Showing all posts tagged facebook:

This Is Where We Are, July 2017 Edition

A quick review of the status of the Big Three1 social networks as of right now.

It seems Facebook is testing ads in Messenger now, which is an incredibly wrong-headed idea:

Messenger isn’t really a “free time" experience the way Facebook proper is — you use the former with purpose, the latter idly. Advertisements must cater to that, just like anywhere else in the world: you don’t see the same ads on subway walls (where you have to sit and stare) as on billboards (where you have two or three seconds max and your attention is elsewhere).

I always hated Messenger anyway, just out of reflex because they had felt the need to split it off into a separate app. In fact, I kept using Paper until Facebook finally broke it, in no small part because it kept everything together in one app. It also looked good, as opposed to the hot mess of FB’s default apps.

Between that and the “Moments" rubbish junking up the top of every one of the FB apps, I am actively discouraged from using them. At this point I pretty much only open FB if I have a notification from there.

Meanwhile, Twitter is continuing on its slow death spiral. It is finally becoming what it was always described as: a “micro-blogging" platform. People write 100-tweet threads instead of just one blog post, and this is so prevalent that there are tools out there that will go and assemble these threads in one place for ease of reading.

It’s got to the point that I read Twitter (and a ton of blogs via RSS, because I’m old-school that way), but most of my actual interaction these days is via LinkedIn. I even had a post go viral over there - 7000-odd views and more than a hundred likes, at time of writing.

So this is where we are, right now in July 2017: Twitter for ephemeral narcissism, Facebook for interacting with (or avoiding) the same people you deal with day to day, and LinkedIn for actually getting things done.

See you out there.

Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash


  1. I don’t Instagram, I’m too old for Tumblr, and - oh sorry Snapchat, didn’t see you down there

Privacy? on the Internet?

Periodically something happens that gets everyone very worked up about privacy online. Of course anyone who has ever administered a mail server has to leave the room when that conversation starts, because our mocking laughter apparently upsets people.1

The latest outrage is that Facebook has apparently been messing with people's feeds. No, I don't mean the stuff about filtering out updates from pages that aren't paying for placement.

No, I don't mean the auto-playing videos either. Yes, they annoy me too.

No, it seems that Facebook manipulated the posts that showed up in certain users' feeds, sending them more negative information to see whether this would affect their mood - as revealed, naturally, through their Facebook postings.

Now, it has long been a truism that online, and especially when it comes to Facebook, privacy is dead. The simplistic response is of course "if you wanted it to be a secret, then why did you share it on Facebook?". This is, of course, a valid point as far as it goes. The problem is that the early assumptions about Facebook no longer hold true.

Time was, Facebook knew about what you did on Facebook, but once you left the site, you were free to get up to things you might not want to share with everybody. Then those "Like" buttons started proliferating everywhere. Brands and website operators wanted to garner "likes" from users to prove their popularity, or at least the effectiveness of their latest marketing gimmick ("like our site for the chance to win an iPad!").

It turns out that on top of tracking what you actually "like", Facebook can track any page you look at that has a Like button embedded. Given that the things are absolutely everywhere, that gives them probably the most complete picture of any ad network out there.

Then Facebook changed their news delivery options. It used to be that "liking" a page meant that you would see all their updates. Now, it means that about 2% of the people who "like" the page see the updates - unless the page operators choose to pay to amplify their reach... Note that these pages do not necessarily belong to brands and advertisers. If your old school has a page that you "like", in the expectation that you will now receive their updates, you're out of luck. Guess you'd better arrange a fundraiser at your next reunion to gather cash to pay Facebook. On the plus side, you have a built-in excuse for poor attendance at the reunion: "ah, I guess they were in the 98% that Facebook didn't deliver the notifications to".

And now Facebook have gone whole-hog, not just preventing information from reaching users' feeds, but actively changing the contents of the users' feeds - in the name of Science, sure.

This is far beyond what people think they have signed up for. There is a big difference between being tracked on Facebook, and being tracked by Facebook, everywhere you go. The difference is not just moral, but commercial. After all, tracking users across multiple websites has been standard operating procedure for ad networks for a long time now. If you've ever shopped online for something and then seen nothing but ads for that one thing for a month thereafter, you have experienced this first-hand. It's mildly creepy, but at this point everyone is pretty well inured to this level of tracking.

