Category: Ethics

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Everything You Need to Know About Facebook in One Popup

On Feb. 23, 2021, a news story from BBC Online about an explosion following the collision of a freight train and 18-wheeler riveted my attention. An early version of the report offered video footage embedded from Facebook (additional media is available in the linked version that you can click). I tapped the play icon on my tablet, which got the video going but also an overlaying message requesting permission for the social network “to use cookies and website data while browsing BBC.com”. Hell no, FB CEO Mark Zuckberg’s zombie-bots aren’t allowed to track my activity. Give blanket permission for all the Beeb? Eh, no.

Dirty bird! Pressing “Don’t Allow” stopped the video playing. Not once, but every time—and I confirmed the behavior on my laptop browser today. If you think the Internet is free, I got some swamp land in Florida to sell you right now. I don’t own it and you wouldn’t want it, but if you’re gullible enough to think social networks and other content-rich sites give you something free without taking something more, let’s you and I make a swamp deal. You are tracked, your browsing behavior is catalogued, and advertisements are targeted based on your online activities. That’s the Facebook Way.

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Message to the Homeless?

While walking with my wife along Panorama Drive, in San Diego’s University Heights community, we passed by a sign that I ignored, then turned back to capture. What does “dumping” mean, I wonder. Could it be throwing garbage into the canyon, which access would be difficult but possible from that location? Or could it refer to the business that people do when they need to, ah, relieve themselves?

Pricey Panorama, where are some of the costliest homes in UH, would be one of the neighborhood’s least welcoming of the homeless—and more are seen in the area everyday, although likelier two to three blocks closer to El Cajon Blvd. And, yes, they are known to “dump” in unexpected places. With SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2)/COVID-19 restrictions keeping eatery dining rooms closed and most retailers barring bathrooms to the public, everyone is limited on where to go when nature calls. So I got to wonder, who is the sign meant for?

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Too Much for Some, Not Enough for Others

Today, while walking with my wife along Meade Avenue in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, I was reminded about the food giveaway still going on at Garfield Elementary. Four full cartoons of skim milk littered the sidewalk and, later, a twist-tied bag containing unopened cereal and other sugary breakfast eats that would appeal to children.

In mid-March, California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the closure of most businesses and all schools. While the state is now reopening and adults return to work, kids remain home—many with parents who are still furloughed or fired. San Diego County’s unemployment rate is a staggering 15 percent, up from about 3.5 percent before the lockdown precipitated by the SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2)—also known as COVID-19pandemic. Select schools offer free food to needy families, and they are many.

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News Writing Triage (2011)

How unexpected. While cleaning up old files, I found this list created on June 13, 2011, for tech-sector news reporters that I supervised. I wouldn’t make many changes more than eight years later—qualification: for organizations solely focused on breaking news that primarily is original content. Looking ahead to 2020, in a revised list meant for a broader scope of content creators, I would put considerably more emphasis on mainly generating original content—as you will see in a follow-up post closer to the new year.

The original list was supposed to be 25 items, but dumb-butt me made a mistake and wrote two different items for eighteen. I corrected the numbering, and now the list is twenty-six. I also made a change to the second-to-last. 

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Audience Matters

While walking along Panorama Drive, in San Diego’s University Heights neighborhood today, a bumper sticker caused me to chuckle. The message seemed so appropriately placed on a vehicle parked in what locals might call a well-to-do, liberal enclave. Above the one proclamation another exclaimed: “Keep the Mexicans. Deport Trump”. So surely the driver’s meaning is unequivocally plain: Fewer weapons saves lives. In other words, disarm Americans.

I laughed when passing, because interpretation could be far removed from intention, or purpose. There are anarchists, terrorists, and other people—such as those wanting to rid the country of haughty liberals—who might see something quite good and affirming about “More Guns, More Death”, reading the same sentiment with a divergent meaning that is justified by a different, or even opposing, ethical worldview. For one audience, the slogan is an admonition. For another, it’s an invitation—a call to arms, so to speak.

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A Purely Personal Purge

Today ends tight-integration between Google Drive and Photos, which when working on Chromebooks I earnestly depended for the fluidity of my imaging workflow. As expressed about three weeks ago, the change contributed to my decision to abandon all things Google. I have lost trust in the company’s commitment to treating users as customers; they are instead beta testers for products and commodities to be profited from. That’s the price paid for free.

