Please Don’t Reply To Stupid Facebook Memes

Let’s try this again.

Everything I asked people not to do in the initial post, they did when the post was shared on social media, which is just so much fail I don’t know where to start.

What is WRONG with you people?! Do you even know how to Facebook!?

What is WRONG with you people?! Do you even know how to Facebook!?

So, I’ve deleted the text of the original post and the picture, and now I’m just telling you:

There are Facebook memes that ask you to combine two things like “What was the name of your childhood pet?” and  “What is your favorite food?” to get your hooker name or porn star name or superhero name or whatever. Then they encourage you to publish it to social media.



Those answers are commonly used for password security questions. The memes are potentially password fishing.

They’re also dumb and offensive.

And here’s something else not to do on Facebook.

Really, you should probably just get off Facebook and read a book-book.

Seriously, don’t make me come over there.

Facebook Offers Something Useful

I didn’t put “for a change” in the headline, but it’s implied.

After a disaster, phone lines can be stressed to breaking by people checking on loved ones.

Now, Facebook offers Safety Check, so people can alert loved ones to how they’re doing following a disaster, and others can check on the status of friends in afflicted areas:

When the tool is activated after a natural disaster and if you’re in the affected area, you’ll receive a Facebook notification asking if you’re safe.hero_phone_1x-screen1-eng

We’ll determine your location by looking at the city you have listed in your profile, your last location if you’ve opted in to the Nearby Friends product, and the city where you are using the internet.

If we get your location wrong, you can mark that you’re outside the affected area.

If you’re safe, you can select “I’m Safe” and a notification and News Feed story will be generated with your update. Your friends can also mark you as safe.

If you have friends in the area of a natural disaster and the tool has been activated, you will receive a notification about those friends that have marked themselves as safe. Clicking on this notification will take you to the Safety Check bookmark that will show you a list of their updates.

If you’re ever in a situation that would require you to use Safety Check, we hope it’s a tool that helps you stay connected to those you care about, and gives you the comfort of knowing your loved ones are safe.

How Social Media Is Messing With Your Brain

The hard thing about social media is to use it without being used by it. I like it just fine to keep in touch with friends, family, and a network on fellow travelers in a variety of interests. It gives me a place to post pictures of my dog, like this:


I apologize to no one for posting pictures of cute animals. It is what teh internets is all about.

Oh stop, you know you love it.

But it’s insidious, as I’ve pointed out before. It can draw us back again and again like the light that lure a moth until it beats itself to death.

We just have to find a way to balance it. I’ve removed all social media apps from my mobile devices and I suggest others do the same. This helps minimize the constant checking when you’re away from the desk and turns your gaze outward, to the world around you.

Look, social media has helped me in my spiritual development. I’m part of a community that shares faith, prays for each other, and looks to deepen our experience of Christ. It’s a good thing, like dessert, alcohol, and sex. But, like all those things, moderation is the key, and understanding how social media works on your brain is a good first step towards making sure you use rather than being used by it.


Tech Addiction:Technology & The Synod on the Family

Alienation: Technology & The Synod on the Family

Facebook Users: Please! Stop! Doing! This!

This is a kind of thought virus used to promote a business or product:

Companies that want you to pay attention to them come up with some dumb meme and then challenge you to disprove it. It is always something insanely easy to disprove, such as “Name a day of the week that ends in ‘Y’. I bet you can’t! ;)”

And everyone dutifully replies “Monday!” “Friday!” “Wednesday!” “That’s easy!”

When you share or even respond in the combox, the post appears on your friends’ stream. Thus, the business that started the thread winds up plastered all over place, providing them with tons of free and annoying advertising. It’s a kind of promotional thought virus spread by people who don’t realize they’re being used.

So, please, just stop it already.

Facebook Acquires Oculus Rift: What Does It Mean?

