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Facebook’s Zuckerberg Donates $3 billion to Medical Science: Some Major Implications

Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced in September, 2016, that they would invest more than $3 billion during the next decade to build tools that can facilitate medical research on diseases. The first outlay of funds ($600 million) would create a research lab of engineers and scientists from the area’s major research universities.[1]“This focus on building on tools suggests a road map for how we might go about curing, preventing and managing all diseases this century,” Zuckerberg said at the announcement.[2]Moreover, the couple had previously announced a year before that they would give away 99% of their wealth over their lifetimes through the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative in the areas of education and healthcare. I would like to point out a few implications that may not be readily apparent.


The full essay is at “Zuckerberg Donates $3 Billion.”


1. Deepa Seetharaman, “Zuckerberg Fund to Invest #3 Billion,” The Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2016.

2. Ibid.

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Are Google and Facebook Shilling for Hillary, or are They Just Covering Up Arab Spring?

JUNE 16-17 UPDATE: The evidence is stacking up that Hillary Clinton’s fingerprints are as much on the epic fail that was Arab Spring as Barack Obama’s …

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Conservative Comedy 10/9/15

It’s Conservative Comedy time at the Strident Conservative where I bring you some of the best conservative political and religious comedy, jokes, and satire on the internet, sure to provide a good laugh to begin your weekend. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has somehow managed to find time and surplus budget to fight a new battle along with their old standbys of preventing criminal background checks, preventing verification of American citizenship, striking down job-related competency testing, or disciplining any employee who isn’t a straight white male. Specifically, the EEOC is launching an investigation to prove that the “War on Women” is actually being fought in Hollywood, where women aren’t being allowed to direct enough feature films. The EEOC has sent letters to 50 female directors asking them to share any stories they might have about workplace discrimination or unfair treatment. Although rather than making it a formal inquiry, Hope n’ Change thinks it would be easier to just gather the ladies in a wine bar and keep the Chardonnay flowing while they vent. Jodi Miller at Newsbusted takes us into the weekend with these headlines: a new poll shows that Americans think government corruption is increasing, Joe Biden’s […]

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Education, Students Loans, and John Adams

John Adams once wrote this to Abigail: “The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have […]

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Arrogance or Pride: The President of Pride, San Francisco

Beginning the evening of day the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states—which is equivalent to the European Court of Justice making gay marriage legal in all of the E.U. states—San Francisco’s 2015 gay-pride festival showcased a rally on Castro Street wherein local civic leaders touted the decision, followed by a Saturday “Pink Party” in the Castro area and the weekend festival in downtown San Francisco, which included a seven-hour parade on the Sunday. Along with the gay film festival and the ticket-only (up to $120) parties in clubs and warehouses, the festivities brought a lot of money into the city. As a bystander for all but the parties, and a marcher in a charitable organization at the parade, I could not help but conclude that even by non-business standards the organizers could have done much better. Meeting the president of Pride by accident a few days later, I was stunned by his assumption that feedback, and by implication, improvements, were not needed. It was a case of arrogance that can’t be wrong in a position of organizational authority. In this essay, I point to some rather obvious ways the organizers fell short or went too far, and I relate these to my brief exchange with the head of San Francisco Pride.


During the Pride festival in San Francisco, a pink triangle, used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals, is displayed overlooking the Castro district of the city. (Source: Gaelen G. at foursquare.com)

The full essay is at “San Francisco Pride.”

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Beyond Facebook’s Impact on Political Polarization in the U.S.

