Divine Wrath

It’s been a rough week for Seattle baseball fans.

It started with an ordinary aggravation: a rain-out, resulting in a doubleheader. Normally you take those in stride, but it came at an awkward time in the Ms’ schedule: a lot of travel and no off days, thanks to an early-season snow-out.

Then, the day after the doubleheader, Robinson Canó was hit on the hand by an errant pitch. Broken metacarpal bone, out for an estimated 6-8 weeks. A big hit to the team’s playoff hopes and overall morale.

Naturally, then, the Universe doubled down. Before fans even heard the specialist’s appraisal of Canó’s injury and expected recovery time, they found out it was largely irrelevant. MLB determined he’d taken a banned substance and suspended him for eighty games. Not only does that push his return into August, but it means he’ll be ineligible if the Ms’ manage to squeeze into the playoffs.

It’s especially vexing for the fans because of a lack of information. Canó and MLB say he took a diuretic which is on the banned list because it can be used to flush performance-enhancing drugs out of the system. Players don’t get banned for taking that medication; instead, there’s an independent investigation to determine the likelihood that it was taken to conceal PED use.

Canó denies there was any PED use, and that the drug was to control his high blood pressure–a legitimate use. MLB says there is evidence of PED use, but, for privacy reasons, will not discuss what the evidence is or what banned substances they believe he took.

Of course, the result is a persecution complex among Mariners fans, and the rise of conspiracy theories. My favorite says MLB is unhappy at losing the Cubs’ curse as a drawing card and publicity tool. As a result, the theory states, they’re taking steps to extend Seattle’s playoff drought–already the longest in all of the four major American sports–indefinitely. This, of course, ties in nicely with reports that Portland is in the running for an expansion team: how thrilling would it be to have a playoff race between the martyred Mariners and the Portland TBAs? One team trying to break their curse, the other trying to duplicate the success of the NHL’s Vegas franchise–now that’s drama (and ticket sales).

But I digress.

Picture those poor Seattle fans, already dealing with all that.

Tuesday–the same day Canó’s suspension was announced–Nelson Cruz, another key piece of the Mariners’ playoff hopes, was hit in the foot by a pitch.

A wave of fan suicides was forestalled when the team was able to give an update before the end of the game: no bones were broken, but Cruz will be out for several days, and a stint on the Disabled List is still a possibility.

You might think that was enough. But, no. Adding insult to the injuries, most of them couldn’t even watch Wednesday afternoon’s game. Not because of their work schedules, but because it was exclusive to Facebook, one of twenty-five such this season. No local TV, no MLB.TV. Closed your Facebook account in protest of the Cambridge Analytica? Too bad. Don’t want to sit in front of your computer for three hours? Sorry. Don’t have the Facebook app on your mobile device because you don’t want to give them access to your location and contacts? We weep great crocodile tears for you.

Ahem. Sorry.

How was the experience if you were willing to deal with Facebook?

Feh.

In fairness, they did provide a way to turn off the comments window and the stupid emoji scrolling on top of the video. And having the broadcast commercial-free was nice.

Other than that, though…

Even with Facebook comments off, we still got viewer questions and comments slapped onscreen and had to listen to the announcers read them and respond.

Instead of letting fans enjoy the lack of commercials by showing pitchers warming up, attendees singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and all the other enjoyable non-game elements of the live experience, we got historical moments only tangentially related to the current game and more inane viewer comments.

Let’s not forget the frequent use of split-screen, shrinking the actual game in favor of interviews with studio talking heads, players, and managers.

And, of course, several in-game reminders to buy MLB.TV and get access to “all out of market games”, conveniently not adding “except this one”.

Pardon me again.

So, yeah. Baseball on Facebook is better than no baseball–but that’s a given. If there were any alternative short of flying cross-country to watch the game in person, I’d recommend it.

Still, today is a new day. Mariners fans across the country are risking divine wrath by assuring each other that the worst must surely be over, and life will get better from here.

Game time is 7:10 Pacific, and it will be available through all the usual distribution channels. Surely nothing else can go wrong this week. Right?

Face It

Thousands–perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands–of people are deleting their Facebook accounts in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

And that’s great. I look forward with great anticipation to the day when the exodus reaches critical mass and I can delete my own account.

Keep in mind, I created my account when I started doing the writing thing. In today’s world of publishing, the best thing you can do for yourself as an author is to promote your books. And the best–the only–way to do that is to go where the people are.

It doesn’t do much good to do promotion on MySpace, LiveJournal, or any place else your potential readers aren’t. Today, that means Facebook. Yes, Twitter to a lesser extent. Much lesser.

At Facebook’s current rate of decline, I should be able to delete my account around the end of 2020. And that’s the best case scenario.

I’m assuming here that Facebook’s claimed two billion users statistic is grossly inflated. I’m also assuming that there are a million account deletions a day, which is, I suspect, also grossly inflated.

‘Cause, as Arwa Mahdawi said in The Guardian, “…there is not really a good replacement for Facebook.” She quotes Safiya Noble, a professor of information studies at USC: “For many people, Facebook is an important gateway to the internet. In fact, it is the only version of the internet that some know…”

And it’s true. Remember when millions of people thought AOL was the Internet? I think they’ve all moved to Facebook.