Among gamers, the surprise acquisition of VR headset maker Oculus Rift by Facebook is being treated as a harbinger of the end times. Many are investing a great deal of hope in the next-gen virtual-reality tech being developed by Oculus Rift, believing it may kick gaming to the next level. To have that very tech scooped up the company at the nexus of everything awful in game design seems like a bad thing.

I’ve been down the VR-headset road before, visiting developers and manufacturers for various eyewear and head-mounted displays in the late 90s, when I was still with PC Gamer magazine. I still have a Forte VFX-1 sitting in my office (and it can be yours for the right price!). I never did like any of the tech. The visual quality was pretty low, the tracking was iffy, and the motion sickness was real. Most could only be worn for a short time before inducing headaches. If I recall correctly, I gave each a number rating in aspirin for time to, and severity of, the onset of pain.

We’re about 17 years down the road from Forte, and Oculus Rift has some incredible talent developing some remarkable tech. They may well bring to market a good product that can be used for longer periods of time with high visual and tracking quality at a low price.

But they haven’t done that yet. All we’ve seen are demos, and although the tech is impressive, the price and the long term usability and consumer appeal of the headset remains to be seen.

There is a lot more to Oculus Rift than just gaming, and the potential it offers for communication, medical, research, and other applications has yet to be fully explored. It may well be the first real step towards successful consumer-level virtual reality. Or it may be a novelty item. Clearly Facebook thinks it’s the former, since they paid $2 billion for the company.

The question is: why? What does VR have to do with social media?

Obviously, the first answer will be “games,” which are a large part of Facebook’s limited profitability. However, none of the games on Facebook would benefit at all from a VR headset. If we have to assume that the time spent using the headset should be limited (and I’m assuming that for reasons of comfort and eyesight, this will be the case), people aren’t going to don one to play Candy Crush Saga.

Does this mean Facebook intends to plunge more deeply into MMO-style gaming with social components? Perhaps, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them attempt to merge FB with some more VR-friendly World of Warcraft-clone on the decline. There are plenty to choose from, and it would give FB a bigger presence in a market with a built-in social component.

Gaming isn’t the only thing in the Oculus Rift orbit. Facebook is about human connectivity, and there may be some potential for the headset to be used for real-time 3D communication.

The bigger question is: how does Facebook see themselves? They’re basically a late evolution of the BBS concept, providing connections among friends and even strangers to … I dunno, share cat pictures? I use Facebook and enjoy sharing items of interest with a limited circle of people, and I like reading what others have to say. It’s an interesting forum. The signal-to-noise ratio is still on the acceptable side, although every new change brings it close to a tipping point where the noise will finally drown out any useful application.

Facebook, however, sees itself as more than just some kind of jumped-up BBS. They’re desperate to be the next Microsoft, Apple, Google. They want to own an ecosystem that gives them a piece everything that flows through the pipeline. Thus far, they have failed to do that, and I believe they will continue to fail at expanding beyond their limited mandate of sharing family photos and memes. I’ll freely admit I could be wrong about that. They have money and they have people’s attention. That could carry them far. It just hasn’t, yet.

They’re already losing ground with younger users, and as their user-base ages, the chance of them building an audience around a new toy like Oculus Rift declines. Their reputation in the gamer community is lower than that of Electronic Arts, The Worstest, Most Hatery Company in the World (at least according to gamers who really need to get out more).

If you want to know just what the tech community thinks of Facebook, consider that many are suggesting Oculus Rift would have been in better hands with almost any one else: Microsoft, Sony, Apple, even Electronic Arts.

Markus Perrson, creator of Minecraft, dropped his plans for an Oculus Rift version of the game the moment he heard of the acquisition, saying that Facebook “creeps him out.”

Persson is a voice that matters, and in a long post he explains the potential for VR, and the problem with the most promising VR tech falling into the hands of Facebook:

Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build.

Don’t get me wrong, VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR. Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend’s avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you’re actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away?

But I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.

