Author: Michael Bugeja

Privacy Roundup: Social Media News

Privacy and security breaches associated with email, Facebook and Amazon were in the news leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Ivanka Trump Emails

Ivanka Trump, senior adviser to President Donald Trump, reportedly used her personal email account to send hundreds of messages to government officials last year. The security breach was discovered as White House staffers responded to a public records lawsuit, according to the Washington Post.

Concern was that Ivanka Trump’s use of personal email echoed that of Hillary Clinton who came under investigation in 2016 for a similar infraction, although White House officials noted that Ms. Trump’s emails did not include classified documents. Secretary Clinton also used a private server.

A spokesman also stated that the president’s daughter occasionally used her private email before being informed about the rules.

Ethics Complaint Over Facebook “Like”

Ari Kohen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, saw this image on his smartphone, was bored, and clicked “like.”

That led to a series of public events that included Congressman Jeff Fortenberry’s chief of staff contacting Kohen and later, university officials, stating that the professor’s “like” promoted vandalism.

According to the Lincoln Journal-Star, William “Reyn” Archer III also emailed the university’s chancellor to discuss “the support one of your faculty has shown for political vandalism.”

Kohen and Archer then discussed the issue. A recording of that conversation was posted on YouTube.

Kohen has filed an ethics complaint against Archer with House Ethics Committee.

Amazon Publicizes Users Emails and Names

Amazon reported a “technical error” caused the names and email addresses of users to be visible on its website, according to The Verge.

The company sent email notices to users informing them of the breach.

Even though Amazon did not advise changing passwords, tech experts noted that the publication of personal information puts those users at risk for phishing attacks and hacking attempts.

In October, an Amazon employee was fired for selling user information to a seller. This latest security lapse was traced to a technical issue.

Calls for Mark Zuckerberg to Resign

There were new calls for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to resign following a series of privacy breaches and mishandling of corporate crises, dating back to the Cambridge Analytical scandal said to have influenced the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Zuckerberg has no intention of resigning, even as reports emerged that the company used a PR firm to spread negative stories about other Silicon Valley tech firms to deflect attention away from its own crisis.

Interpersonal Divide on Iowa State homepage

Professor Michael Bugeja with a tableful of stacked books.

See: State Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication professor Michael Bugeja knows a thing or two (or 10) about textbooks. After all, this acclaimed professor doesn’t just use them to teach — he’s also written a few himself. Even more impressive? The fact that his textbooks are so influential, they’re on many required reading lists at colleges throughout the country.

Bugeja’s “Interpersonal Divide” book series, including the most recent “Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine,” has made him a thought leader in technology and its impact on the world. Since technology is a subject Iowa State is known for, it’s no surprise Bugeja fits right in here. Said Bugeja, “In as much as Iowa State University is an institution of science and technology where the first computer was invented, I am continuing a long line of similar research with my “Interpersonal Divide” books, chronicling how to understand technology and harness its power for the common good.”

While it’s true to say that Bugeja is proud of his authorship, there’s something else he’s just as proud of — his students. “My students have gone on to great careers in advertising, journalism, and public relations,”  Bugeja said, “and I relish in their success.” There’s no doubt the students he taught during their time at Iowa State relished in Bugeja’s support.

When you’re a professor at Iowa State, there’s one thing you realize right away. Students here don’t just want an adventure — they also want to make a difference in the world. Professors like Bugeja are doing everything in their power to help that come true. Said Bugeja, “I hope my teaching, service, and research helps students achieve that goal — and their dreams.”

Your Portal to Privacy Invasion

From the editor: Michael Bugeja is an award-winning professor at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. He’s an early critic of digital technology, recognizing that the mediation of interpersonal relationships via screens would pose societal and ethical problems. He’s been examining this phenomenon for years, including with his 2005 book Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age, 2017’s update Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine, and an ongoing blog at that ties current events to briefs on the same themes. We’re grateful that Michael will occasionally share some of his topical posts with us here at The Technoskeptic, where we may include some extra contextual information for our readers.
By  |  | MediaPrivacy

This one comes on the heels of Facebook’s latest product announcement, an honest-to-goodness piece of physical hardware called Portal, a video phone with a “smart camera” which pans and zooms to track users:

The latest Facebook feature, Portal, is really only a hands-free video chatting device that follows you in your own home or wherever you plant the dang thing, including your office or classroom (and yes, some early adopter assistant professor will do that and publish a paper titled: “Framing the Frame: Facebook Portal’s Integration in Blended Course Development.”)

