sure.

> For commercial surveillance to be cost effective, it has to socialize all the risks associated with mass surveillance and privatize all the gains.

That's the biggest insight of the article. That's exactly what the likes of Facebook and Google (and telecoms, and data brokers, etc) are doing.

While I want to agree with this, it's hard to argue that Facebook and Google "privatize all the gains." If you added up all of the economic value that google's zero-dollar-cost products provide globally (even ignoring Facebook which IMO has a much more dubious net value), that's going to be a pretty big number.

Can somebody help me understand this sentence? What is "commercial surveillance"? What are "risks associated with mass surveillance"?

> What is "commercial surveillance"?

When a for-profit company ("commercial") gathers large, detailed dossiers of millions of people ("surveillance").

For example, if you use Twitter, go to https://twitter.com/settings/your_twitter_data and look at the stuff under "Interests and ads data". That's the tip of the iceberg.

> What are "risks associated with mass surveillance"?

Like the article says, when a company has access to detailed personal information about lots and lots of people, many bad things can happen:

* That information can be stolen by hackers and then used for identity theft or social engineering to gain access to private accounts. Think about how to reset your bank password your bank asks you questions like "where did you meet your first significant other?" Then consider how that event is probably on your Facebook feed.

* Companies like Cambridge Analytica can buy "ads" that are precisely targeted using that data to persuade certain groups of people to show up or not show up at polls and influence elections in non-Democratic ways.


Throughout history there has never been an organization that lasted forever, let alone one that lasted forever with benign leadership.

Any organization with massive surveillance data that lacks beneficent leaders may harm people.

I keep wanting to pull the trigger. Mr Doctorow's article is perhaps the last straw...

Q: How do I permanently delete my account? A: https://www.facebook.com/help/224562897555674

Don't know how much you use FB but I highly recommend it. When I got rid of mine, all I lost was status updates from people who weren't really my friends to begin with. Your close friends will stick by you and your social life will grow richer, with more face-to-face meetings. Quitting Facebook is great.

My issue with deleting Facebook is that a lot of services depend on it for authentication and friend/contact discovery. I wish there were an open standard for a social graph.

Apart from developing Facebook integrations for Work, I have never once used Facebook to sign into a site and do not allow anything to rummage through my contacts and "discover" things.

So I'm confused as to why this is a necessity. What services do you use that won't function without your Facebook account?

I once had a conversation with a junior developer who told me that he would rather die than give up Tinder. To this day, I honestly don't think he was joking...

I am going to assume a junior developer is younger in age so it isn't that surprising that getting laid is a high priority.

True, and I don't think you can use Tinder without a Facebook account. :)

I don't think too many services have a hard dependency on FB. I haven't had an account for years and while many services do their best to convince you to use FB for auth I've only run into a few very early stage projects that absolutely requires it.

There should be, I agree. The best features of facebook are events, and friend recommendations. It would be great if we had an open standard for the social graph, and then other companies could make services like events or friend discovery, and you could pick and choose which ones you subscribed to.

As for authentication, thankfully most sites let you register an account with them. It's a little inconvenient, but with a password manager it's simple. Still, I wish OpenID was more widespread.

I’d like to, but it’s a valuable way to get my ideas out to friends and family and to have discussions.

It’s more valuable and more personal than, say, a blog, because: * my post + all the comments show up in the same UI where people go to see dumb videos or cute photos of friends’ families * I can share a link or thought, and have more follow up with these friends and family, because they know me on a personal level, and know that the conversation is limited to people who at least somewhat know me, rather than all manner of internet trolls.

They trust me more than random other person on the Internet who might share the exact same information... just like I trust them more than random people on the internet.

If Facebook is going to keep a shadow profile on me anyway, I want to get a little something out of it. Whether they should be allowed to keep the shadow profile on me or not, though, is a different question altogether. And I think only legislation could decide that effectively.

>I’d like to, but it’s a valuable way to get my ideas out to friends and family and to have discussions.

My friends and family aren't interested in most the stuff I'm interested in. I'll call and text them, talk to them about our lives. I'll post my interests in places where people who share them can consume.

I mostly just felt paralyzed by the platform. Not wanting to put personal info because it would be used to build a profile on me, and not wanting to interact with a lot of media because it would then use that as an excuse to promote it to my friends and family.

