The Facebook Times

With more and more of our news access being filtered (willingly or not) through social media reach, it’s about time readers started thinking critically about how those same social media sites might influence what we read and know. wersm-facebook-trending-657x360

Companies like Facebook have supplanted our traditional means of distribution, meaning many news outlets have no oversight—or insight—into how their content is disseminated and received by readers. And now that they’ve fired all their human editors in favor of the almighty algorithim, there’s even less insight and, as the Megyn Kelly-trending example shows, less management into what content gets distributed and how.

“I also worry about the opaqueness of Facebook and its mysterious algorithms. My team and I try to figure out why some posts seem to “hit” and are shared thousands of times while reaching millions of people, while others fare much more modestly,” said Dan Rather in a recent post (on Facebook). “On balance, I feel that all this change is a tremendous force for good. As this article states, I believe Facebook never set out to become the primary means of journalistic communication. We have to figure out how to make that work best for all concerned.”

But as we wade into discussing what alleigance and assistance social media companies owe us in the fight for modern journalism, let’s talk about things that matter. And—on trend—things that are real.

For instance, the answer to “Did Facebook Commit Libel Against Megyn Kelly?” is a resounding no. Libel, the legal definition for a defamation in a written form, is committed by folks who write articles, not folks (or robots or companies) that allow for that content to be shared. What’s more, under the DMCA or Communications Decency Act internet service providers and their intermediaries are not responsible for illegal content on sites so long as they remove it when it comes to their attention.

“It’s difficult to know who to blame for Facebook’s mistake,” wrote The Atlantic (which ultimately acknowledged that the law would not see Facebook as at fault). “On its face, the company’s decision to switch from human to algorithmic editors seems like a shirking of authority. The new Trending algorithm appears to work by promoting the most-discussed news topics to a place of prominence, no matter their global or editorial importance. It also caters to the kinds of stories that users appear to want to read.”

Which if Facebook is solely a technology company and not a media company—which it has always claimed is the case—then it has the right to do. Algorithms mess up. Just ask anybody who’s ever gotten a notice from the DMCA to take down a video because it contains a 30-second snippet of a song in the background that Youtube’s software flagged as a violation. As a technology company they are not necessarily responsible for verifying what users share. That’s how bullshit gossip and hashtags trend anywhere.

It’s worth asking if, in the future, there will be a new category of law that social media companies find themselves beholden to, with addendums for what they can and cannot allow on their pages. We seem to be wading into the debate already with questions over Twitter or Facebook’s politics and desire to step in around harassment. But in the meantime these social media sites are not legally treated as media companies. And that’s the way it was.

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When silence is deafening.

Leslie Jones has had a rough summer. Between the launch of her well-received (if not high-grossing) blockbuster, a renewal of her SNL contract, and her invitation to the 2016 Olympics she’s had a great summer. But she has had a rough summer. And it’s all thanks to trolls.

et_071016_lesliejonesscandalhuluIt started when Ghostbusters was released, and Jones began receiving a near constant barrage of hate-filled messages. When she decided to not hide the racism and sexism she received on social media any longer, it drove her off Twitter for a few days. And then just today her website got hacked, with malicious hackers posting photos of her and her passport/driver’s license, and even her phone number.

On Twitter it’s lead to an outpouring of sympathy, anger, and love for Leslie. But none from her coworkers. And that silence is speaking louder than anything else.

At worst they’re turning their back on a co-worker who’s on the receiving end of a firehose of personal, harmful attacks just for starring in the same movie they did. The most optimistic way to look at it is that, as her friends, they are reaching out in real life and ways more effective and out of sight of the public than social media. Perhaps they’re doing so to not wade into the fray or paint a target on their own backs (or, as high-profile women on social media, simply turn around so people can see it).

But how can that be the best case scenario? How can we continue to accept the barrage of sexism, racism, and hate spewed at women—and in particular women of color—on social media as a “norm”? Why do companies seem to think that this isn’t a flaw only a byproduct?

What luck, for these trolls, that they are able to just represent the status quo and not stand out as a black woman. What luck. What a fucking curse.Lemonade Gif smashing window

The Unbearable Feminism of Whedon

To preface all of this, I haven’t seen “Avengers: Age of Ultron” yet. By circumstantial law I am bound to see it either with my best friend or for Mother’s Day, and neither of those things have happened yet.

