Facebook causes crimes, cops & cancer

It’s Facebook’s world — we only live in it.

I am guilty as charged, see here for proof.

facebook-death

I hate it when they’re funnier than I am, Part 2: Social Terror Networking

Damn you, BOROWITZ!!!

After successfully sponsoring several of the presidential debates, Facebook is spreading its wings once more, announcing today that it would become the official co-sponsor of the United States’ war on terror.

In snagging the coveted anti-terrorism sponsorship, the popular networking site beat out two of its rivals, MySpace and YouTube, who had also vied to co-sponsor the global struggle against Islamic extremism.

As if that wasn’t enough to piss me off, he’s also written:

Obama Wins Country Music Entertainer of the Year … Coming off a weekend in which he racked up victories in Nebraska, Washington, Louisiana, the Virgin Islands and Maine, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) extended his amazing winning streak today by being named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year. For Mr. Obama, who is not a country music entertainer, the award represents a significant upset since it had been expected to go to longtime country favorite Kenny Chesney.

Oh, hell … stop reading me and go read him. I surrender. This blog will now be devoted to knitting and those few other topics I know even less about than politics, marketing & humor.

Facebook-causes-suicide story spreads even as facts recede

As noted earlier this week, Facebook and other social networking sites have been blamed for a wave of teen suicides in the UK. This was simply too good a story for the press to pass up — regardless of the facts in the matter.

Now comes word from Down Under that:

Psychologists in Australia have warned about the power of glamorising death through social networking sites in the wake of a spate of suicides in the UK

Translation: A reporter or editor saw the story and said “Localize it!” So someone called around to a bunch of local head shrinkers and asked for their opinions. To no one’s surprise the psychologists said this is a bad thing. No one seems to have told the mental health types the only fact contained in the entire story.

However, a police spokesman in Bridgend said there was no evidence to date of a suicide pact and that the theory did not come from police.

So the news  (a.k.a, the lead) is buried in the fourth paragraph and contradicts the basis for the rest of the article. Thus an accurate headline would read: Cops say suicide pact story is nonsense

What makes the article even better (better here meaning “an improved quality of stupidity) is the fact that the final paragraphs feature a medical person saying stories like this could exacerbate the problem.

Dr Jonathon Scourfield, a lecturer in social sciences, said cultural and social influences were influential in the decision to commit suicide.

“The more stories that appear about young people having killed themselves in your area, the more it might appear to you to be a reasonable response to a particular kind of crisis,” he said.

Sometimes it is difficult to remember that the only thing worse than having a free press is not having one.

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Not content with destroying the economy, Facebook is now causing suicides

It’s official: social networking and not the pursuit of money is now the source of all evil.

Previously Facebook et al., have been blamed for A) destroying the economy, B) supplying information to Cosa Nostra and C) ruining Christmas. (All those who think the state of the economy has something to do with absurd lending practices and oil flirting with the $100-a-barrel mark will be required to take a remedial class in sensational journalism.)

Now comes the latest word that a social networking site (that would be the et al. mentioned above) are driving teens to kill themselves.

The deaths of seven young people from the same town in South Wales could be linked to a suicide craze sweeping a social networking internet site.

According to reports detectives believe the goal of the suicides isn’t actually death but to have one’s friends set up an online cenotaph and thus gain some postmortem coolth.

“They may think it’s cool to have a memorial website,” one officer told The Times newspaper. “It may even be a way of achieving prestige among their peer group.”

Now I’ve heard more absurd theories — something about Iraq and WMDs comes to mind — but not many. All the reading I’ve done suggests that the key ingredient to suicide is mental illness not internet access.

Sadly this is not the first time I have encountered reports of teens making a fad of killing themselves. When I was in college there was a report of a wave of teens hanging themselves on Long Island. If memory serves experts offered theories ranging from the then-nascent MTV to the ever popular alienation. However further review of the evidence revealed that in fact these were all botched attempts at what the NY Times genteelly referred to as “auto-erotic asphyxiation.”

