A More Musky Twitter

Elon Musk
Does Musk want to set Twitter free?
                               Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

On April 14, 2022, business magnate Elon Musk proposed to purchase social media company Twitter, Inc. for $43 billion. He had previously acquired 9.1 percent of the company's stock for $2.64 billion and thereby became its largest shareholder. Twitter invited Musk to join its board of directors and he accepted and then changed his mind. Musk is certainly one of the most unorthodox business leaders of our time. The general opinion seems to be that he would likely make changes to the platform that go well beyond revamping its content policies.

Twitter was generally not in favor of Musk taking control and so used what is known as a "poison pill" strategy. They would allow shareholders to purchase additional stock in the event a buyout should occur. But on April 25, Twitter's board of directors unanimously accepted Musk's buyout offer of $44 billion. There was also talk that Musk would make the company private.

Besides the business aspects of all this, many users were apprehensive about a Musk takeover and really about anyone taking over. The fear was not about stock prices or advertising. It is about how the platform would change.

Elon Musk published his first tweet on his personal Twitter account in June 2010. He had 80 million followers at the time of the purchase. Musk's most vocal comment about the purchase was that he wanted to protect "freedom of speech." Of course, that is something protected by the government and doesn't really apply to most private companies.

Elizabeth Lopatto of The Verge made some predictions about what a Musk takeover might mean. She thought that a mass employee exodus might occur. She also saw the reinstatement of some accounts, such as Donald Trump's account.

The New York Times wrote that Musk's acquisition was "about controlling a megaphone" rather than free speech. Kate Klonick, a law professor at St. John's University, went as far as to say that allowing "all free speech" would open the door to the spread of pornography and hate speech on Twitter.

A number of commenters have said that Musk's purchase just adds fuel to the controversy about the power that wealthy people have in influencing the democratic process.

Musk has said that he thought that Twitter should make the algorithm that determines what users see open-source and more transparent.

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/twitter-under-elon-musk-what-an-open-source-and-free-speech-oriented-platform-could-look-like-11651091515

Educating in the Metaverse

AR use

Using augmented reality to see what is not physically there.

There is not much mention of education in all the discussions this year about the metaverse, but it is thought that it will better allow students to have a cyber-physical learning experience. The virtual world will merge with the real one more and more seamlessly.

For the past 20 months, there has been a global educational experiment in online learning. But don't think that what has happened in education because of the COVID-19 pandemic is an accurate account or prediction of what teaching and learning are at their best, or what they will become in a metaverse. The forced move to online education was awkward for most schools, students and teachers, particularly in the first two semesters. By the spring of 2021, all parties were better adapted to learning online. For the fall 2021 semester, many schools were able to go back to their pre-pandemic methodologies and content delivery. The best schools and teachers have not abandoned what was learned in those online days, and for them learning has continued to shift between online and in person. Online delivery has become more of an integral component of education. The whole move online in 2020 and 2021 should lead to more inclusive and creative pedagogical solutions.

My earlier post on the building of the metaverse did not consider education. No one should think that what we now call online education looks anything like the metaverse. Actually, some online worlds from decades past, such as Second Life, are closer to the metaverse than current online education. The building game Minecraft is enjoyed by millions of young and old learners and has found a place in higher education too. Both of those products have been used to enhance lectures, allow virtual field trips and make students creators. I took tours of campuses in Second Life at the start of this century. They were crude by today's tech standards but they didn't require a clunky headset. I did it once in front of a giant screen and it was more "immersive" but no metaverse.

Current virtual reality (VR) simulations allow students in medicine, engineering, and architecture to practice skills that are difficult to rehearse in real life.

Most followers of the metaverse will say that some forms of it are already here. I discussed in the previous article some companies that already offer applications and platforms that fit part of the definitions (and there are multiple definitions as of now) of the metaverse.  Another company that is making inroads to educational use is Roblox. In its current version, it looks very much like a game, which is often a serious deterrent for educators to consider using technology. But they are expanding the tools offered and giving users and developers more opportunities to create experiences of their own.  with an emphasis on safety.

Roblox has more than 203 million monthly active users in their virtual world. Some might call this platform a "proto-metaverse." But so far, it lacks the VR and AR that are part of all definitions of the metaverse. There is also caution required here for safety since many of those users are children. Roblox CEO David Baszucki may have used some hyperbole in saying during an interview that his company’s business model predicted the metaverse 17 years ago.

The media is already countering any metaverse visioning with cautionary tales of the dangers it might also offer. It ranges from fears that predators might use it to lure children. Since the porn industry has been at the lead with many technologies from VHS tapes and DVDs to online video, there's a good chance that they will want in on the metaverse. A lot of warnings currently come from a lack of understanding about what a metaverse will look like, and the misperception that somehow Zuckerberg and Meta will be THE metaverse rather than a part of it.

John Preston (Professor of Sociology, University of Essex) believes that some aspects of the metaverse are already in universities. His fear is that it will offer revolutionary potential for greater profits to be made in higher education. His research on digital technologies in higher education shows that a metaverse could monetize the student experience even more than now and also exploit the work of academics.

