Have You Watched The Social Dilemma? [Content Made Simple]
Also, even if President Trump did ban TikTok, it would be pointless.
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Ok now to the content. :-)
TOP OF THE WEEK
“IF IT’S FREE, YOU’RE THE PRODUCT”
When people become users they become means to an end.
Many of the “free” online platforms we use did not begin with a grand scheme of data harvesting and profiteering in mind. Google did not set out to make billions of dollars in advertising—it was against advertising for a long time, in fact. But once they dipped their toes in the sweet, wealthy waters of data harvesting, they realized the vast, immeasurable riches that awaited if they decided to dive into advertising wholesale. In eyes of companies like Facebook and Google, Zuboff writes, “users [are] no longer ends in themselves but rather [have become] means to others’ ends.”
I watched The Social Dilemma over the weekend, and I highly recommend you watch it! If you read much of what I write, you will notice that it sounds very similar. Names you’ve seen in this newsletter like Jaron Lanier and Shoshana Zuboff contribute to the documentary. “If it’s free, you’re the product,” is an idea that comes up in The Social Dilemma, and this post is my explanation of why that is true and not totally true at the same time.
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ON THE POD
How Many People Get News From Social Media? And What’s Going on With TikTok?
This week we talk about some data presented by Ryan Burge, a pastor and professor, about where Americans get their news. Our friend Aaron Earls joins us to talk about the data. Also, we provide an update on TikTok, which is still confounding everyone.
HITTING THE LINKS
Link #1: Bans Against TikTok and WeChat Would Backfire Anyway
This is a great opinion piece on the ineffectiveness of the bans on Chinese apps by the Trump administration. I agree that there are serious data security concerns with such apps, and those concerns ought to be considered. But it would just lead teens to use all kinds of shady apps and means to access TikTok, which could pose an even greater security threat.
TikTok's collection of user data might be a legitimate U.S. national security concern given the relationship of Chinese companies to their government, but at least there is some degree of accountability. Just wait until there are millions of young people running malware-infested apps. Trying to side-load sanctioned apps is like trying to get a drink in the Prohibition era, when nobody could know whether that bottle of moonshine was diluted with paint thinner or some other poison.
TikTok has over a hundred million users, many of whom are young and ambivalent toward the current U.S. administration. The war on drugs should teach that any attempt to prohibit a popular and addictive activity sends the illicit thing underground while encouraging shady enterprises to spring up.
Link #2: Where The Social Dilemma Gets Us
I have written a sort of review/reflection on The Social Dilemma for another outlet that will be published soon. But this is a good, critical review of the documentary from OneZero, one of my favorite tech blogs. I don’t agree with all of it, but it brings up good points.
The film and its subjects — former employees of Google, Facebook, and other tech giants, along with a few outside critics such as the Harvard professor and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism author Shoshana Zuboff — spend the next 90 minutes throwing everything they have at that question. By the end, the viewer is left persuaded that there absolutely is a problem, and an urgent one at that, even if it’s a tricky one to pin down in a few words.
Yet, as we’ve seen time and again — most recently, with a former Facebook employee blowing the whistle on the company’s failures to stop election interference and misinformation campaigns around the world — sounding the alarm that social media is broken is easier than fixing it.
Link #3: Former YouTube Moderator Sues Because She Developed PTSD
It hurts my heart to see stories like this. Real people are being affected by the content moderation that has to take place on these platforms. Stories like these always remind me of just how ugly social media can be, especially if it were to be left un-moderated.
The lawsuit, which was first reported by CNET, says YouTube consistently failed to follow its own safety guidelines and provided inadequate support to moderators. As a result of her time working for the company, the lawsuit’s plaintiff, who remains anonymous, says she suffered “severe psychological trauma” and developed symptoms of PTSD and depression.
The lawsuit says videos that the plaintiff had to watch and review during her employment included footage of cannibalism, child rape, suicide, self-harm, bestiality; videos of a woman being beheaded by a cartel, of a person’s head being run over by a tank, of a fox being skinned alive, and of school shootings.
THE FUNNY PART
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