I could be wrong of course. Perhaps the world has changed even more radically than I realize since I was a teen. That was, after all, back when mastodons and manual typewriters roamed the earth. At the time I was as angst-y as they came — the amount of time I spent listening to Jackson Browne records and reading Yeats could be measured in years. But even I wouldn’t have considered killing myself to get my friends to say nice things about me when I was gone.

Paul Smith also takes a skeptical view of this on his blog here.
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First the economy, then Christmas — is there anything Facebook can’t destroy?

(from my other blog, Business&Networking)

MoveOn.org has discovered what some tech companies already knew: Blaming Facebook for something is the quick road to free PR. MoveOn makes the case for Facebook is Bad with the kind of slant and sensational language usually reserved for the promos of local TV news:

Facebook, the social networking site, is violating our privacy. Books, movies, or holiday gifts bought online automatically get shared with everyone you know.

It gets better. Read/WriteWeb says:

MoveOn even blames Facebook for ruining Christmas, including in a press release sent out to the media today quotes from users like this one: “I saw my gf [girlfriend] bought an item I had been saying I wanted…so now part of my Christmas gift has been ruined. Facebook is ruining Christmas!” – Matthew from New York (Why do I have the feeling that Matthew hasn’t had a job that would result in calloused hands?)

Mr GIn addition to ruining this most commercial of holidays with unwanted information, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has called for all puppies to be beaten to death with stolen candy canes! We should have seen this coming. Just look at this picture from Zuckerberg’s profile. Note that his status reads: “Mark is plotting the destruction of all the Whos down in Whoville.”

This story seems to have caught on with the media & blogosphere because, quelle surprise!, the Facebook protesters are using Facebook to organize! There’s cheap irony and then there’s lame irony. This is the latter.

My deepest objection to this MoveOn screed is that it’s just yelling and posturing and not about having a conversation. Privacy is a very big issue for Facebook et al. And, like so many other issues, it’s too complex to fit on to a bumper sticker. As MoveOn’s organizers well know, slogans make for great demagoguery and lousy conversations.

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Bloggers v. journalists, and other false dichotomies

Over at Matt Dickman’s Techno/Marketer blog there’s a good conversation going on about blogs v. journalists, journalism v. citizen journalism and other issues.

Matt asked the following questions:

  • Can a newspaper include blogger content and have editorial separation?
  • Are bloggers and journalists separate anymore?
  • If they are, are they bound by the same code of ethics?
  • Does paying the bloggers create the conflict of interest?
  • Do you think the Plain Dealer would have pulled an editorial piece under pressure from a politician?
  • Can traditional newspapers survive against pressure from citizen journalism?
  • What if no money had changed hands and the bloggers just contributed? Does that change things?

Well, here’s my soapbox … er answer.

A blog is a medium, not a type of writing. Someone is a blogger because they write in a blog. That writing can be as neutral and as fact-based as what we hope for in other forms of journalism or it can be as opinionated and non-fact-based as it wants. These people appear to have been hired because of their partisan opinions not because they are bloggers. If you substitute the word writer for blogger I find that most of these questions answer themselves.

• Can a newspaper include writer content and have editorial separation?

Yep. They’re called columnists. If reporters choose to include content from blogs then they must disclose information about the blog as they would with any source (“a liberal think-tank” “a company spokesman”)

• Are writers and journalists separate anymore?

Let’s ask if you can you be a writer and not a journalist? Yes. A journalist has to be someone trying to discover and publish facts in as honest and balanced a way as possible. Many writers do this, some are journalists and some are not.

• If they are, are they bound by the same code of ethics?

Are all writers bound by journalism’s code of ethics? No. But if a blog writer wishes to have his or her work considered as journalism then he or she has to do whatever is necessary to disclose all possible conflicts of interest. Just like if I’m trying to get a friend to believe me a product is great I make it clear if I stand to profit from the use or sale of that product.

• Does paying the writers create the conflict of interest?

No. It just means that the paper is treating these people as they would any other contributors. Writers should get paid for their work.

• Do you think the Plain Dealer would have pulled an editorial piece under pressure from a politician?

