Facebook Blitz

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Determine what others see
For us F stands for a Facebook in which you have more control of your private sphere.
Therefore we’re now providing a clearer overview in one place.

I’m kind of fascinated, in a “car crash” kind of way, with the effort Facebook is putting into improving it’s image in Germany.

Leaving aside the banality of this particular pitch (“we’ve moved all the privacy controls that you need to understand, and obviously don’t, into a single place for you to better not understand!) what on earth are they thinking? Do they really believe that the perceived issue is with what others can see, and not understand that people have become concerned with the entirety of what Facebook itself sees?

Maybe this is part of a longer strategy to attempt to undermine the GDPR regulations, which you’d have to assume would be devastating to the FB “sell out the users to highest bidder” business model. If they can get out in front of it, making the claim that they are already protecting users data, and using it appropriately (“look at all the control we give them!”) then maybe politicians won’t feel that suing them out of existence will be popular?

They’ve lost a million users to GDPR issues… which seems peanuts compared to the total ~365 million European users. And the stock price, despite the historic fluctuations, is still higher than it was at the start of 2018.

It all makes me wonder what news they are not yet out in front of…

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The State of “Social”

Post from HN: How Does Mastodon Work?

Answer from me so far: it doesn’t.

Sadly i’m not sure it ever will. Leaving Twitter means leaving behind all the network effect that made the Twitter experience work.

One day an inflection point is going to come and people will migrate to a new platform. However, my guess is that will not happen for technical or organisational reasons, but just because. As much as it would be good to sell people on a messaging platform that is, among other things, virtuous, privacy respecting, user supported, censorship resistant (as Mastodon may well be…) if it doesn’t have the magic combination of simplicity and cool which periodically captures the zeitgeist… it doesn’t work.

I’ve managed to move the majority of my IM traffic to Signal… there are a few stragglers, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that it’s role in the communication of others is limited to catering to my diva-like demands! Why has that worked for personal communications, but failed for the broader, more scattershot social networking case?

The use case is different – on a platform like Twitter you curate followers / friends and accept that whatever to say will be broadcast to them all. This obviously means that you adapt your communication style to be less personal. In most cases a Twitter / Facebook / Instagram account becomes a simple means of promotion. Followers, if not the direct audience, act as a means of propagating or amplifying your message. If that network doesn’t not exist to fan out reaching a much wider “market” it’s not really fit for purpose.

It seems that more private (in many cases not in the cryptographic sense) interactions between natural groups (family, close friends, small teams) are migrating to closed chat rooms, most likely on platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. And Twitter / Facebook / Instagram feeds are slowly dissolving into a market place for both goods, ideas and attention, with the whole thing swirling around a sink hole of advertising intelligence / surveillance.

Sadly, i suspect that the implementation of Circles in Google+ came very close to synthesising something that captured a good balance. Fortunately people read the sociopathic writing on the wall – as bad a custodian of a social graph as Facebook has turned out to be, the only people that i can see giving them a run for their money in the ‘Totalitarian Information Megacorp’ / ‘Grim Meathook Future’ stakes are big G… and Amazon.

[A lot of this musing was brought to mind by seeing a Facebook ad on German TV that, and i kid you not, starts out with “F steht für unsere Fehler” (F stands for our failure), and then gets weirder.]

The Long Regret?

I’ve spent the last couple of years acutely aware that my predictions about brexit were comically off target. Writing in July 2016, i said:

This week the deadline seems to have stretch out to Article 50 definitely being triggered by the time of the General Election in 2020.

and, as the triggering of Article 50 occurred on March 29th 2017, that was very wrong.

The reasoning behind that statement was, i believe, essentially sound. The various constraints on the UK government made it highly unlikely that an advantageous negotiating position could be found. Those constraints:

  • the indivisibility of the core EU four freedoms (goods, service, people, capital)
  • the Good Friday Agreement’s requirement of an open border between northern and southern Ireland
  • a desire to maintain the union (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  • a need to maintain open / tariff free trade with the EU
  • the requirement to hold together a fractious Tory party

made it seem unlikely that anyone would be stupid enough to pull the trigger to start a race which can obviously not be won.

Since then the situation has become even more complex by the introduction of the biblically backward DUP into the mix.

In hindsight the obvious mistake was assuming that the Tory party would put country above party… that should have been obvious when David ‘trotters up’ Cameron called the referendum in the first place.

It has been my firmly held belief that no UK government would be capable of negotiating an advantageous deal for exiting the EU – the EU holds all the cards, and the UK civil service is hamstrung by the incompetence and tautological beliefs of the Tory party.

Where does this leave us with trying to understand what might happen with Perfidious Albion?

If we rule out a negotiated exit, and given the above we surely must, there are are only really two options left:

  • crash (and burn) out of the EU on March 29th 2019, with the pyrrhic victory of not paying any settlement
  • capitulation / humiliation of withdrawing the Article 50 notice, and remaining in the EU on existing / modified (EFTA, etc) terms

The first option would please / placate a small, but highly vocal, clique of Torys, but probably cause long term (economic / reputational) harm to the UK, rolling back the Good Friday Agreement, and maybe even cause the dissolution of the Union.

The second option would please… actually, that’s the wrong way to look at it. The second option would displease the same highly vocal clique of Torys, but allow the current arrangement of peace and (poorly distributed†) prosperity to continue.

[There are other short-term options, such as getting an extension on the Article 50 deadline, holding another referendum, etc, but in the end they’ll eventually lead back to the above two choices.]

I’m out of the predictions game – in many ways i no longer have a horse in this race. However, it still interesting to imagine how we ended up here..

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

As insufferable and parochial as Theresa May appears, it seems unlikely that she is stupid. Which obviously raises questions!

