How to Deal With a Jerk Without Being a Jerk

It’s natural to get defensive, but that only escalates the cycle of aggression.

A couple of years ago I was discussing a study of the habits of great musical composers when an audience member interrupted.

“That’s not true!” he shouted. “You’re totally ignorant — you don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Early in my career, I had let nasty people walk all over me. When a client berated me for my predecessor’s error on an ad, I gave in and offered him a full refund. When a boss threatened to fire me for defending a colleague who was treated poorly, I said nothing. But this time, I was prepared: I had trained as a conflict mediator, worked as a negotiator and become an organizational psychologist.

At some point in your work life, you’ve probably had to interact with a jerk. They’re the people who demean and disrespect you. They might steal credit for your successes, blame you for their failures, invade your privacy or break their promises, or bad-mouth you, scream at you and belittle you. As the organizational psychologist Bob Sutton puts it, they treat you like dirt, and either they don’t know it or they don’t care.

The natural response is to get defensive, but that only escalates the cycle of aggression. Take a classic study in which researchers recorded negotiators with different levels of skill. Average bargainers ended up in three times as many defend-attack spirals as expert negotiators. The experts escaped the heat of the moment and cooled the other person down, too. They calmly commented on their reactions to the other person’s behavior and tested their understanding of what the person was trying to convey.

I had been studying and teaching this evidence for years. Now it was time to practice it. I called a break, walked up to my heckler and said, “You’re welcome to disagree with the data, but I don’t think that’s a respectful way to express your opinion. It’s not how I was trained to have an intellectual debate. Were you?”

I was hoping to start a conversation about the conversation — to redirect the discussion away from the topic and toward some reflection on the tone of the discussion. To my surprise, it worked.

“Well, no …” he stammered, “I just think you’re wrong.” Later, I sent him the data and he sent me an apology.

My heckler was what Dr. Sutton calls a temporary jerk. We’re all capable of those behaviors, and we feel bad about them afterward. Onestudy showed that on days when leaders acted abusively, they ended up feeling less competent and less respected at work — and had more trouble relaxing at home.

But sometimes you’re stuck dealing with a certified jerk, someone who consistently demeans and disrespects others. A few years ago, I had a colleague who had a reputation for yelling at people during meetings. After witnessing it firsthand, I collected my thoughts and called to say I found it unprofessional. My colleague got defensive: “It was necessary to get my point across!”

Research on the psychology of certified jerks reveals that they have a habit of rationalizing aggression. They’ve convinced themselves that they have to act that way to get the results they want. I didn’t know how to respond until recently, when I interviewed Sheila Heen, a conflict mediation expert, for an episode of my WorkLife podcast on office jerks. She suggested finding a way to gently challenge the belief that aggression is necessary: “Really? It was my impression that you were smarter than that, and more creative than that — so I bet you could come up with some other ways to be just as clear without having to actually rip somebody else apart.”

Trump Bites on Putin’s ‘Incredible Offer’

But he’s not the first president to foolishly place his trust in the Russian despot.

President Trump did get one thing right on Monday in Helsinki: Vladimir Putin did make an “incredible offer.”

.. But he’s not the first president to foolishly place his trust in the Russian despot.

President Trump did get one thing right on Monday in Helsinki: Vladimir Putin did make an “incredible offer.”

.. having the indictment, they must have calculated, would strengthen Trump’s hand in the confrontation.

.. Of all the president’s mind-boggling utterances at the press conference, I found this the most stunning.

.. One hoped that Trump’s election would end Obama’s hallmark depictions of moral equivalence between America and thug countries. Yet here’s how the president, at the start of his term, defended Putin when Bill O’Reilly called him a “killer”: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?

.. when has this president ever been restrained by a presidential norm?

.. the most alarming part of the presser was the palpable satisfaction the president took in describing Putin’s “incredible” proposal. Trump is desperate to show that his entreaties to the Russian despot — amid the “collusion” controversy and against the better judgment of his skeptical advisers and supporters — could bear real fruit. It made him ripe to get rolled.

.. The proposal to invite Mueller to Moscow brought to mind others who’ve tried to investigate Putin’s regime on Russian soil. There is, of course, Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed the regime’s $230 million fraud only to be clubbed to death with rubber batons in a Russian prison — Putin said he must have had a heart attack.

.. Then there is Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer for the Magnitsky family who has been investigating regime involvement in the fraud. He was slated to testify in a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against Prevezon, a company controlled by Putin cronies that is implicated in the fraud. But then, somehow, Gorokhov “accidentally” fell from the fourth-floor balcony of a Moscow apartment building.

.. Truth be told, the prospect of hosting Mueller’s investigators in his accident-prone country interests Putin less than the “reciprocity” he has in mind.

.. This is classic Putin. The former KGB agent takes every Western misstep as a precedent, to be contorted and pushed to maximum advantage. As we’ve observed over the years, for example, the Kremlin has rationalized its territorial aggression against former Soviet satellites by relying on U.S. spearheading — over Russian objections — of Kosovo’s secession from Serbia.

.. While positing lip-service denials that he meddled in our 2016 election, Putin implies that we had it coming after what he claims was Obama-administration interference in Russia’s 2011 parliamentary elections

.. if our government does not see how Russia (like other rogue nations) is certain to exploit the precedent the Justice Department has set by indicting foreign officials for actions taken on their government’s behalf, we are in for a rude awakening

.. Naturally, Putin expects us to help him investigate Bill Browder. If you think the word “collusion” makes Trump crazy, try uttering the word “Browder” around Putin

.. the Russian dictator repeated his standing allegation that Browder and his associates have evaded taxes on over a billion dollars in Russian income. He further claimed that “they sent a huge amount — $400 million — as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.” While this is outlandish, it reminds us of the purported dirt on Mrs. Clinton that Putin’s operatives sought to peddle to the Trump campaign in June 2016.

.. Natalia Veselnitskaya reportedly told Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort that Browder was involved in a tax-evasion scheme that implicated Clinton donors. This, she urged, was information that could be used to damage the Clinton campaign. Ms. Veselnitskaya also rehearsed the Kremlin’s rant against the Magnitsky legislation.

.. at least as far as what is publicly known, the Trump Tower meeting remains the closest brush that Trump has had with “collusion” — the narrative (indeed, the investigation) that has dogged his presidency. It is astonishing that the president would allow Putin to manipulate him into reviving that storyline.

.. Memo to DOJ: Expect Russia to issue indictments and international arrest warrants soon — as Putin said, it’s all about “reciprocity.”

.. The “incredible offer” that Putin hit Trump with — and that Trump was palpably thrown by — was not woven out of whole cloth. Did you know that the United States and the Russian Federation have a bilateral mutual-legal-assistance treaty? Yeah, it was negotiated by the Clinton administration and ratified by the Bush administration. The MLAT calls for us to cooperate when the Putin regime seeks to obtain testimony, interview subjects of investigations, locate and identify suspects, transfer persons held in custody, freeze assets — you name it.
.. It’s part of our government’s commitment to the notion that the law-enforcement processes of a constitutional, representative republic dedicated to the rule of law can seamlessly mesh with those of a gangster dictatorship whose idea of due process is deciding which nerve agent — polonium or novichok — is the punishment that fits the “crime.”

..  It enables Putin to pose as the leader of a normal, law-abiding regime that just wants to help Bob Mueller out and maybe ask Bill Browder a couple of questions — preferably out on the balcony.

  1. Clinton joined with Russia in an agreement to . . . wait for it . . . protect Ukraine.
  2. Bush looked Putin in the eye, got a “sense of his soul,” and found him “straightforward and trustworthy” — so much so that
  3. his State Department regarded Russia as a “strategic partner” that was going to help us with Iran (by helping it develop nuclear power!) .
  4. . . while Russia annexed parts of Georgia.
  5. Then came Obama’s “Russia Reset” — more “partnering” on Iran,
  6. ushering Moscow into the World Trade Organization,
  7. signing off on the Uranium One deal (and let’s not forget that cool $500,000 Russian payday for Bill Clinton and all those millions flowing into the Clinton Foundation) . . .
  8. while Russia backed Assad and the Iranian mullahs,
  9. annexed Crimea,
  10. stoked civil war in eastern Ukraine, and
  11. conducted cyber attacks on our election system.

Trumpism Is a Psychology, Not an Ideology

Trump presents an insurmountable challenge to an intellectual approach to politics because his decisions aren’t based on any coherent body of ideas.

.. Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon devoted considerable resources to promoting Trumpist candidates who supposedly shared President Trump’s worldview and parroted his rhetoric, including anti-globalism, economic nationalism, and crude insults of “establishment” politicians. Those schemes largely came to naught.

.. The intellectual effort to craft or divine a coherent Trumpist ideology didn’t fare much better. Just over a year ago, Julius Krein launched a new journal called American Affairs to “give the Trump movement some intellectual heft,”

.. On the left, there’s an enormous investment in the idea that Trump isn’t a break with conservatism but the apotheosis of it. This is a defensible, or at least understandable, claim if you believe conservatism has always been an intellectually vacuous bundle of racial and cultural resentments.

.. by his own admission, he doesn’t consult any serious and coherent body of ideas for his decisions. He trusts his instincts.

.. Trump has said countless times that he thinks his gut is a better guide than the brains of his advisers. He routinely argues that the presidents and policymakers who came before him were all fools and weaklings. That’s narcissism, not ideology, talking.

.. Even the “ideas” that he has championed consistently — despite countervailing evidence and expertise — are grounded not in arguments but in instincts.

He dislikes regulations because, as a businessman, they got in his way.

He dislikes trade because he has a childish, narrow understanding of what “winning” means. Even the “ideas” that he has championed consistently — despite countervailing evidence and expertise — are grounded not in arguments but in instincts. He dislikes regulations because, as a businessman, they got in his way. He dislikes trade because he has a childish, narrow understanding of what “winning” means.

.. The president’s attack on his attorney general’s conduct as “disgraceful” makes no political, legal, or ideological sense, but it is utterly predictable as an expression of Trump’s view that loyalty to Trump should trump everything else.

.. Likewise, his blather about skipping due process to “take the guns” was politically bizarre

.. And, of course, his decision to promote and protect his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is purely psychological. Giving Kushner the responsibility to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for all time seems like the premise of a sitcom

.. many of Trump’s biggest fans stick by him, mirroring Trump’s mode of thinking and discovering ever more extravagant ways to explain or rationalize the president’s behavior. (Krein’s abandonment of Trump was an exception to the rule.)

When Trump attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University tweeted his support, floating the idea that Sessions was an anti-Trump deep cover operative who endorsed Trump to undermine his presidency from within.

.. If this infection becomes a pandemic — a cult of personality — one could fairly call Trumpism a movement. But psychology would still be the best way to understand it.

The Great American Tax Heist

when this bill leads to these predicted deficits, Republicans will return to their sidelined deficit rhetoric armed with a sickle, aiming the blade at the social safety net, exacerbating the egregious imbalance of the tax bill’s original sins.

.. That’s the strategy: Appease the rich on the front end; punish the poor on the back. Feed the weak to the strong.

.. No matter how folks try to rationalize this bill, it has nothing to do with a desire to help the middle class or the poor. This is a cash offering to the gods of the Republican donor class. This is a bill meant to benefit Republicans’ benefactors. This is a quid pro quo and the paying of a ransom.

.. Last month at a rally in Missouri, Trump said of the tax bill, “This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me.” He continued:

.. “This is not good for me. Me, it’s not so — I have some very wealthy friends. Not so happy with me, but that’s O.K. You know, I keep hearing Schumer: ‘This is for the wealthy.’ Well, if it is, my friends don’t know about it.”

That, too, was a lie.

..  It also lines the pockets of people like Senator Bob Corker, who mysteriously “coincidentally” switched his vote from a no to a yes on the bill after the language was added.

.. Donald Trump is a plutocrat masquerading as a populist. He is a pirate on a mission to plunder.

.. Republicans in Congress rushed the bill through for other reasons: to combat the fact of their own legislative incompetence, to satisfy their donors and to honor their long-held belief that the rich are America’s true governing force.

.. They are simply a veneer behind which a crime is occurring: the great American tax heist.

An Evangelical Crack-Up?

What is going to happen to American Evangelicalism in the wake of the Roy Moore defeat? Christianity Today editor Mark Galli, in an editorial, says nothing good.Excerpts:

No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.

.. The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy.

.. David Brody, a correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, has noted the desperation and urgency felt throughout much of conservative Christianity. “The way evangelicals see the world, the culture is not only slipping away—it’s slipping away in all caps, with four exclamation points after that. It’s going to you-know-what in a handbasket.” The logic is then inexorable: “Where does that leave evangelicals? It leaves them with a choice. Do they sacrifice a little bit of that ethical guideline they’ve used in the past in exchange for what they believe is saving the culture?”

.. If evangelical means that, it has serious ramifications for the work of Christians and churches.”

That notion is bewildering to evangelical leaders who see Mr. Trump as their champion. They say that Mr. Trump has given them more access than any president in recent memory, and has done more to advance their agenda, by appointing judges who are likely to rule against abortion and gay rights; by channeling government funds to private religious schools; by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; and by calling for the elimination of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and charitable groups from endorsing political candidates.

.. “I believe that God answered our prayers in a way we didn’t expect, for a person we didn’t even necessarily like,” said Stephen E. Strang, author of “God and Donald Trump” and founder of Charisma Media, a Christian publishing house.

Christians believe in redemption and forgiveness, so they’re willing to give Donald Trump a chance,” said Mr. Strang, who is a member of the president’s informal council of evangelical advisers. “If he turns out to be a lecher like Bill Clinton, or dishonest in some kind of way, in a way that’s proven, you’ll see the support fade as quick as it came.”

Mr. Strang said that those who talk about Mr. Trump tarnishing the evangelical brand “are not really believers — they’re not with us, anyway.”

.. You cannot underestimate the impact of being raised to think that morality was so important that impeachment was justified, and then see the very same people who instilled that belief in you to jump into bed with Donald Trump–a man just as morally debauched as Clinton, but without the advantage of competency or even enough of a sense of decency to know that his lecherous behavior isn’t something to brag about.

.. The key problem is in, as Galli says it, “the desperation and urgency felt throughout much of conservative Christianity.” The New Testament tells us repeatedly, in many different ways and through the examples of the apostles, that Christians should not fear or worry — and certainly not feel desperation! — even in the face of persecution. I was glad to see that he addressed the proper scriptural ways of dealing with such situations: turning the other cheek, forgiving, and doing good to our enemies.

Christians who rationalize compromising our testimony out of desperation are simply not trusting the one they claim to follow.

.. for the first time I can remember, the appearance of Danielite and Johannine apocalyptic imagery in both sermons and discussions on the left. (This isn’t entirely unwelcome, and I think it’s totally appropriate about environmental stewardship, but I am more interested in seeing the left pull the right out of their foxhole than in the left digging our own.)

..  “evangelical” seems to have been co-opted as a political label and makes no distinction between a theological disposition and a cultural identifier. It seems, anymore, to simply mean “non-mainline Protestants,”

.. The older Evangelicals are treading on dangerous ground and alienating their next generation by putting political power over living by Christ’s example.

 

.. The fault line in the schism is whether one takes a culture war-dominionist posture or faithful minority counterculture posture. This fault line — which also divides Christian generations — has lain hidden for a while, but Trump has exposed it, because the dominionists think they can use the Strongman for their own purposes and, maybe, by being his chaplaincy, even make a true believer of him.

The counterculturalists — usually younger evangelicals — think that’s a delusional misreading both of Trump and of the actual standing of Christianity in our nation, and that in the meantime going all-in with this Administration means shredding theological clarity and moral credibility.

.. In terms of Trump he is politician and in a rare moment of listening to his advisers, Paul Manafort was right that Mike Pence was correct choice for VP to ensure the evangelical vote came out for him.

.. But as they explain it, it was because of the supreme court, lesser of two evils, etc. Fine. I get that. What I don’t get is people trying to make Trump out to be the last best hope for the evangelical church.

.. In this sense, Trump and Roy Moore are in the tradition of the Emperor Constantine, whose interest in Christianity was purely for its use as a political tool. Ever since Constantine, there have always been Machiavellian leaders who used the Church for their own cynical purposes, and there will always be such leaders.

.. I suspect “evangelicals” were among the many “Christians” a few years ago who professed to see no contradiction between Christianity and the ideas of Ayn Rand. In other words, many self-identified “evangelicals” are really just identifying their cultural background, not their theology. (And they don’t know their theology.)

 .. However, I think that evagelicals were already hated by elite culture

.. “There is no way we can please them, they are going to hate us no matter what. We might as well support the bad ass who will fight for us, or at least not ramp up the persecution of elite culture against us.”

.. This strategy will also most likely fail, since Trump is likely to fail, and horribly. But I understand the despair and desperation that motivates it.

.. I’m one such libertarian, who recently left the PCA for the ECUSA. I felt that the social conservatives were becoming a professional liability for me. If I agreed with them, that would be fine. But I don’t. I don’t believe in criminalizing early-term abortion and I’m fine with civil same-sex marriage. And I’m not willing to suffer socially for views that I don’t hold and that IMO represent bad policy. 

 

Don’t Choose the Lesser of Two Evils

We have been drenched in “whataboutism” and hypocrisy-policing for a while now. But it’s mutating into something different. People are just inventing standards on the fly. Watching people slap together rationalizations to explain why their pervert or cad shouldn’t be held to the same standard as our pervert or cad is exhausting. At times, it’s like listening John Candy explain why he should get the top bunk or Captain Kirk teaching the mob how to play Fizzbin. For instance, I’ve particularly enjoyed listening to members of the Congressional Black Caucus grab at every branch as they collectively fall down the jackass tree. Representative James Clyburn apparently tried to suggest this was all a white, racist conspiracy:

.. It is intriguing, however, to think that Clyburn actually believes that white women — who were ideologically inclined to work for Conyers in the first place — are still so racist that they would falsely accuse a black icon, just to take him down.

Facebook: You Are the Product

In the far distant days of October 2012, when Facebook hit one billion users, 55 per cent of them were using it every day. At two billion, 66 per cent are. Its user base is growing at 18 per cent a year – which you’d have thought impossible for a business already so enormous. Facebook’s biggest rival for logged-in users is YouTube, owned by its deadly rival Alphabet (the company formerly known as Google), in second place with 1.5 billion monthly users.

.. Three of the next four biggest apps, or services, or whatever one wants to call them, are WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram, with 1.2 billion, 1.2 billion, and 700 million users respectively (the Chinese app WeChat is the other one, with 889 million). Those three entities have something in common: they are all owned by Facebook. No wonder the company is the fifth most valuable in the world, with a market capitalisation of $445 billion.

.. He said that the company was changing its ‘mission statement’, its version of the canting pieties beloved of corporate America. Facebook’s mission used to be ‘making the world more open and connected’. A non-Facebooker reading that is likely to ask: why? Connection is presented as an end in itself, an inherently and automatically good thing. Is it, though?

.. Facebook is generally agreed to have played a big, perhaps even a crucial, role in the election of Donald Trump. The benefit to humanity is not clear. This thought, or something like it, seems to have occurred to Zuckerberg, because the new mission statement spells out a reason for all this connectedness. It says that the new mission is to ‘give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together’.

.. Facebook is in a long line of such enterprises, though it might be the purest ever example of a company whose business is the capture and sale of attention. Very little new thinking was involved in its creation. As Wu observes, Facebook is ‘a business with an exceedingly low ratio of invention to success’.

What Zuckerberg had instead of originality was the ability to get things done and to see the big issues clearly. The crucial thing with internet start-ups is the ability to execute plans and to adapt to changing circumstances. It’s Zuck’s skill at doing that – at hiring talented engineers, and at navigating the big-picture trends in his industry – that has taken his company to where it is today.

..  The movie Zuckerberg is a highly credible character, a computer genius located somewhere on the autistic spectrum with minimal to non-existent social skills. But that’s not what the man is really like. In real life, Zuckerberg was studying for a degree with a double concentration in computer science and – this is the part people tend to forget – psychology. People on the spectrum have a limited sense of how other people’s minds work; autists, it has been said, lack a ‘theory of mind’. Zuckerberg, not so much. He is very well aware of how people’s minds work and in particular of the social dynamics of popularity and status.

.. The initial launch of Facebook was limited to people with a Harvard email address; the intention was to make access to the site seem exclusive and aspirational. (And also to control site traffic so that the servers never went down. Psychology and computer science, hand in hand.) Then it was extended to other elite campuses in the US. When it launched in the UK, it was limited to Oxbridge and the LSE. The idea was that people wanted to look at what other people like them were doing, to see their social networks, to compare, to boast and show off, to give full rein to every moment of longing and envy, to keep their noses pressed against the sweet-shop window of others’ lives.

.. This focus attracted the attention of Facebook’s first external investor, the now notorious Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. Again, The Social Network gets it right: Thiel’s $500,000 investment in 2004 was crucial to the success of the company. But there was a particular reason Facebook caught Thiel’s eye, rooted in a byway of intellectual history. In the course of his studies at Stanford – he majored in philosophy – Thiel became interested in the ideas of the US-based French philosopher René Girard, as advocated in his most influential book, Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World. Girard’s big idea was something he called ‘mimetic desire’. Human beings are born with a need for food and shelter. Once these fundamental necessities of life have been acquired, we look around us at what other people are doing, and wanting, and we copy them. In Thiel’s summary, the idea is ‘that imitation is at the root of all behaviour’.

.. Girard was a Christian, and his view of human nature is that it is fallen. We don’t know what we want or who we are; we don’t really have values and beliefs of our own; what we have instead is an instinct to copy and compare. We are homo mimeticus. ‘Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and who turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.’ Look around, ye petty, and compare. The reason Thiel latched onto Facebook with such alacrity was that he saw in it for the first time a business that was Girardian to its core: built on people’s deep need to copy. ‘Facebook first spread by word of mouth, and it’s about word of mouth, so it’s doubly mimetic,’ Thiel said. ‘Social media proved to be more important than it looked, because it’s about our natures.’ We are keen to be seen as we want to be seen, and Facebook is the most popular tool humanity has ever had with which to do that.

.. The view of human nature implied by these ideas is pretty dark. If all people want to do is go and look at other people so that they can compare themselves to them and copy what they want – if that is the final, deepest truth about humanity and its motivations – then Facebook doesn’t really have to take too much trouble over humanity’s welfare, since all the bad things that happen to us are things we are doing to ourselves. For all the corporate uplift of its mission statement, Facebook is a company whose essential premise is misanthropic.

.. The highest-profile recent criticisms of the company stem from its role in Trump’s election. There are two components to this, one of them implicit in the nature of the site, which has an inherent tendency to fragment and atomise its users into like-minded groups. The mission to ‘connect’ turns out to mean, in practice, connect with people who agree with you. We can’t prove just how dangerous these ‘filter bubbles’ are to our societies, but it seems clear that they are having a severe impact on our increasingly fragmented polity. Our conception of ‘we’ is becoming narrower.

..  The portmanteau terms for these developments are ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’, and they were made possible by the retreat from a general agora of public debate into separate ideological bunkers. In the open air, fake news can be debated and exposed; on Facebook, if you aren’t a member of the community being served the lies, you’re quite likely never to know that they are in circulation. It’s crucial to this that Facebook has no financial interest in telling the truth. No company better exemplifies the internet-age dictum that if the product is free, you are the product.

.. Facebook’s customers aren’t the people who are on the site: its customers are the advertisers who use its network and who relish its ability to direct ads to receptive audiences. Why would Facebook care if the news streaming over the site is fake? Its interest is in the targeting, not in the content. This is probably one reason for the change in the company’s mission statement. If your only interest is in connecting people, why would you care about falsehoods? They might even be better than the truth, since they are quicker to identify the like-minded. The newfound ambition to ‘build communities’ makes it seem as if the company is taking more of an interest in the consequence of the connections it fosters.

.. in an interesting paper published by its internal security division. ‘Fake news’, they argue, is an unhelpful, catch-all term because misinformation is in fact spread in a variety of ways:

  1. Information (or Influence) Operations – Actions taken by governments or organised non-state actors to distort domestic or foreign political sentiment.
  2. False News – News articles that purport to be factual, but which contain intentional misstatements of fact with the intention to arouse passions, attract viewership, or deceive.
  3. False Amplifiers – Co-ordinated activity by inauthentic accounts with the intent of manipulating political discussion (e.g. by discouraging specific parties from participating in discussion, or amplifying sensationalistic voices over others).
  4. Disinformation – Inaccurate or manipulated information/content that is spread intentionally. This can include false news, or it can involve more subtle methods, such as false flag operations, feeding inaccurate quotes or stories to innocent intermediaries, or knowingly amplifying biased or misleading information.

..  One man’s fake news is another’s truth-telling, and Facebook works hard at avoiding responsibility for the content on its site – except for sexual content, about which it is super-stringent. Nary a nipple on show. It’s a bizarre set of priorities, which only makes sense in an American context, where any whiff of explicit sexuality would immediately give the site a reputation for unwholesomeness. Photos of breastfeeding women are banned and rapidly get taken down. Lies and propaganda are fine.

.. The key to understanding this is to think about what advertisers want: they don’t want to appear next to pictures of breasts because it might damage their brands, but they don’t mind appearing alongside lies because the lies might be helping them find the consumers they’re trying to target.

.. Jonathan Taplin points to an analysis on Buzzfeed: ‘In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York TimesWashington PostHuffington Post, NBC News and others.’ This doesn’t sound like a problem Facebook will be in any hurry to fix.

.. The fact is that fraudulent content, and stolen content, are rife on Facebook, and the company doesn’t really mind, because it isn’t in its interest to mind. Much of the video content on the site is stolen from the people who created it. An illuminating YouTube video from Kurzgesagt, a German outfit that makes high-quality short explanatory films, notes that in 2015, 725 of Facebook’s top one thousand most viewed videos were stolen.

.. Zuckerberg himself has spoken up on this issue, in a Facebook post addressing the question of ‘Facebook and the election’. After a certain amount of boilerplate bullshit (‘Our goal is to give every person a voice. We believe deeply in people’), he gets to the nub of it. ‘Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 per cent of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes.’ More than one Facebook user pointed out that in their own news feed, Zuckerberg’s post about authenticity ran next to fake news. In one case, the fake story pretended to be from the TV sports channel ESPN. When it was clicked on, it took users to an ad selling a diet supplement. As the writer Doc Searls pointed out, it’s a double fraud, ‘outright lies from a forged source’, which is quite something to have right slap next to the head of Facebook boasting about the absence of fraud.

.. Facebook needs content, obviously, because that’s what the site consists of: content that other people have created. It’s just that it isn’t too keen on anyone apart from Facebook making any money from that content. Over time, that attitude is profoundly destructive to the creative and media industries. Access to an audience – that unprecedented two billion people – is a wonderful thing, but Facebook isn’t in any hurry to help you make money from it.

.. Facebook is in essence an advertising company which is indifferent to the content on its site except insofar as it helps to target and sell advertisements.

.. A version of Gresham’s law is at work, in which fake news, which gets more clicks and is free to produce, drives out real news, which often tells people things they don’t want to hear, and is expensive to produce.

.. Its news feed directs traffic at you based not on your interests, but on how to make the maximum amount of advertising revenue from you.

.. In the early years of Facebook, Zuckerberg was much more interested in the growth side of the company than in the monetisation. That changed when Facebook went in search of its big payday at the initial public offering

.. Naomi, between chats with Cox, was clicking away on her laptop, paying little attention to the Zuckian harangue. I peered over her shoulder at her screen. She was scrolling down an email with a number of links, and progressively clicking each one into existence as another tab on her browser. Clickathon finished, she began lingering on each with an appraiser’s eye. They were real estate listings, each for a different San Francisco property.

Martínez took note of one of the properties and looked it up later. Price: $2.4 million. He is fascinating, and fascinatingly bitter, on the subject of class and status differences in Silicon Valley, in particular the never publicly discussed issue of the huge gulf between early employees in a company, who have often been made unfathomably rich, and the wage slaves who join the firm later in its story.

.. When the time came for the IPO, Facebook needed to turn from a company with amazing growth to one that was making amazing money. It was already making some, thanks to its sheer size – as Martínez observes, ‘a billion times any number is still a big fucking number’ – but not enough to guarantee a truly spectacular valuation on launch. It was at this stage that the question of how to monetise Facebook got Zuckerberg’s full attention. It’s interesting, and to his credit, that he hadn’t put too much focus on it before – perhaps because he isn’t particularly interested in money per se. But he does like to win.

.. If I want to reach women between the ages of 25 and 30 in zip code 37206 who like country music and drink bourbon, Facebook can do that. Moreover, Facebook can often get friends of these women to post a ‘sponsored story’ on a targeted consumer’s news feed, so it doesn’t feel like an ad. As Zuckerberg said when he introduced Facebook Ads, ‘Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.’

..  (Particular segments of voters too can be targeted with complete precision. One instance from 2016 was an anti-Clinton ad repeating a notorious speech she made in 1996 on the subject of ‘super-predators’. The ad was sent to African-American voters in areas where the Republicans were trying, successfully as it turned out, to suppress the Democrat vote. Nobody else saw the ads.)

.. What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality.

.. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.

..  Wu’s history of attention merchants shows that there is a suggestive pattern here: that a boom is more often than not followed by a backlash, that a period of explosive growth triggers a public and sometimes legislative reaction.

.. forms of backlash, both major and minor, are all but inevitable.’ Wu calls a minor form of this phenomenon the ‘disenchantment effect’.

.. Ad Week estimates the annual cost of click fraud at $7 billion, about a sixth of the entire market.

.. Estimates of fraudulent traffic’s market share are variable, with some guesses coming in at around 50 per cent; some website owners say their own data indicates a fraudulent-click rate of 90 per cent. This is by no means entirely Facebook’s problem, but it isn’t hard to imagine how it could lead to a big revolt against ‘ad tech’, as this technology is generally known, on the part of the companies who are paying for it

.. A customers’ revolt could overlap with a backlash from regulators and governments.

.. Facebook has done a huge amount to lower the quality of public debate and to ensure that it is easier than ever before to tell what Hitler approvingly called ‘big lies’ and broadcast them to a big audience. The company has no business need to care about that, but it is the kind of issue that could attract the attention of regulators.

.. were it to be generally understood that Facebook’s business model is based on surveillance, the company would be in danger. The one time Facebook did poll its users about the surveillance model was in 2011, when it proposed a change to its terms and conditions
.. The other thing that could happen at the level of individual users is that people stop using Facebook because it makes them unhappy.
.. The resulting paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was a study of ‘social contagion’, or the transfer of emotion among groups of people, as a result of a change in the nature of the stories seen by 689,003 users of Facebook. ‘When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.’ The scientists seem not to have considered how this information would be received, and the story played quite big for a while.
.. the more people use Facebook, the more unhappy they are. A 1 per cent increase in ‘likes’ and clicks and status updates was correlated with a 5 to 8 per cent decrease in mental health.
.. In addition, they found that the positive effect of real-world interactions, which enhance well-being, was accurately paralleled by the ‘negative associations of Facebook use’. In effect people were swapping real relationships which made them feel good for time on Facebook which made them feel bad.
.. Russians, about a hundred million of whom are on the net, tend not to use Facebook because they prefer their native copycat site VKontakte.
..Facebook and Google are the new colonial powers.’
.. I am scared of Facebook. The company’s ambition, its ruthlessness, and its lack of a moral compass scare me. It goes back to that moment of its creation, Zuckerberg at his keyboard after a few drinks creating a website to compare people’s appearance, not for any real reason other than that he was able to do it. That’s the crucial thing about Facebook, the main thing which isn’t understood about its motivation: it does things because it can. Zuckerberg knows how to do something, and other people don’t, so he does it. Motivation of that type doesn’t work in the Hollywood version of life, so Aaron Sorkin had to give Zuck a motive to do with social aspiration and rejection. But that’s wrong, completely wrong. He isn’t motivated by that kind of garden-variety psychology. He does this because he can, and justifications about ‘connection’ and ‘community’ are ex post facto rationalisations.