Category Archives: social issues

What does Traditional Linguistics inform to Data Science and Policy?

Society chose to trust social media. The problem, over a decade after its mass adoption and with no need to list the transformations in the sector — from within the industry and outside, according to public perception — seems to be that we never really understood media or social movements. Maybe we didn’t like those. You’ll hear politicians talk about the media like some inherently corrupt system of rewards and distribution of misinformation. What’s less spoken about is the origin of the word, something that traditional Linguistics helps explain, as well as a multitude of other debates over which common people and powerful corporations have shown intense interest with a comparable set of intentions.

Nobody wants to known or be schooled about the printing press, but at the same time, we live by the sanctimonious and spread ideas that are known to date from thousands of years ago. The Greeks believed there was divine inspiration for producing art, and that had connections with power. Philosophy, on the other hand, benefited all of society and still doesn’t have the same kind of attention. We’re supposed to know what a platonic relationship is, but it seems we’re more interested in the apocalypse. As a reader and writer, I don’t exactly place myself in a neutral point. It is a duty I have to say that we must not dream of a better society without fighting for it, and sometimes lose so often that we’d rather keep things as they are. I just think there’s a difference, which is very clear, between attacking and defending. The powerful would love to see their challenges turned into mythologies, epic battles, a showcase of weaponry. The powerless seek to understand what is and why. Their challenge, very frequently, is to stay alive to tell the story; but there’s no time for a story, because real life has more objective principles, not the making of a hero. And so the rest of us seek for the outstanding and the pitiful, the wonderful and the repulsive. What drives this is Ethics, which in turn is what drives Justice. And the laws are made to preserve this beautiful concept, with little to no attention to its logical opposite: for everything that’s legal, there’s something illegal; from everything that’s just, there’s something unjust.

Society is organized by laws, rules, norms, culture and habit. The latter could be associated with the smallest things we don’t think about: “what made me click on that link?” From that alone, we can’t establish relationships between all other listed elements. Data analysis claims to be able to. Clicking on a link has no grand merit, but if you’re the one who gets clicks, you’ll get a few grand. How that mechanism operates is what everyone needs to be aware of, and it seems like a challenge that, again, interests many groups of people. Now, in terms of which side you’re on when investing your time in deciding what’s legitimate and what is not; what’s authentic and what is not; what’s true and what is not, observe the shades. Morphology is the recognition of patterns. So is data science. There’s a clear difference between “legitimate” and “legal”. I could steal someone’s identity, claim to have the documents that are indeed legitimate, and if nobody spotted me, I’d be right; but that’s illegal. And it seems like identity is a concept we’re struggling with, in a world where appearances matter more than most things we can recognize in our environment.

Corrupt and abrupt are associated by their morphology, but different in their syntax and their meaning: one can be a process; the other can be an event. Both are precisely associations, but only one of them can be a verb. To corrupt is to disturb as a mode of turning the aspect of something. This could be a process and an event. An illegal action, not illegal activity, could turn someone corrupt. Abruptly? It depends. It also depends of your involvement, which turns to social elements that the media will surely explore. But how did social media make its ways into our subconscious? Was it in a sudden manner? Or was it in a complex arrangement of situations that entangled opportunity, ambition, ego, motives, paybacks and a desire for creating a mechanism of power? Nobody’s judging: many of us have used the power of social media. But how has social media used us — and deprived us of our power? Maybe another area of traditional Linguistics might explain: Phonology. In practice, an alveolar, voiced fricative can turn what’s “just” into “dust”, but in theory, it’s the other way around. Sometimes it’s plosive, others not, depending on the language. But language has its intricacies, and so does its context, so adequately tied to identity.

In a context where data science informs us that the tendency is for hikes in interactions to be observed, it might be useful to remember Martha’s Vineyard’s lesson: quality and quantity are not easily measured or separated. Context, however, a focus of Discourse Analysis (and we won’t have the time to address Linguistics as it is used today, by artificial inteligence and programming tools, with the “legitimate” cause of preserving interaction quality), informs that this location has been on the news for being a destination of immigrants in the United States of America. Just sent there. Like the immigrants of Ukraine found Poland, or the South American continent found its way in between Portuguese and Spanish: so many similarities, but quite a few differences. For an illegal alien working at a restaurant, maybe “muy guapo” or “hermosa” would sound different than “hot”, in case they exchanged messages with someone on social media; and while Portuguese speakers might hear gender opposing “gostosa” or “gostoso”, their lives would still be connected to the restaurant (and you’re smart enough to notice who’s to lose), not a home they own, sometimes counting with protection. But you see, this protection was granted because if laws, without a capital letter, hadn’t been passed to ensure the citizen (not the illegal alien) had the right to protect him or herself, some would call this protection a “regression”; they would say it’s “legitimate”; others would call it “illegal”. What traditional Linguistics has to offer is not what tradition has always presented us. We have to reimagine language. We have to look at communication in a movement of desire — desire to communicate, but much more than that. At the same time, we have to separate desire from intention, and those from action. So far, we’ve been walking towards the opposite direction, because of how “modern” Applied Linguistics can be. We talk to the wind, but they want a gag rule. Context will tell you: the wind will be stored somewhere, and there will be a storm, eventually.

