Category Archives: philosophy

How transparent are public-private partnerships on media?

The Rolling Stones have a masterpiece of a song called Gimme Shelter. On their official YouTube channel, it has, as of January 2023, nearly 5 million views. Another version, very colorful, with the lyrics on the screen, has 95 million. This one’s published by ABKCO. It looks like a celebration. I guess the event of looking at fireworks and being glad that the year was over made some of us feel hope that better things would be on our way. We’re totally fine with the loud sounds and actual bombs in the air, while war is still happening. The reasons? Few can explain.

A lot of people have come forward to popularize the term “streaming wars”. Their good intentions in explaining the phenomenon of people looking for entertainment on screens, but not the TV this time around, made up some interesting debates. But when it comes to things like competition, you might wanna have a second look. After all, if you make a product (in the media, people avoid this notion, but still get the money) and someone else makes a similar one, there’s conflict between the parts. But they have an underlying principle: if it’s a conflict in the field of entertainment, both sides agree entertainment is good.

But who’s going to say that certain kinds of entertainment are actually bad? Sure, this kind of thing brings engagement. But we can’t even talk about restriction zones here without stepping into legal requirements and hard-liners of speech moderation (some, granted, with a much valid cause). Would you look at videogames? Kids were handed controllers and told to go kill some people. Boys, mostly. An incentive to bravery? A trigger of action and promptness of decision? An exercise in strategy calculation? The arguments in favor are many, but that doesn’t take away the fact that the theme is violent.

Now, we don’t know what exactly the metaverse wants to do. What we’ve heard was that you could listen to the same music together, for example (and hey, that actually sounds pretty amazing). But as a very naïve musician, who cares more about the music than promoting a product, I’m more inclined to show people what Snarky Puppy did when they invited everyone into the studio and gave them some amazing headphones, instead of sharing their thoughts on not-so-great immersivity “conquering the world”, as per Pitchfork reporting on the future of music.

That reminds me of an interesting thing about the company once simply called Facebook: as a mission, the company talked about accountability, while Twitter talked about transparency. Anyone remember that? I might have merged the two realms. But when I started following the whole thing more closely, I was recently graduated from college, and changing homes, when Mark did Facebook’s first Public Q&A.

It’s noticeable that Sheryl Sandberg is still there, and that questions should be forwarded to them as they go through the event; also that the very first is related to the need to install Messenger as a separate app in order to see your messages on Facebook. This, of course, was before disclosures about private messaging being targeted by advertisers were made public, something this blog has written about; also, before the Congress hearing where Mark Zuckerberg infamously says: “we sell ads” to explain his company’s near hundred billion profits. If you wanna watch, click the video from 2014 and enjoy an hour of stuff that’s probably not relevant anymore — or be an adult and try to analyze the changes and evolution of these debates, which weirdly seem like historical events. While this is a corporate event, it’s also the biggest company in the world and its CEO coming forward to talk about user issues.

Twitter, arguably not less than Facebook, was pressured too, in a few, not just one Congress hearing (4 hours, everyone).

Now, you may ask: what’s the purpose of asking people to watch these insanely long videos, on a blog, while everyone knows what’s happening today is TikTok, where people get bored after 15 seconds? Firstly, I’d like to say, people are different. Second, people can change. Third, people can be prompted to change, and by association, there are people responsible for guiding others in at least an attempt of showing them ways they can nurture critical thinking. For English learners, I think these are great material sources: we have better informed opinions on these platform issues today, and we’re able to comment, also given that they’re familiar topics. The other argument is that witnessing how these people responded to huge debates on the future of communications, our biggest collective obsession, is undoubtedly going to make you learn some new stuff.

But transparency and accountability are concepts to explore. I don’t mind making it personal: until recently, I didn’t know exactly how much money Facebook operated with. And maybe you’ll struggle figuring out what revenue is against profit, try to understand more specific terminology, understand that Q1, for example, is just one quarter of the year and that public companies listed in stock exchanges need to declare their earnings, which are just for that particular stretch of the year. An earnings report is a form of transparency; so is a hearing broadcast by a media channel answering to tough questions from regulators. Accountability comes when something needs to be either improved or fixed: when you’re responsible for something, it’s your job to make sure it’s working well — and with social media, we find this sort of paradox where we can’t really tell if we’re looking at reality or some projection of it. Surely, we don’t need to all be transparent about our projections; and we don’t need to be held accountable for a projected reality produced by social media that does not represent the facts of our lives accurately.

