What's Left 2018-04-22 Volume 106

Facebook, Data Mining, and Changing Childhoods, LECTURES D'HIVER, Ontario Liberals do not understand what universities are for

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Facebook, Data Mining, and Changing Childhoods

A newly retired co-worker recently asked me “What are we going to do about Facebook? Are people in your generation leaving the platform because of what’s happening?” I’m definitely no spokesperson for my cohort, but still, it doesn’t seem like we are leaving en masse any time soon.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica Facebook revelations, the extent of data collection and the sale of that data have been revealed to the public. What we know, and what we’ve really always known, is that private companies are keeping records of our online movements. Facebook is not the only social media platform who’s business model relies on the sale of our data, Google, Twitter, and essentially all free-for-use web services have similar interests: tracking our online activity (what we like, what we share, who our friends are) and selling it (directly or indirectly) to advertising agencies who use it to figure out who we are and how they can better sell to us. It is said that by collecting 300 Facebook likes from us, researchers are able to know us better than our spouses and even better than we know ourselves.


I was born in Southwestern Ontario in 1989. Most of my childhood memories are of times spent outside. I was privileged enough to be enrolled in t-ball and Girl Guides and spent weekends on the diamond or out camping. On the street where I grew up, most of the semi-detached townhomes didn’t have fences between the backyards and kids would share their backyard playgrounds, have boom box concerts, climb trees, make forts, find worms, and steal sweet peas from gardens. There aren’t many pictures of us neighbourhood kids at that time – a few shots around a birthday cake. Mostly, it was just us and the worms, tadpoles, and butterflies.

My childhood is from a different time – hardly a bold statement, since each generation experiences life differently. However, the rate of technological advancement has increased exponentially in recent decades and the differences are stark. Growing up, our exact whereabouts weren’t tracked with GPS-enabled phones. When our parents took our pictures, facial recognition software wasn’t integrated into the camera. Although unaware of it at the time, this meant we had some sort of anonymity and privacy.

Recently, I find myself worrying about those younger than me who have had near-constant internet access growing up. How has that shaped them? The street I once knew as one littered with kids of different ages, playing together in open yards, is now compartmentalized and fenced in. I struggle to understand why we isolate ourselves and our families in this way; why we prioritize physical privacy and private property while simultaneously sharing so many photos of ourselves and our families online. Perhaps it’s about maintaining social connections without the immediate pressures of a physical relationship.


This past month, following the news of how Cambridge Analytica has used its legally collected data of millions of Facebook users, I downloaded my Facebook data. Nothing surprising came up for me. I didn’t come across anything that I hadn’t knowingly shared on the platform. Videos uploaded during my undergrad – of a study group eating candy and making jokes in the library, of a trip to Washington D.C. with the political science student association – and pictures of bar nights and student union campaigns. These are all things that I, or friends of mine, have uploaded at some point in the ten+ years that Facebook has existed. I’ve heard about a few people getting upset over what Facebook knows, but I’m not sure I have much sympathy. To think for a moment, that a private company has the public’s best interest at heart is a mistake. It’s a mistake when we trust them to document the lives of our growing children just like it’s a mistake when we sell them our public services – private companies exist to make profit, not to make our lives better. Deep down, even the most naïve (or trusting) of us know this.

For the generations who are now growing up and sharing so much of their lives through private social networks, this is uncharted territory. They have lived their entire lives with access to the internet. Just as it took decades to understand the long-term social impacts of television, I don’t presume to know what impact this will have on their lives, but I do know it will have an impact.

As a society, we need to take responsibility for what we share online. We have to understand that nothing we do with our smartphones or computers is safe from data mining. We need to demand better regulation from our governments and access to privacy – to be able to render ourselves invisible – similar to new laws being introduced in Europe.

We need to think about how we foster and strengthen our relationships with the people we love and care about, and that needs to go beyond what we share online. Many kids who were born in the last ten years have had no choice as to whether their childhood is posted publicly. How will this impact them later in their lives? How will the data that has been collected about them, about all of us, be used in the future?

We’ve integrated Facebook and other social media platforms into our lives. We’ve used them to stay connected to our friends and family in ways that have never been possible before. We rely upon Google to learn more about the world around us. We find recipes on people’s blogs, we read articles, play online games, follow guided YouTube exercise videos. More importantly, we have massively expanded the social spaces we are able to enter and participate in. And in these spaces, we find an incredible array of voices that we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to hear from and communicate with.