The “woke” agenda: our King is MLK

In a linguistic aberration not often talked about from a linguist’s perspective, the internet (with prevalence of first-language speakers to legitimately set new rules) started using a term to describe those who are very much aware of things — so aware that it feels like everybody else is just sleeping, and they don’t seem to catch up. In another interpretation, they see reality and they fight their daily struggles; others dream and often believe stories about their futures that are not true at all, holding onto the slightest chance of an eyeball meeting their digital existence or even to be spotted on the street and not just called pretty or handsome (instead of “babe”), but also offered a contract job. These are the “woke” people. But they’re supposed to be “awaken”, or “awakened”. “Awake”, by the way, is an interesting album from Japanese band L’arc en ciel, which has a line in English in the song “Existence“: “you will not be able to sleep, so why don’t you just stay awake?” It’s also a spelling mistake, a verb form inconsistency or misplaced adjective. “Awake” is an adjective, “awaken” is the past participle of “wake”, “woke” is the simple past of the same irregular verb, but “woke” as an adjective is an invention,. See? The mistake was intentional, just like people say “bitches be crazy”.

But nobody speaks Japanese. And as an English teacher actually living in Brazil (and it seems people struggle to understand that or pretend it’s not a relevant fact at all — or worse: they minimize the role of culture bridging and curating for literacy goals) I have to say English is just “a” language, not “the” language that everyone speaks. The latter part is undeniable. Recently, Slate published a podcast talking about YouTube’s derailing or demise, but saying they’ve managed to stay immune from criticism, despite other platforms being roasted. Later, the same vehicle said that Senators in Congressional hearings are asking more difficult questions to tech leaders, as if it’s a good sign, and we’re not struggling to catch up as ordinary citizens. We are. That’s the whole point of being “woke“. The definition should be: “someone in society that sees themselves in a position of inferiority for a series of reasons that they seek to understand to find who’s responsible for such situations and then try to change it”. They just created another word for activist, but this time, more combative — and their response is literally to say: “shut the fuck up, you’re annoying”. Of all things, annoying. No wonder, they came for the LGBT. Acceptance is not in their vocabulary. My own dad says he’s okay with gay people, but not with “the media” constantly pushing gay narratives for children to watch. He’s receiving the govenment fund for financial assistence to the poor (which is what we call people who haven’t figured out the factors in COVID that left us here), but still votes for the Trump agenda in Brazilian fashion. Not that knowing about Brazil makes you woke, but for example, you have to know real estate being bought in live cash is a problem, insulting journalists and also having such a difficult to conceive rhethoric on rape: at one point he said a congresswoman (Maria do Rosário, from the Worker’s Party) did not “deserve” to be raped. Not to mention the case where he posed for with hydroxychloroquine next to a bunch of rheas, animals people don’t usually see unless they’re looking at the farmgirl’s videos (but notice that the word for “rhea” is “ema” in Brazil).

Woke people can even be called schizophrenic. They can’t sleep because of the problems of the world, and the fact that them wanting to change things makes them targets of serial attacks, increasingly effective. I, for example, have developed sleep disorders. Nights watching Bloomberg and going to sleep after the B3 opening were a constant, with CNN’s prime time right after dad went to the bedroom. I knew it would make me feel better knowing that some people talked about what needed to be talked about, including finance and tech, which pleased me. The response wasn’t so popular. And about schizophrenia: we hear the word “smoking”, and we might think about a “king”, and then, for some reason, associate it with the January 6 events (it’s the day of Kings here in Brazil, didn’t you know?) then everything would make sense. Except it doesn’t, and we have to organize. Especially considering that we don’t live in the United Kingdom, but we might make songs talking about the act of the pound, if you’ll excuse the promotion.

