Tag Archives: social media

Why We’ll Never (Fully) Get Rid Of Misinformation

How Private Information Helps Fake News Hoodwink the Public

Being informed is important. In some cases, it is literally a matter of life and death. That’s a big reason why I’ve made multiple posts urging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It could literally save your life. It’s also free, by the way. How many other things that could save your life are also free?

Seriously, people, get vaccinated. I’ll belabor that as much as I have to.

However, this isn’t only about vaccines or the idiots who refuse to get them. It’s about the “information” that these people are using to justify their choices. I put “information” in quotes because calling some of this stuff information is a poor use of the term.

Information, by definition, is supposed to inform. It’s supposed to make you more aware and educated about the world around you. Lies, propaganda, and misinformation do none of that. That sort of thing makes you dumber, more vulnerable, and more easy to manipulate by those willing to do so.

It happens in politics, religion, pop culture, business, and even shady marketing schemes. Much of these endeavors don’t have facts, truth, or verifiable information on their side. As a result, they require that people buy into whatever misinformation they feed them. It’s dishonest, disgraceful, and should be condemned to the utmost.

The problem is that people still buy into it.

Moreover, some people actively seek for this kind of information.

This is something I think many people have experience with, either directly or indirectly. I also suspect it has become a lot more relevant lately, given the rise of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theories. This sort of mentality was always present. The problem is that the internet and social media have made it disturbingly easy to spread.

Now, it’s easy and tempting to blame big tech companies for this phenomenon. Make no mistake. Big tech companies are certainly at fault to some degree. Many of these same companies also have done some incredibly shady things, to say the least.

However, I’m still of the opinion that, no matter how disreputable big tech companies can be, it still ultimately falls on the users to control what information they seek. Whether it’s Google, Facebook, or TikTok, these systems don’t operate in a vacuum. They simply respond to user input. We are, to some extent, responsible for the information we seek.

I’m certainly guilty of seeking out information that isn’t exactly reputable. There have been times, including a few very recent instances, where I find myself seeking information that turned out to be less than truthful. Even if it was for something as innocent as comic book news or NFL trade rumors, it’s still misinformation as best and outright lies at worst.

That may not do much harm if the information you’re seeking is only damaging to your Fantasy Football team, but if that information involved politics or your health, then that’s where the real damage can occur. I’ve already seen it manifest with friends who fell down some very dark internet rabbit holes. Some of that might have just been by accident, but I also don’t doubt it was intentional in some cases.

In recent years, I’ve tried to make a more concerted effort to seek accurate, truthful information. I haven’t always succeeded, but I genuinely try to find true and accurate information, even if it’s something I don’t like. The fact it takes so much effort has me worried.

On top of that, it has led me to believe that it might not be possible to avoid misinformation. Even without the internet, it will find you. Propaganda and lies did exist before the digital age. It’ll likely always exist to some extent, so long as human brains are wired a certain way. Since we can’t change that anytime soon, despite the best efforts of Elon Musk, we’re likely stuck with misinformation.

This has me genuinely concerned because, even as some tech companies are making greater efforts to combat misinformation, it’s still relatively easy to find. On top of that, there are people out there working for nefarious organizations who are actively engaged in creating, spreading, and supplementing misinformation. Even if you shut them all down tomorrow, others will just spring up to replace them.

In some respects, it’s a lot like the war on drugs. You could arrest every single drug dealer in the world this morning, but by dusk a bunch of new dealers will emerge to take their place. Like it or not, there’s still a demand and there’s money, influence, and power to be gained.

Misinformation may not be the same as heroin or pot, but is subject to the same incentives. People actively seek it. Taking it in makes them feel special, important, and smarter than their neighbor. Today, it’s misinformation about vaccines, liberals, and gaming culture. Tomorrow, it might be about something else entirely.

It all comes back to how we’re wired. Our brains are not designed to seek truth or accurate information. They’re designed to keep us alive. Misinformation might be damaging in the long run, but it can make us feel better in the short-term, which is sadly more than enough incentive for some, even if it proves deadly in the long run.

I seriously wish I could end this on an uplifting note. I genuinely tried to find some way of putting a positive spin on this struggle. Unfortunately, the best I could come up with is to simply urge everyone to try harder to seek true and accurate information. If these past two years have taught us anything, it’s that bad information can cause a lot of harm.

We can never get rid of it, so long as our brains operate as they do.

We can and should still do our part. Truth and accuracy matters. You may not like it, but it may very well save your life in the long run.

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How I Choose To Unplug (And Why I Recommend It For Others)

Workout of the Week: Cross-Training Trail Run | Be Well Philly

I love technology.

I love my smartphone.

I love this age of gadgets, gizmos, and gimmicks that we live in right now.

I don’t care that it’s a byproduct of a quasi-capitalist system that isn’t perfect or that it can come off as shallow at times. It’s still fun and it makes our lives easier, richer, and more convenient. For that, I am grateful. The tech industry is still full of assholes, but the products do a lot of good.

I know there are people who claim the world was better off before the age of the internet, social media, and TV. I don’t believe them for a second. I’m willing to bet that if those same people had to suddenly live without all the modern conveniences we have, they’d go crazy with boredom and drudgery.

