May 16, 2011

On the sham called "Facebook"

Mea Maxima Culpa
We've allowed evil and watched it take place.
For evil's been done in every case.
The laws are all made in our hearts, of course.
But every one must be maintained by force.
We stare at life through the eyes of a souse:
We have made this planet a slaughterhouse.
  -- Jens Bjørneboe (*)

Clicking the image leads to the source (Free Software Foundation)

Today something else again, after yesterday on genius and on Feynman, and about some of the things I simply cannot believe about real genius prior to my own prefrontal lobotomy, for today's subject is the utter scam that's called Facebook.

My main sources are these three, in order of importance, with the original titles and link so you can read all - which I strongly recommend if you are a Facebook "friend":
  • "With friends like these..." - Tom Hodgkinson, in The Guardian, 2008
  • "Mark Zuckerberg is TIME Magazine's Person of the Year? Where's the "dislike" button?" - Free Software Foundation
  • "Facebook" - Wikipedia, as is today
1. The Facebook enigma - sort of

We all know, "know" and guess what others are like by analogy to ourselves, and in terms of the education we got at home, in schools, universities etc. and the books and interests and likes and dislike we have.

My own background, knowledge and life are far from ordinary, as are my judgments of many things, but I admit - university educated psychologist and philosopher and all - that I was rather amazed and also quite disappointed by the enormous popularity of Facebook,  because ever since reading about it I felt quite like Mr Hodgkinson, whose fine article I mentioned and linked above, and who started it as follows - and I split the continuous text of the beginning of his article into three parts, so as to put some of my remarks in between, while I quote by indenting:

I despise Facebook. This enormously successful American business describes itself as "a social utility that connects you with the people around you". But hang on. Why on God's earth would I need a computer to connect with the people around me? Why should my relationships be mediated through the imagination of a bunch of supergeeks in California? What was wrong with the pub?

Quite so, although "supergeeks" seems too much praise, and personally I am not and never was a pub goer (as my footnote explains: I don't like alcohol - not on principle: it just never agreed with me - and I don't like drunks, and most conversations of most people bore me, and give me no joy: a common hazard of being gifted, I fear).

But yes: When meeting people I like to meet the real thing - real people, made of flesh and blood, palpably and visibly so, with names, with spontaneity, with personal presence, and with free and open conversation, and not some virtual impersonation of somebody quite often utterly anonymous, who presents himself (or herself: I follow traditional English grammar) by pieces of non-spontaneous contrived text, quite possibly with photoshopped portraits, with some silly, often vaguely grandiose avatar, and all in a sort of gallery - a freak show - of like minded virtual entities made up from text, pixels, and posturing, that you don't know, never met, don't know the abode of, that is intentionally obscure about much that matters for real personal relations, and whom I might not like at all if I met her or him in the flesh, and who as virtual presence is more like an ad than like a human being.

Indeed, as far as I can see, if you really believe these virtual entities "are" persons, rather than texts or pixels, you have a very confused or basically lonely mind, who can't keep pretend-reality and natural reality apart - or indeed who prefers pretend-reality, and so probably has much to hide.

To continue with Mr Hodgkinson's opening paragraphs:

And does Facebook really connect people? Doesn't it rather disconnect us, since instead of doing something enjoyable such as talking and eating and dancing and drinking with my friends, I am merely sending them little ungrammatical notes and amusing photos in cyberspace, while chained to my desk? A friend of mine recently told me that he had spent a Saturday night at home alone on Facebook, drinking at his desk. What a gloomy image. Far from connecting us, Facebook actually isolates us at our workstations.

Quite so: You might - assuming you're healthy, in body and mind - have been in the park, scuba-diving, or been meeting real friends in a real house or pub.

To continue with Mr Hodgkinson's text:

Facebook appeals to a kind of vanity and self-importance in us, too. If I put up a flattering picture of myself with a list of my favourite things, I can construct an artificial representation of who I am in order to get sex or approval. ("I like Facebook," said another friend. "I got a shag out of it.")