For the common sense agenda: ESG, energy, inflation, cost of living, food, worker’s rights, healthcare, women’s rights, sexual freedoms, technology protections, better technology platform laws, better education, better entertainment and support to culture: these are things I care about, personally. If anyone has a plan to remanage the national debt and distribute investments in between those categories, amazing. Projects like FUNDEB are supposed to guarantee the money, but norms like the Common Core are scarcely debated. So even if we do get the money, the effectiveness of those initiatives is simply not there. The same goes for web policy, and we don’t talk about crypto in this blog, only things that exist. Is that being woke? Then maybe Tucker Carlson is sleeping, contrary to popular belief and to some of his invited commenters.

We seem to forget that there were people fighting for social justice (Rachael, a friend who I remember dearly for the contact she gave me with what I saw as “real English”, used to say she hated the term) were gunned down, as was Martin Luther king. And the guy was a reverend. Not even him escaped the hatred from powerful American elites (he was even listed in the FBI’s list of most wanted people). About the institutions? There’s little to say, but a lot to unpack. The Supreme Court should exist — Brazilian society recently signed a letter on the adherence and respect of the Rule of Law, contrary to the current and hopefully last-days president Jair Bolsonaro’s argument that the Judiciary is corrupt and should be banished. The thing about studying the Law is that you learn about morals. Catch some Hegel. Read Habermas (just maybe skip his Wikipedia, as you might find he had connections with Nazis). And if you go for the Bible, don’t support Jesus with a gun, ready to serve bullets instead of bread. Because in case anyone’s wondering what the answer to the question “where we all fall asleep, where do we go?”, the answer might be soon revealed with contrasting definitions, from the concept of Random Access Memory to REM sleep and biometrics used by the companies that tell you both “what’s happening” and “what’s on your mind”. For more on that, read my Substack.

To remind everyone, there’s a button for donations on the menu of the site. It redirects you to my PayPal account. Support this initiative, and let’s keep people updated and make better sense of the world, which should welcome conversations and not just the interests of wealthy investors, which, as Scott Galloway pointed out, seem to be finding rich men attractive women. You can see my video on the following link about the prevalence of dating apps.

The unspoken benefits of neutrality

In Brazil, as of September 2022, talking about politics will make people fear for the upcoming months, days and hours; or it will produce a contagious exhilaration around the prospects of winning or losing a battle that this or that side might have chosen. Maybe you’ll notice relative apathy in other situations, not particularly here; but some people stayed on the job during this now predominantly controlled pandemic, with vaccinated people who took at least 3 shots in their arm, like myself, and in some cases go out in the street still rarely, but with tranquility. We think that going out is safe again, but the reasons are related to public health and what’s not so often discussed: instead of working from home, living your life in front of a computer or staring at your phone, at home. You go out, everyone has a different thing to do, and you think that’s fine, but who are they, completely unaware that you’ve started fights with 30 different businesses in the past 2 hours, retweeted journalistic vehicles of great and historical circulation, making acid comments and ironic, often insensitive and disrespectuful remarks on credibility and people’s assumed character? Why aren’t they all doing the same, to fight the power and take it back, and you seem to be the only one concerned with the battle for winning the internet debate, elected medium and modus operandi of the attention economy? And now you can watch candidates debate on the internet, and that is literal; but everyone else is already commenting, and you’ve lost on this one, because it doesn’t matter what you have to say. The frontline is the frontline. Fireworks at midnight, no big deal — there’s soccer every day. Neighbors turned crowds of possible perpetrators of property damage, and subtweetibg in real life, in the form of shouts. It seems pressing to ask: “what the hell is happening?”