Jaron Lanier, who was an early promoter of VR and founded the first VR company (VPL Research) and made Virtual Reality the term for the head-mounted display has changed his mind on the metaverse. I attended a workshop he did at a conference in the late 1990s and wore his headset and put on the wired gloves to walk through a virtual world while moving around a small room that had a few ramps and objects that became something else in my headset view. It was pretty cool. And pretty awkward. I heard him speak at an edtech conference around 2010 when he had published his "manifesto" You Are Not A Gadget. Lanier's wonder-filled dreams for what these new technologies as we turned into the 21st century could provide for humanity had become nightmares.  His 2018 book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now indicates that the dreams are still nightmares.  In a recent Forbes article, Lanier says, "If you run [the metaverse] on a business model that’s similar to the one that Facebook runs on, it’ll destroy humanity. I’m not saying that rhetorically. That is a literal and specific prediction that humanity could not survive that."

While some people may be creating a virtual research center ecosystem using Microsoft Teams, others are suggesting that we need to forget the tech and focus on human beings, while some feel we need to use digital simulations to prepare students for future careers.

My own metaverse predictions are that it is farther away than the current buzz seems to indicate, and that augmented reality (AR) will play a greater role than virtual reality (VR) - unless they can get rid of that clunky VR headgear. I see that Meta, which owns Oculus (known initially for making hose clunky goggles) has dropped the Oculus branding. Maybe they will also drop the headgear.

Fake Facebook Accounts

signupNo one is giving Facebook or Meta or Mark Zuckerberg a free pass these days. Criticism is a daily event and their PR people must be in constant firefighting mode. But Facebook has been doing things to protect privacy and security and Facebook I keep hearing ads on podcasts about how they are promoting safety.  Unfortunately, the criticism is usually drowning out the tools they do offer and the actions they are taking. If you are on Facebook, you should be doing your part in protecting your account. Much of online protection is a matter of personal responsibility.

One of the areas that often gets attention is fake accounts. By the end of 2019, Facebook removed a staggering 5.5 billion fake accounts. Plenty of companies would be happy to have that many legitimate accounts but Facebook far exceeds that number. The removals continue and from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the third quarter of 2021 they removed approximately 1.8 billion fake accounts, up from 1.3 billion fake accounts in the corresponding quarter in 2020.

Why would anyone want to make a fake account?

Scammers use fake Facebook accounts to connect with users and then their friends to scrape personal information. That can be used to steal identities. They can also reach out to anyone who's accepted that fake friend request to try and scam them, since this fake account is sending friend requests to all your friends. This is called Facebook cloning.

I have seen a number of my friends' accounts be cloned using a few photos they have made public and any "public" information. When a clone of your account is created using your name you are not the real object of attention. It is actually your friends that are the target and the hope is that your friends will accept the fake friend request.

The cloned account often looks quite bare. Some people immediately recognize that they are already friends with that person/name and know this new request is fake. But if you have many friends or accept requests without looking a bit closer, you can be scammed. If you accept that friend request, the scammer now has access to your friend-visible information and then your friends' accounts' personal information. This access expands rapidly even if not everyone accepts the requests.

To report a fake account, go to  https://www.facebook.com/help/306643639690823

You should also take the initiative to use some tools Facebook offers and do some protecting on your own.

Privacy Checkup - helps you control who can see what you share, how your information is used and how to secure your account.

You see the message if you click next to the ad "Why Am I Seeing This Ad?" You can adjust what ads you see starting with that one.

Off-Facebook Activity is a tool most users don't know about. It lets you control or disconnect the information businesses send to Meta about your activity on other apps and websites.

And you can download or request and export your data so you can move it between services.

Welcome to the Facebook Metaverse

meta platforms logoYou've heard that Facebook is changing its name to Meta. Facebook, Inc. is now Meta Platforms, Inc. or Meta to be brief. Search "meta" on Facebook and you find about.facebook.com/meta  (meta.com will also take you there.)

People on the perimeter seem to think that this rebranding is an attempt to turn attention from all the negative press that Facebook and Instagram have been getting the past few months. This is more like when Google became Alphabet. Google still exists and people still say Google when they mean the umbrella company (Alphabet) and I'm sure it will take a long time before Facebook is thought of as being Meta.

I posted on Twitter a few weeks ago when people were guessing about the new name that I thought "Metaverse" would be the new name. It made sense since Zuckerberg has been talking about playing a big role in the future metaverse. Of course, almost no one knows what the metaverse is or will be. I wrote about it here and I still find it difficult to explain to someone this "future of the Internet."

I also suspect that, like Google/Alphabet, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg may drop the CEO role at Facebook and move over to Meta. He made the name change "official" at the company’s developer conference Connect. He hopes that Meta will reach a billion people in the next 10 years. That sounds conservative if you consider that Facebook is at two billion already. Add in WhatsApp and Instagram users into one big metaverse and Branding and marketing experts, however, agree that the Facebook name is too deeply entrenched at this point and the company faces an uphill battle to recast in a new and more transparent light.