Fortunately, the rise of Oculus coincided with competitors emerging. None of them are perfect, but competition is a very good thing. If this means there will be more competition, and VR keeps getting better, I am going to be a very happy boy. I definitely want to be a part of VR, but I will not work with Facebook. Their motives are too unclear and shifting, and they haven’t historically been a stable platform. There’s nothing about their history that makes me trust them, and that makes them seem creepy to me.

And I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition.

I have the greatest respect for the talented engineers and developers are Oculus. It’s been a long time since I met a more dedicated and talented group of people. I understand this is purely a business deal, and I’d like to congratulate both Facebook and the Oculus owners. But this is where we part ways.

Persson is speaking as a bit of a purist, but his assessment is dead-on. Facebook is not a stable platform. I don’t mean it’s technically unstable. I mean it’s fundamentally unstable. It has one overriding goal: to connect people to Facebook. That’s not the overriding goal of Microsoft, Apple, or Google, who have something genuine to offer: hardware, product, an operating system.

All Facebook has is, well … you. When a service is free, you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold. Facebook’s product isn’t games or an operating environment or even a set of software tools. Facebook’s product is human eyeballs. I guess they thought a device that maximizes the experience of those very eyeballs would be a natural fit.

But if the history of Facebook tells us anything, it’s simply this: despite building a popular social platform for millions of people, they still, after all this time, haven’t figured out what to do with it. Maybe they just spent $2 billion to find that answer.

Things That Happen Only On Twitter


Garry Kasparov is a Russian opposition leader and vocal foe of Vladimir Putin, as well as the greatest chess player in the history of the game and thus one of most brilliant minds on the planet. He’s also a fan of the conservative bloggerAce of Spades, and now understands what the word “bro” means.

And then you get this: Joan Walsh, professional public moron and former editor-in-chief of amateur Obama fanzine Salon, mocking one of the most brilliant minds on the planet for a series of American interviews in which he criticizes Obama, Putin, and the entire Syrian mess.

One does not criticize the Dear Leader in front of Joan Walsh:

Er, you might want to run your vapid little comments through Wiki next time, Joan.

And what, exactly, are the credentials of Joan Walsh (or any writer, for that matter) for holding forth on pressing issues of the day? Self-selecting elites don’t like it when people they didn’t invite to the party speak out in ways they find objectionable. When that person’s fame comes from feats of pure intellect, it reveals their own shortcomings, and so Kasparov needs to be redefined as a mere player of games. Back in your place, boy!

I haven’t read Jonathan Franzen’s exercise in omphaloskepsis yet, but I get the impression it’s something-something-TWITTER BAD!-something-something. I’m not much of a Twitterer myself, but I see its uses and have been amazed by the interesting connections and conversations that can take place.

And now it’s taught the leading Russian Putin critic the meaning of the word “bro.” Mission accomplished, Twitter.

Facebook’s “Shadow Profile” Problem

Sometimes it takes a big screwup to reveal a bigger problem. The news that Facebook maintains so-called “shadow profiles” of both users and–some allege–non-users is not new. Privacy groups started raising red flags about the policy at least two years ago, but the details remained obscure.

A “shadow profile” is, basically, extra data on you which you never provided to Facebook. Typically, this is harvested as part of “Finding Friends” feature that combs through a user’s contact list looking for people they know who might also be on Facebook. It also draws data from friends, conversations you have, things you like, and topics you post about.

What people may not realize is that the emails and phone numbers found during this process apparently attached to your profile even if you do not provide that data to Facebook.

And, at least at some point, it saved that data even if you didn’t have a Facebook account.

Some time in the last year, an exploit appeared that merged the public data and the private data for people who downloaded and saved profile information. This exploit affected as many as 6 million people.

This means that if someone has your email and phone number in their contact list and they allow Facebook to access that data, that data is saved and attached to your Facebook profile even if you never provided it.

Here’s how Facebook explained it in their sorta-apology:

When people upload their contact lists or address books to Facebook, we try to match that data with the contact information of other people on Facebook in order to generate friend recommendations. For example, we don’t want to recommend that people invite contacts to join Facebook if those contacts are already on Facebook; instead, we want to recommend that they invite those contacts to be their friends on Facebook.