What’s happening is that people are put to a test every four years in the majority of the countries of the world. But hang on: our most important elections are in a month, and Britain just changed the Prime Minister. The American elections are held in the midterm of Brazilian elections, for example. The selection for governors happens right before, and I should say that between Charlie Crist and Ron deSantis, at least the latter is able to fulfill his agenda; he’s just lame, while the other candidate is partnering with a “god-fearing” woman (as per Twitter bio) who’s supposed to change the deSantis program against gender ideology and critical race theory, all the while banning masks in schools because it has never required them in the first place — which is way too hard to believe, but seems to be the truth. DeSantis calls his opposers “The Woke Party”. Nobody told him that maybe Florida isn’t a dream, and we know Trump properties are being targets of investigation. I would go further, talk about Disney and Miami, mention Orlando, basketball, soccer and a Netflix series called Startup. I would tell personal stories, and give a shoutout to my old colleague now living in Auburn, not Jacksonville, saying “how’s your hacker friend and the gay gossip column guy?” But we’ve heard some of these things before. One day, on LinkedIn, I saw an old student of mine repost a video saying that Disney knows how to “enchant” like nobody else, and then you had an intervention in some kind of commercial center where people were interacting with the shadows of Disney characters who mimicked them, behind a panel. For each person in front of the screen, a specific character would show up as a sort of reflection of them. At the end, they’d reveal themselves and everyone would applaud. But in college, some other facts came to my knowledge, like work exploitation and a friend who dreamed of working there, but was the first person I met to be following Bloomberg. I won’t get into detail, because that involved another niche: the foreign music exoticness judges and who they give praise to. For the average Brazilian, does any of that matter?

In your family, you learn to suck it up. You stay quiet to avoid conflict. But sometimes, you do pick up a fight. An uncle is never going to be actually phisically aggressive with a nephew, is he? Sorry to break it to all, but my personal history tells otherwise, very clearly. And so do my conversations with teenagers, who report abuse in the family with a certain frequency. And the answer doesn’t seem to be a short story that does not mention this fact at all. It’s like posting fake news — because the narrative has been manipulated from the very starting point, not as of yesterday. You’re just a dummy. To wrap it up, and I refuse to talk about Europe: if you don’t take a stand on the internet, you have a chance to take a stand in real life. How does that sound to you? Because, to me, it sounds like a good plan. Except I know what Brazil would say: “Elogio é caridade”. Care to translate? Of course you don’t. And that’s fine. But maybe we should focus on the good instead of the bad, and real life sucks, while the internet can lead you to a better place. Are we voting on that?

Revenge porn: accurate or misleading term?

If you clicked, I’m sorry. You’ve probably been threatened by someone online with the release of your private information and files. Of course, today, Microsoft’s main goal is to lead the cloud business, and we have companies like Snowflake that were valued at record stock prices in their IPOs… but nobody cares about the “initial public offering”. We’re talking about “initial private messaging”. There’s a big difference. You know, you meet a guy, he says hello and sends an emoji, the emoji isn’t a horny devil, he asks if you’re busy and sends a picture for you to make sure you know he’s real and looks decent (aka not like a psychopath). But some people operate differently. We’re in the midst of a discussion over making decisions about our bodies, for Christ’s sake. Except that Jesus Christ might be brought up for the wrong reasons, and when I say we, I mean women mostly, because I’m actually a dude. So let’s situate ourselves: we know some stuff about tech, but we wanna use simple mechanisms to communicate with people. Maybe a little more? The answer is a little more than conversation, not a little more tech; but it seems that this is where the lines are drawn.

Every girl looking for flirting in 2022 will look at what someone looks like before making a move. Girls make moves, everyone. But what kind? I can’t fail to mention that one time I was on Omegle and this young girl from Slovakia said she knew where I lived. This is way before I realized Jeff Bezos wasn’t worried about Wishlist privacy, but technology journalists were, and so they followed with investigations on Ring, which Vox reports: “[provides] information to government entities if the company believes that an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person, such as a kidnapping or an attempted murder, requires disclosure without delay”. Adult world. So it happens that every teenager on Snapchat is GPS trackable, and that’s never been controversial, has it? Now, about the report, here’s what you should expect from this blog: a bit of debunking.

Guys make moves. When I was laid off of a company that literally installed cameras inside classrooms just to send a signal that employers were watching our online activity (and only the first class employees caught on), you can imagine that I put on my best performance, but regardless, I turned my laptop on and went looking for girl profiles. Not on Facebook, of course. This would be an interesting debate if anyone’s interested to know how some people had over a thousand friends in the year of 2010 or so, but we’re over that, aren’t we? And honestly, depending on who’s reading the blog (because of how educational it is), what was your favorite brand of baby formula back then? Now, fast forward. While Ring, a home device from Amazon; Windows Hello, a not-so-new feature of Windows; and even big banks like Santander (and many others, mind you) use facial recognition as security, we fail to connect the dots. Facial recognition technology is reported to have been in use in smartphones since Android’s 4th version (released in 2011; but pay attention: in October), then it grew exponentialy in effectiveness with efforts from, guess what, the big four. The 3D capabilities were disclosed in 2018, but 4 years ago, nobody had a banking issue because of a hacked camera. Wait… they hack cameras? Oh my God! What’s next? Streaming with no permission? It’s *my* Fortnite! Mine!

