Algorithmic Optimization pt 2

 

There is nothing exceptional about the slowed-down Nancy Pelosi video, and nothing terribly exceptional in reporters saying uninformed things about subjects they aren’t well versed in.

The significance lies far more behind the scenes. From Marketwatch: Facebook Decided to Rethink Policies on Doctored Media two days Before Pelosi Video.

Wow, that is awfully coincidental that Facebook just happened to be thinking about changing these policies anyway right before a doctored video just happened to make it onto the news, prompting millions of people to pressure Facebook into doing exactly what Facebook already wanted to do.

Don’t be fooled: this isn’t spontaneous. Oh, sure, many of the people at the low end, like reporters, are just doing their job of reading the news they have been given into the camera, but there is plenty of active coordination going on behind the scenes by organizations like Facebook and the Democratic Party.

The Democrats realized sometime around 2016 that they have a meme problem. People on the internet thought Trump was funny and Democrats were boring sticks in the mud. People on the internet made videos about Hillary Clinton’s health, the European migration crisis, and other subjects the Dems didn’t approve of.

They don’t want this happening again.

So they are laying the groundwork now to re-write the policies and algorithms to strategically remove problematic conservative voices from the fray. Alex Jones has already been kicked off Youtube, Facebook, PayPal, etc. FB has taken a particularly hard line, threatening not just to delete Jones’s videos, but any account that posts them (excepting those that post them in order to criticize them).

Even Visa and Mastercard are getting in on the act, cutting off banking services to organizations whose political views they don’t like.

The ostensible reason for Alex Jones’s deplatforming is his supposed spread of conspiracy theories post-Sandy Hook (I say “supposedly” because I have not seen the clips in question,) but it is obvious that 1. these concerns surfaced years after Sandy Hook and 2. no one has deplatformed media outlets that pushed the “Iraq has WMDs” conspiracy theory that cost the US trillions of dollars and lead to the deaths of thousands (millions?) of people.

This has all been accompanied by a basic shift in how media platforms and infrastructure are viewed.

The traditional conception is that these are platforms, not publishers, and thus they merely provide something akin to infrastructure without much say over how you, the user, put it to use. For example, the electric company provides electricity to anyone who pays for it, and even if you use your electricity to warm the cages of your illegally gotten, exotic, endangered reptile collection, the electric company will generally keep providing you with electricity. The electric company does not have to approve of what you do with the electricity you buy, and if you break the law with their electricity, they see it as the state’s job to stop you.

A publisher and a platform, like Facebook, traditionally enjoyed different legal rights and safeguards. A publisher checks and decides to publish every single item they put out, and so is held to be responsible for anything they print. A platform merely provides a space where other people can publish their own works, without supervision. Platforms do not check posts before they go up, (as a practical matter, they can’t,) and thus are generally only held legally responsible for taking down material on their site if someone has notified them that it is in violation of some law.

EG, suppose someone posts something really illegal, child porn, on Facebook. If Facebook is a “publisher,” it is now publishing child porn and is in big legal trouble. But since Facebook is just a platform, it deletes the videos and is legally in the clear. (The poster may still go to prison, of course.)

The conceptual shift in recent years has been to portray platforms as “allowing” people to come in and use their platforms, and then ask why they are allowing such shitty people to use their platform. No one asks why the electric company allows you to use their electricity to raise your army of bio mutant squids, but they do ask why Facebook allows right-wingers to be on the platform at all.

This is treating platforms like publishers, and they are absolutely jumping into it with both feet.

Let’s skip forward a bit in the video to the lady in white to see this in action:

It’s been viewed millions of times on the internet, but it’s not real… This is really scary, and not going away, and I’m fearful this is going to be all over the 2020 election.

You know, that’s how I felt when libs kept bringing up Harry Potter in the context of the last election, but for some reason taking a children’s fantasy story about wizards is acceptable in political discourse but slowed-down videos aren’t.

And who is responsible for monitoring this stuff, taking it down? Facebook, Youtube took it down, but after how long?

Other commentator… At Facebook it’s still up because Facebook allows you to do a mock video…

The correct answer is that no one is responsible for monitoring all of Facebook and Youtube’s content, because that’s impossible to do and because Facebook isn’t your mommy. If you want Facebook to be your mom and monitor everything you consume, just stop talking and leave the adults alone.

