January 25, 2021
Announcement on social media use
TFF and I, Jan Oberg, will change how we use social media from 2021 and onwards.
The change comes as a result of certain social media trends and events that we do not want to be part of (see arguments below).
We increasingly find Facebook, Twitter and Google a) politicising, b) part of a superficial culture bordering on the meaningless and c) an obstacle to genuine public education, freedom of speech and the global communication we have always cherished.
Therefore, in the future:
You will still see posts on Facebook and Twitter linking to our articles but only as window displays. We shall no longer participate in discussions there, only on our homepage, The Transnational, and under the articles.
We reclaim the essentially important free global public debate outside – and independent of – the near-monopoly that Facebook and Twitter cynically created and claim copyright to.
It’s only natural that the debates occur at the creator’s platform and remain there for people to see in the future.
During 2021, we speed up our efforts on LinkedIn, the Chinese WeChat, perhaps Russian VK and, later perhaps, Instagram (yes, Facebook-owned but to be explored) and also on TFF’s two Flipboard online magazines Transnational Peace Affairs and BootPrint – Militarism and Environment.
That’s where we hope you will follow us and warmly welcome your views.
Furthermore, TFF has moved from Google-owned YouTube to Vimeo. We use alternatives to Google Mail and Google Search such as Bing and DuckDuckGo as much as we can. We also do not use Facebook-owned WhatsApp (time to leave that too) or Messenger but Telegram instead.
Big Tech and powerful social media have grossly misused billions of people’s trust. They are likely to continue to decide what is politically correct and not, spy on us and censor us.
The day may come when they will close down those of us who work for peace, disarmament, nonviolence and other types of decency.
With this step, we hope to encourage others to consider their dependence on these unethical media.
TFF and I continue to be free, independent and undeterred – like we have been the last 35 years. That’s how we have built respect, trust and truthful research and public education.
We will in the future too.
A couple of years ago, I put together my friends and followers on Facebook – my profile, TFF’s page, and my public figure page. There alone, I was related, one way or another, to about 16 000 people, with some overlaps. And I have 1400 followers on Twitter.
I’ve been active there, posting daily since 2007. I’ve posted an average of 3-5 articles per day – TFF’s, my own and other authors articles. They’ve been consistently high-quality, trustworthy and source-checked. So, my contribution has been at least 15.000 posts. I would add, free-of-charge for these media.
Compared with many others, celebrities and world-famous people, it is certainly not a lot. But it is enough in terms of energy and time invested and sustained 24/7/365 to judge whether to continue, to stop entirely or doing it differently.
Trends in the wrong direction
1. Substantial change in ‘organic reach’ in early 2017
The change became clear shortly after my return from Syria with my articles and documentary photos from the liberation of Eastern Aleppo in particular. I’d seen steady growth of friends and followers up till then and there was a clear upward trend right after December 2016.
Then in late spring 2017, it died down. I can prove nothing scientifically – but there is something called sustained impressions, intuition and incremental changes in which you begin to see a pattern.
My stories, substantial analyses, and my critical writings about the deliberately distorting media coverage of Syria and the closed doors everywhere my own “different” reports encountered started me out.
Google Search allegedly changed its algorithm fundamentally in April 2016. An algorithm is a computer program that can be used to decide/select/edit what comes up to be seen by whom when you search and when you go to your social media feed.
2. The circle of friends suddenly stopped being global
Since late spring 2017, I observed a very marked change on Facebook. Because of my conflict- and war-related work in many countries and my role as visiting professor at quite a few places, I used to have 90% non-Scandinavian people commenting on my own places and that of TFF. We have always been on Facebook because of its potential, global reach – not to speak with friends, family and neighbours, see their dog or what they eat.
However, by November 2017, 95% of those I interacted with were from Denmark and Sweden and maximum 5% non-Scandinavians. I had changed nothing – I basically post stuff about international affairs in English, as I always have.
I consider this as strange as sad – I myself and TFF are on social media to dialogue with the wider world, not only or mainly with people in Denmark where I was born and in Sweden where I live.
In my view, this Facebook orientation – a deliberate policy change – toward closer friends and neighbours with a clear geographic limitation has completely destroyed Facebook’s potential as a platform for global communication, opinion-formation and change.
3. Facebook’s feed and ‘culture’ has become meaningless
When I go to my Facebook feed, 90-98% of the post I see lack even a remote connection with my interests (that Facebook professes influence the algorithm); many of them are by people I have never seen and who are neither my nor TFF’s friends, likers or commenters.