Most people get confused by lack of context. Writing a pedagogical text in the field of journalism, in 2022, should be considered a great merit if successful. And that is to say the least. But that’s not even about me. The tech reporters saying back in 2018 that facial recognition capabilities were growing exponentially couldn’t have predicted that hackers with ethnic cleansing intentions could target the program. And that is hypothetical. Worth mentioning that EFF has contributed a lot to the facial recognition debate and you can see for yourself, but personally, I don’t have knowledge of all they’ve done, especially considering a federal lawsuit. But we started with something way more simple, way softer: revenge porn. It’s not that your ethnic group is deemed inferior by my ethnic group; it’s that the boy you were sexting has a smaller dick and I can’t believe you gave him attention instead of me. It’s that the girl you were videocalling while my message remained unanswered had such a ridiculously flat pair of tiddies, and mine are two big fucking Everest mountains. And with that sense of sexual tension in mind and at scale, would you look at what they can do with Hunter Biden. Do you really think both parties (men and women) are amicable and standardly trust-worthy? Is it the web? Where, how? And what are the contexts?

Investigating the context is essential, but the web is only getting bigger. A leak has been called a leak for a long time, but then came the GDPR (too little, too late). My criticism of GDPR will continue: everyone made us sign digital documents saying we agreed with terms of use that go against data protection: that is, not in our favor. GDPR is a legal loophole for data-driven companies to overperform with marketing operations that are arbitrarily defined by how much a client is paying. Simple, but hard to swallow — and we’re doing it in glowing fashion. But when a girl gets a nude leaked (which is likely to get her more followers, who happen to be potential harrassers) or a guy gets less opportunity (which is likely to be because of conversations, and you’ll have to excuse me, but I’m not the one to crack down why it works that way), we should be thinking: why do we share? This culture is the culture of people who have no respect for privacy. They’re the ones checking your every move; sometimes, with a higher motivation of control, at higher levels. The answer is not recording more and leaking more; the answer is ignoring surveillance, and making your words count. Say what you mean, mean what you say, everyone. Paraphrasing, we don’t mean half the stuff we say online. But what we do has consequences. I can rest in relative peace knowing I’ve never participated in leak culture. I’m glad for the journalistic investigations, sure. It keeps me informed, more aware, but it’s not going to make me a fan of a company or a State that protects user rights at all costs, because these simply do not exist. What I know is everyone should be able to protect their reputation, not live under the threat that the simplest mistake might ruin it forever. Back to my hook: everyone watches porn; some people even make it for a living. But revenge?

Revenge is an ugly concept. We’re supposed to believe in justice. Of course, the justice system has problems, serious ones (and I’ve talked enough about the tech issues; time to focus on the human side). If you call me names, I don’t care. If you started going out with a girl I used to hang with, I’m probably happy about it, if you’re cool. No big deal, seriously. Life goes on. But for whom? It seems some people’s lives don’t. Why? Because of revenge porn? No. Because of revenge. People want to make justice with their own hands, and that’s why law enforcement exists. That’s why facial recognition exists, that’s why GPS exists. Every technological tool we’ve created works for a better well-being, and if the percentages of it are not fairly distributed, we’re on our way to address that too. But taxing the rich is not revenge. It’s justice. Moving on from an abusive relationship is not revenge, and it has nothing or little to do with justice: it’s about self-respect, and a hell of a struggle. Getting over the fact that people like to talk about you is very far from this debate, and closer to a K-12 requirement now; but apparently, politicians want to pay for advertising so their own ideas about what education kids should have will thrive (kids that they teach to make gun gestures here in Brazil) and on both freaking sides of the aisle, they do it with teens too (whose lives they monetize with zero criticism and an odd mixture of freedom of speech and anti-imperialism, on TikTok). Imagine if teens didn’t have other people’s businesses to mind. Hard to believe that, right? But they’re not business owners. And the actual business owners will always, inevitably, have a hard time explaining how such and such thing was allowed on their platform. What they fear is not revenge (a lawsuit against them, a basic anti-monopoly federal hearing broadcast internationally, and so on); it’s userbase dropping. It’s the faithful cusstomer that they want. They don’t give a shit about the nudes. And when you look at the bills you need to pay, maybe you should consider having the same posture.

