Going Undercover at Facebook

Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

In this documentary an Al Jazeera reporter goes undercover with CBL, an Irish company contracted to moderate “offensive” content posted on Facebook UK. Over a period of weeks he undergoes training to become an official moderator. His findings are revealing.

Rather than undertaking independent monitoring of offensive posts, moderators only act on inappropriate content reported by other Facebook users. Moreover they bend over backwards to leave extremist content online, as it generates the most page shares, as well as keeping people on Facebook longer (so they can view more ads).

CBL guidelines divide offensive posts into four broad. categories: graphic violence, bullying, suicide and self harm and hate speech. Each CBL moderator has three choices in dealing with user complaints: ignore, delete or mark and disturbing and require user to click a tab confirming they’re over 18.

  • Graphic violence: Filmmakers give the example of a video of an adult male repeatedly and brutally beating and kicking an 2 1/2 year old child. CBL moderators marked this content “disturbing” and allowed it to remain on site because it had 44,000 shares. They didn’t report the abuse to police – they only report child abuse if it’s live streamed.
  • Bullying: CBL moderators marked a video of a teenage girl beating the shit out of another girl as “disturbing” and left it on site. Both were clearly identified by name. CBL justified their decision based on the post’s “condemning caption.” CBL only deletes bullying videos if parents request them removed. Psychologists condemn this policy of placing the burden on parents. Where a victim’s identity is clearly established, they are re-traumatized every time the video is shared.
  • Suicide/self-harm Suicide and self-harm photos and videos are only deleted if they contain a promotional statement. CBL justifies leaving them up as follows: “If we took it down, their friends and families wouldn’t know they were at risk.” Owing to clear evidence that viewing self-ham posts increases self-harm, this policy also contradicts the professional advice of mental health workers.
  • Hate speech (by definition advocates exclusion, death or harm to specific ethnic or religious groups): Statements that denigrate Muslims are deleted. Identical statements that denigrate Muslim immigrants are ignored because “people have a right to express their views on immigration policy.”

Inside the Banker’s Brain: The Physiology of Greed

In Search of the Banker’s Brain

Directed by Jos de Putter (2013)

Film Review

In Search of the Banker’s Brain is about the biochemical changes associated with greed. Inspired by a Dutch blogger who investigated the “banker culture” that led to the 2008 global economic collapse, it paints a troubling picture about our willingness to place the welfare of the global economy in the hands of 25-year-old ruthless macho hyper-competitive psychopaths.

In addition to several former investment bankers, the film also features a Dutch psychologist who treats Wall Street bankers and a former trader turned neuropsychologist who investigates how greed affects the brain. He begins by describing the rigged reward system that rewards traders to take enormous risks with other peoples’ money – they get massive bonuses if they’re successful and no consequences at all if they fail.

In response, they begin to crave risk, which feels just like a narcotic when it floods their brain with adrenaline and cortisol. They become cunning like heroin addicts looking for their next fix and show traits (loss of conscience and scruples) virtually indistinguishable from psychopaths in a prison environment.

Like psychopaths, they also tend to burn out around age 40, which is when they are at high risk for “econocide.”*


* Term coined by psychologists term for banker suicide.

 

Psychedelics: A Miracle Cure for PTSD?

Soldiers of the Vine

Directed by Charles Shaw (2016)

Film Review

This documentary traces the experience of six US veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who undergo treatment with the psychedelic ayahuasca, owing to their failure to respond to conventional treatment.*

Ex-GIs who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer extremely high rates of PTSD, traumatic brain injury and suicidal depression. They commit suicide at twice the rate of the general population and US prisons, mental hospitals and homeless shelters are full of disabled veterans.

Studies show that psychedelic drugs, such as ayahuasca and ibogaine** are often helpful in treating heroin addiction and alcoholism. Their use in PTSD is still experimental.

In the film the six veterans travel to the Amazon jungle, where ayahasca is viewed as a sacred plant, to undergo a nine day healing ceremony with an indigenous shaman.


*Western medicine has no recognized treatment for PTSD.

**Ibogaine is legal for treating drug addiction in over 190 countries, including Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Russia, China and Ukraine. See Why Are We Sending Vets to Costa Rico (and Canada and Mexico).

Decadence: The Meaninglessness of Modern Life

Decadence: The Meaninglessness of Modern Life

Pria Viswalingam

Review

Decadence is a 2006 Australian TV series examining the plummeting quality of Australian life, which director and narrator Pria Viswalingam blames on a global economic system based on frenetic consumption, fueled by debt and ridiculously long hours of work. The cinematography choreographs to perfection the self-indulgent moral degradation of a culture that has been subsumed by US political and cultural norms that reward narcissism and the vacuous idolization of celebrity.

The only critique I would have is the absence class perspective. I have a problem with Viswalingam’s blanket assertion that all Australians are working ridiculously long hours because they value the accumulation of luxuries more than family time or friendships. I think this criticism applies chiefly to the shrinking Australian middle class – which I estimate at around 20-30% of the population. From my experience, the majority of Aussies – like their Kiwi and American counterparts – work ridiculously long hours because this is the only way they can put food on the table.

The series consists of six episodes:

Episode 1 Money – describes the MacDonaldization of Australian society, where workers work longer hours than Germany, Japan or even the US and are plagued by debt, depression, drugs and high suicide rates. Viswalingam makes the assertion that greed and ignorance are a far bigger threat to civilization than terrorism. I agree.

Episode 2 Sex – describes how the commodification of sex has led to a situation where more “sex” occurs in the street than in bedroom. Viswalingam especially deplores the sexualization of children for commercial reasons, the alarming increase in culturally driven misogyny and the epidemic of pedophilia in the church.

Episode 3 Democracy – explores America’s zeal in exporting “democracy” to the rest of the world and the undermining of Australia’s parliamentary democracy by wealthy business interests.

Episode 4 Education – explores the decline of Australia’s educational system, which focuses more on fast tracking students into lucrative jobs than on teaching ideas and critical thinking.

Episode 5 Family – explores statistics showing Aussies are marrying less, breaking up more and increasingly opting to remain childless. Viswalingam blames this partly on the absence of good paying jobs (forcing mothers into the work place) and the failure of the feminist movement to win support for women in their struggle to balance  work and family responsibilities.

Episode 6 Religion – describes how organized religion sowed the seeds of its own destruction through centuries of justifying wealth accumulation and genocidal western expansion. Here Viswalingam makes some fuzzy, poorly supported assertions about the fundamental importance of spirituality in facilitating human connection.