Two pressing issues seem relevant to discuss and to keep emphasizing: while whatever’s produced on the web has a living component to it that can’t quite be controlled, because of how easily it’s reproduced (and the question of how is probably for security specialists, but sure, call an influencer), we should own what we produce. Marx, anyone? You know, I struggle with the notion that the man was German; but I still see that when I decided to dedicate myself to writing more often, I didn’t just want to be read by a lot of people, and it had nothing to do with authority either — I wanted people saying: “I’ve always felt that. You put into words what I couldn’t express. Thank you for your work.” That is no different than the lady who stands up behind a cash register every day and just puts the money where it needs to be, but that’s what I say after some lessons in humility throughout my life: I always say thank you to them. A much more complicated issue comes to play when we look at what’s put on the web and how it’s manipulated, with oversight of companies. These companies want profit, and sometimes, their control over our internet experience, which is our communication experience and need — therefore, a basic human right — is precisely what determines their profit margins, at the sake of our mental health and the dismissal of our own bodily responses.

I say that with a romantic mindset. There are certain areas where this is all fun and games, thrill and new. But things can change very quickly — and with the implementation of mass monitoring programs, unfortunately, they have been. At some point, those companies were operating at such large scales that there was no other way than putting the task of regulation in the hands of trained artificial systems; and while we might criticize those, we should be concerned about the dangers we might face and damaging effects of an unfiltered internet. If you think I’m being a moderate, you just don’t realize I’m a particularly sensitive man. I come back to the song: something as ugly as war is closer to us than ever before — maybe not geographically, for some; but it’s all over the news already. If you see the metaphor, small actions can provoke immense conflict, and maybe we should all try to catch up on what the motivations to those might be. The machines are; but are we just going to look at beautifully presented graphs?

Jack Dorsey, in the 2018 hearing linked above, faced some of these less dirty and raw questions, and I think it might be in the public interest to debate them — after all, we’re in 2023 and everyone knows, I think, what happened in 2018. No? Just me? Just Brazil? Well, anyway, here’s a summary of the first 30 minutes of that conversation (and you can judge for yourself, as well as my mental health for being simply unable to go back there to watch the rest, but I swear I’ll try):

1) Shadowbanning

“Have you heard of Google?” Well, we all have. But we don’t know a ton of stuff, if you’ll excuse the strong language, about its inner workings. Twitter, a minor operator in comparison, defined the role of the company in holding back visibility of specific accounts as non-existent. My mass is non-existent (I’m anorexic). A smart guy asked a question and said that the opposite of shadow banning, and apparently a role of Twitter, would be “augmenting voices that may otherwise never be heard”. He kissed. And then he slapped: it also allowed unprecedented speed of misinformation to circulate on the platform (a study from the MIT showed), and then he played a card: it was questionable how the company worked to prevent “malicious foreign influence”. Draw your own conclusions.

2) Impartiality

Not a populist, Jack Dorsey stated, however, that “Twitter will always default to open and free exchange” in his opening statement. I mean, do we call on the TMZ? Who’s the guy dating? We all want to know. Maybe he’s self-sufficient: bucket of ice do the work for him. Who knows what kind of pleasure the man derives from that. Maybe it’s the feeling that he’s saving the world, because he’s so hot and he feels guilty, cause he’s also such a good boy, and so he does his part in preventing global warming. Buckets and buckets. Constantly.

3) Opinions and behaviors

The man also says that the team is “always looking for patterns of behavior”, which includes blocking. Hold on a second. Did you say crypto? No? Ok, just checking, cause you know that’s not cool anymore. Opinions are a thing of the past, today we have icons that you click on. Let’s modernize this biz. But notice how generic “behavior” is. In a public hearing. Creepy?