I have, however, managed to follow along with the controversy. Particularly once Joss Whedon left Twitter. Because although he left his reasons initially secret, the ensuing madness made clear that Whedon was just the latest victim in the radical feminist’s war against everybody. (He’s since come out and said that is “horseshit” and that everyone should move on; I’m looking at you Oswalt) Joss Whedon

Despite being a card-carrying, self-identified feminist, Whedon frequently faces blowback over his works because people find them so anti-woman sometimes. They’re not wrong either. Whedon’s track record of writing complex and strong women is equally rife with narratives that abuse and punish those same women. His brand of feminism is often stalled, somewhere in the 90s girl power/white feminism movement, leaving all else as sort of collateral.

But the thing I’d argue could never be said about Whedon is that he is simple. His narratives are always complicated, involved, and in my experience largely two-sided. In that latter part I am specifically referring to (what I have inferred about) the debate around Black Widow’s role in “Age of Ultron.” To simplify her to merely a love-interest (and later experiences with fertility) robs the arc of quiet revolution it achieves just by flipping the narrative between Natasha and Bruce.

8438f1df93ca7ee304d23fb44b2f57d7ab7f1a1fJoss Whedon isn’t perfect, and nor is his body of work. It deserves to be discussed in-depth, and analyzed from a perspective of social justice because everything does. But it’s important to me to remember that Whedon is both more and less self-aware than people give him credit for. He’s a straight, white, cis, privileged male who won’t get it right necessarily because he doesn’t know better (that’s what privilege is). But on the other, he strikes me as a guy who’s trying.

“For someone like Anita Sarkeesian to stay on Twitter and fight back the trolls is a huge statement,” he said. “It’s a statement of strength and empowerment and perseverance, and it’s to be lauded. For somebody like me to argue with a bunch of people who wanted Clint and Natasha to get together [in the second Avengers film], not so much. For someone like me even to argue about feminism — it’s not a huge win. Because ultimately I’m just a rich, straight, white guy. You don’t really change people’s minds through a tweet. You change it through your actions. The action of Anita being there and going through that and getting through that and women like her — that says a lot.” –part of Whedon’s statement on why he left

But then, we’ll find out when I finally get to see “Age of Ultron.”

#ThanksSocialMediaSavvyTeens

Today a new hashtag caught fire on Twitter: #ThanksMichelleObama was used by teens around the country to curate pictures of the many fine food offerings U.S. schools have to offer.

Mmmmmm, mush.
Mmmmmm, mush.

I mean, look at that goodness right?

Of course, a Twitter hashtag wouldn’t be complete without a Twitter hashtag BACKLASH! Many folks (seems to me like folks who are out of the public school system) took the hashtag and reprimanded the “disappointing” and “#EntitledWhinyTeens” who complained about the food provided for them. “School lunches being crappy is a tale as old as time. FLOTUS just wanted to keep it from also killing you slowly. ,” said Twitter user @TheHappyFeminist.

But what I think these detractors are missing is not only the sarcasm used in the tweets (The #thanksObama call back is not lost on me, and I don’t think I know a single person who uses that hashtag unironically) but the possible effectiveness. These kids are pointing out that just because a lunch “abides by healthy standards” doesn’t mean that it’s satisfying or a smart choice to be feeding our kids–and they’re taking that complaint to a public stage. This hashtag is bound to get mass amount of press (Hi!) and as well it should: the healthy serving of chicken strips might be three, but there’s no way that’s a healthy lunch for a growing kid.

In case you thought I was kidding
In case you thought I was kidding

We could go back and forth about funding for education programs, lunch offerings at public schools, and whether FLOTUS is out to get kids by enforcing healthy standards on their lunches. For a brief and shining moment my high school offered a freshly-made, usually-vegan, healthy lunch option every day for the same price as high schools elsewhere. Oh, and they were delicious. Then we were forced to switch to the District’s standard, and my interest in public school lunches dropped off. My point being that these are not the first shitty public school lunches I’ve encountered and I’m sure they won’t be the last.

But telling a generation that the First Lady has a right to change their lunch menu but they don’t makes all of her work nothing more than a publicity stunt. There’s more to nutrition than knowing caloric intakes and serving sizes. And seeing as how this has been her main focus as First Lady, I can’t imagine that the above meals are what she’s hoping for when she triumphs healthy eating. There’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom, and if we want kids to learn that in school then lunches seem like a good place to start.

These teens are smart enough to know that Michelle Obama isn’t the one who’s making the menu. But they’re also smart enough to know that her work here isn’t done.