CNN asks:

So Monika, in the wake of the 2016 election obviously Facebook has repeatedly told Congress and the American people that yo’re serious about fighting disinformation, fake news, and yet this doctored video which I think even your own fact checkers acknowledge is doctored of speaker Pelosi remains on your platform. Why?

Like the previous guy already said, because it’s not against Facebook’s TOS. Of course Anderson Cooper already knows this. He doesn’t need to get an actual Facebook representative on his show to find out that “funny reaction videos are allowed on Facebook.” And if Facebook were serious about maintaining its neutrality as a platform, not a publisher, it would not have bothered to send anyone to CNN–it would have just left matters at a blanket statement that the video does not violate the TOS.

The Facebook Lady (Monika,) then explains how Facebook uses its algorithms to demote and demonitize content the “experts” claim is false. They’re proud of this and want you to know about it.

So misinformation that doesn’t promote violence, but misinformation that portrays the third most powerful politician in the country as a drunk or as somehow impaired, that’s fine? 

Oh no, quick, someone save the third most powerful person in the country from people saying mean things about her on the internet! We can’t have those disgusting peasants being rude to their betters!

Anderson Cooper is infuriatingly moronic; does not “logically understand” why Facebook leaves up videos that don’t violate the TOS but suggests that Facebook should “get out of the news business” if it can’t do it well.

Facebook isn’t in the “news business” you moron, because Facebook is a platform, not a publisher. You’re in the news business, so you really ought to know the difference.

If you don’ know the difference between Facebook and a news organization, maybe you shouldn’t be in the news business.

That said, of course Anderson Cooper actually understands how Facebook works. This whole thing is a charade to give Facebook cover for changing its policies under the excuse of “there was public outrage, so we had to.” It’s an old scam.

So to summarize:

  1. The Dems want to change the algorithms to favor themselves, eg, Facebook decided to rethink policies on doctored media two days before Pelosi video, but don’t want to be so obvious about it the Republicans fight back
  2. Wait for a convenient excuse, like a slowed-down video, then go into overdrive to convince you that Democracy is Seriously Threatened by Slow Videos, eg, Doctored Videos show Facebook willing enables of the Russians; Doctored Pelosi video is leading tip in coming disinformation battle
  3. Convince Republican leadership to go along with it because, honestly, they’re morons: Congress investigating deepfakes after doctored Pelosi video, report says
  4. Deplatform their enemies
  5. Rinse and repeat: Vox Adpocalypse

 

One final note: even though I think there is coordinated activity at the top/behind the scenes at tech companies and the like, I don’t think the average talking head you see on TV is in on it. Conspiracies like that are too hard to pull off; rather, humans naturally cooperate and coordinate their behavior because they want to work together, signal high social status, keep their jobs, etc.

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Logan Paul and the Algorithms of Outrage

Leaving aside the issues of “Did Logan Paul actually do anything wrong?” and “Is changing YouTube’s policies actually in Game Theorist’s interests?” Game Theorist makes a good point: while YouTube might want to say, for PR reasons, that it is doing something about big, bad, controversial videos like Logan Paul’s, it also makes money off those same videos. YouTube–like many other parts of the internet–is primarily click driven. (Few of us are paying money for programs on YouTube Red.) YouTube wants views, and controversy drives views.

That doesn’t mean YouTube wants just any content–a reputation for having a bunch of pornography would probably have a damaging effect on channels aimed at small children, as their parents would click elsewhere. But aside from the actual corpse, Logan’s video wasn’t the sort of thing that would drive away small viewers–they’d get bored of the boring non-cartoons talking to the camera long before the suicide even came up.

Logan Paul actually managed to hit a very sweet spot: controversial enough to draw in visitors (tons of them) but not so controversial that he’d drive away other visitors.