Image: Pexels

Reputation: more than credit scores and impressions

I remember exactly the moment I thought I’d been hacked. I had smoked weed, not for the first time, after having gone through college with a number of experiences to remember vividly and a busy worklife, plus a relationship of mutual trust and a band that was a reason for joy and moments that made everything matter. But it’s not about my story. This story isn’t about my story, and if I ever do this again, you can totally cancel my blog. I just wanna start there because we, adults, tend to think a cautionary tale might not work anymore; so instead of talking about the girl who never disobeyed her parents and played in the rain so she never knew what it was to get wet all of a sudden (which, to be honest, is not even so plausible these days), we tell something that happened to us so that they’ll remember. And at that moment, the daddy is the daddy; a mom is a mom. Anyway, I think I got hacked in June 2013. That was precisely when The Guardian covered the NSA bulk collection of data from American citizens and abroad. The story includes the classification of the documents as “top secret” and the term “telephony metadata”, maybe a first admission that internet service providers were “managing” the web based on inferred indentity, but were still able to operate with addresses and physical identification, including location trackers, to make a list of all the accounts you’ve ever made and do whatever they wanted with that information — from selling you a better pillow to advising you to start couple’s therapy. My first reaction, when I learned about it, was to delete my Pornhub account; but that wasn’t a series of events I ever looked at in more detail: I’d made very close contacts with a lot of people from Gifyo, one or two in particular, a site prior to Instagram and Snapchat, where you made gifs of yourself and had a social-network-like profile, including private messaging. The slogan was: “your life in motion”. My conflicting interests, especially having found out about the site on Pornhub, quickly became an issue; but not for me, because I can’t remember ever enjoying myself as much as back then. Of course, I didn’t know what people already knew, and then came the suspiscion that one of the “random contacts” was actually leading a hate group, full of leaks and sensitive information. I deleted my Gmail and all the apps associated with it, then started over. That’s when the adult account was finally gone, but nobody even knows I met this person, who very likely threatened me with every word she ever spoke, including this one time when I lost the last bus from Sao Paulo to Santos and stayed at the bus station overnight, Skype on my tiny Samsung Pocket Android. Internet speeds were terrible, so the service provider wasn’t very helpful, and they sure didn’t show me a notification for free Uber, because in case you don’t remember, it didn’t exist yet. The girl’s name was Jessica, apparently.

Jessica didn’t know a lot about my life. But she went as far as visiting my university, despite not being a student, to meet some people. Who were they? I have no idea. The campus was big. Including post-graduation, almost 50 thousand people gather at the University of São Paulo’s biggest campus in Butantã, West Sao Paulo neighborhood, according to data from a 2018 story promoting research on student well-being, that starts with an open question: “what does well-being mean to you?” For me, it used to be music, beer, a good class, good sex and fun trips. Is that confusing? Maybe for some. You could just replace your area of work. Instead of a good class, which is what I tried to do from 7am to 11pm, you could say taking care of families in distress was your thing, or injecting medicine in a patient’s arm to heal his or her pain, getting creative with copy, serving all tables and seeing everyone likes the restaurant or bar where you work. For me, it was my measure of control: I had a schedule, tried not to get lost, but I really thought I had mastered the art of going through the day changing subjects and contexts rarely mentioning what else was going on in my life. Until I had to. That was for students who seemed friendly enough, and I somehow trusted — because, even at work (and especially there), it’s all about human bonds and deals. How this surveillance narrative affected not just my job but America’s reputation and my entire personal life is a theme to be debated more extensively — but I believe it has. You don’t wanna read another story on how people spy on you, right? In 2022, you’ve probably heard Shoshanna Zuboff talk about Pokémon Go. She says a few other things too:

Prediction continues to evolve and competition continues to intensify. Pretty soon, there’s a new realization: the most predictive data comes from intervening in your behavior and in the state of play, in order to nudge, coax, herd it in the direction of the outcomes that we are guaranteeing to our business customers; herding your behavior in the direction of our revenues and, ultimately, our profits. What is new here is that at no other time in history have the wealthiest private corporations had at their disposal a pervasive global architechture of ubiquitous computation able to amass unparalleled concentrations of information about individuals, groups and populations, sufficient to mobilize the pivot from the monitoring to the actuation of behavior, remotely and at scale.

Totalitarian power, according to Harvard scholar Shoshana Zuboff (on YouTube).

