Facebook to alter its news feed sharing algorithms

Facebook is said to be rolling out changes to how content is selected for each of us to see in our news feed. FB will show us content that their algorithms believe is user generated (versus that from publishers), and which has been shared, liked or commented upon. Other posts will apparently see lower priority and less visibility, meaning, they sort of disappear.

Facebook says this should result in seeing more personal posts from actual FB friends. FB is trying to discourage “passive” reading of posts and wants to push people to interact more. I suspect they are pushing towards interaction because passive reading provides them no data on your interests. By leading you to click Like, Share or Comment, they can detect your interests which they use to refine their dossier on each of us, to improve the marketing of products and services to us.

Source: ‘We’re losing hope’: Facebook tells publishers big change is coming to News Feed – Digiday

Twitter supported “net neutrality” while simultaneously shadow banning political views on Twitter

Then: Twitter and others warn FCC of ‘disastrous’ net neutrality reversal

“Disastrously, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week released a draft order that would end this open commerce by repealing the current net neutrality rules and eliminating the protections that keep the internet free and open for America’s businesses and consumers”

Today: Twitter “shadow bans” those posting political viewpoints that Twitter does not like

A “shadow ban” means posts are visible only to the poster and no one else. By seeing their own posts, the poster is not aware they have been censored. This technique was developed to impede spammers. The spammer would post an advertisement/link in a comment – and the spammer would see their own spam appear online, unaware that the post was invisible to everyone else. It might be weeks or months before the spammer caught on. The shadow ban effectively stalled the spammer from achieving their goals.

In effect, a shadow ban is a secret censorship program. Twitter staff have been caught on camera admitting to applying shadow bans to political speech. They also admit to taking down accounts under government pressure.

It is inevitable now that social media will be subject to regulation. Twitter is on shaky ground – if they are acting as editors, then they can be held responsible for the content posted by their users. They no longer have a safe harbor that they are merely a carrier of communications, like a telephone company.

This blog was shadow banned by Facebook a year ago, almost certainly because their algorithms incorrectly identified the few automated posts originating on the then self hosted WordPress blog, as spam. I could manually post the items on FB, and after switching to a WordPress.com hosted blog, the automated posts continue to go through.

In the fall of 2018, I posted factual price quotes from HealthCare.gov as a comment to an Oregonian article on the ACA – my comment was shadow banned. We no longer read The Oregonian’s fake news.

U.S. firms use social media age-based ad targeting to discriminate against older workers

Major U.S. employers use social media’s ability to display job ads only to those in certain age groups, such as between age 25 to 36, or below age 38 or below age 50. They are using this feature to advertise job openings only to younger workers, thereby removing older workers from their candidate pool.

Examples:

  • Verizon targeted showed ads only to those age 25 to 36 years old
  • UPS targeted age 19 to 35
  • State Farm targeted age 19 to 35

Reporters found they could readily purchase job ads based on age profiles at Google and LinkedIn.

Health care employers ran ads based on sex, targeting female nurses (nursing is 90% female) and using ad tactics that may avoid reaching men. Employers can also use social media targeted advertising to intentionally reach – or discriminate against – ethnic and minority groups.

Facebook says age-based job ads are justified and does not plan to stop the practice by employers. Critics point out that as job seekers discover Facebook promotes age discrimination in job advertising, job seekers will go elsewhere.

A class action lawsuit has been filed against Facebook on behalf of all Facebook users 40 or older.

Personal Note

I do not believe I have ever seen a job ad on Facebook.

I have a undergrad degree in computer science, a graduate degree in software engineering, and an M.B.A. degree, and have worked in Silicon Valley and for Microsoft Corporation.

I am skilled in the top 3 most sought after fields in the United States. But I have never seen a job ad for my field on Facebook. Ever. I am also over 50 years old.

Google and Facebook among most prolific of web trackers

Google and Facebook are some of the most prominent trackers, according to Ghostery.

Google is in the top ten of the most widely used trackers based on the various services the Internet giant uses, including Google Analytics and Google Adsense. Facebook is next with three.

Google Analytics was found on almost half of all loaded pages at 46.4 percent, while Facebook Connect was on more than a fifth, coming in at 21.9 percent.

Other companies that showed include comScore and Twitter.

Your data is being grabbed by Web ‘trackers’

And as will be seen in a future post, companies like Facebook enable advertisers to target age groups. Some of America’s best known employers, including tech companies, are targeting their employment ads – by age. Literally posting job ads only to those under age 38 or age 50, in what some law professors say is a egregious violation of Federal employment law. By preventing older workers from seeing job ads, these firms filter out older workers.

Google and Facebook threaten to control our thoughts (WSJ)

In his 2014 book “Zero to One,” Peter Thiel notes that because Google “doesn’t have to worry about competing with anyone, it has wider latitude to care about . . . its impact on the wider world.” If executives at a Silicon Valley monopoly believe that censoring certain content will push the world in a positive direction, market pressures cannot sufficiently restrain them.

