May 03, 2018

A Small Window into the Soul's Corruption

At the end of March, The New York Times published a story with several interesting angles, and one startling insight. The fact that the report had a startling aspect seemed to have escaped notice from the writers and editors who worked on the story, which made it additionally intriguing.

The background is laid out in the story's opening paragraphs:
SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook employees were in an uproar on Friday over a leaked 2016 memo from a top executive defending the social network’s growth at any cost — even if it caused deaths from a terrorist attack that was organized on the platform.

In the memo, Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice president, wrote, “Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.”

Mr. Bosworth and Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, have since disavowed the memo, which was published on Thursday by BuzzFeed News.
There would certainly appear to be some genuine issues for Facebook employees to be "in an uproar" about. (I understate for effect.) Company well-being and growth (and profits!) at any cost -- even the deaths of innocents in a terrorist attack? Moreover, a terrorist attack that the company itself helped make possible? According to one Facebook vice president, even this scenario is "*de facto* good" from the company's perspective.

It is entirely legitimate -- indeed, it is required, I submit -- to ask if it is permissible, or just simply decent, to work for a company that proudly offers beliefs of this kind. And the NYT story does tell us of one man whose departure from Facebook was precipitated by the Bosworth memo. But that comes at the very end of the report. It's in the middle of the story that the Times buried the startling part.

Immediately after the opening paragraphs set forth above, the NYT offers this:
But the fallout at the Silicon Valley company has been wide. According to two Facebook employees, workers have been calling on internal message boards for a hunt to find those who leak to the media. Some have questioned whether Facebook has been transparent enough with its users and with journalists, said the employees, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. Many are also concerned over what might leak next and are deleting old comments or messages that might come across as controversial or newsworthy, they said.
Several paragraphs later, we are told more along the same theme:
Facebook employees said on Friday that discussions were raging across the company regarding the merits of the post. Some called for executives to aggressively pursue action against those leaking to the media, said two Facebook employees, as well as for the company to do more to screen for potential whistle-blowers during the hiring process.
"a hunt to find those who leak to the media..." "aggressively pursue action against those leaking to the media..." "do more to screen for potential whistle-blowers during the hiring process..."

Confronted with a highly-placed executive who praises even terrorist attacks as "good" if, in his view, they benefit the company, some Facebook employees don't recoil with horror, and perhaps begin to wonder why they are working in such a hellhole. No, their concern is the company's well-being -- and they grasp at protective measures such as "hunts for leakers," "aggressive" punishment, and better screening to identify potential whistle-blowers. If it is true that all that is required for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing, how much easier it is for evil when it has the avid support of employees like this. In this particular case, such comments are made more notable because Bosworth and Zuckerberg immediately disavowed Bosworth's earlier comments.

Now, it may be that the Facebook employees pimping for witch-hunts, severe punishment, and super-screening view those disavowals as essentially meaningless, a conclusion with which I would agree. Of course, they'll disavow the statements causing all the trouble. Bosworth's disavowal was especially inventive: he time-traveled back to when he wrote the controversial memo, and now maintains that "I didn’t agree with [the memo] even when I wrote it.” He merely wanted to stimulate discussion, doncha know. The broader point is that nothing these executives offer for public consumption can be credited, not when they're in the midst of battles over control, market domination, and massive amounts of wealth. If you were to believe their public statements, you'd have to believe that "user privacy" is, like, the most important and tastiest thing in the world to them, dude! But everyone worships at the shrine of user privacy now (the same is true of "transparency"). When everyone worships at the same shrine, it's because the shrine can signify anything, which means that it signifies nothing.

One other passage from the NYT story is worth noting:
In the aftermath, some Facebook executives have taken to Twitter for a public charm offensive, sending pithy phrases and emoticons to reporters who cover the company. Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of news feed, in recent days wrote unprompted to a BuzzFeed editor and to its chief executive reminiscing and telling a story about his mother. He also wrote to a reporter from the Verge tech site about the songs played at his wedding reception.
I don't think these people ever left junior high school. I also don't know whether to laugh or cry. These are the people running the world, or a significant part of it. Ponder that. Then maybe laugh and cry. And break a few dishes. A friend of mine used to strongly advise keeping some old, cheap dishes around, just so they might be smashed during tough times. This story might deserve three or four dishes. Maybe five. Well, it couldn't hurt.

In the meantime, don't be a snitch! The company is Life! Everything for the company!

P.S. In rereading this just before publishing, it struck me that Bosworth's explanation of the memo is not entirely implausible. It does have the flavor of, "Now, consider this outlandish perspective just to see where that takes our discussion..." Even if that's true (and I still wouldn't take his word for it), it doesn't alter the numerous additional and odious facts we know about Facebook, and it is entirely irrelevant with regard to the employees advocating witch-hunts for leakers, super-screening for whistle-blowers, etc. So, with this small caveat, I stand by the major arguments offered above.


I'm sorry to have to bring this up, but I've had almost no response to my recent post. Three people have donated a total of $60; thank you! In a couple of days, I will be in serious trouble. I remain about $450 short of what I need for rent and a few other bills, including internet. If I'm not able to raise it in the next few days, eviction won't be my only problem.

Over the last year, I've learned to eat a decent meal only every other day. On "off" days, I eat, but only a big bunch of crackers, or several slices of bread, things like that. I've had to do that, because I've had less and less money to spend on everything, including food. Right now, I have food for perhaps two or three full meals -- and I tend to hoard that food, because I'm not sure when I'll be able to buy more. I've also been out of some things for a while now -- coffee, soda, milk, fresh vegetables. Poverty absolutely stinks.

Donations will be received with tremendous gratitude. I wrote the above post to show myself, and you, that I can still write and manage to put a few coherent points together. I did find that article interesting, and it was a subject I could deal with in a fairly simple manner, without getting into much more complicated issues. But writing even this has completely exhausted me, and I shall now return to bed for several hours.

As I mentioned the other day, Saturday is my birthday. With some badly needed help, it may yet avoid being one of the grimmer birthdays on record. And I'll look through my notes, and through the news, to find some other topics that lend themselves to comparatively short, simple treatments. I'll try to be back with even a couple of brief posts in the early part of next week.

Many, many thanks for any help you may choose to provide. I am always deeply grateful for the kindness showed by the readers here. Thank you!

May 01, 2018

Birthday Blues

My apologies, but I've been much too sick to write. Most days, I'm too sick to get out of bed except for a few minutes here and there. This is far from a happy time, or even a bearable time.

And here it is, the first of the month again. As always, I'm inexpressibly grateful to all those who make donations. Without you, I'd be dead. No theatricality there, no exaggeration: dead, dead, dead. I trust the point has been made. Sadly, I find myself $500 short of what I need for rent and a few other beginning of the month bills (including internet service). Once again, Sasha and I are quickly running out of food. Donations will be received with overwhelming gratitude. I have until Saturday to make the rent payment; after that, it is officially late.

Saturday is also my birthday. Yeah, big whoop. Most years, I don't even mention it. I only hope that this year, I'm not contemplating the serious possibility of eviction on my birthday. I would say that such a prospect would be too cruel even for a God who has proven Himself to be one especially nasty bastard -- but it would be absolutely typical of Him, wouldn't it?

There is still some writing I want to do. I'm trying to figure out some way to get myself just a little bit "better" (all things are relative), so that I can get to it. I work on it every day, but it's simply very, very difficult at the moment.

So I'll keep trying. In the meantime, any spare change you might have would be a huge relief in these parts. Thank you, thank you for your time and attention -- and blessings on you for your kindness.