Tag Archives: Facebook

Voltaire, Alex Jones, the echo chamber and curated newsfeeds.


“I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it”

  — often attributed to Voltaire

Over the weekend, Apple, Spotify, YouTube and Facebook removed content produced by Alex Jones and his website InfoWars.  Some commentators have praised the decision, others question it.  The InfoWars app continues availability in the Apple and Google app stores, where its downloads are booming.  As of this writing, the app jumped from obscurity on the Apple App Store, to the number 4 news app, behind the New York Times (#1), but ahead of both CNN (#5) and FoxNews (#6).

For those of you who don’t know, Alex Jones made a name for himself in the 1990s with videos like “Prison Planet” and discussions of UN troops in America. Of course Art Bell and George Noory made names for themselves discussing even more far out topics like time travelers, rods from space and aliens among us.  No one has suggested a ban on Art Bell, George Noory, or the show they made famous: Coast-to-Coast AM.  But then Coast-to-Coast always maintains a positive attitude and Alex Jones frequently gets very angry ranting against his topic of choice.

I think the bottom line regarding Jones and the tech giants is that private companies have the right to set restrictions on the content they distribute.  So, no I’m not going to praise or condemn Facebook and YouTube for removing Jones.  I generally find his shows detestable, so I don’t tune to his radio broadcast or stream his videos.  I don’t like him, so I turn him off.  I don’t call for him to be silenced.  And when someone cites him favorably in discussion, I generally walk away and talk to someone else.

But here’s the question of the day: do we want the online portals and platforms we rely on for news to curate our available news sources according to the political views of company executives?

I’d like to think I’d be just as upset, if a conservative tech company banned Melissa Harris Perry or Rachel Maddow.  Fox News generally maintains a roster of liberal leaning co-hosts like Juan Williams, Geraldo Rivera and Alan Colmes (before cancer).  Glen Beck generally doesn’t hire left leaning hosts for The Blaze.  But I don’t want an echo chamber, so I also read BBC, the UK Guardian, and NPR — even the New York Times. I seek out many views.  We should all seek out many views.

This marks another reason why I’ll spend less time on Facebook:  I now have to spend more time seeking out a plurality of views on the topics I care about.  But I’m not so mad that I’m going to trade in my iPhone for a Windows phone, or swap Siri for Alexa.

Opinions expressed in this piece are my own and should not be confused with those of my employers, the University of Texas, the Texas National Guard, the U. S. Army or any other institution with its own public affairs department.



The Value of Friendship in the Age of Re-Invention

A few weeks ago a friend of mine, Terri Wise (also a classmate) wrote a post on her Facebook wall about the value of friendship and what struck me was the phrase ‘reading or scanning.’ How many of us open the Facebook app in our iPhones and skim up and down the posts without ever taking the time to click ‘continue reading?’ I know I did this. But it’s a very cursory examination. It kind of puffs us up.

We think, ‘look at all the stuff that flows into my newsfeed, because I am cool.”

And we brush past the guy talking about college football, and scan over fitness buff Don Moss, who now owns his own Crossfit Gym, and we get frustrated with all the crap that just comes in from nowhere, like junk mail. People we said were our friends at one time took time and energy and invested something of themselves in words on a screen and we just brush past it.

Maybe if these were letters writ long hand, as we did when we were kids, we would take time… Really? No. Yes. I don’t know. It seems no one does that any more. I would like to think that if I got a letter, I would read it. But that isn’t the point.

The point is that what we really value, we spend our time and our money on. And if we just scroll past without really reading and responding in some way, are we valuing our friends or are we just puffing ourselves up with air and not substance. And that’s just the people on Facebook.

Do we do this with the people we see at work, at the store, in our neighborhoods?

I’m an introvert, so it’s not always easy for me engage on a personal level. But we all need to do that. We need to connect with each other. Not only in a cursory way, but also in a meaningful way. Pick some people who matter and put energy, effort and time into them. And the rest pick one a day or three a week put time into them anyway. Some ordinary person you pass in the hallways at work or stand across from at the gas pump…. Take a moment to find out how their day was and empathise. Maybe it will pay off for you down the road. Maybe you just made that other person’s day. Maybe you gave them that last nudge of encouragement they needed to get over or around the obstacle they’re facing. Or maybe we’re just keeping the karma wheel turning, casting our bread on the water, or planting (sewing) the seeds we have to plant.

I’m trying this with Facebook. It’s a lot easier than taking time out at work, or standing in the summer heat or winter cold at the gas station. But I’m going to try in those places, too. Isn’t this what we’re all meant to do – show compassion and understanding to each other?  The poet John Donne wrote that no man is island. When we voluntarily chose to strengthen each other, we become part of an archipelago, like the Philippines or Indonesia. When we voluntarily choose to be part of each other’s lives we become a community. And the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.

And one more thing… as we approach winter holidays: Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanza, etc., remember your waitstaff at your favorite restaurants. They all make most of their living from tips. Generous tips will help them buy their favorite person a gift for the holiday they celebrate.

If you liked what you read here and you want to read me on a regular basis, click the follow button and bring ten of your friends back with you.

Don’t forget to share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

The opinions expressed in my writings are my own, unless otherwise cited or attributed, and not necessarily those of my employers.

An Age of Re-Invention

We’re in an age of re-invention.

Facebook and Twitter have re-invented the revolution.  Entertainment television is re-inventing itself, following in the footsteps of TV news,  with online content providers like Netflix and Amazon competing with networks and cable.  Movies are re-inventing themselves with the global blockbuster taking the place of the nuanced drama.  The government is re-inventing healthcare.  All of this going on right before our very eyes.  We are witnesses to history.  Unless we let it pass us by while looking at our smartphones, with headphones in our ears.  And none of this looks quite like the future Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clark promised us a couple of years before I was born in a forerunner of the modern blockbuster called….2001.  It looks a bit more like a short story by one of my favorite writers, William Gibson, called the “Garensbach Continuum.”

Welcome to my blog.

Yes, I, too, am reinventing myself.  Of course this could be a midlife crisis but without the sports car, divorce and trophy-wife!  I have so much that I want to say, and I know that my teen-aged son would be mortified if he saw me on the evening news at the steps of city hall screaming into a megaphone!  My employers would as well, but never mind that. So, being hip to the 21st century — do people even say “hip” anymore? (subject for a future blog post) –I’m doing it online.

Call me your town crier.

Here at St Thomas Place, I’m going talk about the future.  Our future.  America’s future.  I’m going to talk about things that interest me, and do it with wit and humor and inspiration.  We’re going to talk about things like television, film, parenting, relationships.  We’re going to talk about some forbidden topics — no I don’t mean Mayor Weiner’s social life.  Oh, that’s right!  DeBlasio won (note to self).  We’re going to talk some topics formerly forbidden in polite conversation: politics and moral philosophy.

So thank you for joining me.  While you’re here check out some of my other posts in the topic areas above:  ‘Politics,’ ‘Pursuit of Virtue,’ ‘Television Reviews’ and ‘Three Quick Points.’  And, please, do leave me some comments, so that I can make this a better, more interesting corner of the web.

If you liked what you read here and you want to read me on a regular basis, click the follow button and bring ten of your friends back with you.

Don’t forget to share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

The opinions expressed in my writings are my own, unless otherwise cited or attributed, and not necessarily those of my employers.