Journalists also argue that tech companies are pushing media toward the lowest common denominator. Social media rewards clickbait—sensational headlines that confirm readers’ biases. Google and Facebook’s advertising duopoly bleeds traditional publishers of the revenue needed to produce high-quality news. At the same time, Google’s search engine is biased against subscription content, depleting another source of funding.

The Google-Facebook Duopoly Threatens Diversity of Thought

Much news reporting is pure speculation, not actual reporting

I ran across a link to an old CNN Money financial news report from October 24, 2016. Every speculation made in this news report was wrong and illustrates how much “news” is not really reporting on events but is speculation about the future.

One week before the 2016 Presidential election, CNN Money’s report is titled

Key points:

  • If Donald Trump wins, U.S. stocks – and likely world markets – will “almost certainly tank”
  • “A Trump victory would be “America’s Brexit.” It would shock U.S. and global markets, much like the surprise, June referendum in the U.K.”
  • “Almost everyone on Wall Street currently predicts Hillary Clinton will win”
  • “A Trump triumph would likely cause investors to flee stocks to the safety of gold and bonds”.
  • “the market is already pricing in a Clinton win”
  • Voters like a split government but “there’s a growing fear that the Senate — and even the House — could flip [to Democrats] if voters come out strongly for Democrats.”
  • There is a 71% chance Democrats retake the Senate
  • “All the ‘market metrics’ point to a Clinton victory

All of the key points were speculation and were wrong.

Do watch the CNN video at the link and do watch the reporter’s body language. (The reporter no longer works for CNN. She now works for the Washington Post.)

Impact on Social Media and Propaganda

These news reports are entertainment stories designed to occupy your time while pretending to inform you.

These stories become the basis for social media conversations as they are Shared, Liked and Commented on via Twitter and Facebook.

These stories whip some into emotional outrage. In reality these stories waste our time – we are not better off for having watched or read a story that ended up being 100% wrong. In fact, we may be worse off.

Speculative Stories Are Easily Spun into High Emotional Impact Stories

Large numbers of news reports are pure speculation about the future; none are ever a scorecard of whether past speculation proved true or false. Speculative stories are entertainment to fill a 24 x 7 news cycle, to keep our eyes glued for the delivery of advertising messages. Reporters can find an authority (“Appeal to authority”) to find any quote they want. Speculative stories are easily spun into high emotion grabbing content, which is perfect for Sharing – or merely to lull our brains into being more susceptible to advertisements.

Bottom line: Learn to recognize speculative news reports and do not take them seriously. Learn to think for yourself and question whether someone is spinning a story to persuade you of something. Avoid sharing speculation on social media – all that does is amplify that you’ve wasted your time and think your friends should waste their time too.

Disclaimer – The U.S. is so polarized that I am required to post a disclaimer: reminder, I did not vote for Trump and the above comments are not pro- or anti-Trump but are a comment about the use of speculation as an editorial technique to inflame our emotions and engage us into social media propaganda sharing.

Supporting Data

Continue reading

Full text of the comment that was shadow banned by @Oregonian newspaper

The next morning, my comment remains shadow banned by the Oregonian.

Here is the description of the shadow ban, from last night with a screen capture of how the ban appears.

Here, I present the full text of the shadow banned comment plus the supplementary information for how I obtained the facts presented in the comment.

Here are actual price quotes from HealthCare.gov.

The first quotes are for a 64 year old married couple earning pre-tax income of $65,000 per year, which is above the subsidy cut off level, hence, no subsidies. These quotes are for the least cost benchmark Silver plan.

Asheville, NC – $34,344 per year + $14,000 deductible
Baker City, OR and Burns, OR – $28,344 + $5,000 deductible
Birmingham, AL – $30,732 + $10,000 deductible
Bozeman, MT – $38,956 + $11,400 deductible
Breckenridge, CO – $29,099 + $9,000 deductible
Charlottesville, VA – $56,998 + $9,000 deductible
Flagstaff, AZ – Flagstaff, AZ – $34,824 + $8,000 deductible (this is LESS than last year’s $36,000)
Homer, AK – $40,320 + $9,000 deductible (LESS than last year’s $48,000)
Laramie, WY – $49,164 + $5,000 deductible
Medway, ME – $$34,571 + $6,7000 deductible

Here are some quotes for a family of 5, a married 53 year old couple with 3 dependents age 21, 18 and 15.