Yeah, you'll wait till it's too late. Just freaking quit. You'll find how to reach those that matter to you anyway. And those contacts will be more meaningful, because you're not on FB, where communications have degenerated to less than authentic.

I can confirm, deleting FB was a good thing overall, but YMMV.

I was largely using it as an event planner, but found that I could just subscribe via email lists or other ways for the venues I cared about keeping up with.

It also helps that I don't know a majority of my outer circle's daily status updates and when I see them at mutual engagements like birthday parties or house warmings, I'm more interested in talking to them and catching up.

Just did it after 2 years of ignoring it - had to accept GDPR stuff and face recognition to get in and be able to hit delete. Feels good anyway.

The tech community have become bad actors, and a lot of apologism and hand-waving happens here.

At the moment they are just trading on the reputation of early pioneers who at least professed some ethics and commitment to public good to pretend they are part of the same group.

They continue to posture on public discussions while implementing dark patterns and surveillance as a matter of course in their workplace. This is the fact, the tech community led by SV have sold out and they know it. Their main priority is pretending its not happening or diminishing the consequences.

If there is a backlash it will be well deserved as these people are selling out the rest of the world for profit, greed and personal gain.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” - Upton Sinclair

"Everybody wants to believe they are a good person, if you try to convince them otherwise they will attack you and refuse to listen" - tmpz22

I read the first half of this. I can't decide if I think Doctorow is dancing around the more important idea that goes unsaid, or if this really is the best way to present it so people will accept it.

Everyone is a whole lot more susceptible to propaganda than anyone admits. Doctorow presents this as Klansman getting the message that Trump is their guy. Mao, Goebbels and any other obvious-baddies are perfect for making the point. By pretending like it doesn't happen TO YOU, you'll accept that it can possibly happen to humans (that are not you).

But it happens to everybody, all the time.

The only propaganda we notice is the stuff that is so far from targeting us we see it's comically incongruity. But propaganda isn't meant for the hard sell. Propaganda doesn't change your mind. Propaganda gets you to cross the threshold and do something you were already positioned to do, by giving you meaning for doing it.

Agreed, and in an earlier comment I intimated that Doctorow doesn’t really object to propaganda, he just objects to other people’s propaganda. (And his objection in fact contains some propaganda itself.)

I kinda got that impression as I was reading it, but had hoped I was wrong.

There is a line of criticism I see often that goes something like this "$thing is convincing people $bad_idea." (Sorry for the vague way of presenting this, but I can't abstract it more clearly.)

I take that criticism and see the natural next step as reducing the amount of influence that $thing has over people in specific, and in general give them the tools to evaluate unfounded ideas and manipulation. I find this conclusion blindingly obvious, and is where I depart from would-be political allies who conclude with the same obviousness: "lets re-engineer $thing to manipulatively spread $good_idea."

> I kinda got that impression as I was reading it, but had hoped I was wrong.

Absolutely hilarious that all it took was one anonymous comment to "convince" you of this despite the fact that you hoped you were wrong. This thread made me lol so thanks for that.

That comment didn't convince me of anything. I didn't push back either.

He's so guilty of this on his social media accounts that I had to stop following him entirely.

I recently stopped following him on Twitter for the same reason, it's just excessive.

> Propaganda doesn't change your mind, it gets you to cross the threshold and do something you were already positioned to do, by giving you meaning for doing it.

Read the rest of the article, it kinda goes there.

Propaganda also acts by wearing you down, shaping your perceptions over time, and influencing so many people around you that you lose sight of where “real” is on the first place. Sometimes propaganda only seeks to demoralize you or disengage you.

Don’t underestimate it.

> Propaganda also acts by wearing you down, shaping your perceptions over time, and influencing so many people around you that you lose sight of where “real” is on the first place.

Essentially, gaslighting you. Gaslighting the whole society, in fact.

Pretty much, and by manipulating society broadly you empower that society to add to the pressure exerted by the propaganda itself.

Controversial opinion: 'racists' are citizens too, and are entitled to vote in elections.

If Cambridge Analytica and the people who employed them were at all effective, it was because they identified personality traits that some voters have and spoke to them about things they were concerned about.

