Friday Afternoon, Way Behind

This has not been a good week for my writing mojo. This weekend I want to poop out a few thousand words of Glass Archipelago and also get a draft of the next episode of Knives to near-ready status. That’s a lot of writing.

To improve things and give myself a shot at a moderately productive weekend, I’m going to continue what has been very relaxing tactic for the last two days: no Facebook. Although it might appear that I’m over there, rest assured that my presence is really that of a robotic doppelgänger, taking my words from here and gluing them into my feed over there. Jerry the human will not be appearing until he has caught up a bit. If Jerry the human finds himself happier as a result of the exercise, he may continue it.

Keep in mind, then, that at least for now comments you make to my posts on Facebook WILL NOT BE READ BY ME. If you click “like”, I’ll never know. If you want to comment on my words, do it here on the blog. If you think they’re sweet, there’s a button for that, too.

Now, back to the task at hand.

1

Facebook 101: When they Say “Like and Share” Probably you Shouldn’t

If you haven’t already figured this out by the thousands of radio stations firing off memes on Facebook, let me spell it out for you. “Likes” are worth money. Here’s the part maybe you didn’t know: Likes can be sold.

My Facebook news feed is clogged with shit like, “LIKE AND SHARE IF YOU DON’T THINK CHILDREN SHOULD BE BEHEADED AND LEFT FOR THE VULTURES.” Or maybe “LITTLE CINDY-LOU IS DYING OF CANCER, LIKE AND SHARE SO SHE CAN SEE SHE IS LOVED ALL OVER THE WORLD. ONLY 2% WILL LIKE AND SHARE. ARE YOU ONE OF THEM?”

It’s always 2%.

Perhaps you say to yourself, “gee, I’m actually kind of against beheading children.” You like and share. Otherwise, you’re implicitly in favor of juvenile decapitation, right?

A few weeks later you get an item in your feed about vacations in Mexico. Not a sponsored item, mind, but a notification from a page you liked. “The heck?” you think to yourself. “I don’t remember liking anything about travel in Mexico.”

And in fact you didn’t. The Travel site bought your like from the child-beheadding page.

Well, to be more exact, they bought the page itself, likes and all, then just switched in their own content. People are making a sound business out of creating pages, getting likes any way possible, then selling the page.

These days, I block almost every item in my Facebook feed thingie that says “like and share”. When you look at the name of the source page, it’s amazing how often page name and content don’t match. Even when they do, I block. Don’t tell me what to like, Chumley, and I share only the good stuff. Which is maybe one thing a month.

1

An Internet Security Vulnerability that had Never Occurred to Me

Luckily for my productivity this afternoon, the Facebook page-loading feature was not working for me. I’d get two or three articles and that was it. But when it comes to wasting time, I am relentless. I decided to do a little digging and figure out why the content loader was failing. Since I spend a few hours every day debugging Web applications, I figured I could get to the bottom of things pretty quickly.

First thing to do: check the console in the debugger tools to see what sort of messages are popping up. I opened up the console, but rather than lines of informative output, I saw this:

Stop!

This is a browser feature intended for developers. If someone told you to copy-paste something here to enable a Facebook feature or “hack” someone’s account, it is a scam and will give them access to your Facebook account.

See https://www.facebook.com/selfxss for more information.

It is quite possible that most major social media sites have a warning like this, and all of them should. A huge percentage of successful “hacks” into people’s systems are more about social engineering than about actual code, and this is no exception. The console is, as the message above states, for people who know what they are doing. It allows developers to fiddle with the site they are working on, and even allows them to directly load code that the browser’s security rules would normally never allow.

These tools are built right into the browsers, and with a small effort anyone can access them. It would seem that unscrupulous individuals (aka assholes) are convincing less-sophisticated users to paste in code that compromises their Facebook accounts, perhaps just as they were hoping to hack someone else’s account.