They’re not going to delete their accounts. Neither are the millions of people who say “You don’t have anything to be concerned about from surveillance if you haven’t done anything wrong.” Ditto for the people who still don’t regret voting for Trump and the ones who say “There are so many cameras watching you all the time anyway, what difference does it make if Facebook is watching too?”

Even if there’s a lot of overlap among those groups, that’s still hundreds of millions of accounts.

(Why isn’t the paranoid fringe–the people who literally wear aluminum foil hats to keep the government from controlling their minds–up in arms about Facebook? Is it only because they’re not “the government”? Or am I just not looking for their denunciations in the right places?)

Facebook isn’t going away any time soon. Not until the “new hot” comes along. If the new hot isn’t just Facebook under another name. Don’t forget that Instagram and WhatsApp are Facebook. They’re watching you the same way the parent company is, and if one of them captures the next generation of Internet users, it’ll be “The king is dead! Hail the new king, same as the old king!”

Unfortunately, stereotypes aside, those people who are staying on Facebook do read. And that means I need to keep my account open, touting my wares in their marketplace.

I’ve seen a number of people saying “If you can’t leave Facebook, at least cut down the amount of information you give them.” Which is good advice, but really tricky to do. Even if you follow all of the instructions for telling Facebook to forget what they already know, there are other things they track. You can tell them to forget what you’ve liked, but you can’t tell them to forget how long you looked at each article. (Yes, they do track that, according to credible reports. The assumption is that their algorithms give you more posts similar to ones you’ve spent a long time on.)

And then there are those apps. Those charming, wonderful apps.

I checked my settings to see how many apps I’d allowed to access my information. There were only eight, which puts me way down at the low end of the curve. It’s down to four now, two of which are necessary to have my blog posts show up on Facebook. And when I killed off two of the four, I got popups reminding me that removing their access to Facebook does not delete any data they’ve already gathered.

Should I be concerned that I didn’t get a warning about the other two?

But let’s assume a miracle. Say, half a billion accounts get closed. The FTC fines Facebook an obscene amount of money*. What happens next?

* They almost have to. How many of those 50,000,000 accounts compromised by CA belong to government officials. Officials who are now very worried about what CA–and thus whoever they’ve shared that data with, starting with the Trump family, the Russian government, and who knows who all else–has inferred about their non-governmental activities, health, sexual orientation, and so on. If the FTC doesn’t hammer Facebook, heads will roll, no matter who has control of Congress after the November elections.

Absolutely nothing. Facebook goes on. They make a show of contrition, talk up new controls they’ve put in place to keep anything of the sort from happening again*. And they keep marketing users’ personal information to anyone who might want to advertise.

* It will. We’ve seen every form of access-control ever invented hacked. The information exists, it’s valuable, therefor someone will steal it.

That’s their whole business model. They can’t change it. The only thing that might–and I emphasize “might”–kill Facebook would be for them to say, “You know, you’re right. It’s unethical for us to make money by selling your private information. We won’t do it any more. Oh, and effective immediately, Facebook will cost you $9.99 a month.”

Make It Didn’t Happen

So California has a new law to protect children and teenagers. Yay?

The law has two main threads: it allows minors to request the removal of any content they’ve posted and requires Web companies to comply with the request, and it forbids companies that have mobile apps to market products that are illegal for minors to minors.

Proponents are hailing the law as a victory for privacy and the Safety of Our Children. It’s a chance to undo mistakes and give oneself a fresh start. The problem is that the law doesn’t really do much. Consider:

  • The law only applies to content directly posted by the minor. If someone else posts an embarrassing picture or message about a minor, the law doesn’t apply. To get the content taken down, the minor would have to work through the company’s existing policies and procedures. Presumably if most company’s practices were adequate, there wouldn’t have been a need for this law.
  • Similarly, the law does not cover material copied from a minor’s post. If a teen were to post a potentially-embarrassing photo to Facebook, for example, he could require that Facebook take it down, but could not do anything about copies residing in various archives (our old friend the Internet Archive, for example), search engine caches (Google Image Search, anyone?), or even the copy his buddy posts to his own Facebook page. Consider, too, a Twitter post: the minor could require Twitter to take down a specific tweet, but would not be able to require the take down of any retweets.
  • Note the use of the phrase “take it down”. Companies are not required to actually delete content, only remove it from public view. Depending on the company’s actual setup, the content might remain on the servers, vulnerable to deep linking and hacking.
  • Your 18th birthday is on Monday, so you’re partying all weekend? Better send the removal request for all those Twitter updates about where you got your fake ID, which bars you’re hitting, and just how blasted you are before midnight. The law doesn’t apply once you turn 18, so Twitter has no obligation to honor your request come Monday.

Bottom line: The law is intended to protect teenagers from the consequences of their bad judgment. What it’s actually doing is encouraging irresponsible posting and leading minors to develop bad habits. By allowing them unlimited “take backs”, it encourages a “post first, think second” mentality. Post something embarrassing or illegal? No problem! Send a take-down request and it’s gone. Until you’re 18 and head off to college. Suddenly you have to think before posting. In a new environment, with greatly-reduced potential for adult supervision. Not such an easy habit to break, is it? Good luck!