What really motivated Trump supporters was a message that there is an epidemic of illegal immigration which rule-followers view as lawlessness and rule-breaking. Obviously, in their minds, this is caused by innumerate, one-world leftists who care nothing about cultural dissolution because they have no culture and observe no traditions themselves, and love moral hazard as long as they're not the ones paying.

This is a bit silly, of course, but calling people bastards isn't going to convince this group to Vote Democrat next time around.

> 'racists' are citizens too, and are entitled to vote in elections.

(1) Sadly, yes. However, racism shouldn't really have won the election as it isn't a majority viewpoint.

(2) Even if racists are allowed to vote, there is a limit to the racism that you can put into public policy, at least with a simple majority.

(3) A democracy is actually allowed, and even required, to defend itself against certain types of ideas, for example fascism. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streitbare_Demokratie https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_tolerance

I agree but I think the less focused part of the Trump platform was that these illegals are stealing your jobs. They are the reason that you don't have better paying work or pay less taxes. Obviously all of the "bringing back coal jobs" has not happened (and I don't think it ever can again) but the Democrats seemed content to campaign on "Trump is crazy" and never really confronted the economic divide. Most of the people locally (in PA) that have soured on Trump some is because he hasn't come through on the job promises.

Doctorow is right, of course, but it’s lamentable that he declares the ugly rise of Trump as only a feat of media influence, when in fact it’s also a reaction to it. No one had a problem with the Obama campaign’s heavy use of social media, a strategy that harvested racial tensions just as much as Trump’s did.

Agreed these otherwise great criticisms of social media seem to always fall into this trap. Turning this into a partisan issue is going to backfire, I promise you that. Make this about a political party and it is going to be all too easy to divide people on this issue.

Right now the left and the right are aligned in their loathing of Facebook -- but every time the message "Facebook helped Trump get elected because his supporters are racists and easily manipulated" is parrotted it serves to encourage them to take the opposing side to defend themselves and claim Facebook's tactics are being overblown. They'll never defend Zuck, but they will fight against clamping down on tech companies in the name of defending capitalism and American jobs (and, without saying so, as a way to assert they were not manipulated and resent being called racists.)

This is definitely a partisan issue. It's true that there was always a low level pro-privacy/anti-fb sentiment, but it's the perception that FB was used to get Trump elected turned it into an inferno. If Clinton had won the election there would be far less attention paid to FB.

How did Obama's strategy harvest racial tensions? I genuinely want to know. Can you link me to something?

I am curious about that statement too. Maybe the argument was something like "Black man is running for President." That fact alone was enough to cause racial tensions.

One article describing his race-card playing: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2008/08/01/us/politics/01campaign...

I would add to that his infamous “god and guns” speech, and his behavior in the primaries, including his shameful dance around the Jeremiah Wright issue.

Obama harvested votes from people convinced that his election would ease racial tensions.

You and some other commenters in the replies are making this claim. So yeah, Obama was black, and some people were excited to vote for him because he was black. That's not what I'm asking.

Did his Facebook ads specifically take advantage of the fact that he was black? Did his ad campaign benefit from inflaming racial divisions?

To be fair, advertising from the trump campaign may not have played on racial tensions either. The thing people are upset about is the russian interference. The russians bought ads and made posts that clearly stoked tensions, and Facebook was negligent in preventing this.

"campaign benefit from inflaming racial divisions"

That was not the claim. The claim was that he "harvested" racial tensions. And of course he did.

It's certainly fair to say that Obama benefited from racial tensions, whether his campaign intended to or not.


Blacks were 19% more likely to vote for Obama because he was black and 2% less likely. Whites were 5% more likely to vote for Obama because he was black and 6% less likely.


Obama ended up with near-unanimous support from the black vote in the primaries, beating Hillary.

You seem to be confusing "benefitted from his race" with "benefitted from racial tensions".

Trump did and said many things during his campaign that would have been political suicide before. The media is still struggling to understand why people support him in the face of what they consider detestable. They also fear what politically incorrect things will become fair game in the next crop, since it has been proven you can do and say those things and still win.