That's mostly it, except that I am a bit more realistic: It enables posturing, lying, pretending, photoshopping and lots of  make-belief based on illusions, lack of character,  elastic spines, and the illusion - see below - one can't be found out by one's "Facebook friends", and one can get away with almost anything in the way of white lies and rudeness, "because one is anonymous anyway, or those who object are elsewhere on the globe".

Thus Mr Hodgkinson - who just got started on his article - and I agree, as I also agree with this by him:

It seems, though, that I am very much alone in my hostility. At the time of writing Facebook claims 59 million active users, including 7 million in the UK, Facebook's third-biggest customer after the US and Canada. That's 59 million suckers, all of whom have volunteered their ID card information and consumer preferences to an American business they know nothing about.

As I said, the article is about three years old. If you consult Wikipedia, you find that currently

As of January 2011, Facebook has more than 600 million active users.

In brief, as a so called - really: virtual, make belief, let's pretend - "social network" (as the phrase is, which is very misleading) it is an enormous success.

What is it really, beyond 600 million who don't have the time, the brains, the health or the personal individuality and character to set up their own sites? Mr Hodgkinson's diagnosis is this:

Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? Can you create communities free of national boundaries - and then sell Coca-Cola to them? Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway.

I mostly agree, for while the pretense of Mr Suckerbug is that it is all about "socializing", "making friends", "forming communities", "sharing", it is a vast commercial enterprise of which the main money-making tool is datamining: Finding out who you are, where you live, how much you earn, what your preferences and tastes are, who your friends and family are, and selling these items of information to commercial firms, or indeed law firms, or what not: To whoever has the money, and wants to spy on you, for some reason, to make better use of you, and usually to get cash from you, somehow, e.g. by "personalized advertising", which is translated into clear English as "lying for profit".

Mr. Hodgkinson has rather a lot more, and while I think he probably is mostly right in what he says, his article is from January 2008, and since then Facebook grew ten times as big, and also has changed some, if not for the better.

Here is part of what he says that still seems quite correct to me: There is something like "
a philosophy" behind it namely by

(...) one René Girard of Stanford University, proponent of a theory of human behaviour called mimetic desire. Girard reckons that people are essentially sheep-like and will copy one another without much reflection. (..)
the desired object is irrelevant; all you need to know is that human beings will tend to move in flocks. Hence financial bubbles. Hence the enormous popularity of Facebook.

And hence datamining, and enormous profits for Mr Suckerbug and his cronies and investors, who according to Mr. Hodgkinson originate in the US libertarian right of venture capitalists who are willing to do just about anything for money (if they think they can get away with it), of course in the name of "freedom", "free choice" and "free markets": "There's a sucker born every minute", as P.T. Barnum is supposed to have said, and the slightly more clever, ruthless or dishonest than average can live very nicely by deluding, misleading and abusing the human average.

Also, it's not just business and datamining wrapped up as "friendship" and "sharing" for the brainless, the lazy, the spineless, or - for the most part - the naive, the easily deluded, and the brainwashed, many of whom in this day and age have read more advertisement texts than any other text:

The US defence department and the CIA love technology because it makes spying easier. "We need to find new ways to deter new adversaries," defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in 2003. "We need to make the leap into the information age, which is the critical foundation of our transformation efforts."

Of course! If there is "A Facebook Revolution" at all, then that revolution is bound to be that the secret  service of almost any country can track your preferences, friends, family, associates, and opinions on "social network sites" while knowing where you are every second from your mobile phone. Praise Facebook!

Or as Mr Hodgkinson put it:

The creators of the site need do very little bar fiddle with the programme. In the main, they simply sit back and watch as millions of Facebook addicts voluntarily upload their ID details, photographs and lists of their favourite consumer objects. Once in receipt of this vast database of human beings, Facebook then simply has to sell the information back to advertisers, or, as Zuckerberg puts it in a recent blog post, "to try to help people share information with their friends about things they do on the web". And indeed, this is precisely what's happening.

"Share" is Facebookspeak for "advertise". Sign up to Facebook and you become a free walking, talking advert for Blockbuster or Coke, extolling the virtues of these brands to your friends. We are seeing the commodification of human relationships, the extraction of capitalistic value from friendships.