Why mention that this lecture was given in Amsterdam? That doesn’t seem relevant. But one of the interesting things Zuboff says (I mean every word) is that “human future markets should be illegal” because “the illegitimate, secret, unilateral taking of human experience for translating into data should be illegal”. This extends to finance and to social media as we all know it: an opportunity land. In reality, as the scholar mentions, we came to believe knowledge was offered to us, but in fact, it was being offered to the companies all the time. Besides the theoretical point, there are many aspects where we remain in the dark: how does a fintech assess my credit, and what is the number on that “score”? How do I know who’s actually accessing my content, and why do I not trust that my “impressions” are actually real? There are many points I want to discuss, but I’ll go further on two of these sections, for readership ease and maybe (at ths point, I really don’t know) pedagogical purposes.

1) What’s legitimate?

Let’s suppose internet influencers are now listed in job seeking sites as it’s become a standard, very common profession. Let’s compare two people. Hannah is a 21 year old who barely posts on Instagram, but is smart enough to say hello more than 2 days a week. Her stories are rare, but she always finds cool things in the videos she took from the algorithm. When she gets bored from trying to find the one that’s more likely to cause impact, she spends 20 minutes with her make up, rehearses a few poses in front of the mirror, tests the camera (which works perfectly and is high definition, by the way), and then takes 10 pictures, the famous carroussel, to post on her account with a number of hashtags. The result? 1k likes and 100 more followers every time, repeat until she’s at the 100k mark. Eventually, people start approaching her for collaborations. She starts to make money to post her body on a social network that expressly bans sexual content and sexual interactions. Bob, on the other hand, is a guy who’s not very fond of social media. Socially anxious, he stumbles from one network to another, always finding the same kinds of recommendations, and nobody really worth his time. Bob isn’t bad-looking, but he doesn’t know how to act in real-life gatherings. His thoughts are often intense, a result of his year-long relationship with pornography and some of the meetings on camera he’s had. He doesn’t take selfies. He hates the idea of intentionally making everyone look at him, because he knows when he was the most vulnerable, the ones looking at him were his enemies, who eventually hacked his account and saved his videos online using a remote screen recorder, which he can’t prove, but the thought of it makes him want to delete one account after another, in fear of what might happen next. For some reason, Bob posts interesting things, not particularly mainstream and definitely not following the algorithm’s recommendations, but promotes the work of his favorite people and organizations, including journalism, art, projects of public interest, politics and motivational phrases, as well as memes. But it’s not every day. He gets on the platform Instagram 2 days a week: literally, Saturday and Sunday, because the other days are for cleaning the house, taking care of his sick dad, doing the laundry, shopping for food, playing with the pets and listening to music or some other leisure activity. He’s struggling to find work, but tries every day, looking at the available opportunities on at least 5 different websites.

It’s important to understand that Bob’s work isn’t legitimate, according to the platform. He looks for work, but he’s not working. Actually, if you want to post on “social issues” on Facebook (yeah, I know, Meta), you have to send in your ID and get approved, then tag all of them. Surprinsingly, it’s also possible, and very easy in fact, to say you’re releasing a paid promotion (saying a company gave you money to talk about them), and regardless of that being absolutely false, get your post published. Is that legitimate? By definition, it’s the opposite of it; but what matters is that Bob doesn’t have a nice booty, and he doesn’t go to the gym. He doesn’t take full body pictures, and he’s always by himself, not with some hot chick, because his friends are many, but all of them seem to be models. Hannah, though, takes the work seriously. 20 minutes of make up is real work. And she has a routine. Hell, she even has a business model: the use of hashtags, the conversations with people interested in her work, the constant presence, the study of social media paradigms to convey the most impressionable appearance standard: all of this is rewarded, and although she can’t put that in her resume, her bank account is doing fine and she doesn’t have to see ads for delivery food, because she’s a faithful customer. Legitimate? Of course not, that’s sexist.

2) What is secret?

They say personal life and professional lives don’t mix. Then they make LinkedIn, Slack, and even before this particular app, Facebook Workplace, a thing literally nobody talks about. The company email has more features than Google, but private communication has been the center of the story in a number of media scandals involving people of power, from Nixon to Lula; from Johnny Depp to Rihanna. Who decides on the future of the programs that keep a nation’s fortune and well-being glued together and distributed responsibly are people with a lot of scrutiny from the media and society in general, but when you make their private conversations a case for an ever-expanding annihilation of the concept of privacy, then you have to take a few steps back and say: “sorry, what?” Johnny Depp was accused of sexual harrassment; RIhanna supported the porn industry and has been in relationships with men involved in serious criminal charges. Do you wanna hang out with them? Do an interview? Are you waiting anxiously for the new work where they’re featured or do you wanna talk about them on the internet based on a story you didn’t even click on? Though these questions are never answered because people just post and run (which applies to politics as well, considering that sometimes they’re banned because the profile was made from a secret marketing operations team in what many journalists call digital militias), actually answering them depends on public sentiment: if one perceives that taking a stance against a particular public person or giving a say on any given topic will negatively impact work reputation, they just might keep their mouth shut. And that is not a very warming sign of the connectivity promise coming to fruition.