I think the result was largely in support of pushing back against the ideas of political correctness. I know many fine people who voted and support Trump. It isn't that they are racist, bigoted, etc. It's that they believe our country was spiraling into a state where you couldn't be, and that was too much an affront to free speech. (For example, wanting to secure our borders so that your own children born here would have a better chance at finding a job was becoming "racist")

I'm not an American so I haven't followed all the debates, but I got the impression that the Obama campaign was overall positive? Wasn't it basically "yes, we can" (for the minorities)? Basically there was a racial component, but the basic idea was to be proud of your origin and stuff like that.

The Trump campaign, on the other hand, struck me as trying to put down the others. Totally negative.

I don't think those two are equivalent.

The Obama campaign didn't overtly use divisive language on race but focused a lot of energy on convincing people that the wealthy weren't paying their "fair share" and used similiar classist langauge throughout the campaign. They are very good at it and aren't as ham-handed as Trump so this is probably why you walked away with the sense it was a purely positive campaign.

Part of the reasons conservatives see Obama as divisive is because conservatives tend to believe that most wealth in America is earned through hard work and sacrifice, and many believe that they can better their own financial means through these things. So even for those that aren't at the level of wealth being targeted by the politicians, this language is negative and divisive to conservatives in general because it instills a deep sense of unfairness and mistrust by targeting those who "earned" their wealth and painting them as takers.

> most wealth in America is earned through hard work and sacrifice

Ha. Citation needed.

Most wealth in America is concentrated in the hands of a small number of incredibly wealthy families. It is plainly ridiculous to suggest that someone with billions of dollars has worked harder or sacrificed proportionally more than a single mother working two jobs.

Hard and sacrifice are simply not the driving factors in wealth generation.

Citation needed for where I actually endorsed these views or asserted their validity.

Re-read my post: you're yelling at a strawman. Conjecture: seeing the sequence of words "most wealth in America is earned through hard work and sacrifice" immediately blinded you to the context they were written in (namely: my observation that this is a belief of a large part of America and their actions are a logical induction from those beliefs) and you flipped the bit and went right into attack mode.

Reflect on that, and realize that this kind of blinded reaction lies at the core of why lots of things are being said but no actual communication is occurring between people around these subjects.

I'd characterize my response as "mildly sarcastic" rather than "attack mode." Other than the tone of the first three words, my reply was in response to the idea, and not you as the poster.

edit: I'd also like to suggest that uncritically parroting false assertations like the one you posted is a poor way to advance discourse.

I'd argue that being unable to talk about ideas themselves and the dynamics of their belief without being derailed into arguing about the merits of the ideas themselves is a sign that someone has not managed to form a coherent, defensible worldview. When on solid ground you can always argue both sides convincingly, but have clear reasoning why you support the side you do, and talking about the opposing view does not immediately spur a desire to argue against it since you are confident in your beliefs despite empathy for the opposition. This is an impossible thing to get if you are unable to talk about and explore opposing beliefs without immediately having to defend your final conclusions.

I see that you were trying to discuss what conservatives found upsetting about the "rich are too rich" narrative, and that you think my response was off-topic. I do (of course) disagree with your numerous assumptions about the coherence of my worldview and my ability to explore opposing beliefs, but I see how you got there.

The place that I think we might disagree is in the value of neutrally presenting positions in the way that you did. Have you ever listened to an NPR piece on climate change? NPR tries very hard (too hard, in my opinion) to present "both sides" of an argument. The impact is that they tend to do something like, "today we have a leading scientist, and Joe who works in the local coal mine." Joe's opinion is simply not as valuable as the leading scientist, and by uncritically presenting them as equal they muddy the issue and ultimately spread disinformation. The whole "both sides" thing is just not as valuable as we tend to act like it is, in my opinion.

Yes, it is valuable to understand where people are coming from. It is more valuable to be correct.

> Most wealth in America is concentrated in the hands of a small number of incredibly wealthy families.

Those who ask for citations should also give them...

I'd suggest that asking for a citation is more relevant when the position is hard to source, but sure: https://www.forbes.com/sites/noahkirsch/2017/11/09/the-3-ric...

That says that 3 individuals have more wealth than the bottom 50%, and that the top 400 individuals have more wealth than the bottom 64%. But that doesn't mean that, as you said, "Most wealth in America is concentrated in the hands of a small number of incredibly wealthy families." It says that a small number of incredibly wealthy families have more wealth than the most of the people (put together). That is, the article says they out-weighed most of the people, but you claimed they out-weighed most of the dollars.