Because of the bug, some of the information used to make friend recommendations and reduce the number of invitations we send was inadvertently stored in association with people’s contact information as part of their account on Facebook. As a result, if a person went to download an archive of their Facebook account through our Download Your Information (DYI) tool, they may have been provided with additional email addresses or telephone numbers for their contacts or people with whom they have some connection. This contact information was provided by other people on Facebook and was not necessarily accurate, but was inadvertently included with the contacts of the person using the DYI tool.

After review and confirmation of the bug by our security team, we immediately disabled the DYI tool to fix the problem and were able to turn the tool back on the next day once we were satisfied that the problem had been fixed.

We always assumed Facebook was compiling plenty of data that was not provided to them, and that this was stored unseen to us. The extent of their data-gathering, however, still remains a bit fuzzy, and the idea that they were mining contact data had been assumed but remained unproven.

If PRISM taught us anything, it should be that the age of privacy is over. It really is, and as a former privacy nut I’m deeply disturbed at its passing.

However, it is becoming almost impossible to take advantages of the conveniences, power, and connectivity of the digital age while also retaining a firm grip on privacy. Watching Netflix, streaming Google Play, buying from Amazon, chatting on Facebook or Skype: these are all things I enjoy, and I’m glad they’re exist.


Unfortunately, they also mean that my entertainment choices, opinions, buying habits, and even my conversations and movements are exposed, collected, stored, and commodified.

In my own minor way, I’m a “Public Person.” My photo has been under my name in a column in at least one magazine–and often as many as three–every month for over two decades. I got my first “death threat” in 1994, when the internet was young and “I’m going to kill you for saying something bad about a game I like” was still a novel amusement. I’ve blogged since 2010.

So … privacy? It’s a little late for that. It’s kind of pointless for me to complain that Hulu and their partners know I watched “Voodoo Man” last night when I’m writing that I watched “Voodoo Man” last night at this very moment, and posting it to be read by about 5,000 to 10,000 people.

However … most people are not an opinion writer and magazine editor, or a politician, star, executive, YouTube sensation, or other public or semi-public figure. They’d rather keep their choices personal, and their information private.

And so they will need to make hard choices. Give up some of the niceties and conveniences–and even, for some, the necessities–of the digital age for a privacy which they will never get back.

I came to Facebook slowly and reluctantly. It seemed like little more than a playground for narcissists. I’ve since found it useful for sharing photos with family, links to my posts, and other items of interest. I’ve gotten to know people there and formed real friendships, particularly within the tight-knit Catholic community. I can stay in touch with people I just don’t get to see and far-flung family can keep up with news and photos of my kids in the most convenient way possible.

I keep all of that “locked down,” knowing that nothing is really ever “locked down” on Facebook. Most people can’t see the things I set for “Friends Not Acquaintances,” but it remains possible that a determined person could access them with some effort. I have a “public page” that you can follow, but usually I don’t add people I don’t know to my private page. (If you’ve tied to add me and gotten no response, it’s because I usually keep the private page for colleagues, friends, and family. The public page is here.  Some of my personal page is public. Most of it isn’t.)

As for all that “metadata” such as emails, phone numbers, entertainment preferences, and friends? That box was opened long ago, and we’re never going to slam it shut again. See also: Pandora.

Today I changed my profile just to screw around: changing  my birthday to 1913, my college to Miskatonic University, my high school to Miss Havisham’s School For Wayward Girls, things like that. It’s a small gesture of contempt to Mark Zuckerberg and his prying minions, and although ultimately meaningless, it provided a few minutes of amusement.

I will continue to use Facebook as I have, with eyes wide open to its inherent flaws. I know that it’s not free: I’m paying for it with my private data. That is the coin of the realm in the internet age.

There’s an old saying in the tech field: If a service is free, you are not the customer: you are the product being sold.