To answer my former co-worker’s question, no, I don’t think we’re leaving these spaces, I think they are here to stay, but what I do think is that we need to be smarter and more thoughtful with how we use social networks, the internet, and these new technologies that make so many promises, but are premised on new business models in which we are both the consumer and the product.


https://www.nytimes.com/podcasts/the-daily The Daily Podcast, Thursday, March 22, 2018:

https://cpress.org/leftnews/news-item-1521990567.78 The Facebook Scandal, Citizens’ Press:


Le printemps tarde à réchauffer ma ville, et j’en profite pour partager mes lectures francophones des derniers mois. Je vous souhaite de trouver ici quelques suggestions pour vos lectures printanières – le beau temps se pointera bien un jour ou l’autre.

Les Fables de La Fontaine

Peu de gens sont sans connaître quelques fables de Jean de La Fontaine. Je me souviens d’avoir récité les vers de « La cigale et la fourmi » dans ma jeunesse. Cet hiver, j’ai lu l’intégrale des fables dans un livre illustré de Gustave Doré.

Jean de Lafontaine a publié trois recueils de fables entre 1668 et 1694. Ce sont des poèmes, sans doute, chacun présentant une certaine morale, une leçon sur l’humanité. La vie animale occupe un premier rôle : souvent, les fables sont des tableaux d’interaction entre un animal et un humain, ou entre animaux tout simplement.

La plume de La Fontaine est souvent drôle, ironique et perspicace. Lire les fables au-delà de notre expérience écolière révèle l’ampleur du travail de La Fontaine, et son style unique et universel. À garder près de la table de chevet pour une lecture qui dure plusieurs mois.

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fables_de_La_Fontaine Fables de Jean de Lafontaine

Les souffrances du jeune Werther

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe est un auteur allemand qui fut projeté à l’avant-plan de la scène littéraire après la publication de ce livre. Il s’agit d’un roman épistolaire qui fait état des correspondances, entre le jeune Werther et son grand ami. Il est amoureux d’une femme qui est financée à un autre. Au cours d’une année et demie, les états d’âme du jeune Werther vont passer de l’amour inégalé à la tristesse plus que totale. Ce livre est reconnu comme l’un des grands classiques de la littérature européenne. C’est un grand roman d’amour, qui, à l’époque de sa publication, fut accueilli avec le plus grand éclat, certains allant jusqu’à parodier les émotions à fleur de peau du personnage. C’est un roman court, comique et tragique à la fois, et une belle histoire d’amour que j’ai bien aimé découvrir.

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Souffrances_du_jeune_Werther Les Souffrances du jeune Werther de Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Tout ce qu’on ne te dira pas, Mongo de Danny Laferrière

Je suis depuis longtemps la carrière et les écrits de Danny Laferrière, auteur haïtien qui a passé une grande partie de sa vie au Québec. C’est un auteur que je trouve souvent apolitique, mais je retrouve toujours ses écrits avec une grande joie. J’aime surtout ses recueils de textes courts où il commente la vie d’écrivain, il relate ses lectures du moment, et ses réflexions sur la vie. Tout ce qu’on ne te dira pas, Mongo, est un livre qu’il dédie à un jeune garçon récemment installé à Montréal du Cameroun. Laferrière se rappelle son arrivée à Montréal et tente d’interpréter les comportements, habitudes et préférences des Montréalais. Son écriture est sensible, drôle et engageante. Je recommande la lecture de ce livre-ci, mais pour découvrir l’œuvre de Laferrière, il faut commencer avec l’Odeur du café.

http://memoiredencrier.com/tout-ce-qu-on-ne-te-dira-pas-mongo-dany-laferriere/ Tout ce qu’on ne te dira pas, Mongo de Danny Laferrière

Les armoires vides, Annie Ernaux

Quel plaisir de remonter dans le temps pour lire le premier ouvrage d’Ernaux ! Il est plus cru et libre que ses livres récents. Une jeune femme retrace le parcours de sa jeunesse. Elle doit jongler deux mondes. Le premier, celui de son enfance dans le café-épicerie de ses parents où les journées sont longues et la compagnie particulièrement travaillante. Le deuxième, celui de l’école où elle a le goût d’apprendre et où elle casse avec l’histoire de ses parents en s’éduquant. Le style d’Ernaux est unique et envahissant. Une voix de femme qui résonne encore aujourd’hui.