Any time “scientists” at a company purport to have done a study involving said company in any way, the public has good reason to be suspicious of the reported conclusions. Were the folks running the company really intent on providing credible information, they would use independent scholars (i.e., not being compensated by the company). Such a management would want to obviate even the appearance of a conflict of interest—their desire to provide the public with an answer being so strong. So the management at Facebook may not have been very invested in providing the public an answer to the question: how much influence do users actually have over the content in their feeds? In May 2015, three “Facebook data scientists” published a peer-reviewed study in Science Magazineon how often Facebook users had been “exposed to political views different from their own.”[1]The “scientists” concluded that if users “mostly see news and updates from friends who support their own political ideology, it’s primarily because of their own choices—not the company’s algorithm.”[2]Academic scholars criticized the study’s methodology and cautioned that the risk of polarized “echo chambers” on Facebook was nonetheless significant.[3]I was in academia long enough to know that methodological criticism by more than one scholar is enough to put an empirical study’s findings in doubt. Nowadays, I am more oriented to the broader implications of the “echo-chamber” criticism.


The entire essay is at “Beyond Facebook’s Impact.”



[i]Alexander B. Howard, “Facebook Study Says Users Control What They See, But Critics Disagree,” The Huffington Post, May 12, 2015.

[ii]Ibid. I put the quotes around “scientists” to make the point that the conflict of interest renders the label itself controversial in being applied to the study’s investigators.

[iii]See, for example, Christian Sandvig, “The Facebook ‘It’s Not Our Fault’ Study,” Multicast, Harvard Law School Blogs, May 7, 2015.

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The Ties That Bind, and Some We Should Refuse

EU spends millions to make next Facebook European http://t.co/Flzr9KntZh YOU CAN STICK IT WHERE THE SUN DON’T SHINE. WE ARE THE ANGLOSPHERE. — Sue (@English_Woman) April 3, 2015 She’s right, of course but, Why? Well to start with because there is government money involved the government(s) will become the gatekeeper, with still another layer of […]

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Its Time to Stop Controlling Kids

Leslie Loftus wrote an article over Father’s Day weekend that struck me strongly, and as right. The thing we’re not teaching our kids is judgement, I see it nearly everyday with young guys at work, they always have to have someone’s approval before doing the simplest thing, to the point that they are a supervisor’s […]

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Conservative Comedy 6/6/14

It’s time for some Conservative Comedy at the Strident Conservative. As I do every Friday, I bring you some of the best Conservative political satire on the internet, sure to provide a good laugh to begin your weekend. The Conservative Comic at Hope n’ Change wants to know why the White House had to act super-duper fast to secure the Bergdahl/Terrorists swap without meeting the legal 30-day requirement to inform Congress? Supposedly, it was because they compared two videos (allegedly Charlie the Unicorn, and This Too Shall Pass) and came to the stunning conclusion that Bergdahl’s health was in rapid decline and immediate action was called for. Oddly, they came to this conclusion in December, 2013 but didn’t do anything about it until, by wild coincidence, the VA scandal broke wide open and B. Hussein desperately needed to make a highly visible gesture of caring about members of the military. Based on these facts, it would appear that B. Hussein doesn’t really care all that much about Bergdahl, Bergdahl’s health, or the health of any member of our armed forces. He does care, as he has proven repeatedly, about his poll numbers and his popularity in the Muslim world. It’s […]

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Conservative Comedy 4/25/14

It’s time for some Conservative Comedy at the Strident Conservative. As I do every Friday, I bring you some of the best Conservative political satire on the internet, sure to provide a good laugh to begin your weekend. Due to a personal emergency, the Conservative Comic at Hope n’ Change is taking a few days off. Not to worry though, I found a recent cartoon in the archives containing a timely message. It seems that John Boehner is continuing to play the Mitch McConnell card by attacking fellow Republicans who refuse to march in lockstep with the G.O.P. insiders when it comes to immigration reform amnesty for illegal aliens. Speaking in his home district in Ohio, Boehner ridiculed those who don’t believe as he does on the issue: “The appetite amongst my colleagues for doing this is not real good…here’s the attitude: ‘Ohhhhh, don’t make me do this! Ohhhhhh, this is too hard!’ You should hear them. You know, we get elected to make choices.” Was that crying fake? He cries for real so often that it’s hard to tell. Besides the fact that he’s wrong about why members of Congress are elected—you get elected to represent the will of […]