All that being said, there are times when it helps to just completely unplug for a while. By that, I don’t just mean turning off your smartphone and lying on the couch. That’s not really unplugging. You’re still within easy reach of it all and can reconnect on a whim.

By unplugging, I mean actually going outside without your phone, your watch, or any gadgets of any kind. It’s just you, the outdoors, and nothing else. To some, I’m sure that sounds scary. Some people are a lot more attached to their gadgets than others. For most, though, I think there’s a genuine benefit to just stepping away from the gadgets and being alone with your thoughts for a while.

I learned that years ago when I was in college. I didn’t have a smartphone back then, but I was almost always connected to something, whether it was my computer, my TV, or my iPod. Some of that was out of necessity. I couldn’t really do much work without any of those tools. However, by my sophomore year, I quickly learned that being connected all the time can really compound everyday stresses.

I found ways to deal with it. Most of them didn’t work that well, but they did get me through some tough times. It wasn’t until I started working out that I realized the true benefits of unplugging for brief periods. This is also where I really came to appreciate being alone with my thoughts for a while.

When I first started working out, I would go to a gym. That was fine in the beginning. I just brought my iPod and later my iPhone, loaded with music, and let that play during my workout. Then, I quickly realized that running on a treadmill was kind of boring and not very good for my joints. That’s when I started running around some local trails.

This is where I found the best place to unplug while also getting a better workout. At first, I tried to bring my phone with me so I could listen to music. That was nice and all, but I found it had an odd effect. By listening to music, I became a bit too concerned about how long I was running. Even if I didn’t check the time, my brain could figure it out by just how long each song was.

I just couldn’t stop myself from overthinking. That’s a problem I’ve had for much of my life. In order to get around that, I actually had to leave my phone, my watch, and all my gadgets behind. So, for my next run, the only things I brought with me were my wallet and keys.

Almost immediately, I felt a difference and it was a positive difference.

Running along these local trails, with no music and no watch or smartphone to check, became incredibly therapeutic. Nobody could call me to interrupt. Nothing could prompt me to just stop, take out my phone, and check something. It was just me, nature, and my thoughts as I ran about these local trails. I also found that the more I did it, the more I got out of it.

By disconnecting, I could just let my thoughts catch up with everything I had been dealing with. I could step back, give myself a chance to process everything, and get myself in a better place.

On top of that, this also gave me a chance to entertain new ideas for sexy short stories, sexy novels, and YouTube videos. I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t have produced nearly as much content, including the sexy kind, if I didn’t take this time to disconnect and be alone with my thoughts.

It’s now a big part of my routine. I go running almost every day and I make it a point to use that opportunity to disconnect. It’s a time and experience that I’ve come to value a great deal. It keeps me focused, centered, and inspired to keep being more awesome.

Now, I won’t claim that what works for me will work for everyone. Every person is wired different. Some need to disconnect more than others. Some don’t really need to disconnect much at all. However, I highly recommend everyone trying it at some point.

It doesn’t matter what form it takes.

You can go for a walk, sit on our back porch, or just turn off all the lights in your bedroom.

Go some place where you can disconnect from tech, gadgets, and distractions of all kinds. Be alone with your thoughts for a while. Let them catch up with everything you happen to be dealing with, whatever it might be. I believe that’ll be good for you and your mental state.

Again, I love technology and gadgets as much as the next guy. However, getting away from it every once in a while can have many benefits. You won’t know just how far those benefits go until you try.

If you have a different way of going about it, please share it in the comments. I’d love to hear the input of others on this.

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Whistleblower Confirms That Facebook Is Harmful: So What Do We Do About It?

See the source image

There are certain products in this world that we know are harmful, but use them anyway. Cars kill thousands every year through traffic accidents. Thousands die every year by overdosing on drugs that were legally prescribed to them. However, we still use these products because they are essential for our way of life.

With that in mind, I think most people already know that certain social media platforms, such as Facebook, can be harmful. You don’t need to look that hard to find harmful or damaging misinformation on Facebook. Having been in college at the time Facebook really took off, I think most people understood to some extent that this product could be used for immense harm.

So, was it really that surprising when a whistleblower came out and revealed just how much Facebook was aware of the damage they were doing? Just like tobacco companies before them, they could see that harm unfolding in real time. They just weren’t willing to take the kinds of steps that would hinder their profits.

They’re a multi-billion dollar business. They want to keep making billions for years to come. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. That’s the nature/flaw of capitalism.

In case you haven’t been following this story, the fallout from this whistleblower’s revelations are still unfolding. If you want details on the story, here is what NPR reported:

NPR: Whistleblower to Congress: Facebook products harm children and weaken democracy

Facebook’s products “harm children, stoke division, weaken our democracy and much more,” Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who leaked tens of thousands of pages of internal documents, will tell lawmakers on Tuesday.

“When we realized tobacco companies were hiding the harms [they] caused, the government took action. When we figured out cars were safer with seat belts, the government took action,” she will say, according to her prepared testimony. “I implore you to do the same here.”