In case you’ve forgotten the controversy in a fog of other controversies, LP’s video about accidentally finding a suicide in the Suicide Forest was initially well-received, racking up thousands of likes and views before someone got offended and started up the outrage machine. Once the outrage machine got going, public sentiment turned on a dime and LP was suddenly the subject of a full two or three days of Twitter hate. The hate, of course, got YouTube more views. LP took down the video and posted an apology–which generated more attention. Major media outlets were now covering the story. Even Tablet managed to quickly come up with an article: Want a New Years Resolution? Don’t be Like Logan Paul.

And it worked. I passed up Tablet’s regular article on Trump and Bagels and Culture, but I clicked on that article about Logan Paul because I wanted to know what on earth Tablet had to say about LP, a YouTuber whom, 24 hours prior, I had never heard of.

And the more respectable (or at least highly-trafficked) news outlets picked up the story, the higher Logan’s videos rose on the YouTube charts. And as more people watched more of LP’s other videos, they found more things to be offended at. For example, once he ran through the streets of Japan holding a fish. A FISH, I tell you. He waved this fish at people and was generally very annoying.

I don’t like LP’s style of humor, but I’m not getting worked up over a guy waving a fish around.

So understand this: you are in an outrage machine. The purpose of the outrage machine is to drive traffic, which makes clicks, which result in ad revenue. There are probably whole websites (Huffpo, CNN) that derive a significant percent of their profits from hate-clicks–that is, intentionally posting incendiary garbage not because they believe it or think it is just or true or appeals to their base, but because they can get people to click on it in sheer shock or outrage.

Your emotions–your “emotional labor” as the SJWs call it–is being turned into someone else’s dollars.

And the result is a country that is increasingly polarized. Increasingly outraged. Increasingly exhausted.

Step back for a moment. Take a deep breath. Get some fresh air. Ask yourself, “Does this really matter? Am I actually helping anyone? Will I remember this in a week?”

I’d blame the SJWs for the outrage machine–and really, they are good running it–but I think it started with CNN and “24 hour news.” You have to do something to fill that time. Then came Fox News, which was like CNN, but more controversial in order to lure viewers away from the more established channel. Now we have the interplay of Facebook, Twitter, HuffPo, online newspapers, YouTube, etc–driven largely by automated algorithms designed to maximized clicks–even hate clicks.

The Logan Paul controversy is just one example out of thousands, but let’s take a moment and think about whether it really mattered. Some guy whose job description is “makes videos of his life and posts them on YouTube” was already shooting a video about his camping trip when he happened upon a dead body. He filmed the body, called the police, canceled his camping trip, downed a few cups of sake while talking about how shaken he was, and ended the video with a plea that people seek help and not commit suicide.

In between these events was laughter–I interpret it as nervous laughter in an obviously distressed person. Other people interpret this as mocking. Even if you think LP was mocking the deceased, I think you should be more concerned that Japan has a “Suicide Forest” in the first place.

Let’s look at a similar case: When three year old Alan Kurdi drowned, the photograph of his dead body appeared on websites and newspapers around the world–earning thousands of dollars for the photographers and news agencies. Politicans then used little Alan’s death to push particular political agendas–Hillary Clinton even talked about Alan Kurdi’s death in one of the 2016 election debates. Alan Kurdi’s death was extremely profitable for everyone making money off the photograph, but no one got offended over this.

Why is it acceptable for photographers and media agencies to make money off a three year old boy who drowned because his father was a negligent fuck who didn’t put a life vest on him*, but not acceptable for Logan Paul to make money off a guy who chose to kill himself and then leave his body hanging in public where any random person could find it?

Elian Gonzalez, sobbing, torn at gunpoint from his relatives. BTW, This photo won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News.

Let’s take a more explicitly political case. Remember when Bill Clinton and Janet Reno sent 130 heavily armed INS agents to the home of child refugee Elian Gonzalez’s relatives** so they could kick him out of the US and send him back to Cuba?

Now Imagine Donald Trump sending SWAT teams after sobbing children. How would people react?