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Whittle, Rowe, Common Sense, and Common Core

Mike Rowe had some advice on his Facebook for a guy, a while back. It applies to all of us, and here it is in its entirety. Saturday Mail Call Hey Mike! I’ve spent this last year trying to figure out the right career for myself and I still can’t figure out what to do. […]

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Mike Rowe with a warning to high school seniors and their worried parents, and an apology to my kids

Parents like my wife and I… My youngest is 18, just finishing high school, and ready to move on to…what? There was a time not too long ago, I felt that in being an American we had unlimited potential. You could be anything you wanted, providing you were willing to work for it. If you […]

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Connecting the Dots: Zuckerberg on Facebook

Why did Mark Zuckerberg unload $2.3 billion of his Facebook stock? The complete answer likely involves more than meets the eye, at least relative to what business reporters and editors had to say publically. What is not said is itself a story worth publishing. Beyond Zuckerberg’s stratagem, what the media doesn’t say might be more significant that what has made it through the filters.

Part of the answer concerning Zuckerberg’s sell-off involves his need for cash to pay taxes that would be due from his exercising an option to purchase 60 million Class B shares. This move likely implies a belief that Facebook stock would not go much higher.  Had Zuckerberg strongly believed at the time that Facebook was yet to cash in on advertising revenue beyond that which the market had already factored into the company’s stock price, the CEO would not have exercised the options in expectation of a wider spread. Even with the taxes coming due, the billionaire could probably have found an alternative way to come up with the cash. 

Like a deer frozen in an oncoming car’s headlights, the media did not analyze Zuckerberg’s motives beyond his public statements. Instead, the herd animals let themselves be led along, prancing in tracks of positive correlation. This concept essentially means that two things tend to occur together. For instance, we see umbrellas on rainy days. This does not mean that umbrellas cause rain, or that rain rather than manufacturing causes umbrellas. To assume causation from two things tending to occur at the same time is to commit what David Hume calls the naturalistic fallacy. Just because two things happen at the same time does not mean that one caused the other.

So the media’s report that Zuckerberg’s stock sale and exercise came as the CEO was donating $1 billion worth of shares to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to “boost his philanthropic efforts in education,” and Facebook was selling 27 million shares to raise an expected $1.46 billion for general purposes is simply positive correlation; causation cannot be assumed.[1]In other words, we cannot conclude that Zuckerberg decided to sell off a chunk of his stock and exercise an option because he had decided to donate some stock and Facebook was raising more capital. In other words, the additional information conveniently provided does not get us any closer to a full answer. Worse yet, Zuckerberg and his PR staff might have been throwing the media a tantalizing, and thus distractive, bone. One reporter took the bait, writing that with cash and marketable securities of $9.3 billion as of September 30, 2013, Facebook may not have needed another $1.46 billion.[2]Off reporter’s radar screen was the possibility that Zuckerberg had designed his philanthropy and the company’s additional stock offering as luring camouflage that would use even criticism of his company to keep the eye off his own trades and especially what they imply about his view of the company’s future. That shares of Facebook dropped only 1% to $55.05 in trading on the news suggests that investors were swallowing what Zuckerberg and the media were serving as dessert.

What of the market insiders? Were they also biting? As John Shinal puts it, “More important, insiders have detailed knowledge of a public company’s near-term prospects and thus are in a better position to know when to sell.”[3]I suspect that “people in the know” may have connected the dots. Two months earlier, a poll revealed that as the most important social media site for teenagers, Facebook fell from 42% in the autumn of 2012 to 23% a year later.[4]Can we suppose this poll somehow missed Zuckerberg’s attention? The media certainly did not connect the dots.