4) Amplification

Parallel to shadow banning, there’s a discussion on users “not having the power to amplify a message to an audience that doesn’t follow [them]”. I mean, what’s even journalism? Certainly not people amplifying messages to an audience of people that don’t know them, right? But on top of that, if anyone still appreciates sarcasm, there’s the role of machine learning, and the task of reducing bias. This debate has become so toxic that the best answer will come from a NASA meme. And then another meme, which asks NASA: “are you sure?”

5) Toxic conversations

This one’s more intriguing. Reports about Twitter accounts that included abuse made the platform act on behalf of users. Sure, you might find the current landscape a little grim or slightly less funny — or fun. But they got to work: to promote “conversational health”, they mapped out four indicators: shared attention, shared facts, reception, perspective (in contrast with bubbles and echo chambers). That is according to Dorsey. Notoriously, Jack said about the team at Twitter: “we don’t feel it’s fair that the victims of abuse have to do the work to report it”, and then talked about creating technology to reduce the instances. A noble mission.

There’s an underlying theme in all of social media, apparently: better to prevent than to remedy. But that might not be a clear-cut statement anymore, with people who have started to doubt scientific research (ahem) is the way to do this properly. And among restrictions and prescriptions on the internet, we seem to have moving concepts, but persistent, if not fixed values. Exposure is good, but it can be bad. Visibility works the same way, but you don’t know it until you “earn it”. And so we enter the decision-making area: it seems that whenever ridicule is a road one can travel, they inevitably will. But we’re facing more pressing issues than discussing the fable of the naked king (ahem). A lot of people are naked. So what? Isn’t that good? The human body, a great username from the past of artistic intervention born in the Czech Republic but hosted in Las Vegas, travelled these virgin steps. But who’s a virgin anymore, right? Beyond the ordinary and the confidential, we have an expectation of a less judgmental society that seems to never fulfill itself. LinkedIn showed me an interesting post today, over a week after the beginning of this entry and a tremendously tortuous process: the most viewed TED talk of all time. May its giver rest in peace. He speaks about children’s innate ability and drive for experimentation of the new, through drawing, in his example. But it speaks to us more profoundly, and with British humor. It seems, not a lot of people are capable of understanding nuance. And people have plenty of those. Imperfection, which seems so opposed to the concept of cartooning (arguably a sketch with preserved infant intention), is supposed to be valued. That’s how we know love. It’s also how it may end, but it never does. It wins. It thrives. It hurts, but it heals. The biggest fear of parents today, and grown ups themselves, seems to be the abundance of love. Along with the concepts of memory and affection, care and concern, sensibility and tactfulness which allows its literal nuances and exacerbations, can we build a future where personal lives, political beliefs, interests in general, working histories and positive reputation can speak the same language? We might. If we close our eyes, roll them and let the future be present — a public interest, but a private business model documented for a ridiculously selective few, in charge of selection itself. Time for change, don’t you think?

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.

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.

Shutdown, lockdown: why media matters too much

It seems like a good time to discuss speech freedom. Though Pew Research is not as popular as any given trend on social media, they’ve detailed how we’ve experienced a period of cancellation, not in terms of lack of praise, but lack of argument on the right to mobility — and no, that is not related to your mobile phone, but instead, the right to “come and go”, or “freedom of movement”, as defined by the United Nations. But then if you want, let’s talk about mobile phones! Why not stick in a needle containing all necessary conflicts to solve with a deadline for the people who managed not to drop dead as a consequence of an arguably orchestrated policy management involving social crisis shifting gears to massive use of social media and conflicts ignored, misinterpreted and poorly debated? Few people talk about the social aspects of health care, including substance use and Social Determinants of Health, as reported by McKinsey; but this “orchestration”, if it wants to be interpreted as a historical timeline of power relations reaching some kind of tipping point, and not another conspiracy theory, needs proper references.