If we look at relationships, there’s certainly a lot to be debated, but it heats up a bit. From your number of followers, mentioned here, to how many messages you send every day, to whom, why and where, platforms rank your so-called “engagement”. I wonder if there’s a line of code saying: “if single, DM is positive; if commited, DM is negative”. At the same time, if you get a message from work and you can’t finish the reply to your girlfriend on what you’re supposed to buy at the supermarket, you’re 10 times more likely to lose your job; but if you’re distracted, exhausted from work, and your girlfriend is studying, let’s say, then you want to look at some tiddies, this well-being app, which tracks how much you’re sitting behind a computer, by the way, sends a notification, in the middle of work: “babe is cheating on you!” Of course, artificial intelligence thinks like a war machine, so the very idea that a straight person is experimenting with another sexual orientation or experience is a system error. Imagine the bot conversation about the fact you were just wondering how nipples other than hers looked like: puffy, rosey, bigger, thick aureolas, perky, tiny? Babe might just think you’re unhappy, but maybe she’ll get a surprise by the end of the night. Or maybe, just maybe, she’s looking at different sizes of vegetables, cause she takes care of all the cooking and does so for her entire family.

Send a picture from now: here’s my ceiling

When people were still getting acquainted with this idea that any two people could talk anywhere they were in the world, one of the most common things to sort of verify whether or not they were interacting with a real human being was taking a picture at the moment and sending it to the suspiscious potential friends. Everyone has their reasons, right? We understand that paranoia is probably caused by information society’s accelerated rise, and I’ve mentioned FOMA (fear of missing out) but haven’t been paying a lot of attention to new initiatives such as BeReal, a new social network that “promotes transparency and authenticity”. What calls my attention is that this sort of anti-glamourous approach to self-representation takes on many shapes, angles, and even technical settings. For example: if I do send you a picture of myself, which of my cameras should I use? And of course: you don’t expect me to show my full face, do you?

From a security standpoint, Qualcomm, for example, has proposed a model for future smartphones that has your frontal camera “always on”, to protect you from having other people rather than yourself looking at your notifications or even accessing the device, as reported by the Washington Post. I think that’s particularly interesting knowing that Qualcomm’s CEO is Brazilian (the interview was great, Bloomberg, thanks), and I’m here having an issue with biometric verification and what’s called the “selfie password” in order to use a credit card, the only form I could find of promoting my work after a period of Brazilian economic policy that majorly harmed the poor and political opponents. Examples? New laws funding culture got vetoed; review of quota law for Black populations in university; end of free public university proposed by law; the insanity of the project School Without a Party and its supporters, as reported by The Guardian; extremely overlooked economic inequality data, as reported by Oxfam; fintech being used for fraud, and so many other issues.

What makes me write a blog several days a week is this supposedly noble idea of making a bridge between the international, English-speaking context of school, college, business and politics, with media circling all of these topics, and translating it to the Brazilian learner while also pinpointing the problems in approach and false narratives to natives. I could invite you to go to Omegle and count the number of ceilings you’ll see, or add someone from Quick Chat on Snapchat and do the same. If I’m wrong (I am, very often) and this only happens to me, okay: you win. For now. That is absolutely not the only issue. Why do I need a selfie password in order to teach people how to have better conversations in English with people who actually respect you? How do I make a successful business without getting robbed from young people at the beach or the biggest companies in the world? And how do I prove that I’m real, and not just sweaty, when I turn on my camera and show my face while talking to strangers, because we’re all locked up in our apartments hoping that someone will have something good to tell us, and maybe even listen to what we have to say? I don’t care about authenticity. I care about meaning and mood. If you twist the meaning of my words, my mood will change. If you ignore my mood and want to give it a meaning you made up, I’ll come back at you. It’s very simple! But of course, there’s more ways to verify what’s really going on than putting two people against each other on purpose, or asking them to show what the top of their room looks like instead of the bottom of their body — which, depending on the case, might not be the end of the freaking world.

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