I have waffled about Alphabet for more than a decade—delighting in beneficial innovation and ignoring even my own analysis about Google’s profiting from—no, exploiting—content created by others. As I have written before: “Google is a leech that feeds off the intellectual property of legitimate content producers. The search giant profits from your good work, reducing its value in the process. Stated differently, ‘You create it, we sell it, and you must give it away for free’. How convenient that Google assigns such value, free, to someone else’s good work, while producing little content of its own”.

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Lupe’s Last Day

This afternoon, a real estate agent trapped Lupe, who was featured—along with companion Laramie—in my “Cats of University Heights” series (December 2017). Two weeks ago today, the animals’ owner left the pair behind, when he moved out of state. The gent rented the property that the three shared, along with two dogs, for 17 years. To her credit, the agent selling the place stepped up to assure the outdoor kitties would find a new home. (The guy also left behind goldfish, which a fourth grade school teacher adopted for her class.)

My feelings are deeply mixed about trapping and removing Laramie and Lupe. While walking down Alabama Street this morning, I spoke with neighbors worried about the abandons. One asked about adopting them. Another and I discussed the realistic possibility about caring for the pair as community cats—fed and kept in familiar territory. That would be my preference, although it is likely unrealistic. In my conversations with the realtor, who has been in contact with rescue groups, the animals’ future is tenuous if deemed to be unadoptable. They might not be put down, so to speak, but they could be put away in a feral colony. Neither belongs there, and I don’t believe Lupe would fare well.

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Twitter is Right About the ‘Public Conversation’

I respect—and support—Twitter’s decision allowing Alex Jones to continue using the service. No other social network is as much about free expression, whether or not you agree with the viewpoints expressed there. I see YouTube in similar vain and, as such, wag my finger in condemning “shame on you” for following Apple’s lead and pulling Jones’ channel(s). (Vain is purposefully misused to make a point that I hope you get.)

For the record: I have never listened to or watched even a snippet of InfoWars. Meaning: I don’t stand up for Jones’ viewpoints but for his expressing them across social networks. 

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Responsible Reporting Takes Time

I rarely go to Facebook, but my niece was in San Diego County for a few days, and checking up on her travels was a must. During the brief FB foray, a Newsfeed post nipped my attention. Erica Toelle asks: “Bloggers, how long does it take you to write a 1,000 word, well researched and well-written article? I realize ‘it depends’ but it’s usually longer than 4hrs, right? I’m working with under-documented technology and usually have to try it to understand how it works”.

The question is hugely relevant at a time when speed too often trumps accuracy—or accountability—and many writers must meet (often ridiculous) daily quotas. Then there is the controversy about so-called fake news.

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Fly the Unfriendly Skies

Spanning most of my career, whether working as analyst or journalist, I have repeatedly railed against how U.S. law treats businesses—essentially as people. Reason: Moral dichotomy, where the ethical priorities of publicly-traded companies vastly differ from—and often contradict with—values of the people founding, running, or working for them. Keyword is value, where one usage refers to beliefs and another to money; meaning stock price and proceeds returned to shareholders.

My first, best articulation of this concept came during an April 2006 radio interview—I believe for NPR marketplace—when discussing major U.S. search providers Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo censoring results in China, at the government’s insistence. Behind the action there loomed censorship’s morality, such as restricting search terms like “democracy”. I expressed that there is no moral high ground in business. The high ground is quagmire, because all public companies share a single, moral objective: Make profits for stockholders. Plain, pure, and simple. Sadly, that moral agenda explains why United Airline’s PR week from Hell is Heaven for shareholders. Overbooking means the carrier fills seats; operations are lean and mean (quite literally, the latter). 

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Where News Reporting Bias Replaces Fact-Gathering

The inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States continues the fine tradition [sarcasm] that became commonplace news reporting following his election victory: Advocacy over accuracy. In my book Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers—and on this website—I explain there is a legitimate role for advocacy journalism (full book chapter). But over the past couple of months—with adverse and antagonistic Trump reporting exploding across the new, news, and social media landscape—misinformation and mischaracterization became normal and accepted. The trend is dangerous, as bias replaces fact-gathering. The precedents are dangerous for all news reporting, not just about Trump.

Yesterday’s blog posts, social media shares, and even some mainstream news media reports about the Whitehouse.gov website are examples—and they also are metaphors for the twisting of facts to (presumably) reflect the writers’ personal biases. What should be legitimate reporting of events are instead editorial comments—no, character assassinations—by news gatherers with clear anti-Trump agendas. Every news blogger or reporter who opposes Trump (and/or his administration’s real or presumed policies) should add a disclaimer stating this bias.