I use the developer tools every day. I even use them on other people’s sites to track down errors or to see how they did something. Yet it never occurred to me that I could send out an important-sounding email and get people to drop their pants by using features built right into their browsers.

It’s just that sort of blindness that leads to new exploits showing up all the time, and the only cure for the blindness is to have lots of people look at features from lots of different perspectives. Once upon a time Microsoft built all sorts of automation features into Office that turned out to be a security disaster. From a business standpoint, they were great features. But no one thought, “you know, the ability to embed code that talks to your operating system directly into a Word doc is pretty much the definition of a Trojan Horse.”

So, FIRST, if anyone asks you to paste code into the developer’s console of your browser, don’t. SECOND, if you are in charge of a site that stores people’s personal data, consider a warning similar to Facebook’s. Heck, I doubt they’d complain if you straight-up copied it, link and all. THIRD, just… be skeptical. If someone wants you to do something you don’t really understand, don’t do it, no matter how important and urgent the request sounds. In fact, the more urgent the problem sounds, the more certain you can be that you are dealing with a criminal.

2

Facebook 101 Part 1: How to be a Shrill Victim

In part 1 of what is almost certain to be a series, we look at a simple, step-by-step guide on how to turn your misplaced anger into a moment of fame at the expense of an innocent third party.

  1. Get in a snit. It has to be a snit with a recognizable name.
  2. Go to a meme generator site and paste your rant on a picture. People don’t read words unless there’s a picture behind them.679181
  3. Notice that your rant doesn’t really seem all that worth getting upset about. ADD SOME LIES. Racism is a good one. The mouth-breathers who thrive on this shit will eat it up.679188
  4. Post it on Facebook!
  5. Feel gratified when a quarter of a million other idiots jump on the bandwagon and start trashing the organization that has done nothing wrong.
  6. When people actually start to mention ACTUAL FACTS, duck and cover. You don’t need that sort of negativity in your life!
  7. Years later, thousands of people will still believe the ridiculous accusations you made were true. If you libeled a small charitable organization, for instance, you could permanently undermine their ability to make the world better.

GREAT JOB, SHRILL VICTIM!

1

Is Facebook Killing the Blog?

There was a time, I call them the good ol’ days, when this humble blog was the anchor of a small but interesting community. I took great pleasure in the contributions of the blogcomm, as Funkmaster G-Force dubbed it; there was a second, more interesting layer under my ramblings — conversations that could last months, novel ideas and clever rebuttals. Traditions grew, and along with them a lexicon that applied only here. Members of the blogcomm even coordinated travel plans in those comment threads.

Things change. Facebook, for better or worse, has become the de facto place for online communities. I started announcing my new episodes on Facebook, and for a while that actually grew the community. Then people started assuming they would hear about new episodes from Facebook. Then Facebook started not telling everyone who has said they want to know, unless I pay. And if I don’t have a picture associated with my episode, the notice Facebook grudgingly gives up is almost invisible in the ridiculous noise of the news feed.

And the best discussions, those that would last weeks, die out more quickly now; people leave comments in Facebook-space and those that don’t join the discussion right away are left out.

To be fair this blog has changed as well; I’m working a corporate job at a company that doesn’t appreciate blabbermouths, and so a big part of my life is off-limits. But those changes began long after the erosion of the Muddled Community was well under way.

Meanwhile, many of the community functions that my blog offered to the regulars were supplanted by Facebook’s promise of group communication. It was only natural that the blogcomm would move. But as far as I can tell, the blogcomm didn’t move. It died. Where there was a group, now there is a series of individual broadcasts, the efficiency of which is governed by Facebook’s arcane rules. Perhaps the blogcomm was reincarnated in a form I don’t recognize, but I miss hearing from nico, f-g-f, gizo, and the rest. This is ultimately on me; if I had kept things interesting enough here, folks would still be around. Unless those folks were relying on Facebook to tell them when I posted a new episode.

