PG will note that TPV is not and has not been a political blog. PG would like to keep it that way.
PG understands that everything is supposed to be political, etc., but he believes such sentiments are, of themselves, political, and he manages to do a lot of things and have many satisfactory online and offline interactions with others that are simply not political.
While the growth of the internet and the many different ways of accessing it have produced many benefits for humanity, those benefits have been accompanied by some detriments. In PG’s unpresuming opinion, one of the largest is the internet’s ability to enhance and magnify the concerted actions of crazy people.
While at one time it might have been difficult for a single crazy person to connect with others who are crazy in the same way because of the rarity of that person’s particular variety of craziness, now, the internet allows almost anyone to join an online community of people who are exactly like her/him/etc. Cross-dressing differently-abled Lithuanian-American pediatricians can gather online and magnify their voices to fight the injustice that is part of their lives.
Online, everyone can be part of a hyphenated interest group.
PG’s bloviated opining was intended as a brief introduction to a column in today’s Wall Street Journal written by columnist Peggy Noonan, but it grew. [Trigger Warning: Ms. Noonan is a Republican, but not as Republican as a lot of people on the internet believe she should be.]
I’ll start with a personal experience and then try to expand into Republicans and big tech.
In the spring of 2016, Facebook came under pressure, stemming from leaks by its workers, over charges of systemic political bias. I was not especially interested: a Silicon Valley company that employs thousands of young people to make decisions that are often ideological will tilt left, and conservatives must factor that in, as they’re used to doing.
My concerns about Facebook had to do with its apparently monopolistic nature, slippery ethics and algorithmic threats to serious journalism.
Soon after, I received an email from Mark Zuckerberg’s office inviting me and other “conservative activists” to attend a meeting with him to discuss the bias charges in an off-the-record conversation. I responded that I was not an activist but a columnist, for the Journal, and would be happy to attend in that capacity and on the record. That didn’t go over too well with Mr. Zuckerberg’s office! I was swiftly told that wouldn’t do.
What I most remember is that they didn’t mention where his office is. There was an air of being summoned by the prince. You know where the prince lives. In the castle. Who doesn’t know exactly where Facebook is?
In February 2018 Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein of Wired wrote a deeply reported piece that mentioned the 2016 meeting. It was called so that the company could “make a show of apologizing for its sins.” A Facebook employee who helped plan it said part of its goal—they are clever at Facebook and knew their mark!—was to get the conservatives fighting with each other. “They made sure to have libertarians who wouldn’t want to regulate the platform and partisans who would.” Another goal was to leave attendees “bored to death” by a technical presentation after Mr. Zuckerberg spoke.
. . . .
I forgot about it until last summer, when Mr. Zuckerberg’s office wrote again. His problems were mounting. I was invited now, with an unspecified group of others, to “an off the record discussion over dinner at his home in Palo Alto.” They used that greasy greaseball language Silicon Valley uses: Mr. Zuckerberg is “focused on protecting” users and thinking about “the future and how best to serve the Facebook community.”
I ignored the invitation. They pressed. Their last note reached me at an irritated moment, so I wrote back a rocket, reminding him of the previous meeting and how it had been revealed to be a mischievous and highly political enacting of faux remorse. I suggested that though it was an honor to be asked to cross a continent for the privilege of giving him my time, thought and advice, I would not. I added that I was sorry to say he strikes me in his public, and now semiprivate, presentations as an imperious twerp.
For a second I actually hesitated: The imperious twerp runs the algorithms, controls the traffic, has all the dark powers! But I am an American, and one with her Irish up, so I hit send.
And I’m still here, at least at the moment, so I guess that’s OK.
. . . .
I once wrote the signal fact of Mr. Zuckerberg’s career is that he is supremely gifted in one area—monetizing technical ingenuity by marrying it to a canny sense of human weakness.
None of this is news. We just can’t manage to do anything about it.
. . . .
The New York Times this week had a breakthrough report . . . on how the tech giants are fighting back. They are “amassing an army of lobbyists.” Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple spent a combined $55 million in lobbying last year, about double what they spent in 2016. They “have intensified their efforts to lure lobbyists with strong connections to the White House, the regulatory agencies, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress.” Facebook hired Mrs. Pelosi’s former chief of staff. The speaker herself has received major campaign money from employees and political-action committees of all the tech giants.
. . . .
But the mood in America is anti-big-tech. Everyone knows they’re too powerful, too arrogant, loom too large in public life.
And something else: This whole new world of new technology was born in the 1970s and ’80s. We still think it’s new and we’re figuring it out, but we’re almost half a century into it and we can see what works and what doesn’t, what’s had good effects and hasn’t. It is time to move.
. . . .
Here’s what [Washington politicians] should be thinking: Break them up. Break them in two, in three; regulate them. Declare them to be what they’ve so successfully become: once a pleasure, now a utility.
It all depends on Congress, which has been too stupid to move in the past and is too stupid to move competently now. That’s what’s slowed those of us who want reform, knowing how badly they’d do it.
Yet now I find myself thinking: I don’t care. Do it incompetently, but do something.
. . . .
The Times quoted Republican Sen. Josh Hawley as saying “the dominance of big tech” is a “big problem.” They “may be more socially powerful than the trusts of the Roosevelt era, and yet they still operate like a black box.”
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)
PG knows some indie authors have had good results from their social media book promotions and he applauds their skill, creativity and generosity for sharing their best online practices with other authors. In such cases, PG’s impression is that the authors are using the social media platforms rather than the other way around. Readers benefit by receiving information they would like to receive about books written by some of their favorite authors.
PG is probably some sort of social media snob, but he rarely uses social media to receive any information. (Because Crazy People) However, he’s a compulsive early adopter, so in days past, when he heard about a new social media platform, he signed up and checked it out. After 3-4 visits, he usually was bored by the content and quit checking in. (As a result, he has some four and five character social media user IDs that might be valuable if he could sell them.)
These days, PG uses social media strictly as an outbound communication device to provide information he thinks might be beneficial to people who like to receive information via this channel. To this end, he has a plug-in for TPV that automatically produces a row of colorful little icons below each post that should make it easy for any visitor to repost/forward any of the TPV posts to their own social media accounts and is happy to have anyone use them to do so. To avoid charges of false altruism, PG is also happy if some of these reposts result in more visitors to TPV.
Of all the major social media platforms, PG formerly signed on to Facebook the most frequently (1-2 times per month) to keep up with a handful of old friends/relatives who would occasionally post news and photos there. However, for the reasons Ms. Noonan describes – Facebook’s breaching of privacy and ethical boundaries – PG closed his account several months ago.