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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First the Feds declared war on an emotion, now New York’s government is banning a word

Yes, we do have a global war on terror (a phrase that always makes me think the government will send out inspectors to check under childrens’ beds for monsters, but I digress). Now New York’s City Council has unanimously declared a moratorium on the “N-word.” This is the most useless piece of political posturing since the Senate thought long and hard about maybe having a debate before maybe voting on a powerless resolution that might condemn the George Bush Desert Classic.

Let no one doubt that this is a troublesome word, as Randall Kennedy called it in the sub-title of his history of the word (which was a better concept than it was an actual book, but I digress). It is a vile and hateful word that no less an expert on outrage than the great Richard Pryor renounced. But if we are going to start banning words why stop here? There are a slew of other epithets both racial and sexual that are equally insulting. (And some of which — like the name of that football team in Washington, D.C. — are actually used as brand names.) Lets ban them all, too.

This won’t actually change behavior or attitudes, but it will force us to come up with some new insults and I, for one, am bored with the old ones.

The City Council’s stated aim is to send a message and expunge this slur from hip hop music and television. Huzzah. This is a noble aim. But so is bringing democracy to the Middle East. Perhaps we should ask our elected officials to focus their efforts on the actually attainable. There are a huge number of other offensive things that actually fall under the council’s purview — hunger, disease, poverty, ignorance, crime. Perhaps they could do something about those before turning to matters linguistic.

Cheers to Chris Rock for giving and Reuters for getting this quote:

“What, is there a fine? Am I going to get a ticket?” Rock mocked in a Reuters interview when asked about the City Council move. “Do judges say, ’10 years, nigger!”‘

Rock said politicians were trying to divert attention from real problems: “Enough real bad things happen in this city to worry about how I am going to use the word.”

Let’s leave the debate on this to Mr. Rock, Mr. Pryor and others with their talent. At least then the debate would be intentionally funny.

Headline of the Day: Hedgehog beats off tiger in safari park N.Korea

To quote Tom Lehrer: He was majoring in animal husbandry until someone caught him at it.

What makes this headline bad in addition to laughable is that the story is about a conversation with some North Koreans that the reporter had in a safari park. The whole hedgehog tiger thing didn’t actually happen, it was a simile for the US & N. Korea said by a resident of the country. Basic rule of headline writing has always been if you have to go to the middle of the story to get the headline then there’s something wrong with either story or headline. Way to go, Reuters…

Reuters open “news bureau” in Second Life game

OK, so I like most journalists have always dreamed about being Paris bureau chief for some publication — even if you are not only the chief, but also everyone else in the tribe. (It’s always been a curiosity to me that in US journalism DC is a better posting — from a career standpoint — than Paris. Having spent large chunks of time in DC I can honestly say that if you want to live there you probably have a mental illness.) Well even better than Paris, where you would be in danger of having to actually do some reporting, is being chief of a virtual bureau where I guess you only have to report Virtual News. And all of you who say Fox News has been doing this for a while should really come up with more original jokes.

Starting on Wednesday, Reuters plans to begin publishing text, photo and video news from the outside world for Second Life members and news of Second Life for real world readers who visit a Reuters news site. Adam Pasick, a Reuters’ media correspondent based in London, will serve as the news organization’s first virtual bureau chief, using a personal avatar, or animated character, called “Adam Reuters,” in keeping with the game’s naming system. “As strange as it might seem, it’s not that different from being a reporter in the real world,” Pasick said. “Once you get used to it — it becomes very much like the job I have been doing for years.”

And in keeping with another tradition of journalism, next month he will be replaced by a younger, perkier avatar with more cleavage.

They report, you decide

FTC Finds Gas Price Gouging After Katrina

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Federal Trade Commission on Monday said it found 15 examples of gasoline price gouging after Hurricane Katrina, though the agency said it has not identified any widespread effort by the oil industry to illegally manipulate the marketplace.The agency sought to downplay the instances of price gouging by seven refiners, two wholesalers and six retailers, chalking up their soaring prices in September 2005 to "regional or local market trends."

For the purpose of the report, and as mandated by Congress, the FTC defined price gouging as "any finding" that the average price of gasoline in designated disaster areas in September 2005 was higher than in August 2005.

FTC sees no illegal gas price manipulation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An investigation by U.S. antitrust authorities found no evidence that oil companies illegally manipulated gasoline prices or constrained oil refining operations, the Federal Trade Commission said on Monday.

However, the agency said it had found 15 examples that fit lawmakers' definition of price-gouging at the "refining, wholesale, or retail level." It said factors like regional and local market trends appeared to explain the pricing in nearly all the cases.