The theory behind my analysis is not financial; rather, I consider Mintzberg’s theory of the organizational lifecycle to be more revealing in this particular case. The theory suggests that just as empires rise and fall, so too do companies. Once past their peak, a “hardening of the arteries” sets in.
The organizational lifecycle. When Zuckerberg decided to sell a block of shares and exercise options, he already had a picture of Facebook already on the downward slope without much chance of revitalization. Image Source: www.sourcingideas.blogspot.com
 
The aging (i.e., a decreasing willingness or ability to adapt to a changing environment, and increasing dead weight internally) can be delayed as the downward slope bides its time; but like entropy as a final destination, the end is inevitable for humans and our organizational artifices. I suspect that Zuckerberg had come to view his company as past its prime, given the leading indicator shown in the poll. If I am right, the game has already changed to keeping the illusion alive long enough for the Facebook insiders to get out under the black shimmering cover of the Styx.

 


[i]Scott Martin, “Zuckerberg’s in Mood to Sell,” USA Today, December 20, 2013; John Shinal, “Facebook Shares May Underperform,” USA Today, December 20, 2013.

[ii] John Shinal, “Facebook Shares May Underperform,” USA Today, December 20, 2013.

[iii]Ibid.

[iv]Bianca Bosker, “Facebook’s Rapidly Declining Popularity with Teens in 1 Chart,” The Huffington Post, October 23, 2013.

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Conservative Comedy 11/22/13

  It’s time for some Conservative Comedy at the Strident Conservative. As I do every Friday, I bring you some of the best Conservative political satire on the internet, sure to provide a good laugh to begin your weekend. There’s been a lot of coverage in the news lately about the brutal “knockout game,” in which young black punks attack innocent people for no reason. However, did you know that Obama has many things in common with these criminals? The Conservative Comic at Hope n’ Change makes the connection for us in this week’s edition. Jodi Miller at Newsbusted has found a bright spot in the Obamacare fiasco, and it just may surprise you. She also covers how Democrats plan to handle the recent news regarding the American poverty rates and a tunnel between Mexico and the United States, what to do when Facebook goes down, and Bill Maher’s recent criticism of Christians. Get Jodi’s unique take on these and other stories. In Colorado, a new ad campaign directed at kids barely out of high school has been launched to get them to enroll in Obamacare. While you would think that the merits of this government takeover of one-sixth of the nation’s economy would be enough incentive […] . . . → Read More: Conservative Comedy 11/22/13 . . . → Read More: Conservative Comedy 11/22/13

