Social Media: A Wake-Up Call for Parents

Childhood 2.0 The Living Experiment

Directed by Robert Muratore and Jamin Winans (2020)

Film Review

This documentary is intended to warn parents of grave dangers social media poses to children. It features researchers, child psychiatrists and psychologists, Internet activists and teenage focus groups.

Nearly all parents are less familiar with the newer social media sites than their kids. In fact, most view the physical world (in terms of rape, child molestation, kidnapping, etc) poses the most life threatening dangers to their children. In reality, however, the virtual world is far more dangerous.

Recent studies show that nearly all children haves smartphones by age 12 and spend an average of seven hours a day on their phone. Mark Zuckerberg and other social media barons admit to engaging brain dopamine reward networks to keep users on their sites longer. Young people under 20 are most susceptible to this effect, as frontal lobe functions responsible for self-regulation don’t develop until the early twenties.

Other studies show a direct correlation between the amount of time kids spend on phones and delayed development of social and other coping skills. Studies of teen suicide rates show a 56% surge since 2010, when smartphones and access to social media became widely available. Moreover psychologists and school counselors report a big increase in anxiety, depression and self-harm behavior linked to the steady increase in teen phone use.

Girls themselves report a significant increase in anxiety levels when their posts receive a lower number likes as their friends.

Even more alarming is the pressure girls feel to post sexualized images on sites such as Instagram and Snapchat. And the ubiquitous of presence of sexual predators who use social media to groom and hopefully meet girls as young as 12, the potentially lethal effect of cyberbullying. And the ease with which boys as young as eight are accessing hard core pornography on-line.

Facebook Follies

Facebook Follies

Directed by Geoff D’eon

Film Review

This gushy 10-year-old film is essentially a Facebook informational. The narrator is a breathless female filled with adolescent awe at the the thought of connecting millions of global strangers at the click of a mouse.

While this so-called documentary is clearly geared to adolescent Facebook users (who have since migrated to Instagram, Whatsapp, and Tik Tok), it also features a 60-year-old Welsh farmer who was banned from Facebook six times (and kept coming back with new identities) for arranging sexual encounters with 350 women.

To its credit, the film provides clear warnings (mainly addressed to young adult users) about Facebook posts becoming a permanent record hindering your future ability to run for office and even your employability. It also warns about the high potential for identify theft (based on all the personal information people post on Facebook), as well as for your fabulous vacation pics advertising to thieves that your home is vacant. In addition, according to filmmakers, a number of users have been duped by the Facebook version of the Spanish Prisoner* scam.

Surprisingly (given its 2011 release), the film also features a warning about the dangers of allowing any corporation to collect massive amounts of data about your life. It presciently warns that Facebook only gives the illusion of being free – that every Facebook user pays for the service with the vast amount of personal data they provide Mark Zuckerberg.


*The Spanish Prisoner is a confidence trick originating in the late 19th century. In its original form, the confidence trickster writes to his victim informing him that he is a wealthy person of high estate who has been imprisoned in Spain under a false identity.

Anyone with a public library card can view the film free via Kanopy. Type Kanopy and the name of your library into your search engine.

 

Facebook and Fake News: the Sanitized PBS Version

The Facebook Dilemma

James Jacoby Frontline PBS (2018)

Film Review

This document presents a sanitized PBS version of the Facebook fake news/Russiagate controversy that ultimately led to growing Facebook censorship of both right and left wing social mediate sites. In my view the main drawback of the film is its failure to examine Mark Zuckerberg’s murky funding links to In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm funded by the CIA (see Revealed CIA-Facebook Connections), nor the major role CIA trolls play on Facebook and other social media networks (see CIA Agents Hired to Troll Alternative Media Comments Online), nor the the historic role the Agency has played in corrupting the the so-called mainstream media (see  CIA Media Control Program Operation Mockingbird)

Without this context, the naive viewer gets the impression that Facebook is uniquely vulnerable to manipulation of its content by foreign intelligence trolls, which is far from the truth.

Part I  covers the period from Facebook’s launch in 2004 to the 2015 manipulation of Facebook by Russian trolls to demonize the fascist Poroschenko government Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland installed in Ukraine in 2014.

Like all the big tech companies, Facebook derives most of its profits by collecting data on its users, which they use to target them with product ads and/or sell it to third parties for similar purposes. I was really surprised to learn the Federal Trade Commission first filed charges against Facebook in 2010 for selling user data to other corporate interests without their permission. Facebook would settle the case by promising to “plug the gap” that was allowing this to occur.*

According to the filmmakers, US policy makers first realized that Facebook could be misused by bad actors shortly after the world’s first Facebook revolution, the so-called Arab Spring in Egypt.** Later in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood would also use Facebook to come to power in Egypt.


*Given the scandal that erupted in 2017 over Facebook’s sale of user data to Cambridge Analytica, clearly this “gap” was never plugged.