So let’s search for the references. Psychology Today mentions two papers, from PLOS ONE, a Californian “inclusive journal community working together to advance science for the benefit of society”, and Spotlight on Research, “an online collection of health-related, peer-reviewed, open-access journals”. This is a brief mention of scientific-method based analysis of behavior, while raising the argument that “removing access to social media produces anxiety“. Later in the article, the FOMO factor is mentioned, or “fear of missing out”. I would propose two steps forward, and one backwards: firstly, let’s consider that few people search for references, okay? Second, everyone remembers the scene on Netflix’s big hit “The Social Dilemma” where a phone jar gets cracked in order to fetch back the phone that mom and dad didn’t want you to use at the lunch table, but the device stays intact. In fact, even The Verge, in their review, has come to the conclusion that was not the most accurate description of the problem. And third, hasn’t the term “fear of missing out” been used to the exhaustive scale that dims any attempt of repurposing meaning and gaining leverage on where things stand? Is it so hard to understand, or write down and publish, that competition between small businesses and big businesses is unfair, and that includes traditional media, responsible for injecting that fear — not just of missing out, but for what might happen next time you go out in the street, all the while showing a semi-related story in case something does happen while you’re out and you don’t even have the energy to call them out?

The thing with mobility, it seems, is too complex to debate in kindergarden level. But to shift all pedagogical meterial for kindergarden students to not just digital inclusion, but proven proficiency on new communication standards, so early on, never seemed to be a problem. The shortage is of health care workers, not teachers. You see? Nobody’s ever read the American Common Core Standards, launched in 2009, when president Barack Obama declared, as seen in The New York Times: “It’s not that their kids are any smarter than ours — it’s that they are being smarter about how to educate their children.” The article also mentions that, in 2015, 20% of students in the state of New York opted out of their end-of year tests; it quotes the president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (who funded scholars that have based my research, by the way) saying that it’s sort of a “game of catch up [to] learn about the importance of wider community engagement”. So… Okay, Obama: what community, what engagement, and who are the smart kids you’re talking about?

I personally think it’s much more realistic, although uncomfortable, to talk about the simple facts: accelerating social interactions made people realize there was, indeed, a wider world on the web. But coming back to those articles people don’t read: what happens when you take away someone’s phone is one thing; what happens when you take away someone’s identity and completely destroy it is another. Do parents have the power to do both? The answer is yes. And that is my personal fight. The bigger fight is realizing that notwithstanding the fact that the ex-president is not my daddy, I’ve developed a similar feeling: kids are smart, aren’t they? And we want to be positive. But the perception of “smart move” is different than that of a “smart guy”, and if you pass the mic to a girl of age 13, the response will change; if you pass the mic to a woman, with her own idea of smart networking and history of building things for herself through effort and dedication, who’s 31 now, she will have many stories to tell. Does that mean we’re witnessing critical age gap limitations, both in terms of public debate, attention and morale? I would say yes, we are; but I don’t have the definitive answers to these problems, because Obama really synthesized it: there’s kids; there’s also “the other kids”.

Political dimensions aside? We can’t say that. Lockdown made us be immersed with world consequences in real time, while sitting in bed. Some people’s reaction was to go on TikTok. Wanna talk about that? CNBC addressed the issue, but it says “data” is the problem, not teens dancing to the sound of a gun being loaded and hyper sexual lyrics (very common in Brazil). But what happens if Brazilian data, in case someone in this country studies it seriously, is taken into account? We know Brazil has “the fifth largest population of social media users worldwide”, as per Statista report. We also know there are some problems in Brazilian legislation response to initiatives to “take care of the internet”, like Net Neutrality, copyright law, payment services use, privacy and of course, data. The Brazilian version of European made GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) principles does not clarify, in practice, what was proposed by European lawmakers and applied in California (I won’t comment on Snapchat; the CEO’s name is Evan and that’s just weird), specifically in the first descriptions of the document. I’ll get there. When you look at the material scope, and then go further, reading Title V of the Treaty on European Union, which describes foreign policy in what we’d like to believe represents a solid ground to maintain perpetual world peace, Immanuel Kant’s dream, you might have some doubts. From the original document, Article 21, transcribed in full:

1. The Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.

The Union shall seek to develop relations and build partnerships with third countries, and international, regional or global organisations which share the principles referred to in the first subparagraph. It shall promote multilateral solutions to common problems, in particular in the framework of the United Nations.