In his announcement, Zuckerberg said he went with Meta because it’s a Greek word that “symbolizes there’s always more to build.” Meta from the Greek means "after" or "beyond." I think it is more interesting - and perhaps more on target - that it also means an awareness of itself or oneself as a member of its category and self-referential.

Is it coincidental that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (the philanthropy Zuckerberg founded with his wife, Priscilla Chan) had acquired a startup called Meta that uses AI to aggregate scientific research? Officially, the project’s website says it’s a separate entity from Facebook.

Meta’s most obvious connotation here is the metaverse itself. So, what will Meta be doing in the immediate future? We have one clue looking at what they are doing with Oculus which they purchased seven years ago. That company builds virtual reality headsets that allow people to play 3D virtual games. It was also announced this week that the Oculus name would be retired and that its hardware and apps will now operate under the Meta brand.

How will Facebook change? It won't for now. Same with Instagram and WhatsApp. Meta is also Facebook Messenger, Facebook Watch, and Facebook Portal, along with acquisitions Giphy and Mapillary, and has a stake in Jio Platforms.

From MySpace to TRUTH Social

Donald Trump was banned from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in the wake of the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. His social media accounts were also flagged multiple times for spreading false information about voting fraud in the 2020 presidential election. So banished from major social media platforms, the former President has now announced plans to form a public company that will launch a social platform of his own.

This past week a press release announced TRUTH Social would be his space. It is supposed to beta launch in November with a wider rollout in 2022. In the information released publically, Donald Trump is listed as the chairman of the Trump Media & Technology Group. TMTG would be formed by joining with Digital World Acquisition Corp., pending regulatory and stockholder approval. DWAC is a special purpose acquisition company, which sells stock with the intention of buying private firms, and the release says the corporation will invest $293 million in the Trump project.

The day I read about the announcement was the same day that a friend emailed to say that he discovered my old MySpace account was still online. the two things fit together for me.

myspace 1

"My space" is what Trump wants. A place where he can say whatever he wants without someone else controlling what content he puts out. He tried this before. His attempt to start a post-presidential blog didn't last very long. In June 2021, that blog shut down.  after Trump had become frustrated because there was little traffic to the site. It was not a well-designed site and cost only a few thousand dollars to make (by a company run by his former campaign manager set it up). Rather than give Trump a megaphone, it ended up making his voice and influence seem small and less significant.

As soon as this new venture was announced the media started commenting. CNN (no friend of Trump) gave three reasons why the Trump venture will fail: Twitter already exists; the conservative social space is crowded (and not doing well); and Donald Trump isn't President anymore.

A post on engadget.com gave a more serious technical reason for problems with the site - a licensing error. "The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) says The Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG) violated a licensing agreement when it recently launched a test version of TRUTH Social. The website ran on a modified version of Mastodon, a free and open-source platform for operating Twitter-like social media networks. Anyone can use Mastodon provided they comply with AGPLv3, the software license that governs its code." That would include that you share your source code with all users. At the Trump site's test version launch, it did not do that. TMTG has 30 days to comply with AGPLv3 or face consequences.

I can imagine Trump telling the designers of the new platform that "I want my space online to say whatever I want to say."

On the business side of this, the stock price for DWAC skyrocketed on October 21st after the announcement. I hope the SEC is looking at who bought shares of DWAC in the days before the announcement. And I assume they will carefully note who sells that stock before any announcement that, like Trump's earlier social effort, the whole thing collapses.

An Instagram Kids App Is On Hold

Instagram logos
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Facebook has been getting a lot of critical press the past month.  The Wall Street Journal's "Facebook Files" series has focused attention on how Facebook Inc. knows from internal research that its three platforms allow content that causes harm and any actions it has taken have not been effective.

When they announced this summer that there is a project to develop a version of Instagram aimed at children younger than 13, there was an outcry in the media. Concerns about privacy, screen time, mental health and safety were all aired.

This week Facebook announced it is suspending plans to build the Instagram Kids app. Facebook has owned Instagram since 2012. The platform is largely a photo-sharing application, though it has the commenting and likes common to most social sites. The Wall Street Journal series covered how Instagram is known by Facebook to sometimes negatively affect teenage girls in particular.

This suspension is not an end to the project and the company plans to take some time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, but to move forward. Introducing the next generation to the platform would be advantageous to the company, though they had said that the Kids app would be ad-free, introducing kids to what may become in their adult life the Facebook "metaverse."

Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp is certainly not alone in wanting new and younger users and is competing with other platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat.

It may seem somewhat ironic that the WSJ used the results of an internal study by Facebook which they conducted to determine how its apps affect users against the company. In fact, the WSJ did compliment Facebook on doing the research, but their criticism came in what Facebook did or did not do as a result of the studies.

Facebook is scheduled to address these issues this Thursday before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/09/27/facebook-instagram-kids/
https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-pauses-instagram-kids-project-11632744879
https://www.engadget.com/facebook-is-pausing-work-on-instagram-kids-app-124639135.html