Being tracked by ad networks is different from being tracked by Facebook in one very important way. So far, nobody seems to have figured out a good way to make money with content on the internet. A few people do okay with subscriptions, but it tends to be a niche thing. Otherwise, pretty much everything is ad-funded in some way. Now, banner ads can be annoying, and the tracking can get creepy, but at least the money from the ad impressions is going to the site operator, who provides the content that keeps us all coming back.

The "like" button subverts this mechanism, because it's just as creepy and Big-Brotherish, but none of the money goes to the site's operator. All the money and data go only to Facebook, who are even now trying to figure out how to modify your feed to make you want to buy things. Making you feel bad was only step 1, but not everyone goes straight to retail therapy as a remedy. Step 2 is hacking our exocortices (hosted on Facebook) to manipulate the "buy now!" instinct directly.

If you enjoyed this article, please like it on Facebook.


  1. If you don't know what I'm talking about, let's just say I really, really know what I'm talking about when I say you shouldn't send credit card numbers in the clear, and leave it at that. 

Are you KIDDING ME?

all the trigger warnings

There is a Facebook page entitled "Elliot Rodger is an American hero" (no link, but you can find it easily enough). Facebook offers the ability to report pages that are harassing, so that's what I did - and look what their response is!


Apparently this page does not violate Facebook's Community Standards. These would be the same standards that get people in trouble for posting pictures of mothers breastfeeding, or the kids' bath time.

To quote from those Community Standards:

Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.

I would say this is pretty obviously hate speech and not humorous in the least. Look, this isn't 4chan. I have no doubt there are already one million animated gifs of kawaii kittens acting out Elliot Rodger's shooting spree, complete with "Never gonna give you up" on the soundtrack, but that's expected over there. If you have no rules, that's what happens - but if you set rules, guess what? People expect you to enforce them, universally and fairly.

This isn't quite my "boycott Facebook" moment, but it's one more broken thread in the string that's holding me there.

Jumping the fence

Facebook just released their new iPhone client, an app called Paper. It’s quite nice, and gets good reviews.

Bit of a jerk move on the name, mind.

If you are in the US, you can just download Facebook Paper, but if you’re in the rest of the world, you’re out of luck.

Or are you?

There are a few different unofficial ways to get apps onto an iPhone, bypassing these sorts of geographical restrictions: sideloading, changing the country on your existing iTunes account, or creating a whole new Apple ID from scratch.1

Sideloading

Sideloading2 means that you install the app from your computer, but without going through iTunes. You will need to have access to the actual app file, so you will need a co-conspirator in the US to get you the app. Your confederate can find these as .ipa files in the iTunes Media/Mobile Applications subdirectory of their main iTunes directory.

Once you have the relevant .ipa file, you can use the iPhone Configuration Utility3 to load the app onto your phone. Once you’ve done this, the app should behave normally, including for updates.

Changing the country

You can change the country of an existing iTunes account quite easily: open the App Store app, scroll all the way to the bottom of the “Featured" tab, tap on your Apple ID, choose “View Apple ID” in the popup, and tap on “Country/Region” to change to the US store.

There is a pretty big downside to this method: your payment details will be reset, which would not be too bad, except that it also loses any recurring subscriptions you have set up. I have a few that I didn’t want to mess this, so I didn’t follow through, and can’t vouch that this method works.

Creating a new Apple ID

I didn’t want to do this because it seemed like it would be a huge hassle, but it’s actually fairly painless. There is only one wrinkle to be aware of. Apple in their wisdom will not let you create an Apple ID from scratch without setting a means of payment. However, if you sign out from your existing Apple ID, then go to install a free app (such as, oh for instance Facebook Paper), you are prompted to log in with an existing Apple ID or create a new one. If you start the process this way, you will then be able to select “None” for your method of payment.

You’ll need an e-mail address that you have not previously used with Apple to complete the registration. Once you have done this, finish downloading Facebook Paper, then log out of your US account and log back in as yourself.

Facebook Paper should pick up your existing FB credentials saved in iOS and work normally from this point on.


  1. Well, or move physically to another country, but that’s a bit beyond the scope of this post.  

  2. This is the method I used to load Google+ onto my iPad back when it was iPhone only. Remember when we were all excited about G+? 

  3. This page is not really up to Apple’s usual standards: all-lower-case title for a start, and a confusing mix of version numbers and platforms all jumbled together with no explanation.