Your claim is therefore either poorly worded, or unsupported by your citation.

And if I'm going to complain about your lack of citation, I should give one. Wikipedia (yeah, I know) says in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_inequality_in_the_Unite... that "Currently, the richest 1% hold about 38% of all privately held wealth in the United States." That's a lot, but it's not enough to make "most wealth in America is concentrated in the hands of a small number of incredibly wealthy families" accurate.

Are you disagreeing with my use of the word "most" here? If so, do you happen to know what percentage of families own 51% of the wealth? Or if it's the word "small," can we agree that 5% (or whatever it is) is still a "small" number as compared to the remaining population? I feel like we're very nearly on the same page here.

You are correct that comparing the top 1% to the bottom 90% is mildly hard to reason about due to leaving out the 2nd through 9th percentile, but I feel like the overall point stands. (Well, and in general, I think it's pretty clear that hard work and sacrifice simply do not usually result in wealth. That was my original point.)

Maybe it's just me, but I read "small" as 20 to 100, not 5%. (I will agree that 5% is "small" compared to the total population, but that's not how I read your comment.)

In the absence of hard data, I would accept that 5% of the country is a reasonable guess as to the who controls 51% of the wealth.


The assertion ("most wealth comes from hard work and sacrifice") is both humorous and provably incorrect. I stand by my reply.

(Edited: I didn't realize this wasn't the original poster I replied to.)

Note: you can read the name of the poster, so in this reply you are both attacking a strawman (nobody made the assertion you claim was made) and also attributing that quote to the wrong person. Impressive :)

Oh, whoops. My bad, editing.

What do you do for a living, character?

Did you really make an account just for this comment? I'm... kind of flattered. How odd.

Your words speak for me.

It's ironic that the tool to increase friendship is evil.

>tool to increase friendship

Media company with built-in social proof.

Maybe i have just not paid attention, but i get the sense that Doctorow has throttled back his activities since moving to LA...

Doctorow assumes that racists got Trump elected, because Trump and his Russian cronies persuaded them to vote, using targeted advertising.

He is insulting large swathes of reasonable non-racist voters, who chose Trump as a protest to the status quo. They looked at Hillary, and saw four more years of kowtowing to corporate interests, and ignoring working class voters. They saw crappy jobs replacing the jobs they'd had before the recession. They saw that no bankers went to prison. They saw the Democrats' shoddy treatment of Sanders, and figured the Dems needed a spanking.

That's why we're stuck with this self-promoting windbag: not because voters are stupid, but because they made a rational decision, and chose a clown over a corporate crony.

> They saw the Democrats' shoddy treatment of Sanders

This is one part of the protest voting that's consistently left out, but I think is more important than people realize.

Trump and Sanders had one thing in common: They didn't pander to corporations, though for different reasons. Sanders wanted to get that money out of politics, and Trump had no use for their donations. After Sanders was out of the running, the mixture of how he was treated and the DNC having chosen the corporate candidate led quite a few in my circles to vote Trump specifically in protest.

Trump is president because

1) Facebook made easy to find the "latent Klansman" in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.


2) There are large swaths of working class white people in the middle of the country unhappy with how their economic prospects have been trending in the last 10 years.

Even if one accepts your proposal only one of those is true and it must be the less offensive one, why aren’t those working class white folks rising up en masse given the group they voted for have done nothing good for them economically and seem transfixed on driving out nonwhites from the country?


>We created a stereotyping scale which measures views like believing people of color are more violent or lazier than whites, but it was not included in our final models because it did not predict voting behavior.

Let's just ignore the thing that disproves our premise.

Option 2, for sure. Remember Bill Clinton's slogan during his 1992 campaign: "It's the economy, stupid." People vote with their wallets first. The recession at the time lost Bush the presidency.

The lousy job market cost Hillary the presidency too.

Trump is a protest candidate. His supporters are not knuckle-dragging troglodytes who crawled to the voting booth, drooled on the voting machine, and grunted "make America great again!". They are rational beings, who looked back at Obama's presidency, and were not impressed.