Haugen will urge lawmakers to take action to rein in Facebook, because, she says, it won’t do so on its own. “The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer and won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their immense profits before people,” she will say.

There’s much more to the article, but I singled out this excerpt because it effectively sums up the situation. Again, most reasonable people probably suspected that a platform like Facebook was doing real harm to public discourse and the psychology of teenagers, especially girls. It’s still nice to have confirmation.

As someone who uses Facebook, I can attest to its harms. There is some pretty toxic crap throughout the site, as well as some equally toxic people. Sadly, some of that toxicity comes from friends and relatives sharing content, often of a political nature, that gets people upset and outraged. That’s not a bug, either. According to the whistleblower, that’s entirely on purpose.

Now, in the interest of maintaining some kind of perspective, I’m inclined to remind everyone where that content on Facebook comes from. Remember, they’re not the one’s producing it. They’re just the platform. It’s the users and the people who are creating that. It’s people willing to lie, denigrate, demean, and troll who create the content that makes Facebook and social media so toxic.

To blame Facebook entirely for these harms is like blaming car manufacturers for traffic fatalities. At the end of the day, the car itself doesn’t cause the harm. It’s the person using it.

That being said, Facebook is not a car, nor should we treat it like one. It’s also not a tobacco company and we shouldn’t treat it like that, either. Facebook doesn’t create a tangible product that we can hold in our hands to harm ourselves, nor is it a chemical we willingly put in our bodies. It’s a digital service that we engage with and, in turn, it engages with us.

From that exchange, real harm is possible. This whistleblower confirms that and, based on the available information, I think the data presented is valid. That still leaves one question to ponder.

What do we do about Facebook and other companies like it?

That’s still an unresolved question and one that too many people try to answer bluntly. Shortly after this story came out, the ever-popular #DeleteFacebook hashtag started trending. However, I doubt anything will come of that. I’ve seen that hashtag trend on multiple occasions and it has done little to affect Facebook’s growth.

These revelations are bad, but I doubt they’ll be enough to bring Facebook down completely. They may lose subscribers and revenue in the short-term, but they’ll adapt and grow in the long run. You don’t become a multi-billion dollar company without being able to adapt in lieu of bad press.

At the same time, I think we should take some action to mitigate the impact of Facebook and social media. What could that entail? I’m not smart enough to offer a comprehensive answer, but I do know the extremes people are throwing around just won’t work.

For one, Facebook can’t be banned or shuttered. It makes too much money and it would set a dangerous precedent for every business, online or otherwise. It’s also probably grossly unconstitutional, at least in western democracies like the United States and Britain.

Even if it were banned, people would find a way to get around it. Just look at the countries that have tried to ban porn. People still find a way to get it.

Others have thrown around ideas like splitting up Facebook, just like America once did with oil companies and phone companies. That would certainly be extreme and there are precedents for doing so. However, would that really change how Facebook and social media are utilized by real people? Would those not satisfied with the newly broken up Facebook simply create something similar under a different name?

The most logical recourse might just involve demanding that Facebook make the changes they refused to make, according to the whistleblower. They could also be subject to major fines and taxes, as we’ve done before with tobacco. Will those measures be effective? I don’t know, but I’m skeptical, to say the least.

I honestly don’t think there’s an easy answer to the question. I also think that, even if governments did implement new measures on social media companies to combat their harms, both the companies and the users would find a way around it. Both sides are just too motivated at this point.

I still believe there’s a better solution. I just don’t know what it is and if anyone has one to offer, please share it in the comments. In the meantime, I guess the best recourse we can all do is to just be careful about what we place on Facebook and be more mindful of the content we consume.

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My Thoughts On Facebook And #DeleteFacebook

Here is how to delete Facebook | TechCrunch

There are certain people, groups, and companies that are difficult to defends. It’s not impossible, as is the case with tobacco companies, criminal organizations, and whoever designs unskippable video ads. It’s just difficult and I’m certainly not qualified to carry out such with any real expertise.

I’m just not that smart or informed.

I make that disclaimer because I’m about to defend a company that doesn’t have a stellar reputation, to say the least. If anything, their name and its famous founder have gained such a negative connotation that they’re just a few steps away from being a tobacco company. Given how one actually sells products that gives people cancer, that’s saying something.

That company is Facebook. I know that just typing that word out for people to read is going to garner a reaction and not in a good way.

I get that. I really do. I’m very much aware of some of the many scandals and shady dealings that Facebook has engaged in since its inception. I’m also aware of the objectively negative impacts that Facebook has had on certain people. That’s not something I can defend, nor would I want to.

There are any number of bad things about Facebook and its impact that I can go over. However, there is one important aspect to those things that I would like to highlight. I don’t think it constitutes a defense of Facebook or its practices, but some may construe it as such. I’m still going to point it out, if only to add some perspective. It all comes down to this.

Facebook is still just a tool. At some point, all its damaging ills are on us, the users, and not the company.

I understand that’s an unpopular sentiment. It’s not that dissimilar from what gun advocates say about guns. Like any inanimate object, it’s not deadly or damaging until somebody willfully uses it. That’s certainly true to some extent. It’s just a matter of the extent that people disagree on.

