Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Category: Politics

Facebook isn’t that Different from News Corp or Standard Oil

My Facebook is flooded with folks talking about Cambridge Analytica, the firm that bought access to Facebook user data and used it to help design political propaganda for organisations seeking to help the Trump campaign. But you know what I find most surprising about this story? The fact that people find it surprising in the first place. This possibility was always implied by Facebook’s business model. It creates a platform that makes communicating with people easier. We don’t have to pay money to use it, but in exchange Facebook takes our data and sells it to whoever wants to buy. Did we really think that political organisations wouldn’t be interesting in buying Facebook data? Did we really think that Facebook wouldn’t sell it to them? This implication has stood in front of our faces for years. It’s clearly implied by Facebook’s very nature–it is literally a firm which induces people to give it private information and then sells that information to the highest bidder. Why can’t the bidders have political motivations? Facebook is a transnational corporation. Why would even expect the bidders to be American?

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9 Rules For Living in Sad Times

In reading Nathan Robinson’s piece on Jordan Peterson, I was struck by something Robinson said:

But here the left and academia actually bear a decent share of blame. Why is Jordan Peterson’s combination of drivel and cliché attracting millions of followers?…Who else has a serious alternative? Where are the other professors with accessible and compelling YouTube channels, with books of helpful advice and long Q&A sessions with the public? No wonder Peterson is so popular: he comes along and offers rules and guidance in a world of, well, chaos. Just leave it to Dad, everything will be alright.

I’m a left wing academic! This is in part my fault. I’ve been writing all these pieces about politics, but I haven’t tried to help people figure out how to live. Why haven’t I? Robinson himself threw together a bulleted list of “principles of living“, but it’s mostly for laughs. Robinson self-identifies as a libertarian socialist–he doesn’t want to tell people what to do. Most lefties feel queasy about paternalism. We’re reluctant to lead people because we want people to lead themselves. Well, no more. Today I’m going to take a stab at life-coaching. After all, I live one of those carefree academic lives at a fancy university–I must have done something right.

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3 Brexit Futures: Stories from Next Year

In Spring 2019, the UK is meant to leave the EU. Prime Minister Theresa May soldiers on, but many think she can’t get the job done. Former Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair gave ruthless speeches again May, and EU’s lead Brexit negotiator accused May of being “vague” and “not credible”. Major–a member of May’s own party–was especially vicious:

It all has me thinking about what comes next. How might these Brexit negotiations conclude? Three possibilities stick out to me.

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I’m Ready to Give Up On Gun Control–But Let’s Close the TSA

I know, right? Depressing headline. But it’s true. After some years of writing about gun control, I can’t do it anymore. As a society, we’ve made our choice–we’ve decided that it’s worth it to have a much more dangerous society in the name of freedom. But if that’s the principle, I want to abolish the TSA and go back to 90s airport security. Remember the 90s? You could just walk into the airport and go straight to the gate. No lines. No fuss. Sure, 2,996 people died on 9/11. But guns were used in 13,286 homicides in 2015 alone. There were zero terrorist attacks involving passenger planes in the 17 years before 9/11. But guns kill another 13 or 14 thousand people every year. Gun rights advocates might think the right to travel unmolested by the TSA is worth only a fraction of what the right to own a gun is worth. But we sacrificed our travel rights over only a tiny fraction of the number of lives guns take from us. I’m giving up on taking people’s guns, but I want them to give me back my airports.

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The War for Social Media: The Center is Trying to Diminish Diversity and Control Speech

There’s a story we tell about social media. Once upon a time politics wasn’t so divided and polarized. But then, social media came along–it let people retreat into bubbles, where they only talked to people who thought as they did. This caused them to get all extreme and nasty. And then the alt-right and the Russians figured out that they could inject fake stories into these bubbles and turn social media users into Trump supporters! Our beautiful liberal society was torn apart, and it’s all because people stopped trusting traditional news sources, like the big newspapers and TV networks. Companies like Facebook have a responsibility to do something about this–to call out the fake stories, or stop them from showing up in people’s feeds. Sounds familiar, right? I want to tell a different story about social media.

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