This you may doubt - You, and 600 million others can't be as naive as that, can you? Besides, you know all there is to know about scams, computers, datamining, and man's inhumanity to man, if man can get away with it, don't you? And you respect everyone, and that nice Mr Zuckerberg more than most, don't it? - but I for my part quite agree with Mr Hodgkinson:

For my own part, I am going to retreat from the whole thing, remain as unplugged as possible, and spend the time I save by not going on Facebook doing something useful, such as reading books. Why would I want to waste my time on Facebook when I still haven't read Keats' Endymion? And when there are seeds to be sown in my own back yard? I don't want to retreat from nature, I want to reconnect with it. Damn air-conditioning! And if I want to connect with the people around me, I will revert to an old piece of technology. It's free, it's easy and it delivers a uniquely individual experience in sharing information: it's called talking.

Quite so, except that I don't "retreat", since I never took part, knowing full well people lie to make money and disliking very much to mix up real contacts with real people with playing make belief games on a virtual "social network" that exists to facilitate datamining aka spying of persons to abuse them profitably.

But there's more:

2. Big brother is watching you

Again I quote from Mr Hodgkinson's fine article, who quotes himself Facebook's not fine at all "heads I win, tails you loose" rules:

Facebook's privacy policy

Just for fun, try substituting the words 'Big Brother' whenever you read the word 'Facebook'

1 We will advertise at you

"When you use Facebook, you may set up your personal profile, form relationships, send messages, perform searches and queries, form groups, set up events, add applications, and transmit information through various channels. We collect this information so that we can provide you the service and offer personalised features."

2 You can't delete anything

"When you update information, we usually keep a backup copy of the prior version for a reasonable period of time to enable reversion to the prior version of that information."

3 Anyone can glance at your intimate confessions

"... we cannot and do not guarantee that user content you post on the site will not be viewed by unauthorised persons. We are not responsible for circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures contained on the site. You understand and acknowledge that, even after removal, copies of user content may remain viewable in cached and archived pages or if other users have copied or stored your user content."

4 Our marketing profile of you will be unbeatable

"Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (eg, photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalised experience."

5 Opting out doesn't mean opting out

"Facebook reserves the right to send you notices about your account even if you opt out of all voluntary email notifications."

6 The CIA may look at the stuff when they feel like it

"By using Facebook, you are consenting to have your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States ... We may be required to disclose user information pursuant to lawful requests, such as subpoenas or court orders, or in compliance with applicable laws. We do not reveal information until we have a good faith belief that an information request by law enforcement or private litigants meets applicable legal standards. Additionally, we may share account or other information when we believe it is necessary to comply with law, to protect our interests or property, to prevent fraud or other illegal activity perpetrated through the Facebook service or using the Facebook name, or to prevent imminent bodily harm. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, agents or government agencies."

In brief - and the quotations are legalese propaganda rather than honest English - the Facebook exploiters declare themselves free to spy on you in whatever way that fits their interests or the interests of those who pay them, and declare themselves

... not responsible for circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures contained on the site. You understand and acknowledge that, even after removal, copies of user content may remain viewable in cached and archived pages ...

3. Scams and censorship next to dishonest dataming

Here is a piece from the above linked article on Suckerbug's Successful "Social" Scam from the Free Software Foundation:

Zuckerberg is able to collect information about people who aren't even users of his site. These are precedents which hurt our ability to freely connect with each other. He has created a network that is first and foremost a gold mine for government surveillance and advertisers.

This much is evident from Facebook's outward behavior — but things could actually be much worse than we know. Facebook's users are not connecting directly with each other. They are speaking to Mr. Zuckerberg, who first writes down and files away everything said, and then maybe relays it to the intended destination, if it suits him. In some cases he does not — witness the recent reports of Facebook's messaging service blocking messages based on the words and links in them, because those links point to services which Facebook would prefer we not discuss.

