Connecting the Dots, Part 8…

When you were a kid, did you ever read Dr. Seuss’ book The Sneetches and Other Stories? You know the one I’m talking about.

“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” was the 70th episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, the 15th episode of the show’s third and final season, first aired on 10 January 1969. The episode was written by Lee Cronin and Oliver Crawford, directed by Jud Taylor and novelized in Star Trek 5 by James Blish.

These duck-like humanoid creatures…some of them…have a big yellow star in the middle of their stomachs. They don’t wear clothes to hide whether they have stars or not, so it’s plain to see who has a star and who doesn’t.

The ones with stars, well, they’re different from the others in ONLY that one way, but they think that makes them special. Privileged, even. And because they think they’re special, the star-bellied Sneetches use that difference as an excuse to treat the Sneeches without like absolute shit.

That is, until a con artist comes along who gives the ones WITHOUT stars the ability to blend right on in, by giving THEM stars.

Pretty soon, it’s impossible to tell the haves from the have-nots, and everyone has to agree to treat one another as if they ALL are the same. Because, as it turns out, they ARE the same, except for that one totally arbitrary feature…the star.

Star Trek took up a similar question eight years after Dr. Seuss first published his story about the Sneetches when “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” aired, back in 1969. Idealistic, right? What we hoped for when we were children? Maybe for some of us, but increasingly we’ve lost that rudder and there’s an argument for saying it was always ever a myth, never actually there to begin with. Certainly you get that impression if you spend any time at all on any of the popular Social Media sites (Facebook and Twitter chief among them, but not exclusively so).

Theodor Seuss Geisel didn’t write that book in a vacuum. During his career, he worked as a political cartoonist, right at the height of WWII. On January 31, 2017, The Atlantic published an extensive article, titled The Complicated Relevance of Dr. Seuss’s Political Cartoons, that outlined his contributions as an artist during the war. While his racist depictions of Japanese Americans recently got attention (in a “told-you-so” attempt to discredit his later works), his opinion of antisemitism and the America First movement were quite clear. And it was also quite clear that he regretted his ignorant opinion, referenced in the Atlantic article here:

Minear believes, though, that Geisel tried to make up for his earlier prejudice in later works. “Horton Hears a Who came after a trip to Japan, and is easy to read allegorically,” he told me. “The people of Whoville are Japan, Vlad Vladikoff is Russia, Horton is us/democracy, etc.” Geisel supposedly came up with the idea for Horton, in which an elephant discovers a microscopic universe, on a trip to Japan, and dedicated the 1954 book to a Japanese friend. The theme of the story, that “a person’s a person no matter how small,” seems to offer a note of contrition for jingoistic wartime expressions.

As for the Sneetches, Geisel said he intended the story as a warning against anti-Semitism and creeping fascism.

I read the book to my kids, and it was one of their favorites growing up. I never ever thought I’d see it writ large, though, at least not until our very own Sylvester McMonkey McBean (the Fix-It-Up Chappie) took over the White House.

Make no mistake. Trump is testing us and we are failing. Just like the Sneetches, his base think that if they pay enough money, if they reach out just a little further, they’ll grab that carrot and stop being temporarily embarrassed millionaires, and they’re selling the rest of us out in the process, out of greed, ignorance, or both.

First it’s rapists and drug dealers and send a few guards to the border! See who’s excited and who gets angry. Push the envelope a little more.

Then it’s deliver a tax cut for everyone (who’s already too rich as it is), and then complain when companies like Amazon don’t collect taxes. Call out a group of people (immigrants, Muslims, Democrats, liberals) as dangerous, see who agrees with him, double down on the message.

Think about this: Trump’s ignoring his own intel community in favor of a Fox News morning show that delivers all the propaganda right to his bedroom TV. That ensures the propaganda spreads far and wide, echoed via Sinclair Broadcast Group and their muzzled member news stations.

Now add into this mix the massive privacy breach at Facebook. (Believe me when I say that ship sailed a long time ago. It was, in fact, inevitable, based on Facebook’s public business model. More on this in a moment.)

Then there’s the admission that Homeland Security is compiling a database of journalists, bloggers and others who help bring these things to light.

Suddenly, you have the makings for a massive failure of democracy and a full-tilt slide straight to fascist dictatorship the likes of which we’ve only ever read about in history books, since the Iron Curtain fell in 1991. (If you’re under the age of 27 you weren’t even born when that happened.)

And right here’s where the Dots come in. This is the GOP long game, after all.