Yes, employment improved during Obama's tenure, but new jobs have been low-paying and low-status. No bankers went to prison. The corporate-friendly policies of the Obama era didn't earn him friends in the working class. And Hillary promised more of the same.

Targeted advertising can prod racists to vote, as the OP suggests, but that only works if the non-racist voting majority feels some hope.

I don't get this article at all. It talk about brexit, yet we voted for it despite all the incredible amount of lies being spread about it being a bad thing.

You have that backwards.

The Leave campaign broke funding rules; took money from the Russians; and ran a campaign that is widely recognised to have contained a range of misinformation from deliberate lies to heavily spun info.

Remain's campaign was only piss-poor.

You....you don't think Brexit was a bad thing?????

Many, many people don't think it's a bad thing. As an American I look at things like GDPR and the proposed copyright law and completely understand why a sovereign country wouldn't want to be part of the EU.

You may not agree, but it shouldn't be mindblowing that reasonable people hold this view.

You seem to be under the impression that opting out of it somehow removes us from it's effects.

As an American you have presumably been affected by eg GDPR and should therefore recognise this is not true.

Leaving the EU means we have removed ourselves from that decision making process. We will still be affected by any decisions they make.

No one knows if it is actually a bad thing to leave yet, give it 50 years.

For some reason people read a couple of articles and become experts on really complicated, multi faceted, non deterministic systems and decide to expound their opinions on those around them.

Didn't the UK create GDPR like regulations first?

how dare he

" [..] given enough surveillance, companies can sell us anything: Brexit, Trump, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, and successful election bids for absolute bastards like Turkey’s Erdogan and Hungary’s Orban."

The same as the author, I have serious problems believing this but it has become a common place now even in mainstream media.

In a way, I worry more about this, than about the others dangers that we can read in the article (I agree with those also).

It seems that, now, whenever people vote for somebody or something that they are not "suppose" to vote, they have been "manipulated" and it's the fault of Russian bots.

I'm not saying that, like always, there are not forces in play trying to move things their way, but I find worrisome how easily that narrative is accepted. It's a kind of mainstream paranoia conspiracy or, maybe, a too convenient excuse for not finding the real reasons why people feel disgruntled.

I mean, it's kind of a half-truth, isn't it? We know that this sort of manipulation is going on in an organized way: Sybil attacks are pretty common in politics.

But it's insidious precisely because of this Patomkin-effect: it makes it unclear how many real supporters the issue has, and it gives an easy cop-out for people who would be otherwise responsible for their own defeat.

In a way, it becomes a scapegoat that can unite friend and foe.

(Although I think Doctorow is steering clear from the very stupid interpretation of this effect)

>>"[..] it's kind of a half-truth, isn't it?"

More like a quarter-truth that allow to forget the other three quarters.

Economic policies dismantle the welfare state in the U.K. but the people vote Brexit because some adds.

Part of the population in the USA is left economically behind but the reason Trump is elected is because some Facebook advertisements.

One thousand years of history but part of the Catalan people search independence from Spain because the 'Russian bots'.

The economy is not working but people is sceptic about the European Union 'because Internet'.

And you heard all that in mainstream media and in the mouths or politics.

It seems to me that happy people don't vote revolutions, never mind the advertisements. It's when people is angry or scared that they search for "strong leaders" and "guilty parties".

Dismantling the welfare state is going to continue to happen well after Brexit, you know that. It has nothing to do with immigration or our membership within the EU.

Sure, but the reason people is angry is not some advertisements. That's only a scapegoat.

I don’t think anyone has seriously suggested that people are angry because of advertisements, but that certain interested parties made use of that anger to attack something entirely unrelated.

I agree, but the debate is, (in the society at large) disproportionally, in my opinion, about the advertisements.

And they are used, I think, like a distraction, instead of looking into the real issues.

There's also the fact that the reasons people say they're disgruntled are often one or two steps removed from their actual issues, but... propaganda gives them something to blame, and they go for it.


>>> Facebook isn’t a mind-control ray.

Cory is fine but here, he's wrong. FaceBook is a mind control tool. It is a mind control because when you send it some information, you know that friends, facebook employees, facebook algorithm, potentially marketeers, potentially state agencies, etc. will read read it. So you inflict yourself some degree of censorship. You basically alter your behaviour. So, in a sense, it is a mind control machine.