By and large, it’s become a waste of time for me to scroll down my Facebook feed – whereas months ago I would find friends posting about international affairs, peace etc. (I regret but I have no time or patience with selfies, what strangers to me some stranger to me met with at a café or… )
Furthermore, I’m too old to accept that anybody can debate articles without having read them. I have had thousands of comments based on a headline but not on the argument, people asking me things that are in the article and – the usual – people discussing whatever they like under an article about something completely different.
And I have seen likes and even shares, literally seconds only after a link was posted which means that the person cannot possibly have clicked to browse the content of the concrete article.
TFF and I also want to focus on quality discussion about substance. The material we publish deserves that. And we want to get away from the quantity click economy and the race for friends, followers and likes.
We’re a gourmet place for peace – research and public education. The ‘culture’ these media have helped create fit an attention span that is ridiculously short and – counterproductively in a complex world – permits no depth of attention.
The unbearable lightness of superficiality has become a daily burden…
Like so many others, I have seen trolls – that’s what they must be – using very strong language against me at some of my posts, particularly when I posted critical comments on President Trump’s speeches, on Iran and about the nuclear deal. Suddenly, there were over 100. As a test, I answered one politely but there was no reply. Most of the profiles I bothered to check showed one or two photos, empty space under “About” and nothing or a few pictures on their profile, nothing of any substance. I assume they were fake identities and I have not seen them since then.
5. Strange friend requests
I’ve received an increasing number of friend requests. They drop in, it’s not like a campaign – just one here, one there. We all like friends, right? But this particular type – no thanks.
One who wanted to be my friend calls himself “Lewis Thompson”. The problem for “Lewis” with his wish to be my friend is that I always check those who want to be friends with me. Always.
I’ve never seen “Lewis” on my Facebook profile nor on any of the pages I administer, nor on my public figure page. Secondly, even if I accept his friendship, there is no information about him anywhere.
There are three photos of him, could be from anywhere and they are not that clearly of the same person. There is nothing under “About” or anything else on his profile.
Third, all he has posted is a photo of a rose. I begin to think that “Lewis” is perhaps not all that interested in politics, international affairs or peace and therefore perhaps not really interested in what I post. Perhaps he has other motives and roles?
Perhaps because poor “Lewis” is not a real person living among us? Or perhaps he is a kind of high-tech spider who monitors everything I write if we are connected? I really don’t know. And also have neither the time nor the energy to care.
So, having studied my new friend I de-friended him again. Lewis – if you are a real person, don’t be too disappointed.
I’ve also noticed days where suddenly I receive 10-20 friend requests from one and the same country and one type of people – same gender, age category and educational background. People I have never seen interested in anything I do before and whom of course I don’t know. I deleted them all systematically over the last three years.
I’ve no time for these things. Every evil is not caused by Facebook, Twitter and Google. But the way people are accepted into the platform and how their identity is checked should have been improved by now.
6. The ‘organic’ reach on Facebook is heavily reduced and less bang for the buck
Another clear trend – over much longer time – is that Facebook permits you to reach fewer and fewer by what is called organic posting – that is, without paying to ‘boost’ your post’s reach. In line with this, when you decide to boost a post for, say US$ 10 or 50, you are estimated to reach much fewer than before (although I have many more friends than before, so that is a smaller and smaller percentage).
And the number you are told as an estimate is seldom reached – when your money has been spent for the boost, you’ll see that the number did not quite reach up to the estimate Facebook told you were likely to reach before you paid for the boost. But you don’t get your money back..
Organic reach is now – 2021 – about 10% of what it was back in time, say up to 2015 or so. Here is how ridiculous it has become:
Despite Facebook’s and Mr Zuckerberg’s statements about facilitating human communication, today Facebook is, first of all, a money-making machine with no real ideals beyond statements and PR. It’s increasingly for those who can pay – and your chance as a small organisation to reach the many has diminished drastically over time.
We shall not waste our supporters’ funds on satisfying Facebook’s greed.
The billion-making, empire-building motives today far overrules the social vision. Corporations who can pay any sum for boosts and ads squeeze out us smaller, non-profit outfits. If Facebook had a social philosophy and wanted to be a place for the citizens of the world and for important non-commercial messages, it would do the opposite and it would have one price level for profit-makers and another for civil society organisations and would, thus, become an important promoter of the dearly-needed globalisation of democracy and global dialogue.
I’d be happy to pay a small annual fee to be on Facebook if it operated for the people. But to boost posts in competition with the corporate world – no thanks!
The marked decline in organic reach is particularly strange since the last couple of years have seen a surge in activity related to TFF’s work – thanks to improved email service, posting across the leading social media in one go and, in particular, a much larger reach thanks to commenting now and then on the third-largest (after CNN and Aljazeera) TV network, Russia Today and also on Iran’s international, PressTV. That means reaching millions of people we did not reach before.