Maybe, but only if was marked as news and not as opinion. If a piece in the paper is clearly marked as opinion and doesn’t contain libel or slander then no paper worth the name would have pulled the column.

• Can traditional newspapers survive against pressure from citizen journalism?

Does this mean that what newspapers publish is non-citizen journalism? As a journalist, I’ve never seen much difference between these two ideas. One person has a branded venue and was hired to work there because his or her employer thinks he or she has the needed expertise to write for them. A citizen journalist is just a journalist who works without someone else’s brand certification. If the citizen journalist is good enough then in time he or she will become known as a brand of quality. Or, as it is also called, a freelance journalist.

• What if no money had changed hands and the writers just contributed? Does that change things?

No. Newspapers make it clear that they don’t endorse the opinions of people whose writing they run for free (the letters page). They also should make it clear that they don’t endorse or support every opinion that is published when they pay for those opinions.

Are the folks who have written all those stupid stories about “Facebook is destroying the economy” journalists? Not by my standards. Are they bloggers? Not unless one turns to a blog for a lack of perspective. Are they paid reporters? Apparently.

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Further proof press will run any study that blames Facebook for something

(cross-posted from Business & Networking)

Two Australian press outlets (and counting) have come up yet another way Facebook Is Destroying The Economy: The Age & The Courier Mail both have reports today on how, “a growing number of young Australians are becoming addicted to online social networking.”

Of course you don’t just make charges like that without substantiation. Both publications site the same study — and nothing but that study. This study was put together by one Julian Cole, an interweb strategist with the Aussie ad firm Naked Communications. As is usual in these things, Mr. Cole and his research are the only source cited in either story.

In a previous version of this post I incorrectly implied that Mr. Cole’s research may have been biased because of where he works. Mr. Cole has graciously written in with a very important correction:

The thesis was actually part of an Honours degree at Monash University. Naked Communication just happens to be the place that I work.

My apologies to Mr. Cole. I should stick to what I know best — making fun of lousy press coverage. Nowhere in the stories I read was it made clear that this work was done for his thesis. That is the fault of the reporter, not Mr. Cole. I have no reason to believe or even suspect Mr. Cole’s research is anything but scientific and accurate.  I was lead astray by lousy reporting. Again my apologies and thanks for the note.

My personal congratulations to Facebook for being accused of the same crime that the Athenians got Socrates with: Corrupting the youth. That’s some pretty damn good company you are keeping.

Yahoo! News has five other outlets reprinting the same story. Well, it’s early in the news cycle here in the US so I have no doubt that number will grow.

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Facebook is not only destroying the economy, it’s helping the Mob

Today’s example of ridiculously bad sensationalist journalism comes once again from Australia, where the idea of having more than one source for a story seems to be unheard of.

ORGANISED criminals are increasing their efforts to steal sensitive data from the computers of company chiefs, British-based IT security firm MessageLabs warns.

Go here for more details.

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Facebook CONTINUES to destroy the economy!

This time it’s in the UK & the BBC are doing the PR work for the company with a vested interest who has produced the study:

Workers who spend time on sites such as Facebook could be costing firms over £130m a day, a study has calculated. According to employment law firm Peninsula, 233 million hours are lost every month as a result of employees “wasting time” on social networking.

The only person quoted in the story? Someone from the law firm. Here’s the key quote that’s being picked up by other outlets too lazy to actually do any reporting on the story:

“Why should employers allow their workers to waste two hours a day on Facebook when they are being paid to do a job?” said Mike Huss of Peninsula. “The figures that we have calculated are minimums and it’s a problem that I foresee will escalate.”

If we could link this to Iraq, Global Warming & Brittany it would be the perfect media storm.
USAToday sources the story by saying “the BBC reports.” That’s a stretch of the word reporting. Google comes up with 22 outlets that have either picked up or re-written the story.

I’m still waiting for a reporter to

  1. Check the methodology of these studies
  2. Interview ANYONE ELSE about it
  3. See if anyone knows how much time was being “wasted” prior to the advent of MySpace/Facebook, et al

Is that really too much to ask? Apparently, yes.