The outrage machine functions because people think it is good. It convinces people that it is casting light on terrible problems that need correcting. People are getting offended at things that they wouldn’t have if the outrage machine hadn’t told them to. You think you are serving justice. In reality, you are mad at a man for filming a dead guy and running around Japan with a fish. Jackass did worse, and it was on MTV for two years. Game Theorist wants more consequences for people like Logan Paul, but he doesn’t realize that anyone can get offended at just about anything. His videos have graphic descriptions of small children being murdered (in videogame contexts, like Five Nights at Freddy’s or “What would happen if the babies in Mario Cart were involved in real car crashes at racing speeds?”) I don’t find this “family friendly.” Sometimes I (*gasp*) turn off his videos as a result. Does that mean I want a Twitter mob to come destroy his livelihood? No. It means a Twitter mob could destroy his livelihood.

For that matter, as Game Theorist himself notes, the algorithm itself rewards and amplifies outrage–meaning that people are incentivised to create completely false outrage against innocent people. Punishing one group of people more because the algorithm encourages bad behavior in other people is cruel and does not solve the problem. Changing the algorithm would solve the problem, but the algorithm is what makes YouTube money.

In reality, the outrage machine is pulling the country apart–and I don’t know about you, but I live here. My stuff is here; my loved ones are here.

The outrage machine must stop.

*I remember once riding in an airplane with my father. As the flight crew explained that in the case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, you should secure your own mask before assisting your neighbors, his response was a very vocal “Hell no, I’m saving my kid first.” Maybe not the best idea, but the sentiment is sound.

**When the boat Elian Gonzalez and his family were riding in capsized, his mother and her boyfriend put him in an inner tube, saving his life even though they drowned.

Homeschooling Corner: Flying Kites

We had a lovely, windy day, so we grabbed the kites, invited the neighbors, and headed out to the park.

Homeschooling does put additional responsibility on the parents to help their kids socialize. That doesn’t mean homeschooled kids are necessarily at a disadvantage viz their typically-schooled peers when it comes to comes to socializing (I went to regular school and still managed to be terribly socialized;) it’s just one more thing homeschooling parents have to keep in mind. So I am glad that we’ve had the good luck recently to make several friends in the neighborhood.

I’ve been looking for good, educational YouTube channels. Now I haven’t watched every video on these channels and I make no guarantees, but they seem good so far:

Welch Labs:

Welch Labs also has a website with a free downloadable workbook that accompanies their videos about imaginary numbers. It’s a good workbook and I’m working through it now.

TedEd, eg:

VSauce, eg:

Numberphile, eg:

The King of Random, eg:

We finished DK’s Coding in Scratch Projects Workbook and started Coding in Scratch: Games Workbook, which is slightly more advanced (longer projects.)

The Usborne Times Tables Activity Book is a rare find: a book that actually makes multiplication vaguely fun. Luckily there’s no one, set age when kids need to learn their multiplication tables–so multiple kids can practice their tables together.

In math we’ve also been working with number lines, concept like infinity (countable and uncountable,) infinitesimals, division, square roots, imaginary numbers, multi-digit addition and subtraction, graphing points and lines on the coordinate plane, and simple functions like Y=X^2. (Any kid who has learned addition, subtraction, multiplication and division can plot simple functions.)

We started work with the cuisenaire rods, which I hope to continue–I can’t find our set on Amazon, but these are similar. We’re also using Alexander Warren’s book You can Count on it: A Mentor’s Arithmetic Patterns for Elementary Students for cusienaire activites.

If you’re looking for board game to play with elementary-aged kids, Bejeweled Blitz is actually pretty good. Two players compete to place tiles on the board to match 3 (or more) gems, in a row or up and down. (A clever play can thus complete two rows at once.) We play with slightly modified rules. (Note: this game is actually pretty hard for people who struggle with rotating objects in their heads.)

Picture Sudoku is fun for little kids (and probably comes in whatever cartoon characters you like,) while KenKen and magic squares and the like are good for older kids (I always loved logic puzzles when I was a kid, so I’d like to get a book of those.)

I’ve found a website called Memrise which seems good for learning foreign languages if you don’t have access to a tutor or know somene who speaks the language you want to learn. They probably have an app for phones or tablets, so kids could practice their foreign langauge on-the-go. (Likewise, I should stow our spelling book in the car and use car rides as a chance to quiz them.)

And of course we’re still reading Professor Astro Cat/working in the workbook, which involves plenty of writing.

For Social Studies we’ve been reading about fall holidays.

Hope you all have a lovely October! What are some of your favorite educational videos?