Of course - and don't you believe the law will protect you: On the internet virtually anything is possible in terms of spying that the laws in civilized countries have forbidden for generations as regards paper post or spying on others or indeed flimflamming and fraudulence. There just are no laws against it, and whatever laws might apply can hardly be applied to an entity that may be anywhere or everywhere, and can afford the best lawyers, and anyway is a corporate body without morals, except for profits and pretenses.

As to scams and fraudulence: Here are the writers of the FSF on being misrepresented on Facebook:

Note: You may find some pages about the FSF or GNU on Facebook, since anyone can create pages there. Know that these pages are unofficial and not maintained by FSF staff or the GNU Project, nor did we ask for them to be created.

So... it may be the same for me, and although I have said so before, last year, I'll say it again:

I am not on Facebook; I never had an account on Facebook; I don't want an account on Facebook; and anybody who puts any of my material on Facebook is a thief: I forbid it.

Also, I'd like to know about it if it happens: I'm rather unknown and unread than figure on a site like Facebook.
4. There always are excuses...

What I think, do and say, and do not do, think nor say, is my own responsibility, and you are free to disagree, and free to get your own Facebook account (without my material).

Indeed, if you're ill or your boss thinks Facebook is just the thing for his employees, or your mom or girlfriend wants you to be there, or you are very lonely, quite unattractive, in need of illusions of "social contact", or indeed the proud and happy possessor of an average or sub-average intelligence, outlook and a nicely conformist set of values, I can't stop you, and it's your life, and you are playing with your privacy - and that of your friends, colleagues and family, for profit of faceless folks far more clever and ruthless than you are.

Indeed - there even may be quite respectable reasons to be on Facebook, especially if you are ill or an advocate for ill people.

But it's not for me, and I don't want it:

Clicking the image leads to the source (Free Software Foundation)

And if you do find me there, it's fraudulent or it's theft.

(*) I much like Jens Bjørneboe, a Norwegian author who lived from 1920-1976,  and probably is best known through the three volumes that make up "The history of bestiality", which is concerned with man's inhumanity to man. I learned of him when I lived in Norway, and I only read his books in Norwegian, though most seem to have been translated into English and German, and some even into Dutch.

I probably do share little of his philosophy (he was an anthroposophist, which I consider nonsense, and loved drinking, whereas I never got drunk in my life and don't like drunks) but he was a very humane man, with strong moral values, personal courage, and the character to think and feel for himself, and that's all much appreciated by me, for one thing because it is quite rare (and much rarer than people love to pretend). Besides, he wrote well, not only about human bestiality, but also about education - Jonas is an impressive book, about his experiences as a teacher - and quite a lot more. He also was a painter.

The song I quote is based on lyrics he wrote, which I can't agree with for a good part - such as "We are all guilty of the evil men do": No thank you very much: we are all responsible for our own failings, ignorance, dishonesties, poses, pretensions and ill deeds. I do agree with most of what I quote, though, and it is quite appropriate in the present context - and much of the evil men do is done for what are presented as the best of reasons, or from social conformism.

Here is a quote from him from something I wrote about him in Dutch in 2006 (Bjørneboe en de menselijke beestachtigheid) being rather heretical my self, as it happens:

Thousands and thousands have given their lives for freedom of human thought, for freedom of conscience, and for the freedom of future generations—this freedom which we treat so badly today.
    The bloodbaths aren't the main thing; the main thing is the heretic.
    What is it that gives a person such strength?
    Greater than the problem of evil is the problem of good.
        —Powderhouse (1969)

As to the problems of good and evil see - for example - my

P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.
-- May 17, 2001: Sorted out some spelling errors.

And as I am quite mellow today, let me also give a compliment to Phoenix Rising: It's good it's not on Facebook. Especially in England, the US and Holland, as a patient with ME/CFS you are considerably more safe on a private site owned by a person than on a Facebook site. See 2. Big brother is watching you

As an aside a remark on my html-editor: I am very pleased to say this text was written in KompoZer 08.b3 and not in MS Frontpage.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence".
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.

    "Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 

    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)


See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources

Maarten Maartensz (M.A. psy, B.A. phi)

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