Taking the Face off Facebook

A general or basic distrust of business can show through in charges that a particular company has just gone down an unethical path on the road to perdition. In such cases, the societal concern is not only applied to what a company is doing publically; the fear is also that a subterranean activity is also going on, which is unethical. The generalized distrust finds fertile ground in the dark recesses that are possible in private enterprise.
Government regulators in the U.S. and E.U., as well as some ethicists, have raised concerns about Facebook’s face-recognition feature—essentially wanting to take the face off Facebook. As I understand it, the disputed feature recognizes faces in new pictures that a given user posts, and searches for a match among that user’s friends. According to The Wall Street Journal, “[the] technology was designed to help Facebook users mark friends in photos as they upload them to the social-networking site.” Recognized matches can presumably be connected to the posting, as if to say, “Hey, you’re in this picture, friend!.” Who doesn’t want to see oneself in a picture? As the recognition is limited to other users who are already the given user’s friends on Facebook, the driving concern might actually regard any other uses of the technology by Facebook that the company was not divulging.
In the words of The Wall Street Journal,The technology also raises concerns that Facebook has built a potentially sensitive database of its more than 600 million users based on their facial characteristics.” The nefarious tinge in “sensitive database” of “facial characteristics” could apply to furtive uses by Facebook as well as governments. For example, Facebook employees could secretly apply the recognition technology to make sure that users are who they say they are, or to reply to third party requests to locate a given user. Furthermore, Facebook could secretly give a government access to the feature in exchange for the company being able to continue operations in that government’s country, for instance. In countries where human rights dissidents are persecuted, governments could have a vested interest in availing themselves of Facebook’s feature. Suddenly showing up for a protest could mean an automatic death sentence.
Even if a certain use of facial-recognition technology is harmless and thus passes ethical muster, the loss of control by users over their own privacy can itself be worrisome; this anxiety in turn can trigger claims of unethical conduct. For example, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, claims that even before the recognition-feature cam on-line, “Facebook users thought they were simply tagging their friends. Turns out Facebook was building an image profile database to automate online identification.” Such back-stage goings-on does not bode well in terms of trusting how Facebook employees (and others) will use the technology when it is in operation.
Relatedly, that the feature’s default on Facebook presumes that a given user has approved of the change in privacy-settings has stirred ethical concerns both because the approval is illusionary and because the choice dovetails with the pattern of secrecy, wherein unaccountable unethical conduct can take root and flourish like vines deep in a thick jungle. Suggesting such a pattern exists at Facebook, Chris Conley of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said “Our concern, as usual, is that Facebook is making changes to its privacy and creating new features without giving people sufficient notice and giving them a choice as to whether they want to participate.” Accordingly, Massachusetts Rep. Edward J. Markey (D) said Facebook ought to have made the technology “opt-in” for users. “If this new feature is as useful as Facebook claims, it should be able to stand on its own, without an automatic sign-up that changes users’ privacy settings without their permission.” The loss of user control over something that is intrinsically their own (i.e., one’s privacy) was clearly on the mind of the Congressman here.
For Facebook, the brouhaha resulting from the launch of the feature suggests that the company could have done a better job at stakeholder management. Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said the company has received “almost no user complaints,” suggesting “people are enjoying the feature and are finding it useful.” However, it could be that most of them do not know of it, as they have already “approved” it without having to know that it exists! Furthermore, the management’s focus exclusively on users here evinces a dearth of attention to stakeholder management, which in a matter involving societal norms and business ethics can be fatal for a company.
In fact, according to The Wall Street Journal, “Google has said it built facial recognition technology for smartphones into a product known as Google Goggles, but withheld it. ‘As far as I know, it’s the only technology that Google built and after looking at it, we decided to stop,’ said Google Chairman Eric Schmidt last week at a Wall Street Journal conference. ‘People could use this stuff in a very, very bad way as well as in a good way.’” The extent of variance alone (not to mention Google’s decision) suggests that much more set-up, including fortifying safeguards against possible “bad ways,” stressing user control, and prepping key stakeholders on the protections as well as how the feature itself would work, would have been in the company’s interest.
Facebook’s management seems to be aware of its less than stellar job managing the company’s stakeholders. In a statement, the company’s management indicated that they “should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them.” That the company had been contacted by regulators and was responding to their inquiries to “satisfy any concerns they will have” evinces a reactive rather than proactive approach to stakeholders.
This is not to say that the interests of stakeholders ought to trump the company’s own interests, which legally and ethically should be in line with stockholder interests, as managers formulate policies, or that the stakeholders have a right to participate in the policy decisions simply out of being affected. At the same time, a policy that deeply displeases stakeholders is not apt to be profitable in the long term, as companies that operate at variance with societal norms and expectations are not likely to be viable going concerns. Facebook would not have lost so much reputational capital (i.e., ethical credibility) had managers made contact with key stakeholders before the feature went into operation. Such an approach would have been in the interest of the company and its owners, rather than a coup by the stakeholders in violation of property rights.
Generally speaking, the societal reaction to Facebook can tell us something about the degree of societal mistrust of business. Facebook’s management of its facial-recognition feature only stoked that mistrust. At a micro level, the problem from a managerial standpoint may be an excessive concern for the short-term at the expense of the business’ own long-term viability. Facebook’s management did not handle the launch well even from Facebook’s own interest. This alone gives the general public the impression that the company’s managers are not in sufficient control of themselves even to steer in their company’s own best interest. It is thus no wonder that fears exist in society that Facebook’s facial-recognition capability could be used in “bad ways.” In other words, Facebook’s managers may have taken the operative control from the users, whose self-control can be relied on in terms of their own interests, and given it to themselves, who in turn cannot be trusted even to operate in Facebook’s own interest.
 