**There is good evidence that the 2011 Arab Spring was actually a series of “color revolutions” orchestrated by the CIA and State Department. See The CIA Role in the Arab Spring and Arab Spring Made in the USA

***There is also good evidence the Muslim Brotherhood has longstanding links to the CIA. See Muslin Brotherhood: Auxillary Force of MI6/CIA

Part 2, which covers the period 2016-2018, mainly concerns the 2016 election and the algorithm behind Facebook’s news feed. The platform’s most popular feature, the latter provides users with their own personalized view of the news, based on links they have viewed, liked, and shared in the past. This algorithm, first heavily used by Obama’s presidential campaigns, allows politicians to microtarget individuals and groups most likely to respond to specific messaging.

By 2016, 62% of Americans derived most of their news from Facebook, in part because nearly all US news outlets were publishing directly into Facebook’s news feed. During the 2016 primary and general election, there were over one billion campaign posts on Facebook. The Trump campaign alone spent $100 million on Facebook advertising.

By this point a number of foreign actors had also discovered the enormous value of sensational, violent, and political divisive posts in driving  users to their Facebook site. For example, a group of Macedonian hackers used bizarre Trump posts (eg Pope endorses Trump) to lure users to commercial sites that earned them hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

Likewise a St Petersburg group called the Internet Research Agency (believed to be linked to the Russian government) spent $100,000 to promote a series of pro- and anti-Trump, pro- and anti-immigration, and pro- and anti-gun posts. A spokesperson for US intelligence claims the controversies this generated adversely affected the 2016 presidential elections: that is it caused a lot of Trump supporters, who normally stay home, to go to the polls.

Far more ominous, however, were the use of Facebook by Philippine dictator Rodrigo Duterte to demonize Filipino human rights activists, and its use (according to the UN Special Rapporteur) to inflame Buddhist violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, to inflame Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese against the country’s Tamil minority, and to inflame Hindus against Muslims in India.

 

Surveillance Capitalism: How Google and Facebook Use Your Data to Exploit Your Inner Demons

Soshona Zuboff on Surveillance Capitalism

VPRO (2019)

Film Review

This documentary features Harvard Business School Professor Shoshona Zuboff, author of the popular book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.

Zuboff begins by emphasizing that most of the data tech behemoths like Facebook and Google collect on us is unrelated to what we actively post on their sites. They and the companies they sell our data to are far more interested in the information we reveal inadvertently (ie our online contacts and purchases, the games we play, our geographic location, and the time we spend on specific sites).

By making their Android operating system available free to smartphone manufacturers, Google successfully captured 90% of the mobile phone market. This, in turn, enables them to capture phenomenal amounts of location-based data (linked to the phone’s GPS function) from Android-based smartphones. Google also collects personal information from the hidden microphones (that were never disclosed to users) on Google Nest, an Internet-based security system.

Collecting this type of metadata on hundreds of thousands of individuals enables complex algorithms to make surprisingly accurate predictions about our psychological state. Tech companies use these predictions to create what Zuboff refers to as “lure modules” – which they sell to a range of online and offline businesses. Their purpose is to increase “click-throughs” for on-line merchants and “footfalls” for brick and mortar outlets.

The Pokemon Go game is the best known experiment using a popular game to lure players to offline locations to spend money. Although marketed by a so-called startup called Niantic, Pokemon Go was developed over many years using Keyhole, a software program created by the CIA that Google purchased to create Google Earth.

Employing similar algorithms, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg flaunts his company’s capacity to monitor-moment to-moment mood shifts in more than six million Australian teenagers. This, in turn, enables advertisers to predict when they need a confidence boost (eg by buying your product).

Zuboff also cites the case of Cambridge Analytica, which purchased Facebook data depicting the “the inner demons” of 80 million Americans in 2016. The British company would use this data to develop targeted messaging to trigger Facebook users, where to click, what to read, and who to vote for.

Why I’m Not on Facebook

Why I’m Not on Facebook

Brant Pinvodic (2014)

Film Review

This is a documentary by a father struggling with the decision whether to allow his 13 year old son to join Facebook. After interviewing the Winklevoss twins, who claim to be the true originators of Facebook,* Pinvodik conducts a weird experiment in which a group of young Facebook fanatics construct a glamorous fake profile for him. When he’s instantly bombarded by “friend” requests, he phones a number of his new “friends” and attempts visits them at home. He’s extremely surprised by the number of celebrities who “friend” him, including Roseanne Barr.

He then consults an investigator who demonstrates how easy it is to access our personal information online – even when we aren’t on Facebook. Within minutes the investigator locates Pinvodic’s drivers license number, tax information and Amazon purchases, as well as the school his kids attend.

Pinvodic finishes with an examination of Facebook addiction. In addition to interviewing a teenager who spends 12+ hours a day on Facebook, he visits a psychologist specializing in narcissism. The latter maintains that Facebook appeals to two of the most powerful human emotions: narcissism and insecurity. By making ordinary people feel famous and significant, it enables them to become stars in their own limited universe.

In the end, the filmmaker concludes Facebook has both advantages and drawbacks. It can help people find jobs, kidney donors and long lost friends. On the downside are its addictive potential and the immense amount of personal information it collects for the benefit of US intelligence and corporate advertisers.


*The twins eventually sued Mark Zuckerberg, who currently runs Facebook, and won a $65 million settlement Winklevoss Twins Win Facebook Settlement