He's right and the rest of the article supports this statement. It isn't some magical sci find weapon to instantly control people. But it is bad and is used for agenda setting.

"The media doesn't tell you what to think, it tells you what to think about"

I'm not sure I agree with that. The media quote, I mean. There's plenty of media companies (on both sides of the political spectrum) that are definitely trying to tell you what to think. Maybe not all of them, but there are some.

"Tells my what to think" it's a common idiom in English, meaning not just that you were told", but that you were commanded and followed*. It's basically synonymous with "controls how I think", and almost always used as a negation. That is, someone will say "he doesn't tel me what to think" to express that their thoughts are still their own and independent.

In that context, "The media doesn't tell you what to think, it tells you what to think about" is meant to be taken as "The media doesn't control how you think, but it defines the discussion." I think this is just a case where an author decided for alliteration over clarity. Sometimes that's a useful path, as alliteration can help phrases stick in the social consciousness. In this case it's just confusing.

To be fair this is true of any mass media - radio, television, etc. To a degree, books (aka printing press - check out "yellow journalism") as well. Marshall Mcluhan talked about "hot" and "cool" mediums, and I think the internet may be some sort of mutant hybrid (too weird to die), but, there is definitely somthing about TV /internet being more "mind controlling" than books.


Any effective advertising is mind control, in a sense. It convinces you to take an action you wouldn't have otherwise taken. Sometimes that action is bad for you, but the advertising has convinced you that it's good for you (or that the alternative is scarier).

The better Facebook can convince you to take an action, the more value its platform has. The Darwinism of the ad industry meant that the top ad-tech companies were eventually going to be really, really good at changing people's behavior.

Using language like "mind-control ray" is also targeted for persuasion (Or "mind-control" as you put it).

You don't know who will read it because of algorithms or just because someone did not log in and so on...

Those tools are just media and offer you visibility to a certain degree.

And of course you adapt your presentation style to reach a specific audience.

The information economy as self-inflicted panopticon?

Just basic agenda setting theory: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agenda-setting_theory

I find your comment rather frightening.

And in a way: Spot on!

(paywall) Jaron Lanier on fighting Big Tech’s ‘manipulation engine’ https://www.ft.com/content/a3ea16f6-7edd-11e8-bc55-50daf11b7...

Most people aren't particularly tempted to shape their behavior to Facebook. They just use other channels for things they don't specifically want everyone to see. If some people are so uninvested in their thoughts that "open up a group chat" is an insurmountable barrier... well, they were going to be mind controlled by a stiff breeze, so it's hard to blame Facebook.

Worth a read if for no other reason than that the phrase "surveillance capitalism" should be as widely known as possible.

I think articles like this do a lot more to build support for Trump than anything Facebook has done.

Is it really that hard to believe that people voted for something you don’t like because they think you’re wrong and not because they were brainwashed?

Is like he said in his conclusion - social media didn't convince people to become racists. It convinced racists to vote.

Or, calling people racists convinced them to vote against the people attacking them.

> Rather, the sophisticated targeting systems available through Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other Big Tech ad platforms made it easy to find the racist, xenophobic, fearful, angry people who wanted to believe that foreigners were destroying their country while being bankrolled by George Soros.

This is where the argument collapses. It's well known that the right-wing have carefully and diligently constructed their own parallel reality [1]. There are endless right-wing news sites, blogs, and forums that tirelessly aggregate these people and pump them full of propaganda [2]. Facebook here is acting, at best, as a viral multiplier. Even if Facebook were to disappear tomorrow there are a plethora of sites ready to leap in at a moment's notice. Facebook's disappearance would not degrade the propaganda effort. Heck, there's always email.

Cory doesn't have the courage to say it but his real issue must be with the internet as a whole. Propaganda is the internet's real killer app. You can see just how nicely this works: propaganda relies completely on repetition and copying [3]. And what is the one thing the internet does better than anything else?

It may feel good to blame Facebook but this will ultimately accomplish nothing. Propagandists will literally build their own social networking sites if Facebook goes away. The sort of people who obsess over immigration aren't going to simply log off. They are connected now and there are plenty of people out there eager to connect with these people and validate their most elaborate paranoid fantasies. Where there is demand, there will be supply.