Aside from taking all the above as a baleful portent (i.e., leading indicator) of Facebook’s demise coming sooner than typically supposed, we can include the tacit, passive-aggressive disrespect for the users as evinced in making it seem that an ad posted by Facebook on someone’s wall has been done by the user rather than the company. Facebook’s management appears duplicitous in depriving the users of privacy. It should come as no surprise that by the fourth quarter of 2013, Facebook was hemorrhaging teenager users in part because of their concerns over privacy. I suspect the desperate push of “wall advertising” only reaffirm the users’ sense that the management does not respect them or respects other stakeholders (e.g., Wall Street) more.
 
 
As if social-media marketplace were not fluid enough, being so vulnerable to “teen fads” or the whims of young opinion-leaders means a company like Facebook could see the flock suddenly take off. Once that starts, Facebook would need to be sufficiently diversified in areas that are immune to the quick energy of teenagers in order to avoid collapse. Already during the year between fall 2012 and fall 2013, Facebook lost a significant number of teenagers who had had Facebook as their primary social media. Learning of this, I was surprised that the leaks had not turned into a torrent in the year’s time. The growth of the “other” category suggests that the teenagers are not flocking to one major alternative. Spreading out is not likely to engage the herd or flock effect. Even so, I could already conclude that the sordid mentality running Facebook and the related culture and reputation of the company had already begun to take its toll. Even if its arrival is slower than were it triggered by a new fad, Facebook’s collapse might make the company’s IPO fiasco look trivial.
 
 
Sources:
Geoffrey A. Fowler and Christopher Lawton, “Facebook Again in Spotlight on Privacy,” The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2011.

Bianca Bosker, “Facebook’s Rapidly Declining Popularity With Teens in 1 Chart,” The Huffington Post, October 23, 2013.

 

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The (Not so) Thin Blue Line

So, have seen the video from DC yesterday? Reports say the driver crashed the barricade at the beginning and then led police on a pursuit toward the capitol. Well, OK. But it looks to me as if she didn’t crash that barricade very hard, given that I see little damage to the car. Not as […] . . . → Read More: The (Not so) Thin Blue Line . . . → Read More: The (Not so) Thin Blue Line

Boobs and Boobies! (Video)

AKA Obama’s Fed and women’s issues surrounding their breasts! The physical reality of women’s breasts is most certainly self-explanatory while the broader term boobs has significant relevance for Ben Bernanke and the rest of the members of the non-t… . . . → Read More: Boobs and Boobies! (Video) . . . → Read More: Boobs and Boobies! (Video)

The Volokh Conspiracy » The most awesomest judge…

I’ve nothing to add to this. …must have been the English judge Mr Justice Maule, who used a bigamy case to comment on the embarrassing state of marriage and divorce law in 1845: Prisoner at the bar, you have been convicted before me of what the law regards as a very grave and serious offence: […] . . . → Read More: The Volokh Conspiracy » The most awesomest judge… . . . → Read More: The Volokh Conspiracy » The most awesomest judge…

UMMM Kill George Zimmerman

UMM Reported this page and this is what Facebook said:   You reported Kill George zimmerman for containing credible threat of violence. Close Status This page […] . . . → Read More: UMMM Kill George Zimmerman . . . → Read More: UMMM Kill George Zimmerman

No clue Americans! (Video)

Meet some of New York’s ‘low information’ voters! They likely will have a better idea about who won ‘American Idol’ or ‘Dancing with the Stars’ than they will about two of the biggest scandals rocking the highest corridors of U.S. government, the … . . . → Read More: No clue Americans! (Video) . . . → Read More: No clue Americans! (Video)