Let’s have a look at the news that broke just three weeks and some change ago:

Cambridge Analytica (CA) has been in existence since 2013. What’s notable about the date? Well, THINK about it.

Hearken back to the days of yesteryear. All the way back to November, 2012. The GOP were shocked and stunned that President Obama won a second term. They were absolutely convinced that Romney/Ryan had a lock on the election. I even wrote about Karl Rove’s rant, back then, before I launched The Cassie Times.

Facebook, Inc. (FB) originally launched on February 4, 2004. Just a little over eight years later, on May 18, 2012, FB went public. On November 23, 2012, I wrote this post, in response to FB’s sudden shift in structure, for which they gave users a whopping seven days to comment. From FB’s announcement, released on November 21, 2012:

We recently announced some proposed updates to our Data Use Policy, which explains how we collect and use data when people use Facebook, and our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR), which explains the terms governing use of our services.

Let’s be clear here: When Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon set up CA, they took advantage of a tool that ALREADY EXISTED.

From Wikipedia:

Cambridge Analytica is a British political consulting firm which combines data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process. It was started in 2013 as an offshoot of the SCL Group.

FB telegraphed loud and clear that they planned to use your information. They gave their users a brief opportunity to opt out, with that one-week period between announcing their structural changes (which, as it turns out, were fundamental to how CA collected their information). Some people opted to move to GooglePlus (G+) or to try and find other alternatives, but the majority stuck around because all their high school friends were there.

The GOP were all about making sure no Democrat would ever serve another four-year term in the White House. The destruction of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came at the end of June, 2013. That’s not an accident. They wanted the rules changed before the 2014 election, and they succeeded. The composition of the House and Senate took a dramatic shift to the Right immediately afterwards, and 2016 was the first Presidential election without the protection provided by the VRA.

As one of my real life friends recently pointed out, some of us have been targets their whole lives, just by being people of color or holding different views on religion or politics. Now the rest of us are suddenly learning what that’s like and suddenly we don’t like it. Why? Because up until now, our privilege protected us from the sort of scrutiny CA’s breach represents.

But see, here’s the thing: Nobody ever told you that you had to add your personal information to FB, but  CA collected from your FB profile, but FB sure encouraged you to do it. Right here, under “Search for Friends” – see it? All that info you can include so you can find all your connections and add them? And why not add your phone number and let FB just slurp up your contact information while you’re at it?

Add the schools you attended, your home town, your family members, close friends, and more.

It all seemed so very innocent, what harm could it possibly do?

And best of all: You didn’t have to set your information to public, but how else were your friends supposed to find you if you didn’t set that data to Public?

Based on FB’s structure, the cookies, the algorithms they tweak weekly…sometimes just to piss people off…all of that helped put us where we are today.

There are a lot of naive people. Most of them don’t understand how this information can be used against their friends because they still think we live in a benevolent Democracy or that privacy is overrated. And most of them haven’t got a fucking clue what prison looks like for someone who writes political pieces that call out the government or large corporations for acting in something other than the best interests of the people. They don’t, but they’re starting to figure it out.

I’ve been what turns out to be justifiably paranoid about the data FB was capturing. As soon as FB changed its structure, I got paranoid. I got into the habit of checking my settings every couple of months, and scrubbed my account of virtually all the Likes I had, because I decided I didn’t need to share my favorite books, movies, musicians and others. At least, not by “Liking” them. I left a few, and periodically removed them as I got more and more nervous about what FB was collecting and why.

Even with all that due diligence, I missed the massive change in “Liking” structure and “cookie” collection. FB’s Privacy interface is totally different from what it was just a few short months ago, and that was before knowledge of the CA breach became widespread.

Fortunately for me, there’s very little CA got about me from my profile, and none of it ties me to my physical space. You won’t find me in the phone book or on any street map. On purpose. And as I scrub my profile, one entry at a time, one Tag at a time, one Like at a time, I’m erasing my past.

There are no public personal details on my profile. When FB made their announcement in 2012, I turned my whole profile to Friends Only, and then I did it again after the 2016 election. If you’re not a Friend, you can’t see any of my data. I’ve even had whiny trolls complain they can’t see a photo of me and don’t believe I’m a real girl. Yeah, there’s a reason for that. And even if you ARE a Friend, you may still not see everything, because I make use of only two FB smart lists: Acquaintance and Restricted.

Long before I changed my profile name, when FB started asking to tag my location on everything, I turned off the feature. I disable the location setting on every new phone and in my posts and in Google. Yes, even in Maps. And in relatively short order, I will eliminate what’s left of the personal information on my Facebook account. I don’t use Google Wallet. In fact, I trust Google even LESS than I do Facebook, if that’s even possible. I never used Foursquare. I don’t Instagram. When I post about my whereabouts, it’s to a very small set of people I trust.

I’ve been rearranging my digital footprint for over a year. It’s the only thing I’m working on after work hours and it’s a second full time job. I’ve edited or deleted literally thousands of entries. And when I finish consolidating my personal footprint, I am going to print everything on actual paper because the closer we get to that dystopian reality Orwell imagined at the end of WWII, the more I worry that our power grid will disappear and everything I’ve written in the last two decades will be lost.

I read George Orwell’s 1984 in 2016, and watched the movie on April 4, 2017 (the day Winston Smith first wrote in his diary) but I understood the principle behind sharing those details when the USA PATRIOT Act became a thing, back in 2001.

If you think that’s paranoid, I invite you to look up “disappearing” in relation to dissidents in Russia, China, the Middle East, and elsewhere. We have access to free speech only as long as we still have the current Constitution. And the 1st Amendment does NOT protect anyone from consequences. In fact, when the police make the rules and hand out summary justice in the form of bullets, nobody is safe, no matter what color their skin happens to be.

Go watch V for Vendetta. Or for that matter Woman in Gold. They’re both streaming on Netflix, or they were. The foolish people who failed to understand FB and “thisisyourdigitallife” are just tools. And they’re likely still clueless about what they’ve done, even now, even if FB rolled out their identification tool.

Every day that goes by, every minute that ticks away this year, brings us closer to the end of that Constitution. Special elections don’t matter. What matters is the General Election in November, if we get there at all.

The GOP know it. Putin knows it. I think Mark Zuckerberg has finally worked out for himself just what monster he created back in his Harvard days.

Our absolute failure to correct election obstruction and interference in the states where Clinton lost by a thread, to stop the Right wing takeover of our state legislatures, to fix the crumbling of the largest free platform for social media–that’s no accident. It’s intentional. It’s the long game I’m talking about, have been talking about, in every Dots post I’ve written since the first one.

Twitter has its place, but it can’t serve to organize large groups. I’ve already watched people leave FB without so much as a moment’s warning. People are finally getting the message that it’s not safe to be here, just when we need a way to connect to each other. And that scares me more than anything else.

Think about it: Most email accounts disabled large mailing lists decades ago, to restrict free Spam circulation. You have to use a service (Evite, MailChimp, Constant Contact) to reach large numbers of people, and that’s only if the people allow the intrusion. Opting out is a thing of the past everywhere EXCEPT in FB.

Hell, my private “party” list, to invite friends to my casual holiday parties, used to be several hundred members, but when I had to find another way to get the message out, I couldn’t. Not even FB or LiveJournal (LJ) served that purpose. Some friends opted for one platform, some another, and without easy email sending, I lost the ability to reach real life friends.

At most, at the height of LJ’s popularity, before the Russians bought it, before 2012, I had as many as 150 followers there, but they only saw my posts when they logged in. LJ had no “Push” system. Now LJ keeps you from going back father than two weeks on your “feed” unless you go to each of your friends’ walls and read their posts, and who has time for that?

And if we shut it down and just walk away, we guarantee the destruction of the best method to reach billions–if only we can figure out how to make the message viral and truthful and believable. On FB I have over 800 people connected to me, and just based on those numbers, I know it was more than one person who gave in to the attraction of allowing a single app to slurp up all the contact information connected through FB.

What happened with FB and CA is a symptom of a MUCH larger problem. I’m pretty sure Mark Zuckerberg knows it. Consider this: It only took 270k people to disrupt the lives of over 50 MILLION people. Think about that. I bet the people who exposed our profiles will never understand why this is a problem, because they don’t get that it’s a philosophy problem. And in relatively short order it’s going to be a political one. People who still think things are fine? That this is just temporary, or (worse) the right direction for the country? They’re wrong.

How we will survive the galloping fascism depends on where you fit into the picture. If you’re a part of the proletariat (a prol), you’ll plod along, whining when the chocolate rations and victory gin get sparse. If you’re part of the government? Loyalty. It’ll be all about loyalty. And whether or not you have a star.

To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free,
when men are different from one another and do not live alone
– to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone:
From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude,
from the age of BIG BROTHER, from the age of doublethink
– greetings!

—Winston Smith, from George Orwell’s 1984

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