Give me a break. Or better still, Facebook give us a break.

For the rest of the post, click here or visit:

WHO-TV News: Social Media Fueling Fire For Hate Groups To Act


AMES, Iowa — It used to be a simpler  more civil time.  “Iowa used to be the pillar of community standards when we had face to face interaction with our neighbors.”

As society has become enthralled in social media, Michael Bugeja, professor at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, says civility and hate are getting worse.

“As we gravitate more online we have to understand it gives us the convenience of sharing our views with little consequence,” he said.

Robert Bowers, the alleged shooter in the deadly Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, relayed his hate speech against Jews on a social media networking site called Gab just moments before the attack. Bugeja said, “Sometimes many people get overlooked and where they get accepted is on those fringes.”

Bugeja who has authored Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine believes Bowers and others who support his views are a population on the fringe of society that have found acceptance through these beliefs on public forums like social media.

“Many on the fringe suffer from severe anger.  When they hear uncivil speech and media or what sounds like incitement to do an act, those people on the fringe will believe their time has come. That they’ve been right all along.”

For the rest of the article, visit WHO-TV at this URL:

Gab offline following Pittsburgh Synagogue attack


The above statement appeared today on the social network, which allows all manner of speech, including what many dub hate speech, following a shooting spree by one of its users at a Pittsburgh synagogue where 11 worshipers were slain.

Alleged shooter Robert Bowers had posted a bio that slandered Jews as “the children of Satan.” Shortly before the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue, he posted on Gab: “Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

According to USA Today, hosting provider GoDaddy gave Gab 24 hours to switch providers because the website violated its terms of service: “GoDaddy investigated and discovered numerous instances of content on the site that both promotes and encourages violence against people.”

USA Today also noted that Medium, an online publishing tool, suspended Gab’s account because the platform was used to disseminate statements associated with violence, including one right after the synagogue attack on Saturday.

Mashable reported that Gab has been banned by PayPal, “and fellow online payment service Stripe is looking to cut off the site. Gab’s new hosting service, Joyent, reportedly will suspend the site from 9 a.m. ET on Monday, Oct. 29.”

Gab was created in 2016 as an alternative to traditional social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Shortly after going online, founder Andrew Torba told BuzzFeed:

“What makes the entirely left-leaning Big Social monopoly qualified to tell us what is ‘news’ and what is ‘trending’ and to define what “harassment” means? It didn’t feel right to me, and I wanted to change it, and give people something that would be fair and just.”

The New York Times noted that Gab gave far-right activists like white nationalist leader Richard B. Spencer a platform by which to express what many would label repugnant views. In 2016, critic-at-large Amanda Hess wrote that Gab is “a throwback to the freewheeling norms of the old internet, before Twitter started cracking down on harassment and Reddit cleaned out its darkest corners.”

This week the Washington Post reported that Torba is taking steps to revive Gab, vowing that he will rebuild it from the ground up, if necessary. The Post writes that Torba has become “a charismatic leader of the ‘alt-tech’ movement which, among other things, dedicates itself to protecting and building tech to house ‘free speech’ — including extremist ideologies that are increasingly unwelcome on mainstream sites.”

Gab does prohibit threats of violence, illegal pornography, or posting of private information without consent. A key feature has been platform tools that allow users to filter out objectionable content.

Revisiting ProPublica’s Report on Algorithmic Hate Speech

Last year ProPublica investigated Facebook’s hate speech algorithms learning that moderators were being taught to elevate “white men” over “black children” as a protected class. It’s worth revisiting to show how the complexities of the English language confound machine logic.

Machines correlate without causation. That’s a key concept in Interpersonal Divide’s critique of “artificial intelligence.” Technical systems are adept at answering 4 of the 5 “Ws” and H of mass communication: Who, What, When, Where and How.

Those are the only qualifiers you need to make a sale. Social media, especially Facebook, sell to and surveil us simultaneously whenever we feed its algorithms. If we receive a new pair of shoes in the mail for our birthday, and we display them, thanking Grandma, the machine knows who got what gift when and how from where.  That’s the point. That’s social networks create value via consumer narratives.

Interpersonal Divide cites computer scientist and author Jaron Lanier’s explanation. Machines with copious amounts of data may be able to discern odd commercial truths: People with bushy eyebrows who like purple toadstools in spring might hanker for hot sauce on mashed potatoes in autumn. That would enable a hot sauce vendor to place a link in front of bushy-eyebrowed Facebookers posting toadstool photos, increasing the chance of a sale, “and no one need ever know why.”[1]

The narrative knows:

  • Who: people with bushy eyebrows.
  • What: hot sauce
  • When: autumn
  • Where: Facebook IP address
  • How: on mashed potatoes

No one ever need know Why. A sale is a sale is a sale.

When it comes to Facebook’s algorithm, however, we do know why “White Men” outrank “black children” according to machine logic. The algorithm, which purportedly has been tweaked since the ProPublica report, bases hate speech on what seems at first blush a logical foundation. If a suspected hate message targets a protected class, such as race and gender (white men), that trumps a class modified by subset such as age (black children).

Of course, the English language doesn’t work this way, especially since one word may have multiple meanings that change based on its position in a sentence. Rearrange words of this sentence–“Stop drinking that this instant; tea is better for you!“–and you get several variations, such as “Better stop drinking that; this instant tea is for you.”

As the ProPublica noted, Facebook allowed U.S. Congressman Clay Higgins to threaten “radicalized” Muslims with this post: “Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”

However Facebook removed this post from Boston poet and Black Lives Matter activist Didi Delgado: “All white people are racist. Start from this reference point, or you’ve already failed.

Why? Human monitors trained by machine to think like one followed the algorithmic rule that “white people” + attack (racist) trumped “radicalized” (subset) Muslims. Everyone seemed to miss “hunt” and “kill them all.”

This illustration depicts how that could have happened.

Facebook Bias

Interpersonal Divide asks readers to understand technology from a programming rather than consumer perspective so as to explain “why” things happen in the age of the machine.

This is one small incident that indicates a larger issue of machines correlating on biased data with flawed computer logic. You can read more about Facebook rules by visiting these sites referenced in this report:

[1] Jaron Lanier, Who Owns the Future (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013), p. 115.


Kavanaugh-Ford Hoaxes Appeal to Base–Instinct, That Is


Over the weekend in Facebook and Twitter feeds, Americans–not Russians–perpetuated false claims seeking to play to their “base,” a word whose first meaning is defined as “the lowest part,” as in base instinct.

The goal of partisan trolls was to debase the names and reputations of assault survivor Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Sensational claims about both have been shown to be baseless.

The distressing news, however, was that these false reports–1982 photos of a drunk Kavanaugh and a series of photos depicting Ford as a Democratic operative–were believed by many, flooding the internet and spreading to friends listed in social media accounts.

Sadly, lies have been shown to travel faster and farther than truth, according to Slate.

Thankfully, has been able to post refutations almost as soon as the false accounts were posted.

Concerning the Kavanaugh photo, it stated:

While the picture on the right is, in fact, Brett Kavanaugh, the picture of the passed-out man on the left is a Getty Images stock photo titled “portrait of a young man asleep on the couch after drinking too much beer” that was created long after 1982.

Concerning the Ford photo, it stated:

This photograph was taken on 12 November 2016 at a protest against President Trump in New York City by photographer Christopher Penler. The image is available on a variety of stock photographwebsites, where it is consistently presented as an image of an anonymous woman with a “Not My President” sign. It wasn’t until Christine Blasey Ford came forward with an allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in September 2018 that the picture started circulating with Ford’s name attached to it.

It is important to recognize that hoaxes play on the deeply held beliefs, fears, convictions and desires of the mass media audience. In controversial political news, such as Ford’s allegation of sexual violence, conditions were rife for fake news and hoaxes.

For the record, here is the Sept. 27 transcript of the Kavanaugh hearing, supplied by the Washington Post.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine cautions readers about Internet trolls and how they influence public perception. Here’s an excerpt:

Hoaxes. Hacks. Stunts. Pranks. Fraud. Counterfeits. Conspiracy theories. Altered photographs. Doctored records. Viral videos. Facts died in the process. “The era of the fact is coming to an end,” writes Harvard historian Jill Lepore in the New Yorker, creating mayhem, “not least because the collection and weighing of facts require investigation, discernment, and judgment, while the collection and analysis of data are outsourced to machines.”

The loss of fact has led to other interpersonal losses. Thus, it is important for everyone who uses social media to fact-check claims on or traditional news sites.