Times change. It’s quite possible that using this format for personal expression and community building is obsolete. The thing is, social media in general and Facebook in particular don’t seem to be doing a good job of replacing it. Facebook sure looked promising back in the day, but when they decided to make their money honestly (charging their users) in addition to the making it dishonestly (selling their users) the way they always had, the whole dynamic changed. Now you pay to be seen on Facebook, and everyone agrees that they will quit that dang platform and…

Find another social media service that hasn’t started asking them for money yet. But mostly people don’t do anything except complain. As far as I know (which isn’t very far), Google’s social platform is still evil-only in terms of how they make their money, but even they haven’t managed to create a meaningful exodus from Facebook.

Facebook has become a giant advertising platform that we all dance on. Long ago I thought to use them to build my audience. For free. Facebook doesn’t owe me anything; I wanted a one-way relationship where Facebook would expand my audience and I would give nothing in return. Now they want something in return, and I’m not willing to give it. I’m the asshole in this relationship. But maybe it’s time for a breakup.

Huh. I did not expect to reach that conclusion when I started typing this episode, but I can’t argue the logic. Maybe it’s time we broke up. Maybe it’s time I started rebuilding the blogcomm honestly.

2

I don’t want to see yours, either.

So, from what I hear, Facebook is introducing a feature called ‘timeline’, which displays your Internet activities pretty much in real time. Other people can see what (participating) Web sites you visit, as you visit them.

I don’t know all the details, but this seems to me like a terrible idea. I will not be participating, and please don’t take it personally when I reject your invitation to follow your aimless drifting through cyberspace. Tedious at best and embarrassing at worst, this is a level of personal intimacy with the general world that I will not be embracing. Call me an old fuddy-duddy.

Who, Me?

I was recently farting around with my Facebook profile. I uploaded a new profile image (which doesn’t really look very good as a thumbnail but apparently it doesn’t save my old profile photos, so now I’ll have to find the original to go back), and while I was at it, I glanced through my other profile information.

My profile is scant, not so much because I’m trying to protect my privacy as because I can’t imagine why anyone would care about most of that stuff.

In fact, the only ones who might be interested in any of that stuff are the ones who with the overt goal of invading my privacy. So, why not help them out? There’s a field I can fill in for my political leanings. It occurred to me that ‘anarchist’ would be fun, but ‘communist’ would be more provocative. Even though communism is an economic system. People get mixed up about that.

Hobbies? How about ‘recreational explosives’ and ‘euthanasia’? Maybe ‘book burning’ to keep people guessing.

Senate Committee Chairman: So, on your Facebook profile you declared yourself to be a communist! And a bomb-throwing murderer!
Yours Truly (trying to remember): Did I?
SCC: Yes! You also burn books, so you’re obviously not completely evil, but we demand an explanation!
YT: Simple. That’s not me.

And that would be the truth. I am not a Facebook profile. I’m not even a blog, though blog-Jerry and public-Jerry do have a lot in common.

East-Coast people often say they hate how ‘fake’ Californians are. In fact, Californians say the same thing about other Californians. But what does that actually mean? My theory: Californians don’t express anger as openly as others, and they don’t lean forward when they listen to you (the way southerners do), so they must be fake.

Whatever. Everyone’s fake. I’m fake. And seriously, that’s the way it should be. You know the me I’ve learned to project since my earliest days. The one who plays nice, gets along, and tries to make the world a better place (usually). You don’t want to know me the way I know me. I don’t want to know you that way either.

Then there’s the person you imagine when you read this blog. Not the same as the person you find when you run into meat-me at the frozen yogurt shop. Blog-me might be a little more articulate, since he reads most things he says before he says them. Blog-me talks about different things, sometimes more introspective, and doesn’t really worry so much about boring people.

Blog-me is a different person. A different fiction.

So why not Facebook-me? Why not create some whacked-out extremist commie bomb-thrower and be that guy?

There’s a good reason not to, actually. It’s hard enough work maintaining the personas I already have. All the -me’s are pretty lazy.