Charlottesville, VA – $64,836 + $9,200 deductible
Laramie, WY – $55,943 + $5,000 deductible
Winnemucca, NV – $34,903 + $13,600 deductible

Some may be surprised that a person earning $65,000 per year may have $30,000 to $55,000 per year in insurance premiums – and not receive a subsidy. This occurs because the ACA determines the subsidy cut off level by the regional poverty income level – it has nothing to do with the insurance premiums actually paid in the market. Consequently, the married couples in Charlottesville VA and Laramie WY are told to spend more than their after tax income on health insurance + deductible.

Note – rates are nearly flat from age 21 to age 40. At age 43, rate curves turn sharply upward and rise extremely rapidly.

The ACA and the IRS define “Coverage considered unaffordable” as the least cost Bronze plan costing more than 8.13% of your modified adjusted gross income. To illustrate, if your family’s least cost bronze premium were $8,130 per year, if you earn less than $100,000 you are exempt from the individual mandate.

Using a real example, the married 64 year old couple in Baker City or Burns OR is exempt if they earn less than $348,634 per year in income.

Actual rate quotes from across the country show that by the ACA’s own definitions, many families in their 30s, most families in their 40s, and essentially everyone over 50 is exempt from the individual mandate at this time rendering political arguments over the mandate as entirely moot. The ACA itself has already repealed the mandate. (And it doesn’t matter, as the Frean/Gruber paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, in October 2016, found that the individual mandate has had no discernible impact on sign ups. For those that don’t know, Jonathan Gruber was considered the co-architect of the ACA as its design is based on his 20+ years of health policy research.)

Sadly, we have not seen the above information in many news articles as coverage has been woefully inadequate, primarily covering benefits and rarely to never discussing actual problems and how they might realistically be resolved.

Supplementary Information

All price quotes are from the U.S. government run web site healthcare.gov.

The following information was used in obtaining the price quotes.

  • Family 1 – a 64 year old married couple
  • Family 2 – a 53 year old married couple with 3 dependents, age 21, 18, 15.

Zip Codes Used at HealthCare.gov

(Copy of the notes file I maintained while looking up this information in November 2017).

Asheboro, NC 27203 (note png says Asheville due to typo)
Baker City, OR 97814
Burns OR 97720
Bozeman MT 59715
Flagstaff AZ 86001
Hillsboro 97124
Homer AK 99603
Klamath Falls OR 97601, 52, 52, 21, 18, 15 age of dependents, income $116,000/year
Laramie WY 8207
Cheyenne, WY 82007
Reno 89502
Grand Junction CO 81506, http://connectforhealthco.com/
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Woodinville WA 98072, https://www.wahealthplanfinder.org/
Winnemucca NV 89445
Bandon OR 97411
Boise, 83704, Birthdate 03/01/1954, https://www.yourhealthidaho.org/

https://www.healthcare.gov/see-plans/#/

2018 Data from healthcare.gov or state web sites
Boise, 83704, Birthdate 03/01/1954
https://www.yourhealthidaho.org/

Additional Reference Information

Yes, I really do log what I do, in great detail.

Frean, B., Gruber, J., Sommers, B. (2016). “Disentangling the ACA’s coverage effects – lessons for policymakers”.  N Engl J Med 2016; 375:1605-1608 October 27, 2016 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1609016 Retrieved from: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1609016#t=article

IRS. (2017). IRS Form 8965 Instructions. Retrieved from https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i8965.pdf. See page 3 (Coverage considered unaffordable) and page 9 (Determining an individuals’ required contribution – individuals not eligible for coverage under an employer)

eHealth. (2017). “Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Will be Unaffordable in 2018 for Many Middle-income American families, eHealth Analysis Shows”. Retrieved from https://news.ehealthinsurance.com/news/affordable-care-act-health-insurance-will-be-unaffordable-in-2018-for-many-middle-income-american-families-ehealth-analysis-shows

Additional Information

I also saved complete copies of the downloaded HTML pages from the logged in state and the not logged in state, plus screen captures.

The Oregonian did publish my follow up question, in the comments, asking why my earlier comment was shadow banned. However, there is no answer.

As of today, we will no longer be reading the Oregonian newspaper due to their heavy handed censorship of factual speech. In actual fact I had already limited myself to reading just one article per day due to issues I had already spotted in their content.

I anticipate taking a far harsher tone towards the creation of fictional news by the sanctimonious press. Remember, the definition of “fake news” is the use of a variety of methods, including exaggeration, distortion, emotional hooks and falsehoods to sell eyeballs to advertisers. Many “fake news” services are social media based, online, for profit businesses. Which describes most so-called mainstream media today.

Social media companies really do read your posts, emails and documents

Google’s GMail service “scans” your emails and Google Docs to serve you ads. The word “scans” implies scanning for keywords but that is a false assumption about what is actually being done.

Natural language processing technology has advanced to where these algorithms are the equivalent of someone reading all of your emails and taking notes. Literally, online services are reading all of your email and building dossiers on what they think they know about you, ostensibly to better target advertising to you.