My other favorite not-as-yet-questioned-by-press study about time wasting, computers & work:

Among white-collar workers surveyed, nearly a quarter (24 percent) said they play casual videogames “at work.” 35 percent of CEOs, CFOs and other senior executives also said they play at work, according to a PopCap Games survey targeting white-collar workers, reports MarketingCharts.

Well, if the CEO is doing it then it’s got to be OK.

Also, if workers are “wasting” so much time on these sites, how come we keep getting these increases in productivity?

See also:

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Press falls for another claim that Facebook is destroying the economy

The meme goes on…

Over at the usually reliable CNET they’ve done a one-source story about how companies’ are limiting employees’ access to the site.

Half of businesses are restricting employees’ access to social-networking site Facebook, due to concerns about productivity and security. According to research by security company Sophos, 43 percent of workers polled said their employer blocks Facebook access completely. A further 7 percent said access is restricted depending on whether it’s required for a particular job.

So far 51 fools, I mean respected journalism outlets have run this story or variations on it. A random look at four of those 51 stories showed NONE quoting anyone except an executive with the clearly unbiased company Sophos.

Best line of bad journalism comes from the alleged newspaper The Telegraph: “ LloydsTSB, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs have reportedly banned the site …”

REPORTEDLY?!?! That’s short hand for we didn’t make any phone calls to try and confirm it. The moon is reportedly made of green cheese. I am reportedly Queen Marie of Romania.

God, I hope TechDirt is going to redeem journalism on this one too. They’re my only hope at this point.

If anyone needs me I’m spending the rest of the day expunging anything to do with journalism from my resume.

BTW, Raw Feed has a nice example of a similar phenomenon happening with coverage of pollution in Beijing (which nicely ties up all of the day’s posts — wasn’t that good of me?). Media reports opposing results on Beijing smog.

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Never mind the mortgage industry meltdown, it’s Facebook that’s destroying the economy!

I love it when a really stupid idea starts to gain traction in the opinion-sphere. The current one is that workers who spend time on Facebook are costing the economy X billions per year.

I first encountered it at a blog called TechBlorge which starts off with uses a very suspect (because it is soooo self-serving) fact from a company and then follows that up with anecdotal evidence:

Social networking site Facebook could cost Australian businesses up to AUS$5 billion (US$4 billion) in lost productivity, according to Internet filtering company, SurfControl. “Our analysis shows that Facebook is the new, and costly, time-waster,” said SurfControl’s Dr Richard Cullen. “There are Facebook groups dedicated to slacking off at work, some of them are specific to employees of a single company.”

brokenThis is then followed up with a comment about the number of people in Aussie corporations who the author sees on Facebook. To the author’s credit he then points out a discrepancy in the company’s numbers (“The only problem with this calculation is that currently Facebook has just 224,000 Australian members, not 800,000 members.”). I would have lead with the fact that the company’s numbers make no sense — but that wouldn’t have been nearly as sensational.

Now TechBlorge is a blog and not, as we all know, held up to the standards of accuracy that I’d like to think pervades actual journalism. But wait! What’s this? Good lord, now there are 57 stories on this — each dumber than the last says I without reading barely a one of them. Kudos to SurfControl’s PR people for getting people to swallow this one hook, line, sinker, fishing pole and all.

Let’s ask ourselves two questions:

  1. Has the amount of time people spend goofing off at work on the computer really increased? Wouldn’t these goofer offers just be doing something else if they weren’t at Facebook (or wherever else)? Lets remember a reality here — thanks to the PC we now live in a world with the BEST, most experienced solitaire players ever.
  2. Do you think a company that sells “internet filtering” services to corporations might not be the best source for this study?

I would love to say that this shows why we need real journalists and shouldn’t just rely on bloggers. Actually that’s true — it’s just that we need real publications to be practicing real journalism and not this crap. The Reuter’s story doesn’t even quote anyone besides SurfControl! Guys next time save yourself some “work” and just run the press release.

Facebook is indeed involved with a time waster, but it’s the press that created it.

(Hooray for TechDirt which got the story right.)

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