https://www.leslibraires.ca/livres/les-armoires-vides-annie-ernaux-9782070376001.html Les armoires vides d’Annie Ernaux

Le corps des bêtes, Audrée Wilhelmy

C’est l’histoire d’une famille qui habite un phare isolé près de la mer et de la forêt. L’époque est floue et les circonstances sont vagues. Une jeune fille, Mie, grandit dans ce tableau en s’imprégnant de la nature environnante. Elle a un don : elle peut transférer sa conscience dans le corps des animaux de son entourage. Elle s’éduque sur la vie, la mort, la sexualité en empruntant le corps matériel des grues, des ours, des crabes.

Il faut lire ce livre pour l’écriture séduisante, et l’imaginaire décidément original sans trop chercher à suivre le fil de l’histoire. Le personnage de Mie m’intrigue, mais l’absence de consentement explicite dans certaines des relations du roman est troublante. Audrée Wilhelmy est une jeune auteure à suivre, tout de même.

http://www.lemeac.com/catalogue/1646-le-corps-des-betes.html Le corps des bêtes d’Audrée Wilhelmy


Ontario Liberals do not understand what universities are for | Citizens’ Press

The Ontario Liberal’s 2018 budget had a few large progressive sounding programs to announce. However, none of these were focused on the university system. Almost all of the budget outside the announcement of large subsidies to private childcare providers and pharma continued to be a standard Liberal fare - progressive sounding, regressive in implementation. The true impact of government spending on the university system will be the implementation of funding reforms not written explicitly into government spending. This is the case for much of the government’s policies that seem to be ignored during budget time – even though these policies give the budget its true political framework. 2018 Ontario Budget and Universities

The Ontario Liberal government’s reforms of the university funding system are regressive – driven by the further commodification of education, the marketization of access, and commercialization of research. The funding announcements in the 2018 budget for universities reinforce funding policy reforms already underway. Liberal spending focuses on supporting business rather than researcher, students, and the support workers that allow Ontario universities to function. Analysis

Canadian Liberals do not understand what a university is for. The entire focus of the Liberal’s budget is on supporting the mythical home-grown Ontario Innovative Technology Entrepreneur. The amount of money being spent by the Liberals on birthing these imaginary creatures is a breathtaking \$2B a year. This does not include the government’s spending on active leveraging all levels of the public bureaucracy and university administration on supporting anything that can be marketed as “innovation”.

The Ontario Liberal’s policy on subsidizing corporate interests on campus is nothing new. The focus has always been coerced reform of the university system into a mill that spits out workers for high-tech industries. All major initiatives of this government involving recruitment, funding, and infrastructure programs are geared towards the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. The Liberals have set the absurd and academic freedom denying goal of increasing STEM enrollment 25 per cent - all at the cost of basic science and humanities studies.

Special attention in policy reform is also on training these graduates in entrepreneurial ideology - so that they can deal with the fact that they will have to make their own jobs since no decent jobs exist for them to get hired into.

Absent from the budget is any money for the people that allow for the training of these graduates – as if students teach themselves at home watching online videos instead of being trained at elite institutions by leading-edge researchers. This fits the model of the tiered worker streams in research institutions between full-time tenured researchers and part-time teachers.

While there is massive amounts of money in the budget for failing tech-Utopia inspired policies, there is little for the workers that work in real jobs on our campuses.

The Liberals continue to tout their “Free Tuition” (sic) grants program as a success. But, only one third of students (225K college and university students) receive financial support from the government through OSAP that is enough to cover even their tuition fees. At the same time, fees that continue to grow and are at the highest in the country.

Only the Liberals would take credit for spending huge amounts of money in an attempt at reducing the harm of their own policies.

The non-universal nature of tuition grants and sticker shock issues aside, the marketization of access to truly academic university programs continues to favour more wealthy students.

As university training in the STEM programs becomes more aligned with the teaching model in colleges, the true university experience of being immersed a liberal-minded pluralist system of cutting edge development of knowledge and understanding is lost. If you read between the lines of the budget, Liberal Arts degrees are only for those who can truly afford not to have a job after going to university for four years.