2. The Union shall define and pursue common policies and actions, and shall work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order to:

(a) safeguard its values, fundamental interests, security, independence and integrity;

(b) consolidate and support democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the principles of international law;

(c) preserve peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security, in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, with the principles of the Helsinki Final Act and with the aims of the Charter of Paris, including those relating to external borders;

(d) foster the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries, with the primary aim of eradicating poverty;

(e) encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy, including through the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade;

(f) help develop international measures to preserve and improve the quality of the environment and the sustainable management of global natural resources, in order to ensure sustainable development;

(g) assist populations, countries and regions confronting natural or man-made disasters; and

(h) promote an international system based on stronger multilateral cooperation and good global governance.

3. The Union shall respect the principles and pursue the objectives set out in paragraphs 1 and 2 in the development and implementation of the different areas of the Union’s external action covered by this Title and by Part Five of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and of the external aspects of its other policies.

The Union shall ensure consistency between the different areas of its external action and between these and its other policies. The Council and the Commission, assisted by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, shall ensure that consistency and shall cooperate to that effect.

Freedom, respect, dignity, equality, solidarity: whether we’re addrressing an education crisis or a public health crisis, what have we learned from theory and practice? This set of principles is mentioned at the very beginning of the GDPR document, and also requires “catching up” with other historical policy developments; there’s much to discuss, but how many examples can you give from the “GDPR compliant” organizations that will, for example, promote “stronger multilateral cooperation”, knowing that the word “sustainable”, when it comes to economic and social development, actually means something entirely different? Sustainable, in my view, is meeting people online when I can’t stand the people who live where I am. Sustainable, for me, is buying yogurt instead of eating pork. Sustainable, for me, is being able to tell my story and be heard, instead of contested, humiliated and doubted; ridiculed and criticized on every stance, at every chance, while I’m the one reading the freaking law and saying: “wait a second”. Sustainable, for me, is transitioning from my bedroom to my kitchen or bathroom without thinking about the shame of my relatives in case they knew what just happened in my personal life, and it’s definitely not sustainable to give that kind of information to private companies who will make use of my history as they please under the guise of promoting inclusion and entertaining the masses. It’s probably not sustainable, and I have to say probably because I don’t know how else I would still think about having a professional life, to study for decades any given subject, like a foreign language, and miss the chance of having great conversations because of failure to activate your brain responses and fucking say hello, or find the words and not go around them, not making pauses, not mispronouncing them, and hoping people don’t treat you as a toddler because you can’t possibly understand everything and maybe anything, but in case you do, your face is stupid anyway, so get hit by a freaking bus. Since when renouncing dignity produces good entertainment? We are not entertained. We’re locked down, with no financial aid, with no proposal of damage reparation for the harms that social media and tech companies flirting with monopoly judges to successfully bribe them and then, as their next grand move, flirt with authoritarianism, in order to preserve their profits at all costs — minding that the cost is determined by them, and their actions; while that happens, we’re being called “worthless”, in all of what we do.

I recently read an Instagram post that said: “the artist is not an entrepreneur”. I’d like to conclude with two ideas on that. First: it’s not everyone who pursues a professional career as an artist, but most of what we spend our lives doing can be associated with artistic expression, which operates in a much different and much more free domain. We think it’s “poetic” that someone called us a nickname; we think poetry is journalism. We are not interested in journalism, unless it’s talking about us. But we want spotlights, at moderate (and sustainable) values. Art has a lot to do with vulnerability, and we accept that. But society wasn’t built because of art; art was built because of society, in order to expose it. Secondly: the profitability of a social model where people are forced to know everything about everything, and also to know anyone, but easily replace them and then choose to either talk a lot about them or say nothing at all, doesn’t seem to have been associated with the conversations that we never had with family members, because they think our lives are “unsustainable”. The media will talk about inflation, food, violence. We can just pretend that a rich person we met on Tinder is aware of what the media has said, because whatever happens, the trend we’re seeing is that possible experience becoming a viral soundtrack with lots of edits, to the point where nothing matters anymore — until someone sheds light on the issues that actually do. We just hope there’s an audience.

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