Posted in Lilian's Journal

Red Shoes

On a youngish woman riding the subway. She wore a winter coat, and blue leggings, and had a suitcase on wheels. Her shoes were so red and shiny, and the pointed toes–didn’t they squish hers? I wondered how she’d react if I asked to take a photo of her shoes, and then the train stopped, the doors slid open, and she stepped out, pulling her suitcase.

Her shoes reminded me of these. Not exactly these, because at the time, I wasn’t able to take pictures–I was too emotional, and it felt disrespectful. But similar.

These shoes–something like them, red and strappy–were in a pile of shoes that was part of an exhibit at Auschwitz, along with hair and baby’s dresses. The red shoes stood out in that pile–they made me wonder about the owner, and where she’d worn them, and whether she was enthralled by the colour of her shoes. And then I thought about all the shoes and the rest of it and the people who’d lived and had had hopes and worries, and I said as much of the Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, as I could remember. And I didn’t take any pictures.

I didn’t cry. Tragedy doesn’t make me cry. Instead I broke out in cold sores, large and ugly, all over my lips.

What makes me cry is beauty, and the triumph of our good impulses, and the bravery of someone ordinary–a young woman who wears shiny red shoes, bold in the darkness of cattle cars.


Posted in Lilian's Journal

How To Take Back Facebook & Defeat Trolls

I just read an interview with tech people who founded the internet & social media. They were appalled at how their idealism and naivite has shaped up into a nightmare. But one thing stood out for me: how algorithms have changed. Timelines used to to emphasize likes (remember the days of mostly cat videos?). Now it’s all about driving engagement. That’s what advertisers are looking for. And “free” social media is all about getting ads. So what drives engagement?

They’re basically trying to trigger fear and anger to get the outrage cycle going, because outrage is what makes you be more deeply engaged. (Roger McNamee)

And that feeds the trolls. Russian trolls & others aiming to disrupt democracy manipulate us by playing on either righteous anger or bigotry. They don’t care which–they’re out to stir us up, to sow chaos and hate.

So if social media is really about connecting people, as Mark Zuckerberg claims, and not about destroying the fabric of civil society, let’s do it. Let’s take it back by engaging with positive content on social media. Let’s have meaningful interactions with actual friends. Let’s stop feeding the trolls.

I can imagine someone saying, but shouldn’t we be aware of social problems? Yes–and so subscribe to the news sources that you trust. Read blogs. I recommend progressive bloggers. But if you’re of another political persuasion–that’s fine. In our democracy, we can have different opinions. We can have conversations. Talk to me. Get involved irl. If something is really critical, sure share it on social media, share it everywhere…but be wary. Because it will make the trolls pat their stomachs and burp.

Posted in Lilian's Journal

What Mark Zuckerberg Didn’t Tell You

FaceBook tracks you across the internet on any website that has a FB button, whether or not you are signed into FaceBook and even if you don’t have an account. Is that creepy or what? There is a solution, and at the end of the post I’ll provide it, so scoot down if you’re in a hurry.

Zuckerberg addressed the congressional committee of old men who aren’t tech savvy by side-stepping the real issue. He apologized and why not? It doesn’t cost him anything. To every question, he pointed out that FaceBook users can choose to change their ad settings. That has nothing to do with data collection!

A user can decide not to see ads based on the data that FaceBook is collecting. That might give the illusion that FaceBook doesn’t track practically every website you visit and all associated data. What’s really valuable is how your clicks and searches relate to each other, not for you individually, but as part of a larger group. Say that people who buy guns, for example, also use some brand of toothpaste and click a lot on stuff to do with walls. Whatever the ad settings, FaceBook still has that data and can do with it as it pleases. For example sell it to trolls.

I’m not concerned about targeted ads. It’s fine with me if I see an ad based on my activity within Facebook. It’s the price for the “free” service of using FaceBook. Something has to pay for all the servers and staff and Zuckerberg’s jet. But I am not ok with FaceBook secretly gathering information outside its service to plump its wallet.

What is frightening is how all the data gives trolls ammunition to undermine democracy and fuel hate. That is dangerous. And it tempts toothpaste sellers to do the same. Remember the recent Aeroplan survey that asked about male superiority? What were they going to do with the answer? I don’t know…but the question was overt and when people got upset, Aeroplan backed off. Does FaceBook? No, it’s still gathering and selling data all over the web. None of that was addressed by the congressional committee or Zuckerberg. He just kept on feeding them apology pablum.

FaceBook isn’t going anywhere. The old men making the laws don’t even know what to ask, so I can’t see them drafting effective legislation. That’s probably why Zuckerberg was happy to ask for regulation. He knows it won’t change business. So…it’s up to us to contain the beast. And here’s how.

To protect your data, you’ve got good options Use Firefox as your laptop browser with two extensions. First, UBlock Origin (there is another extension with a similar name, make sure it’s origin). That blocks tracking. Second, add Facebook Container. That contains your facebook page and stops it from communicating with other tabs. If you’re devoted to Chrome, you can add UBlock Origin and Privacy Badger extensions. On your phone, use Firefox Focus–it’s fast and it automatically blocks ads and tracking. Alternatively, if you love having tabs, you can use Samsung Internet, add a plug-in from Google Play: Disconnect for Samsung, enable it in the browser, and enable Tracking blocker.

While I’ve been writing this post, UBlock has stopped 11 sites from tracking my data. Well done, Firefox!