Facebook is taking this to extremes, having announced this week that Facebook’s algorithms are analyzing all of your online posts to determine if you suffer from depression and may be suicidal. In the event their algorithm decides you may be showing suicidal tendencies, Facebook alerts the authorities who send first responders to your home.

In other words, Facebook is now operating as an unlicensed health care practitioner and diagnosing your health based on your writings, and without ever having met you or spoken with you.

Facebook uses this information for marketing purposes too – imagine conducting this analysis and then showing you ads for anti-depressants and “talk to your doctor”. Also consider,

“An egregious example of the kind of behavior these companies’ business models encourage surfaced this summer when an internal Facebook sales pitch to advertisers was leaked to an Australian newspaper. Facebook stated it had pinpointed an audience of thousands of young teenagers who felt “insecure,” “defeated,” “nervous,” “failures,” “worthless,” and “needed a confidence boost.” These diagnoses were based on a psychoanalysis of private Facebook information: what users posted, what they liked, how they appeared in photos, who their friends and how depressed were they as well as their search and shopping histories, visits to mental illness sites or hotlines and so forth.” (source)

Twitter analyzes your Tweets, “Likes” and who you follow, plus combines this information with 3rd party advertising networks to create a profile of attributes. You can see this by going to Settings and Privacy and then selecting Your Twitter Data, page down and look at Interests from Twitter and Interests from Partners.

I discovered that almost everything they deduced about me in the Interests from Partners was wrong – seriously wrong. About the only correct items are that I have a cat and a graduate degree (2 actually, but do not tell them!)

All of this collected data is used to fine tune propaganda messaging directed at you. Of course, much of this is advertising; however, ads are also run for political purposes too. In effect, online services are proving our hypothesis – that social media has become the most advanced, friction-less propaganda platform in human history.

Silicon Valley “tech” firms have morphed into the most advanced propaganda operations in human history. Their actions are conducted in secret, they are unbounded, and they are unregulated. Their technology is now used to directly influence you and public policy.

To illustrate, this week, the head of the FCC commented on “net neutrality” and noted that Silicon Valley tech firms promote neutrality of the broadband pipe – while simultaneously censoring discussions conducted on their platform (Twitter and Youtube both do this). As if on cue, almost immediately thereafter, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Alphabet (parent of Google) announced they will now censor news.google.com to remove stories from Russian media outlets such as RT.

In that instant, Google showed its defense of net neutrality is shallow if not completely hollow. Google wants other people to be forced to be neutral while preserving a right to censorship (including news and political speech, among the most protected of speech in the United States) for itself.

Google, Facebook and Twitter are not merely platforms for the dissemination of propaganda – they are themselves major propagandists seeking to have others adopt their agendas for their benefit.

Google is not just evil (to re-arrange their motto of “Don’t be evil”) but is acting as a menace to democracy itself.

And what could possibly go wrong with Facebook’s surveillance and analyzing our posts and perhaps discovering that we hold views contrary to the power structure?

Someone should write a book about this – I know, they could title it “1984”!

Bottom Line

Online services including Google (Gmail, Docs), Facebook and Twitter and undoubtedly others are doing the machine equivalent of reading your email and documents, taking notes, and analyzing what you are writing to draw conclusions about you.

What could possibly go wrong?

Major global brands pull all ads from Youtube

The Times of London discovered that Youtube was running hundreds of thousands of videos basically containing “scantily clad” children, and those videos had numerous comments containing sexually explicit content. Ads from mainstream companies were running along side these videos – in effect, Google/Youtube was profiting from pedophilia.

Companies such as HP, Deutsche Bank and others have now pulled all ads from the Youtube platform.

Meanwhile, it was discovered that typing “How to have” in to the Youtube search box returned suggested searches like “How to have sex with children”, “How to have sex with kids”. Youtube itself was offering those suggestions (I verified that this was true, before Youtube removed this “feature”).

More

 

TripAdvisor’s censorship of online reviews more extensive than originally thought #tripadvisor

TripAdvisor admitted to censoring some specific negative reviews by consumers reporting that crimes and acts of violence had occurred at some venues.

Since then, more people have documented that TripAdvisor has censored reports of crime at U.S. hotel and related properties. Update: TripAdvisor caught lying, now said to be under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.

Unfortunately, online review sites are worthless due to a combination of “gaming the system” with fake reviews (both positive for your business and negative fake reviews for competitive businesses) and active censorship of negative reviews by online review sites such as TripAdvisor.com.

Social media’s ease of publishing has led to a rapid degradation in the quality of material available online. Online reviews are a form of propaganda – intended to influence your decision making. Review web sites know this. Business operators know this.

Now we know this: We intentionally avoided search results that went to TripAdvisor.com for a trip we completed over a week ago. What else can we do?