However, Facebook is not akin to a firearm or some tool that can actually be used to cause tangible, physical harm to someone. It’s a website/software program. Using it requires people to go out of their way to access it. In addition, getting any meaningful use out of it requires active engagement. It’s not just something you can give to a kid and they would easily figure it out.

It can still be damaging, but in a very different way. Like it or not, some of those ways are ultimately our responsibility and not that of Facebook. I know it’s just a lot easier to criticize the company, its practices, and the conduct of its founder, Mark Zuckerburg. That doesn’t change the actual nature of the product.

Yes, there is objectively toxic content on Facebook that degrades, demeans, and deceives people.

However, that toxic content doesn’t come directly from Facebook. It comes from us.

I bring this up because I saw the hashtag, #DeleteFacebook, trending again. That seems to happen several times a year, often after a new scandal or in wake of an unpopular decision. It’s becoming so routine that it’s hard to take seriously.

On top of that, the hashtag rarely accomplishes anything. Despite all the scandals and negative press, the overall usership of Facebook is still growing. As of this writing, it has approximately 2.85 billion users. Criticism and hashtags aside, it hasn’t kept the company from growing. It hasn’t made Mark Zuckerberg any less rich and influential.

I know hashtags are notorious for presenting a false reality to those who seek it, but this particular hashtag has become more a virtue signal than an actual protest. More and more these days, the hashtag has become less about Facebook’s unscrupulous business practices and more about protesting Big Tech, as they’re called.

While there’s certainly a place for protesting the practices of large, powerful corporations, I feel like the substance of that effort gets lost in virtue signaling. People are more inclined to just whine about how bad Facebook is and say how much better their lives are after deleting it. It’s rare for anyone to actually highlight a substantive policy or practice that warrants protest. It’s all about people saying, “Look at me! I gave up Facebook, so I’m better than you!”

I know that’s a simplistic statement that doesn’t apply to everyone. I’m sure there are people whose lives did improve after deleting their Facebook account. At the same time, there are people whose lives are still enriched by Facebook.

Personally, I’ve met great people through Facebook. I’ve also been able to keep up with friends and family that I never would’ve been able to keep up with. I genuinely value those connections. They even prove critical when there’s a major family crisis that everyone is trying to keep up with. That happened several years back when my grandmother got sick. It happened more recently with helping my father connect with other relatives during the pandemic.

Facebook can be used for good. Like any tool, it can have a positive impact on its users. It’s just a matter of how it’s used.

There will always be people who seek to use any tool for something wrong, deviant, or nefarious. We don’t criticize ski masks the same way we criticize Facebook and for good reason. At the end of the day, it comes back to the individuals using it.

Again, that doesn’t excuse some of the shady things the company has done over the years. I’m not defending that. This extended rant is just me reminding people that some of the worst parts of Facebook only exist because of us, the users. At some point, we have to take responsibility for that. We can’t expect a multi-billion dollar software company to do it for us.

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Why Non-Religious Cults Are Becoming (Almost) As Dangerous

Most religious people are not dangerous or ignorant, nor are most of the priests, rabbis, mullahs, and monks who lead them. I want to make that clear early on. I know I’ve been very critical of religion in the past and I stand by much of those criticism. However, I do not want to give the impression that it makes sincere adherents unworthy of respect.

I have religious people in my family. They are good, decent people and their religious beliefs means a lot to them. I do not want to denigrate that in any way.

That said, extreme religious cults are dangerous. They are worthy of criticism and, in some cases, outright scorn. People have died because of these cults, including innocent children. If we’re going to be a better people now and in the future, we need to be vigilant of these dangerous cults. Otherwise, more people will suffer.

How we go about that is beyond my expertise. There are organizations with people far more qualified to pursue that effort, such as Cult Escape and Dare To Doubt. I urge others to support those efforts, regardless of your religious affiliation. There are a lot of people out there trapped in these cults who need help.

However, there has been another troubling trend in recent years that may complicate that effort. It involves cults that aren’t necessarily religious, in nature. Some have religious elements, but also mix in politics and conspiracy theories. The goals and methods aren’t always the same, but the outcome is similar.

People get sucked into an ideology.

They get caught up in a trend that evokes strong emotions within them.

They connect with like-minded people who reinforce and reaffirm their beliefs.

They start attacking or shunning outsiders or anyone they don’t agree with.

They stop doubting their beliefs and are openly scorned if they dare raise questions, making it next to impossible to leave.

It’s a common story that many endure, but now it’s happening without the religious angle. Now, people are falling into cults that offer little in terms of theology, but still descend into a toxic mix of groupthink, hero worship, and self-delusion.

You have organizations like Nxivm, which billed itself as a self-help program that sucked people in and reshaped their thinking at the hands of a sociopath leader.

You have charismatic public personalities like Jordan Peterson and Tony Robbins, who may not set out to create cult-like movements, but still create a community wrought with cult-like behaviors.

Then, there’s Q-Anon.

Believe me, I do not want to go into details about that. I’m afraid to even post any links. I do not want someone to get sucked into that ultra-toxic rabbit hole, which has led to real-world violence and torn families apart.

These are serious issues that affect real people, as well as their families. Thanks to the world-wide reach of the internet and clunky nature of social media, it’s a lot easier to fall in with the wrong digital crowd. You don’t have to be religious. You just have to be willing to buy into a certain ideology or narrative. No miracles are necessary.

That is dangerous and I suspect it’s going to get worse in the coming years, especially as mainstream religion continues to decline. Will it be as dangerous as the religious cults of old? Well, that depends on a number of factors. At the moment, even the worst non-religious cults have major shortcomings.

Religious cults can, by definition, hide behind the guise of religion. That comes with plenty of benefits, including the kind that allows them to avoid paying taxes. Religion also has legal protections, as evidenced by the constant push for “religious freedom.”

Non-religious cults don’t have the same advantages. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to say that these types of cults couldn’t even exist without the internet or the widespread connectivity of modern media. They also don’t have the overall structure that many religious organizations have. That means they’ll only be able to do so much.

On top of that, the nature of the internet makes it a lot harder for cults to keep their members in line. At any point, an adherent could get curious and start looking up opposing views that could cast doubt on their beliefs. There’s only so much a cult can do to control a person from behind a computer screen.

Even with those limitations, they’ve still done plenty of damage. They’re likely to do plenty more and we should be very concerned about that. The world is already a chaotic place. Extreme religious cults have already done plenty to add to that chaos. The last thing we need is for non-religious cults to do the same.

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A Message To Those Who Whine About The “Mainstream Media”

There are certain institutions and organization no one wants to defend. Usually, there’s a good reason for that. Who would ever want to stand on the side of the IRS, insurance companies, or oil companies? I don’t deny some will make the effort, but it’s often born of questionable motivations.

Now, I’m not out to defend any of those organizations or the people they pay to protect them. In fact, I’m going to try very hard to not take a side here. That may not be possible because in this case, I’m going to try and be balanced on an institution that has only become more imbalanced over the years.

I’m referring to “the mainstream media.” Yes, I put that term in quotes. There’s a good reason for that.

I’m also aware that people talk about “the mainstream media” the same way they talk about hemorrhoids, traffic jams, and malignant tumors. You’re unlikely to find anyone who will come to their defense. It’s why trust in “the mainstream media” is at an all-time low.

However, is that entirely the media’s fault?

Don’t get me wrong. The modern media is a mess and definitely needs a top-down overhaul, but I’m not smart enough to discuss that at any great length. Instead, I want to focus on those who constantly whine about “the mainstream media.”

You hear it from liberals who claim right-wing news sources peddle disinformation and outright propaganda.

You hear it from conservatives who claim left-leaning news sources basically treats anyone to the right of Jimmy Carter a fascist.

You basically hear it from everyone from every side of the political spectrum. Either “the mainstream media” is actively undermining democracy or they’re an unofficial arm of an oppressive government. There’s no middle-ground or nuance. No matter your politics, you’ll find an excuse to hate them.

I’m sorry, but I have to call bullshit.

Again, this is not me coming the defense of mainstream media. This is just me saying there’s legitimate criticism of modern media institutions and then there’s just bullshit whining. The latter has grossly overwhelmed the former as of late.

I see it in comments section and social media. It takes many forms, but it often boils down to this.

“The mainstream media is covering up the truth!”

“The mainstream media is spreading lies!”

“The mainstream media is attacking [insert favorite politician/pundit/celebrity]!”

“The mainstream media is destroying the country I love!”

Trust me, it gets more hyperbolic and vulgar. In some cases, real people faced outright death threats because of peoples’ hatred for “the mainstream media.” Even after the death of Rush Limbaugh, the hate isn’t subsiding. It’s only going to get worse.

That’s because it’s easier than ever to basically customize your news feed. If you want to only hear news from a right-wing bias, you can do that. If you only want to hear news from a left-wing bias, you can do that too. If you just want news that’s uplifting, there’s even a source for that too.

It’s not entirely a result of the internet. This has been happening since the rise of talk radio. People learned that you could garner a large, loyal audience by telling them the news and opinions that they want to hear. They won’t care how factually accurate it is. They just want to hear what makes them feel good.

That’s not inherently wrong. We’re human. We have our biases. There’s no way around it.

The problem is that, because people are having their biases satiated, they’re becoming more antagonistic towards anything that doesn’t do exactly that. That means any news that isn’t their preferred news is “the mainstream media” and “the mainstream media” is always bad.

I wish I could write that with more sarcasm, but this is a serious issue and one with deeply distressing implications.

This is part of why it’s becoming increasingly harder to convince people that a certain news story has been debunked or discredited. It’s also why people will cling to certain issues, citing only uncredible and bias sources, long after they’ve faded from the headlines.

You cannot reason with someone who clings to an unreasonable source of information. You also cannot have a civil discussion with someone who sees anything that doesn’t agree with them as wrong, evil, or a conspiracy by shape-shifting lizard people. I swear that last one is an actual conspiracy theory. I wish I was joking.

For this reason, I’ve had many unpleasant conversations with people who are otherwise decent human beings.

For that same reason, I’d like to send those people, as well as those who side with me on most arguments, a simple message.

The mainstream media is not out to get you.

The mainstream media is not out to destroy your way of life.

The mainstream media is not some evil organization run by a cabal of supervillains.

In essence, whining about “the mainstream media” has just become code for whining about certain people or organizations that don’t agree with you politically or ideologically. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that gives people an excuse to dismiss every point they make, even if it’s right, accurate, and completely credible.

It’s pathetic that people are that insecure about their politics, but it’s also dangerous. The events of January 6th at the Capitol is proof of that. I’m not saying we should all start trusting the media at every level. I’m just saying that there’s a better, more balanced way to get a clearer view of our world. You’re just not going to get that view if you only ever listen to Infowars.

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A Quick (And Critical) Lesson On Tolerance And “Cancel Culture”

There are certain topics that I find difficult to talk about, but I’ll still make the effort because they’re worth discussing. That’s why I’ll write something about abortion or religion every now and then. These are serious, emotionally charged issues. There’s merit to discussing them.

Then, there’s “cancel culture.”

I’m sorry, but I’ve yet to see a single discussion about “cancel culture” that has ever been productive. Some say it’s a threat to free speech and western values. Some say it’s not really a thing. I say both are wrong and both aren’t helping by making sub-par arguments.

Every few months or so, it starts trending and for bullshit reasons. Usually, what some bemoan as “cancel culture” depends heavily on their political affiliation. A conservative won’t see Colin Kaepernick being shut out of the NFL as cancel culture, but they’ll whine endlessly about Rosanne Barr getting fired from her show.

Conversely, a liberal will cheer when Lou Dobbs gets fired, but will make endless excuses for liberal celebrities who say objectively dumb shit. It always seems to boil down whether you’re politics align with whoever or whatever is canceled. It’s arbitrary, it’s petty, and it’s absurd. I really don’t have any other way to describe it.

Now, I could rant for hours about bullshit “cancel culture” arguments. However, I’d rather do something more productive with my time. I’d also prefer not to add to the whining. The only reason I’m bringing this up is because that’s all anyone has been doing since the story about Gina Carano broke.

If you’re not up to speed, consider yourself lucky. I won’t recount the details. The long and short of it is she got fired by Disney for some stupid tweets that mentioned the holocaust. Now, I won’t give my opinion on the contents of these tweets. Again, that’s not a productive use of my time or anyone’s time, for that matter.

However, I don’t want to bring this topic up just to rant about it. Instead, I’d like to use the ongoing whining about “cancel culture” to offer some perspective about what it is, what it isn’t, and why it matters. I could try to put it into words. Thankfully, people far smarter and more talented than me already have.

The following image that I found on Twitter sums it up nicely.

If that doesn’t get the point across, please see this helpful little image detailing the paradox of tolerance by Karl Popper.

In short, being tolerant is a good thing. Protecting free speech is a good thing. However, there are lines, limits, and context. Failing to understand them will only cause more outrage and whining. The world already has too much of that. Let’s not add to it.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, censorship, Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology, television

Why We Should Treat Our Data As (Valuable) Property

Many years ago, I created my first email address before logging into the internet. It was a simple AOL account. I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t think I was creating anything valuable. At the time, the internet was limited to slow, clunky dial-up that had little to offer in terms of content. I doubt anyone saw what they were doing as creating something of great value.

I still have that email address today in case you’re wondering. I still regularly use it. I imagine a lot of people have an email address they created years ago for one of those early internet companies that used to dominate a very different digital world. They may not even see that address or those early internet experiences as valuable.

Times have changed and not just in terms of pandemics. In fact, times tends to change more rapidly in the digital world than it does in the real world. The data we created on the internet, even in those early days, became much more valuable over time. It served as the foundation on which multi-billion dollar companies were built.

As a result, the data an individual user imparts onto the internet has a great deal of value. You could even argue that the cumulative data of large volumes of internet users is among the most valuable data in the world.

Politicians, police, the military, big businesses, advertising agencies, marketing experts, economists, doctors, and researchers all have use for this data. Many go to great lengths to get it, sometimes through questionable means.

The growing value of this data raises some important questions.

Who exactly owns this data?

How do we go about treating it from a legal, fiscal, and logistical standpoint?

Is this data a form of tangible property, like land, money, or labor?

Is this something we can exchange, trade, or lease?

What is someone’s recourse if they want certain aspects of their data removed, changed, or deleted?

These are all difficult questions that don’t have easy answers. It’s getting to a point where ownership of data was an issue among candidates running for President of the United States. Chances are, as our collective data becomes more vital for major industries, the issue will only grow in importance.

At the moment, it’s difficult to determine how this issue will evolve. In the same way I had no idea how valuable that first email address would be, nobody can possibly know how the internet, society, the economy, and institutions who rely on that data will evolve. The best solution in the near term might not be the same as the best solution in the long term.

Personally, I believe that our data, which includes our email addresses, browsing habits, purchasing habits, and social media posts, should be treated as personal property. Like money, jewels, or land, it has tangible value. We should treat it as such and so should the companies that rely on it.

However, I also understand that there are complications associated with this approach. Unlike money, data isn’t something you can hold in your hand. You can’t easily hand it over to another person, nor can you claim complete ownership of it. To some extent, the data you create on the internet was done with the assistance of the sites you use and your internet service provider.

Those companies could claim some level of ownership of your data. It might even be written in the fine print of those user agreements that nobody ever reads. It’s hard to entirely argue against such a claim. After all, we couldn’t create any of this data without the aid of companies like Verizon, AT&T, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. At the same time, these companies couldn’t function, let alone profit, without our data.

It’s a difficult question to resolve. It only gets more difficult when you consider laws like the “right to be forgotten.” Many joke that the internet never forgets, but it’s no laughing matter. Peoples’ lives can be ruined, sometimes through no fault of their own. Peoples’ private photos have been hacked and shared without their permission.

In that case, your data does not at all function like property. Even if it’s yours, you can’t always control it or what someone else does with it. You can try to take control of it, but it won’t always work. Even data that was hacked and distributed illegally is still out there and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Despite those complications, I still believe that our data is still the individual’s property to some extent, regardless of what the user agreements of tech companies claim. Those companies provide the tools, but we’re the ones who use them to build something. In the same way a company that makes hammers doesn’t own the buildings they’re used to make, these companies act as the catalyst and not the byproduct.

Protecting our data, both from theft and from exploitation, is every bit as critical as protecting our homes. An intruder into our homes can do a lot of damage. In our increasingly connected world, a nefarious hacker or an unscrupulous tech company can do plenty of damage as well.

However, there’s one more critical reason why I believe individuals need to take ownership of their data. It has less to do with legal jargon and more to do with trends in technology. At some point, we will interact with the internet in ways more intimate than a keyboard and mouse. The technology behind a brain/computer interface is still in its infancy, but it exists and not just on paper.

Between companies like Neuralink and the increasing popularity of augmented reality, the way we interact with technology is bound to get more intimate/invasive. Clicks and link sharing are valuable today. Tomorrow, it could be complex thoughts and feelings. Whoever owns that stands to have a more comprehensive knowledge of the user.

I know it’s common refrain to say that knowledge is power, but when the knowledge goes beyond just our browsing and shopping habits, it’s not an unreasonable statement. As we build more and more of our lives around digital activities, our identities will become more tied to that data. No matter how large or small that portion might be, we’ll want to own it as much as we can.

It only gets more critical if we get to a point where we can fully digitize our minds, as envisioned in shows like “Altered Carbon.” At some point, our bodies are going to break down. We cannot preserve it indefinitely for the same reason we can’t preserve a piece of pizza indefinitely. However, the data that makes up our minds could be salvaged, but that opens the door to many more implications.

While that kind of technology is a long way off, I worry that if we don’t take ownership of our data today, then it’ll only get harder to do so in the future. Even before the internet, information about who we are and what we do was valuable.

This information forms a big part of our identity. If we don’t own that, then what’s to stop someone else from owning us and exploiting that to the utmost? It’s a question that has mostly distressing answers. I still don’t know how we go about staking our claim on our data, but it’s an issue worth confronting. The longerwe put it off, the harder it will get.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, Current Events, futurism, Neuralink, politics, technology

Censorship Vs. Accountability: Know The Difference

I hate talking about censorship.

I hate talking about “cancel culture,” a term I think has all the wrong connotations for all the wrong reasons.

I am a proud American and I believe in free speech to the utmost. I will gladly fight for that freedom and support those who do.

I say all that because, in wake of the terrible events at the Capitol recently, there has been a lot of whining from certain people. I won’t name names. I’ll just note that they’re whining and ranting about censorship and cancel culture. Watch the news for more than five minutes and you’ll know who they are.

Now, I don’t want to go on an extended rant about why censorship is different from not being allowed to post on your favorite social media site. Make no mistake. There is a difference. There’s actually a lengthy legal framework behind what constitutes censorship in a purely legal sense.

I’m not a lawyer, nor am I smart enough to break down the various complexities about censorship, cancel culture, and the various cases attributed to both. I doubt any point I make will change anyone’s mind, especially if they’ve been affected by perceived censoring from either side. Even so, I still think a point is worth being made.

In watching this debate, I’ve noticed something that’s both peculiar and revealing about this issue. Whenever there’s a case of alleged censorship or cancel culture, those who bemoan it only complain when it’s used against them.

For instance, say your favorite politician who you vote for and vocally support was kicked off Twitter, Facebook, and all major social media platforms for rhetoric that incited violence and spreads damaging disinformation. Chances are, you’re going to defend them more than you would if that politician was someone you vocally opposed.

Yes, I realize this is not a subtle example. It still gets the point across.

Those same people might not raise an eyebrow if there was a case of an gay couple who denied service at a bakery. They might also be perfectly fine with laws on the books that actually ban atheists from holding public office. Those are both actual cases of discrimination, but it’s happening against people who they don’t agree with, politically. As such, they don’t care or actively support it.

On the other side of that coin, the same people who celebrate certain politicians from getting kicked off social media will loudly support boycotts and bans from certain individuals speaking on campuses. They’ll also whine about a certain scene in a TV show or certain media depictions of minorities.

The absurdity is the same. The only difference is the target and the political affiliation of those complaining about it. It’s just tribalism at its most basic. You support and make excuses for the people and things you support. You protest those you think are against you. There’s no logic to it. It’s all based on who you support or hate.

With respect to those who actually do get censored, there’s also another side of that coin. While I am a vocal proponent of free speech, I also believe in accountability, especially for people in positions of power. It’s one thing for me to say something stupid on social media. It’s quite another for someone who is an elected official.

Those words carry a lot more weight. When someone in that position encourages anger, outrage, and protest, it can lead to real world actions. We saw that at the Capitol. Real people suffered and died because of those actions. In that case, there are consequences.

When you incite violence against others, that’s not free speech. That’s a crime. When your words lead to tangible harm and destruction, that’s something that you are accountable for. It’s not censorship. It’s not cancel culture. It’s just accountability, plain and simple.

If you can’t understand that, then you don’t understand free speech and what it really means. Now, with respect to tech companies removing certain voices or having a bias, that’s another issue. It’s complicated and requires more nuance than simple whining.

However, when it comes to powerful people just wanting to use social media to exercise their power, that’s different. Powerful people must be held to a higher standard. If not, then people far less powerful will pay the price and we can’t have any kind of freedom in a society like that.

Also, blurring female nipples is still bullshit censorship. Can we at least agree on that?

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Filed under censorship, Current Events, extremism, outrage culture, political correctness, politics

Why Liars, Cheaters, And Hypocrites Get Away With It

We all deal with them.

We all encounter them.

We all despise them on some levels.

Call them any vulgar insult you want. It’s perfectly warranted, but it doesn’t change what they do. The liars, cheaters, and hypocrites of this world will keep doing it. They’ll keep lying to your face, cheating you out of money, and breaking promises or precedents without a second thought.

I know it’s a depressing thought. It has become a lot more in our collective faces in recent years, given how political rhetoric has become so heated. Both sides argue with one another. They each lie or cheat to varying degrees. They jump at the chance to call the other out on it, but nothing really changes.

They keep on lying and people who align with their politics buy into it, even when they know it’s a lie. It’s frustrating. I argue it’s gotten even more infuriating in recent years. It does, however, raise an important question.

Why do people who lie, cheat, and break promises keep getting away with it?

It’s a valid question. Nobody likes being lied to. Even kids know on some level how wrong it is. So, why does it keep happening and why does nobody seem to pay a price? Well, the very nature of those questions already answer that to some extent.

In short, people keep getting away with it because they never get punished, pay a price, or face any consequences for their dishonesty.

It’s not a very comforting answer, I know. It’s probably just as infuriating as being lied to. That doesn’t make it any less true.

Think about it. What price does someone really pay for lying? Sure, there’s the accompanying guilt that comes with it, but for some people, that’s not much of a price. You don’t have to be a psychopath incapable of guilt to lie. You just have to be capable of enduring the momentary discomfort that comes with it.

That’s not much of a price for certain people, especially when there’s money to be made and power to be gained. Granted, certain liars and hypocrites will lose credibility with certain people. Lie too much to one person and they won’t trust you, let alone be inclined to do you any favors.

On a larger scale, though, that’s less of an issue. Add mass media and the internet to the mix and it’s basically an afterthought. Right now, anyone can tweet or post some completely dishonest information to any number of major sites.

They could claim a certain politician beat up a child.

They could claim that a certain celebrity sexually assaulted someone.

They could claim that the theory of evolution is a plot by the Illuminati to keep people from finding out about the shape-shifting lizard people that secretly run our government.

That last one is a real conspiracy theory that some people actually believe, by the way. I wish I had made up something that absurd.

Some of these lies may incur lawsuits or blocks, but again, is that really much of a price? Some people can afford frivolous lawsuits. Many don’t care if certain people block them. Even when major websites try to clamp down on it, that only seems to fuel the liars.

That’s another critical element as to why it keeps happening. Not only do liars, cheats, and hypocrites pay little to no price for their dishonesty. In some cases, they’re rewarded. In some cases, the reward is huge.

We may hate hypocrites and liars, but so long as they have something to gain and little to lose, not much will stop them. If they have no sense of guilt or shame, as many politicians and CEOs often do, they have every incentive to do what they do. There’s just too much money and power to be gained.

On top of that, there are some people who want to believe in their lies. Everyone has their own reason for doing so. It often boils down to the lies being more appealing than the truth or reinforcing some position they already have. Whatever their reason, they keep give even more incentives to those willing to exploit that inclination.

I say this not to be dire, although I don’t deny the election last month is a motivating factor. I offer this as a means of adding perspective to those frustrated by the dishonesty and hypocrisy that seems so prevalent, no matter where you look.

There’s a reason it’s there and is a painfully valid reason. As long as the liars, cheaters, and hypocrites we despise keep gaining so much and losing so little, they will continue with their deplorable behavior. They have no reason not to. It’s just the nature of our flawed world.

We can only do so much to make it less flawed. One way you can help is to keep voting, even if it’s just for the least dishonest candidate. It’s not a perfect fix, but it’s a start.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, philosophy, political correctness, politics, psychology, rants