Having adopted brexit, and cleaved to childlike logic the logic of “will of the people” in a representative democracy, she called a General Election. This was done presumably with the hope of gaining a majority large enough to push through a form of brexit advantageous to the Tory party… there was some clue as to how that might look in the initial act for leaving the EU, and it was an executive branch power grab of the kind you’d expect from former Home Secretary May.

When the GE didn’t return a majority, and an agreement with the DUP, that option was off the table. With the “will of the people” fork in the road behind her, it was too late to change course. And from here on out it stops being an authoritarian’s wet dream, and becomes a farce.

The problem with content free phrases such as “will of the people” and “brexit means brexit” is that they inevitably take on a life of their own. Having no inherent meaning they can be bandied around, adding nothing to the discussion, with all sides assigning their own strongly held, magical thinking and *beliefs*. Politics becomes akin to theology.

At this point any rational person would have determined that brexit on terms determined by the UK government is not possible. And, getting the Tory party to accept this reality is equally unlikely. A rock and a hard place.

Admitting that the game is up, that it would be better to admit defeat than risk plunging the country into chaos, is essentially a resignation letter. Resigning too soon would risk giving one of the swivel-eyed loons the time to rally the Tory party around a plan to crash and burn over the white cliffs of Dover.

Better to labour (small L i can’t even begin to imagine what is going on there!) on refining a completely unacceptable, known bad, plan in order to limit an usurpers ability to influence the outcome. All the while bringing into sharp focus the consequences of the default choice. “Yes, to avoid starving to death we may need to return to rationing, but don’t worry we’ll put troops on the streets, and turn the south-east into a lorry park… it’ll be fine!”

All this smoke and mirrors in order to accept the inevitable and avert an entirely avoidable act of catastrophic self-harm.

Doubt we’ll ever know… maybe she really is that stupid. That will be easier to judge by the end of March next year.

† make no mistake, the main reason that the populist right has been able to whip up the frenzy of self-harm that has overcome the UK is the rolling back of post-WW2 consensus undertaken by Thatcher and Thatcher-lite (aka New Labour) and the subsequent inequality that engendered. The populist right has no plan, or intention, to reverse this inequality, only a desire to exploit it to further it’s own (scary) goals.

Parting Shot

Umberto Eco died today. Over the years he’d entertained and bemused me in unequal measures. It always felt as though he was on a perpetual search in his works of fictions for the appropriate follow up to Name of the Rose. A case of ‘peaking too early’ perhaps?

His more scholarly, but entertaining nonetheless, writings existed in a tradition of european intellectualism that was not always accessible to me – the layers of meaning, playful exploration of ideas across languages, epochs, civilisations… i’ll miss the erudition he so obviously enjoyed displaying.

Today is a good day to remind small-minded england of the great european tradition of intellectualism, of thinking, and of the “european experiment” which has sought to bring peace to so many people. Here is an extract from Eco’s essay on Ur, or eternal, Fascism:

7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the U.S., a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

Fuck your special pleading. Fuck your culture of entitlement and greed. Fuck your appeals to xenophobic instincts. Fuck your attempts to enshrine diminished empathy in law. And most obviously: fuck you dishface.

Shame

Had an interesting conversation with one of my german co-workers today. Having had a brief conversation in German, he remarked that he didn’t know my german level. He probably assumed that i was completely incompetent (where as the reality is that i’m simply mostly incompetent…)

Which is all very interesting, but contrast starkly with my experience in japanese, where i was absolutely comfortable making a fool of myself. The expectation that a foreigner could never hold a conversation in japanese, even at the level of a five year old, made everything easy. Zero expectations.

In europe, where i nominally identify, it’s much harder to be european (english… yes, ok, but i’m trying…) and talking a european language like a five year old. That feels much harder.

Some of this is english being a lingua franca for europe these days (also true in japan but if i’m a five year old in japanese…), but mostly it’s not wanting to make a fool of myself relative to my “native” language ability. It’s really something i want to get over – it’s the only way i’ll increase the rate that i’m picking up german.

Too old for all this.

Voting

It’s not really my thing voting. As best as i can recall the first (and last…) time i voted was in an EU election. It would have been around the time that i became eligible. Since then, nothing. Which isn’t entirely surprising – a few years latter i fled that sceptic isle and have never returned.

The recent rise is idiots such as UKIP, and subsequent push for an ‘in-out’ referendum on Europe have made me wonder if voting might become necessary. After all, the last thing that i need is to be forced to move back (maybe the Scottish would take me in?)

Well, it turns out that i’m no longer eligible to vote in UK elections. In order to register to vote you must have a lived at a UK address in the last 15 years. Nope, haven’t done that. And therefore no voting. Seems a little odd as a citizen, who would be effected by the outcome of any referendum, not to be able to vote. Still, i’m the last last person who would pretend that democracy is perfect… or that the UK is particularly democratic!

In theory it’ll only be a another five years until i can apply for citizenship here in Germany. In practice, i’m not sure how that will work out. Oh, and i can vote in EU elections as a resident of Germany, but somehow the machinery here seems to have neglected to register me… maybe they know?

Resonation

This really rings true for me:

It is Mr Rottenberg’s view that the current vogue for the “pursuit of happiness” may perversely push certain people towards depression. Happiness, he argues, is the result of achieving a goal, rather than a goal itself. He cites recent evidence suggesting that depression or low mood can be triggered by setting unobtainable goals. Rather than becoming depressed because of underachievement, he suggests that perhaps depression is an overcommitment to goals that cannot be reached.

To the point that i don’t really want to discuss the details.

I’m leery of reading books with titles like “The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic”, but perhaps Mr. Rottenberg will bring some clarity to episodes that i don’t really feel equipped to comprehend in any detail…