[1] https://www.wgbh.org/news/2017/03/15/politics-government/maj...

[2] http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/research/polarization-partisansh...

[3] https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/perspectives/PE10...

yea he's trying to conflate propaganda with "sophisticated targeting" when it's really AFAICT people sharing shitposts with each other reinforcing their beliefs. if you look at, say 4chan or fox news there's no "sophisticated targeting" going on there at all

Have you ever tried to purchase an ad on Facebook? If so, please give me examples of the type of targeting you used.

(I should note that I'm genuinely not being an ass, I'm just trying to figure out your level of experience with the platform. My education is in marketing, I've run many campaigns across many platforms, yet I have never found a tool anywhere that lets me target ads the way Facebook does.)

I wish facebook could be outright extinguished from the internet. Then a lot of people would realize that those barbarians were a kind of solution.

Most people I talk to (even the tech savvy) don't really care about their data being collected by all these companies. They feel it's a fair trade.

Ironically an extremely tech-UNsavvy young woman I know makes sure to minimize her usage of these services (never had FB, instagram etc.) and is actually quite protective of her data.

I think personal attitudes toward collection of one’s personal data are orthogonal to the issue here, which is the weaponization of data collected in the aggregate. This is why I believe that personal boycotts of Facebook and the like, while responsible on an individual level, represent a slow and inefficient way of stopping the corruptible dynamics of large-scale data-collection ad model companies like FB. Regulation and accountability would be more effective. I know both of those words are four-letter words in the modern tech world zeitgeist.

The vast majority of people don't care, and many of those that claim to care, reveal they don't through their actions.

(Argues that social media and data tracking is a dangerous combination that can serve to further alienate us from our humanity)

(Proceeds to inject his political agenda that, while it has many truths, is written in a way that will completely alienate anyone not far-left)

When did suggesting government oversight of companies that have shown themselves to be bad actors become a far-left belief? Why does it feel like these appellations come from people that aren’t so much right or left politically, but just want to keep their fingers in their ears out of fear?

Did you read the article? He literally gave every example of maliciousness as right wing and provided no examples of how the left is equally manipulated.

So, is there an "equal opportunity" rule now? Do all citations of evil, atrocity, and maliciousness require both a "right-wing" and "left-wing" example just for the sake of fairness?

In the current environment, yes, they do.

Why? Because too often, each side tries to paint the other as the center of all evil. And people of both sides get really tired of being painted that way. They tune out very quickly when they run into something that paints them that way. So if you want both sides to hear you, you have to not shoot only at one side.


Well, we elected a president with authoritarian tendencies, and he's made over the executive branch in his image.

> Sorry, but this one is on the hard right. Don't tune out. Own it. Live it. Take some responsibility for it.

First of all, I'm not part of the hard right, so no, I don't own it, nor do I take some responsibility for it. I lean right, but not hard right or alt right or racist right, and I didn't vote for Trump. Don't tar me with this mess.

Second, though, how is Trump being authoritarian? Well, he's acting through executive orders rather than through Congress. Who else did that? Obama. Now, Obama was more competent and more sane than Trump, but did that make Obama less authoritarian? Or just a better authoritarian? One who was authoritarian in directions that were more to your liking?

You may raise the issue of deporting immigrants. Who else did that? Obama did it in large numbers. But people screamed much less. Why? Because Obama was their guy.

Don't paint the problems as all on one side. They're not.

Government regulation is definitely a leftist idea and not something typically associated with the right.

Now, sure. But don’t tell Teddy Roosevelt. Or Lincoln. And there’s a bunch of air traffic controllers who might disagree with you about Reagan.

That's far from "far", though.

It depends on the type and amount of regulation. I'd definitely classify Doctorow and this blog post as far-left.

IMO there is a particular kind of left that one find in and around the tech world, "Vally left" if you will.

It is a kind of "left" that maybe front some social issues (in particular gender as of late) but that can't bring themselves to really question the way things work on a really deep level.

The kind of left that would not know a industrial or service job if it landed on their head.

Looking over the wikipedia article on him, Doctorow may well be described as a professional activist.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact