How Donald Trump’s own tweets could be his undoing

Donald Trump keeps the world on edge with his Twitter squawks. But now, his 140-character missives are coming back to haunt him.

On Dec. 7, 2015, the president of the United States sent a tweet that now feels darkly foreboding. It was titled a “Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration” and attached was a link to a radical, nearly unimaginable approach to U.S. immigration policy: a clear call to totally exclude one specific religious group.

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” the first line of his statement read. Since then, he signed an executive order attempting to prevent people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country.  

It makes sense that Trump launched that infamous 2015 announcement on Twitter. After all, he’s a president known for 3 a.m. Twitter ramblings and printed-out tweets at press briefings. But now, those pithy rants — and the motivations behind them — have become his undoing in court.

As the executive order, currently on hold by judicial ruling, is dragged through the courts, Trump’s tweets have become an invaluable weapon. His 140-character statements and the documents he shares on Twitter have been submitted as evidence to show the travel restrictions are indeed a thinly veiled Muslim ban. 

Showing his true motivations

In more than 20 legal cases filed against the ban, lawyers have tried to demonstrate a “desire to harm Muslims” through the words Trump taps out on his favorite social media platform, in addition to statements made on television and in press releases.

Image: VICKY LETA/MASHABLE

On Monday, a federal appeals court judge in Virginia ruled that Trump made it clear he wanted a Muslim ban. The first bit of evidence listed in Judge Leonie Brinkema’s decision was the “statement on preventing Muslim immigration” that Trump tweeted back in December 2015. 

A case in California, filed by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, submitted that tweet as well as another one as evidence.

The other tweet showed Trump saying the immigration ban is “about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of the country.” Although that one doesn’t directly mention Muslims, lawyers argue it still shows religious discrimination.

The first tweet above made no mention of terrorism or national security — the very things the Department of Justice has argued in court are the reasons for the ban. It only verbalized a clear desire to keep out an entire religious group. 

“His tweets are relevant for interpreting the executive order,” said Novella Coleman, an ACLU attorney who worked on the California case, because they help “determine whether or not his actions are motivated by an unlawful discriminatory purpose.”

“His tweets are relevant for interpreting the executive order.”

Trump’s tweets show him discriminating against Muslims regularly, unabashedly and publicly, Coleman said.

“Usually when the decision-makers are acting on an unlawful discriminatory purpose, they don’t usually articulate that so frequently and so publicly,” she said.

And since Trump loves using Twitter to explain his policy plans, Coleman said, his tweets are relevant and totally fair game. “It’s definitely part of the history of the executive order,” she said.

A long history of concerning tweets

Back when Trump wrote that tweet about “preventing Muslim immigration,” he was just a long-shot presidential candidate, a famously brash New York City real estate tycoon and reality TV star with a distinct orange-y hairstyle — a man who many saw as lightyears away from actually winning the presidency. 

His words were headline-grabbing and alarming while not seemingly realistic. But just over a year later, he tried to add teeth to those inflammatory promises. And it’s on Twitter where Trump has really let loose, where he’s launched attacks against Muslims freely and without shame.

A little over three years ago, Trump repeatedly slammed the construction of a new mosque in New York City, near Ground Zero, tweeting: “It is wrong.” He has tweeted unverified, sensational claims about “militant Muslims” burning flags after 9/11, offering no evidence of those accusations. And he has repeated those claims tweet after tweet.

He’s also tweeted attacks on Islam involving former President Barack Obama, painting Obama as sympathetic toward terrorists while simultaneously suggesting all Muslims are terrorists and Christians are in need of protection. 

His tweets about “Islamic terrorism” have included suggestions for “a watch list” — a vague policy idea he further explained on Fox News in November: “But what I want is a watch list. I want surveillance programs,” noting he actually wants a specific database for Syrian refugees.

And while there are statements of sympathy for Christians in the Middle East, Trump offers no such condolences to Muslim victims of violence in the region. He promises to accept persecuted Christians into the U.S. but not other refugees. 

The immigration order doesn’t target all Muslims — there are dozens of Muslim-majority nations not included — and it never mentions the word “Muslim,” but it can still be discriminatory.

“A tweet is just a statement, and it’s a statement by a person that’s identifiable and it can be used against the person.”

A law can look unprejudiced on its surface and still discriminate against people, according to Adam Winkler, a professor of Constitutional law at UCLA.

“Just as [the courts] won’t allow clear and straightforward racial discrimination, they also won’t allow hidden or covert discrimination,” said Winkler said, noting this hidden motivation may be seen through Trump’s tweets and “that’s why they’re relevant.”

And just as tweets have been referenced as evidence before, they probably will continue to be. “A tweet is just a statement, and it’s a statement by a person that’s identifiable and it can be used against the person,” Winkler said. 

But all the Twitter digging may not matter. On Thursday, the Trump administration said it would create a new executive order rather than continue to fight in court, a pivot from Trump’s all-caps threat a week earlier that led to a Twitter joke dogpile.  

But if the next executive order gets taken to court too, it’s clear lawyers will start combing Twitter again. That’s where Trump squeezes his brash, questionable views into the clearest terms.  

Worried about your public Facebook data? You might want to try these tools

If you’re a Facebook user, by now you probably know that every “like” and piece of information gets aggregated into a set of anonymized data, which eventually turns into advertising dollars for the social media giant. 

Facebook offers multiple layers of privacy settings so the world doesn’t have to see every cringeworthy photo your mom uploaded and tagged you in. Still, changing those settings can be pretty time-consuming. Trust us, we get it. 

But as mass surveillance and digital privacy becomes more of a prevalent threat, you might want to know, at the very least, what information about you is public. Two tools that can help you do that — at least when it comes to your Facebook data — are Data Selfie and Stalkscan.

Stalking yourself

Data Selfie is a browser extension that analyzes what your Facebook usage says about your personality — like your political views, interests, and causes you care about. Stalkscan is a web-based tool that lets you search for information a Facebook user has shared publicly. For example, if you went to a diner on the south side of Albuquerque for Christmas in 2010 and checked in on Facebook, someone could easily find that out through Stalkscan.

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Image: Stalkscan/screenshot

Inti De Ceukelaire, the brains behind Stalkscan, said in an email that while most people are aware of privacy dangers on the internet, many won’t take active steps to safeguard themselves. De Ceukelaire believes that privacy blog posts and articles “only reach the intellectual, educated community” who are already interested in privacy.

“I want to reach the man on the street that simply has no clue about privacy in general,” he says. “I find my technique more effective, confronting them by showing them the facts. It also puts a bit of pressure of them — people may be worried that someone would find photos they did not accept on their timeline, for example.” 

For Regina Flores Mir and Hang Do Thi Duc, the motive for creating Data Selfie lies beyond safeguarding online privacy — they want to give users an idea of how Facebook potentially interprets their data and packages it to advertisers. Unlike Stalkscan, which tracks publicly shared content, Data Selfie only tracks your Facebook usage from the time you install the extension.

Flores Mir and Do Thi Duc acknowledge that the data only represents a small slice of what Facebook actually has. But they want users to be aware of the data Facebook is tracking and more importantly what it’s used to infer. Do Thi Duc, for example, said her data implies her psychological gender to be “56% male.”

What these tools are good for

Stalkscan is mostly good for reminding you about content you shared that you might have forgotten about, while Data Selfie shows you how those activities could be interpreted about you as a person (although it’s worth keeping in mind Facebook advertisers really only see this data once it’s aggregated and anonymized).

I tried both tools to see what they’ll bring up about me, and Stalkscan reminded me that I played the game The True Age Test on Facebook sometime in the last two years (which I definitely don’t recall). Data Selfie said there’s insufficient activity on Facebook so far to determine what my political views and interests are, but it did tell me that the longest time I spent browsing a friend’s page this week was 24 seconds. That person was not a close friend nor someone I message often, so it definitely made me realize that I was being unnecessarily creepy.  

Using these tools might not stop nosy individuals from being on your profile for too long, but you can at least control what they can dig up about you. By seeing what is already public through Stalkscan, you can adjust your privacy settings so that certain information will only be visible to you. Likewise, if you want to be aware of how your digital footprints could be presented to advertisers, or track how long you spend browsing through someone’s profile each week, using Data Selfie can be very helpful. 

Flores Mir strongly believes that in the age of the internet, it’s important to be aware of how things work and do as much as you can to control your data. “It’s program or be programmed,” she said. The choice is yours. 

Weekly Rewind: AI at our jobs, Toyota’s green revolution, the world’s first flavored bottle

A lot can happen in a week when it comes to tech. The constant onslaught of news makes it nigh impossible for mere mortals with real lives to keep track of everything. That’s why we’ve compiled a quick and dirty list of this week’s top 10 tech stories, from the return of the Nokia 3310 to how we can prevent AI from stealing our jobs — it’s all here.

Nokia announces the return of the legendary 3310

Readers of a certain age might recall the Nokia 3310, the 2000-era cell phone successor to the popular Nokia 3210. By today’s standards, it wasn’t particularly noteworthy. True to mobile handsets of its time, it featured physical number buttons, a tiny monochrome screen, and a durably bulbous design. This didn’t stop it from breaking sales records, however. With 126 million units sold worldwide, it’s one of the most successful phones ever made. And that goodwill is the reason why Nokia celebrated the 3310 with a live video tribute on Wednesday.

Read the full story here.

Toyota hits a green milestone with its 10 millionth hybrid sale

Sales of Toyota’s hybrid cars show no sign of hitting the brakes as the Japanese car giant announced this week that it’s now sold more than 10 million of its environmentally friendly motors worldwide. The company reached the milestone at the end of January, nearly 20 years after it first deployed the technology in the Coaster Hybrid EV minibus in August, 1997.

Read the full story here.

The workplace of the future tracks your every move, whether you like it or not

Access control is nothing new in the office world, where keys slowly migrated over to smart key cards. However, several new startups now aim to give employers a more vivid picture of their office environment by tracking everything their employees do — save for visiting the restroom — via smart sensors and new technologies. One of the most sophisticated companies in this brave new world is Enlighted, an IoT company whose goal is no less than “redefining smart buildings.”

Read the full story here.

The $450 Analogue Nt mini brings new life to old-school NES games

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Nintendo (NTDOY, NTDOF) might be looking to the future with its upcoming Switch console, but its fans can’t get enough of the company’s past.” data-reactid=”14″>Nintendo (NTDOY, NTDOF) might be looking to the future with its upcoming Switch console, but its fans can’t get enough of the company’s past.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Case in point: the NES Classic Edition, a $60 plug-and-play unit that quickly became the holiday’s must-have gaming toy. Packing 30 great NES games, the pint-sized device captured everything people love about Nintendo nostalgia in an intuitive, affordable package (if you could actually find one).” data-reactid=”15″>Case in point: the NES Classic Edition, a $60 plug-and-play unit that quickly became the holiday’s must-have gaming toy. Packing 30 great NES games, the pint-sized device captured everything people love about Nintendo nostalgia in an intuitive, affordable package (if you could actually find one).

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="But for purists, the Classic is just a tease. Sure, it’s cheap, and yes, it delivers a perfectly fine NES experience, but its intentionally closed design — you can’t add more games to it — only cracks the surface of the NES’ enormous games library.” data-reactid=”16″>But for purists, the Classic is just a tease. Sure, it’s cheap, and yes, it delivers a perfectly fine NES experience, but its intentionally closed design — you can’t add more games to it — only cracks the surface of the NES’ enormous games library.

The Analogue Nt mini plays old cartridges.The Analogue Nt mini plays old cartridges.

Want to boot up your old Final Fantasy cartridge? You got it. (image: Analogue)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="If you still happen to own a ton of NES cartridges, the Analogue Nt mini might be the system you’ve been waiting for. Built for the NES connoisseur, it’s sleek, smart, and will make your ancient carts look and feel absolutely stellar even on a modern high-resolution TV. But at a wallet-busting $450, it’s a tough sell for anyone not clinically obsessed with playing old video games.” data-reactid=”26″>If you still happen to own a ton of NES cartridges, the Analogue Nt mini might be the system you’ve been waiting for. Built for the NES connoisseur, it’s sleek, smart, and will make your ancient carts look and feel absolutely stellar even on a modern high-resolution TV. But at a wallet-busting $450, it’s a tough sell for anyone not clinically obsessed with playing old video games.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The Nt mini certainly looks cool. Its stark aluminum casing and solid body make it feel right at home alongside Microsoft’s Xbox One S (MSFT) and Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro (SNE). It’s also much prettier than other throwback consoles like the Retron, and really aims for authenticity. Four NES controller ports compatible with original NES pads and peripherals line the front of the unit, though it also comes packed with the NES30 Bluetooth gamepad from 8Bitdo, a superb wireless option that beautifully mimics the real deal.” data-reactid=”27″>The Nt mini certainly looks cool. Its stark aluminum casing and solid body make it feel right at home alongside Microsoft’s Xbox One S (MSFT) and Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro (SNE). It’s also much prettier than other throwback consoles like the Retron, and really aims for authenticity. Four NES controller ports compatible with original NES pads and peripherals line the front of the unit, though it also comes packed with the NES30 Bluetooth gamepad from 8Bitdo, a superb wireless option that beautifully mimics the real deal.

The Analogue Nt mini's design looks great.The Analogue Nt mini's design looks great.

The Analogue Nt miniis quite the looker compared to other retro systems. (image: Ben Silverman)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The top of the Nt mini has two slots: one for NES games, another for the Japan-only Famicom (which pre-dated the North American NES by a year and a half). It’ll also play Famicom Disc System games via a small add-on. Should that somehow not be enough, an SD card slot invites even more ROM experimentation.” data-reactid=”37″>The top of the Nt mini has two slots: one for NES games, another for the Japan-only Famicom (which pre-dated the North American NES by a year and a half). It’ll also play Famicom Disc System games via a small add-on. Should that somehow not be enough, an SD card slot invites even more ROM experimentation.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Better still, an HDMI out lets you run games up to 1080p resolution (the Retron maxes out at 720p), though you can alternately hook up RGB, component, composite or S-Video if you’re angling for a more genuine experience on an older TV. I’m not sure who would ever opt out of HDMI, however, since one of the main reasons to get this bad boy is to play old games in glorious HD.” data-reactid=”38″>Better still, an HDMI out lets you run games up to 1080p resolution (the Retron maxes out at 720p), though you can alternately hook up RGB, component, composite or S-Video if you’re angling for a more genuine experience on an older TV. I’m not sure who would ever opt out of HDMI, however, since one of the main reasons to get this bad boy is to play old games in glorious HD.

The Analogue Nt mini works on modern HD TVs.The Analogue Nt mini works on modern HD TVs.

The Analogue Nt mini lets you play your classic NES cartridges on your HD TV. (image: Analogue)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="And glorious it is. Games look pixel-perfect, and all of the 30 or so NES carts I tried worked, though I had to clean the hell out of them first. The top-loading nature of the system also means the carts don’t quite lock in as firmly as they do on an original NES; many carts I tested required a bit of wiggling to find the sweet spot. Given, my old NES requires a lot more than that to keep carts in place these days, too.” data-reactid=”48″>And glorious it is. Games look pixel-perfect, and all of the 30 or so NES carts I tried worked, though I had to clean the hell out of them first. The top-loading nature of the system also means the carts don’t quite lock in as firmly as they do on an original NES; many carts I tested required a bit of wiggling to find the sweet spot. Given, my old NES requires a lot more than that to keep carts in place these days, too.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Input lag, another common problem with other emulators, is hardly noticeable with the Nt mini. That’s contingent on your TV – input lag varies wildly from set to set — but provided your TV is a good one for gaming, lag won’t be a problem here (I tested with a 4K Samsung KS8000 and had no issues in Game Mode).” data-reactid=”53″>Input lag, another common problem with other emulators, is hardly noticeable with the Nt mini. That’s contingent on your TV – input lag varies wildly from set to set — but provided your TV is a good one for gaming, lag won’t be a problem here (I tested with a 4K Samsung KS8000 and had no issues in Game Mode).

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The Nt mini goes even further by letting you tweak an astonishing amount of options on the fly, including the resolution, a half-dozen color palettes, the intensity of horizontal scan lines, screen positioning and even a toggleable PAL mode. A built-in Game Genie option lets you input old cheat codes, a real boon if, like me, you are into impossibly hard and frankly bad games like the innovative dumpster fire, Deadly Towers.” data-reactid=”56″>The Nt mini goes even further by letting you tweak an astonishing amount of options on the fly, including the resolution, a half-dozen color palettes, the intensity of horizontal scan lines, screen positioning and even a toggleable PAL mode. A built-in Game Genie option lets you input old cheat codes, a real boon if, like me, you are into impossibly hard and frankly bad games like the innovative dumpster fire, Deadly Towers.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Really the only thing holding me back from heartily recommending the Nt mini is that pesky price tag. It’s a well-built system, to be sure, but $450 is just really hard to swallow. That’s $50 more than a PS4 Pro, and unless you already have a significant library of NES games, you’re going to have to hit up yard sales, Goodwills, and the online auction circuit to dig up carts. The experience is cool, but I’m not convinced it’s worth the investment when an old NES still gets the job done (admittedly at a lower resolution and without any bells or whistles) at a fraction of the price.” data-reactid=”57″>Really the only thing holding me back from heartily recommending the Nt mini is that pesky price tag. It’s a well-built system, to be sure, but $450 is just really hard to swallow. That’s $50 more than a PS4 Pro, and unless you already have a significant library of NES games, you’re going to have to hit up yard sales, Goodwills, and the online auction circuit to dig up carts. The experience is cool, but I’m not convinced it’s worth the investment when an old NES still gets the job done (admittedly at a lower resolution and without any bells or whistles) at a fraction of the price.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Still, there is doubtlessly a market for the Nt mini. If NES gaming is your jam and you happen to have $450 burning a hole in your wallet, this will let you play with a great deal of power, indeed.” data-reactid=”58″>Still, there is doubtlessly a market for the Nt mini. If NES gaming is your jam and you happen to have $450 burning a hole in your wallet, this will let you play with a great deal of power, indeed.

More games news:

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Ben Silverman is on Twitter at ben_silverman.” data-reactid=”66″>Ben Silverman is on Twitter at ben_silverman.

Postmates now allows drivers to opt out of mandatory arbitration


In fall 2015, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against delivery service Postmates that challenged the legality of the company’s mandatory arbitration agreement between it and its contractors. In Postmates’ fleet agreement, which contractors must sign as a condition of hire, the company had required that workers settle disagreements through arbitration. In other words, workers were asked to waive their rights to pursue collective actions, like a class action suit, for example.

Yesterday, Postmates updated its legal document to offer contractors a way to opt out of mandatory arbitration. The company confirmed the change was made on Thursday, but denies it’s related to the NLRB case, which is still pending.

“Like our terms of service, we regularly update this agreement so it’s in line with our business needs,” a Postmates spokesperson stated.

The NLRB’s case against Postmates, originally filed in October, 2015, is broader than the mandatory arbitration issue.

According to a court filing, an unnamed customer service representative told the NLRB that they had been instructed not to discuss terms and conditions of employment, including safety issues, with other employees.

Indirectly, the case brought up another question, as well: whether or not Postmates’ drivers were considered employees. The delivery service — like others in the on-demand space such as Uber or Lyft, for example — considers its workers independent contractors, not employees. Most gig economy employers go this route because it means they won’t have to offer the workers the same level of benefits, like healthcare or overtime.

The fact that the NLRB got involved with Postmates indicates that it believes the contractors to be employees. In fact, a press release from the NLRB’s office in Chicago referred to the workers as “employee drivers.”

Postmates had earlier responded to the NLRB’s complaint back in October, 2016 by denying all allegations and requested the court to dismiss the case in its entirety.

However, one of the actions the NLRB had requested of Postmates in its original complaint was to drop its mandatory arbitration clause, which it described as “unlawful,” and alert all employees of the rescission.

Postmates did not drop the mandatory arbitration clause, exactly, in the agreement updated yesterday, but it did give the employees the means to opt out.

In a newly added section, the company explains that contractors have the right to opt out of arbitration, and arbitration is no longer a mandatory requirement for working with the company.

The new section reads as follows, in part:

Right to Opt Out of Arbitration. Arbitration is not a mandatory condition of Contractor’s contractual relationship with Postmates, and therefore Contractor may submit a statement notifying Postmates that Contractor wishes to opt out of this Mutual Arbitration Provision. 

The section continues to detail how the contractor can opt out via email or postal mail, and the time frame allowed for that action. It then states that contractors have the right to consult with an attorney, at their own expense, and says that class action waivers will still be enforced in arbitration. (Any contractor that doesn’t opt out is waiving their rights to take dispute to courts.)

The case itself between the NLRB and Postmates is still pending, but Postmates filed on February 10th a motion for abeyance, which is a request to put the case on a temporary hold. (The motion itself is not available, and requires an FOIA request to retrieve it. The NLRB confirmed the nature of the motion with TechCrunch, but could not comment on the details.)

Postmates’ claim that the modification to the contractor agreement is not related to the NLRB case seems suspect, due to the timing. The motion was filed on the 10th, then a week later, the contractor agreement is modified. Possibly, the company hopes to use the modified agreement as a reason why the case should be dismissed.

Facebook wants to own the world, not save it

Mark Zuckerberg used nearly 6,000 words to describe the future of Facebook Thursday, but you could sum it up in two: global domination.

Sure, Facebook’s CEO appears more “woke” than ever. He meditates on substantive issues like inclusivity, the eradication of disease, responsible artificial intelligence and the future of media. 

And yet. In the simplest terms, his manifesto is about how the social network will continue to be a relevant online product as more of the world becomes connected. It explores how Facebook can become a key part of global “infrastructure,” to borrow a word Zuckerberg uses literally 24 times, that will make it an indispensable part of daily life for people across the planet.

Let’s be very clear about one thing: Facebook is not medicine. It is not a job that puts money in your pocket or a roof over your head. Nor is it the phone that connects you to your mom several states away, or the plane that takes you to her. It is an online platform where posts from estranged friends and family members are interrupted every so often by ads for “3 free soups”:

We'll take the Trump takes with some delicious soup, please.

We’ll take the Trump takes with some delicious soup, please.

Image: Facebook

Facebook exists to grow and to make money. It treats expansion as a merit unto itself, as if there is some inherent quality to people being on Facebook that betters society.

Consider how Zuckerberg grapples in his manifesto with the idea of disturbing content.

“The guiding principles are that the Community Standards should reflect the cultural norms of our community, that each person should see as little objectionable content as possible, and each person should be able to share what they want while being told they cannot share something as little as possible,” he writes.

It’s the exact type of unprincipled thinking that has ruined Facebook in the past.

There’s a leap there—that someone seeing “objectionable content” is in effect a “bad” thing that should be avoided at all costs. You might think Zuckerberg is referring to extremely disturbing content, like child pornography or videos of suicide, content that no one would argue should be on Facebook — but he is not. Rather, it calls to mind a report from November suggesting Facebook would be open to news censorship to break into the Chinese marketplace. 

“Even within a given culture, we have different opinions on what we want to see and what is objectionable,” he writes. “I may be okay with more politically charged speech but not want to see anything sexually suggestive, while you may be okay with nudity but not want to see offensive speech.”

Zuckerberg doesn’t grapple in the manifesto with the idea that things that are disturbing could be important to see, perhaps because of the fact that they’re “objectionable.”

Furthermore, his idea about solving this “problem” should raise eyebrows. Emphasis ours:

The approach is to combine creating a large-scale democratic process to determine standards with AI to help enforce them.

The idea is to give everyone in the community options for how they would like to set the content policy for themselves. Where is your line on nudity? On violence? On graphic content? On profanity? What you decide will be your personal settings. We will periodically ask you these questions to increase participation and so you don’t need to dig around to find them. For those who don’t make a decision, the default will be whatever the majority of people in your region selected, like a referendum. Of course you will always be free to update your personal settings anytime. 

Let’s put this another way: In Zuckerberg’s idealized, and likely upcoming, version of Facebook, the default option for what is “appropriate” in your News Feed will be determined by groupthink that is specific to your area. The manifesto isn’t overly specific, of course: Regions could be a town, city, country, continent or national park for all we know. The devil will be in the details of how this is rolled out.

But you can see the trouble already: Even as Zuckerberg concedes in his note that Facebook has a “filter bubble” problem, he outlines a system that delivers content according to a moral standard set by a majority of people. Godspeed if you find yourself in a minority of people interested in “politically charged speech” about abortion in Forsyth County, Georgia. Check those News Feed settings, folks!

This definitely isn’t going to pop anyone’s Facebook bubble.

It’s the exact type of unprincipled thinking that has ruined Facebook in the past. Rather than take a meaningful stance in favor of the free spread of information, Zuckerberg, as ever before, walks a middle course that serves Facebook’s aims—to be a happy place for all people, thus ensuring its user base can grow without provoking the ire of tyrants or censors. Individuals are not served by this thinking; they’re limited by it, because by default, they won’t engage with news or content that unsettles.

And we get it: Facebook is a business, it can do whatever it wants, and of course its major incentive is to grow and be all things to all people. The concern comes when Zuckerberg intertwines these motives with something ideological, because Facebook has frequently been a threatening force in the world.

Remember when it allowed hoaxes and propaganda to spread uninhibited in the lead-up to the election of Donald Trump? When the company tried and failed to become a dominant internet service provider in India? When it removed a line from this very manifesto suggesting it could use AI to monitor private communications and profile people? Or when it allowed advertisers to discriminate on the basis of race?

And how does Zuckerberg presume to know which approach will work best for everyone on this planet when 71 percent of his company’s senior leadership is white and 73 percent male?

His solution is to steer clear of politics himself and and design technology solutions that make the hard choices for his company. Yet again Zuckerberg is deluding himself by asserting that refusing to fully own a position means he isn’t taking one. 

“In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us,” the CEO writes. 

Or, as he put it a bit more specifically to Recode‘s Kara Swisher: “Our approach is to try to get community to do it and I would rather that it come from community rather than us”

That’s nice in a sense—the manifesto also includes a rather heart-swelling passage about Zuckerberg wanting Facebook to better empower administrators of the network’s groups, thereby creating “meaningful” interactions even outside of cyberspace—but this is just a remix of the same old song. 

Just as Facebook has refused to take responsibility as a media company when things go wrong with the editorial content it serves, Facebook will be able to shrug it off when its “social infrastructure” is used for prejudice or violence. Don’t forget that this is the same company that, as recently as October, couldn’t stop its new “Marketplace” feature from being overrun with illegal weapons, drugs and wildlife.

All this to say: It’s nice that one of the most important companies on this entire planet has a CEO who’s apparently done a little bit of soul-searching as the world cascades into hellfire, but Facebook has failed to earn our trust as consumers of its product. The problem is that it doesn’t need it. Facebook will continue to grow and morph and harvest our data, and so many of us are a little too over-invested in the social network to log off or demand something better.

There’s no question that Facebook has already changed the world, perhaps irrevocably. It’s the product that conditioned us to share photographs, videos and “status updates” from our personal lives online without hesitation. It has used the mass data created by its 1.86 billion users for astounding projects. The ability for A.I. to recognize and describe elements of photographs to the blind, is a striking example, but Facebook’s automated “Trending” news feature, which has been tweaked to better understand how we all consume media, is also substantial.

We’ll no doubt continue to see amazing things as Facebook and its technology mature. But don’t be shocked if (when) Zuckerberg’s 6,000-word idealism coalesces into something a bit less pretty.

Please let ‘Justice League’ be as awesome as this RC Batmobile

This Batmobile is bat-tastic
This Batmobile is bat-tastic

Image: lili sams/mashable

Love the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or hate it, there’s no denying Batman has the coolest toys. The upcoming sequel, Justice League, promises to raise the bar for caped-crusader gadgetry and transform the Batmobile into the ultimate superhero vehicle.

We won’t see Bruce Wayne’s other car in theaters until December, but Mattel gave us a preview in the form of the most tricked out remote-control car we’ve ever seen.

The charcoal-gray, roughly 2 ft. long by 6-inch tall RC car features spoilers, giant, knobby wheels and was unveiled this week at the New York Toy Fair. According to Mattel, is a replica of the car Ben Affleck’s Batman will drive in the new film based on DC Comic book heroes. 

It’s an awesome-looking toy, and that’s before we get to driving it or testing out its bazillion bat features.

The drivable car is fitted with cannons and Gatling guns that point in whatever direction you’re steering, the car chassis can lift a few inches for “jump mode” (the movie car jumps, this one does not) and there are functioning lights and engine sounds that grow louder and more intense as you increase throttle. 

Inside the cockpit is a six-inch tall Batman, his steely eyes focused straight ahead and his hands gripping the steering wheel, which he really steers as you steer the remote control. The cockpit lights also change as you drive. 

Yup, that's a tiny Batman in there.

Yup, that’s a tiny Batman in there.

Image: lili sams/mashable

That's REAL smoke!

That’s REAL smoke!

Image: lili sams/mashable

Also inside that cockpit is a tiny POV camera. Using the associated app, you can see what the view would be were you actually riding shotgun in the Batmobile. The app also adds augmented reality, which mean you’ll see rockets and tracer fire coming out of the canon and gun. 

The car even emits exhaust. The Justice League Batmobile is equipped with a small oil reservoir that it burns through each time you rev the engine.

To be honest, this car, which will retail for $250 this fall, has the potential to be more popular than the movie. 

Samsung’s turmoil derails plan to crown its heir apparent

Samsung Group vice chairman Lee Jae-yong arrives at the Seoul Central District Court, on Feb. 16.
Samsung Group vice chairman Lee Jae-yong arrives at the Seoul Central District Court, on Feb. 16.

Image: KIM HEE-CHUL/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Maybe this was inevitable. 

The Friday arrest of Samsung Group Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was stunning, because it’s not every day that the de-facto leader of a giant international corporation gets led away by police. But it was also the culmination of a shady merger that was meant to pave the way for Lee to take the corporate reins from his father, but has instead landed him in court. 

Here’s how it happened. 

Bribery?

Turmoil at the head of Samsung is really just an extension of high-level turmoil that has engulfed the most powerful people in South Korea. 

Lee and his company are suspected of paying millions of dollars to a nonprofit organization run by a good friend of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, allegedly to curry favor with the government so a company merger would go smoothly. Park’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, has been arrested on charges of corruption. The company is also accused of financing Choi’s daughter’s equestrian training, which Lee has said he regrets. Choi’s daughter, too, has been arrested

What is this merger?

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Lee’s father, the chairman of Samsung Group, hasn’t been serving in that role due to a heart attack. That leaves Lee, who has taken on the role (though not his father’s title). To build a smooth path toward making his position official, the family wanted to consolidate some of the companies that fall under the umbrella of the Samsung Group, which is controlled by the Lee family. 

The plan was to have a Samsung Group company called Cheil acquire Samsung C&T. The Lee family owns a higher stake in Cheil than Samsung C&T, so this makes sense for them. There’s also evidence that the boards of both companies meddled with their own stock prices in the month before the deal in a way that would allow Cheil to acquire the company for less. Once done, the Lee family would control more of the group, and Lee himself would make even more sense as the new chairman. 

But the merger needed regulatory approval, which is where those alleged bribes come in. Did the South Korean president order the approval of the merger in exchange for payments to the nonprofit of her friend? That’s the question. 

What does this mean for Samsung?

For Samsung, which denies any wrongdoing, the arrest of its vice chairman can at best not matter at all. The company may find itself having to rebuild trust in its brand, but some don’t believe it’ll have much trouble getting customers to buy its products. 

Bad as it is for the vice chairman to be arrested on charges of corruption, analysts who spoke with CNBC said Lee’s image isn’t associated with the brand internationally. If customers hear about the arrest at all, it may not matter when they’re weighing a purchasing decision.

What happens now?

South Korean prosecutors now have to make a decision on whether to indict Lee. They’ve got 10 days. If they do decide to indict him, the case would proceed to trial. A court would then have three months to issue a decision about the innocence of Lee and his company.

Facebook Gets More In-Your-Face

Facebook this week announced new features for News Feeds videos, along with an app for TV.

Facebook Gets More In-Your-Face

News Feed videos now have sound turned on by default in mobile devices. This can be disabled in the Settings menu.

A larger format to present vertical videos now is standard on iOS and Android devices. The feature became available as a preview last year.

A Watch and Scroll feature lets users minimize the video they’re watching and drag it to any corner of the screen so they can continue browsing their News Feed while the video is playing.
Android device users can keep the video playing even when they exit the Facebook app.

Facebook also announced a video app for TV, which it promised to roll out soon to Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Samsung Smart TV. More platforms will be added later.

The app lets users watch videos shared by friends or posted on Pages they follow. It lets them watch previously saved videos, and revisit videos users have shared, watched or uploaded. It also recommends videos.

“Facebook continues to innovate with a focus on the user experience,” remarked Cindy Zhou, a principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“Competition is fierce for user time and attention on video platforms,” she told TechNewsWorld, “and the new video features on mobile devices can give Facebook a competitive edge against YouTube and SnapChat.”

Mobile Marketing Moolah

“Facebook has been trying to provide a compelling new way for advertisers to reach viewers,” observed Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“What is effectively a video-streaming service would seem to be a good way to do it,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It works for YouTube.”

With its 1.86 billion monthly active users, the updates and the TV app “will be a significant way to generate advertising revenue if Facebook can get this right,” Jude noted.

Digital ad revenues grew 19 percent year over year in the first half of 2016 to hit a new high of US$32.7 billion, according to the IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report.

They continued to grow, with Q3 2016 digital ad revenues totaling $17.6 billion, the highest Q3 digital ad spending figure on record, according to IAB.

Facebook last month announced it was updating the way it accounts for video completion rates.

“These video viewership and completion stats are a key part of their advertising rate calculations,” Constellation’s Zhou pointed out. “The longer Facebook can keep their users engaged and on their platform, the higher the rates they can charge advertisers.”

The new video features and the TV app could pose a significant threat to YouTube’s ad revenues, she suggested, “as Facebook feed videos are from trusted sources such as users’ friends, family members and the brands they’ve opted in to.”

Ripple Effect

Facebook’s latest moves “will further fragment the advertising spend and make advertising campaign planning harder,” Frost’s Jude pointed out. “Anything with a video stream built in will be more attractive to consumers.”

The ability of Facebook videos to continue playing on Android devices even when users exit the social media platform “can be a virtue if you want to keep something running while you multitask,” Jude noted. “Of course, it can also be an irritant as you try to figure out how to shut off an obnoxious video.”

This feature might also raise concerns about privacy, he said, as “anything involving targeted advertising raises privacy concerns.”


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.