Is it likely that viewers of these media obviously never bother to find TFF and me, follow or like? Or are they somehow prevented from that unless they are willing to conduct a comprehensive search operation themselves?
7. Google Search deliberately conducts censorship and should be boycotted
A recent analysis tells you that the following organisations have suffered significant reductions in their Google search results since April 2017:
* world socialist web site 70 percent
* alternet.org fell by 63 percent
* globalresearch.ca fell by 62 percent
* consortiumnews.com fell by 47 percent
* mediamatters.org fell by 42 percent
* commondreams.org fell by 37 percent
* internationalviewpoint.org fell by 36 percent
* democracynow.org fell by 36 percent
* wikileaks.org fell by 30 percent
* truth-out.org fell by 25 percent
* counterpunch.org fell by 21 percent
* theintercept.com fell by 19 percent
There are many articles about Google’s efforts to eradicate fake news. That’s a good thing to try to do – but probably not possible without hurting a lot which is not fake. Here is how the New York Times chose to write about it on October 2, 2017:
“In April, Google announced an initiative called Project Owl to provide “algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative content” and stamp out fake news stories from its search results.”
A concrete example is presented and an interview is done with one of those who are hit, the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS). Read the article and see how it seems to work. Here is the World Socialist Web Site’s – very very interesting reflections on that article and Google’s silence.
And listen to this data: “Research by the WSWS has found that search traffic to 13 left-wing, anti-war, and progressive sites has fallen by 55 percent since Google announced changes last April to its search algorithm.”
That would include also, of course, the Transnational Foundation for Peace And Future Research, TFF, of which I am the director.
Here is an example. TFF has consistently published articles over 35 years, virtually every day. Here is what Google News had to say in October 2017:
Remember that when you “Google” you do so much else and support data collection also on other Google apps and services:
A second very illuminating analysis is by Jonathan Cook – Google’s new search engine bias is no accident.
Here some early articles from the time when it happened – by no means exhaustive but more to stimulate your own search on these issues – about Google as “the Internet’s police”.
You should be aware of what you are legitimating when you use Google for your searches.
• The new censorship. How did Google become the internet’s censor and master manipulator, blocking access to millions of websites?
• Wikipedia: Censorship by Google
• Carolanne Wright
YouTube, Google and Censorship — Alternative Media Cries Foul
• The World Socialist Web Site’s open letter to Google
• Nafeez Ahmed
How CIA made Google
In November 2017, I wrote a rather critical article on this disturbing censorship-by-deranking affair – “What is Google’s Eric Schmidt so afraid of? And what should make him afraid?”
8. Tracking everything everywhere
I am very annoyed that the media and other companies track my activities wherever I am on the Internet. They may say that I had signed up for it when I got an account or started using their services. But why must I, in the first place?
It feels like one systematic 24/7 violation of what was once called our right to privacy. I do not want to be flooded with ads immediately after I have been searching for some product. I do not want this either – which I can see because I use a tracking info mechanism:
You won’t avoid it, but you can reduce it to some extent and use a VPN – Virtual Private Network – that permits you to surf without trackers seeing your own real IP number.
Here is a thought-provoking article on all the ways Facebook tracks you. This first paragraph offers the gist: “It won’t come as much of a surprise that Facebook tracks you on its platform—that’s why it can resurface your birthday photos from five years ago—but you might not yet realize the scope and the depth of its tracking all across the internet. Facebook’s tentacles stretch out across other websites and services, into the various apps you’re using on your phone, and to the places you physically visit in the real world – especially if you decide to check in on Facebook while you’re there.”
It also states that “If you don’t trust Facebook’s intentions – which is by now understandable – then you really need to quit using it altogether.” Fortunately, the article also offers a lot of insights into how you can curb – but never avoid – Facebook tracking also way outside your use of Facebook itself.
Google and Facebook practically know everything about you and what you do when and where.
9. Facebook’s Oversight Board
Here is a very informative article about its background – and problems. To put it very crudely, the idea is that controversial posts or ads shall be analysed by this board and taken down if the board so concludes, i.e. the board’s decision is binding and not even Mr Zuckerberg can ignore its “supreme court”-like ruling.
It seems that the Board has been in-the-making for about 4 years and its work will be supported by a separate fund set up by Facebook.
Here is Wikipedia’s entry on that board. The Facebook Oversight Board seems to have its own homepage but large parts of it were literally empty (or at least not accessible with Mac/Firefox on January 23, 2021, at 17:20 Swedish time).
It is difficult to judge what the Board’s 20 members shall be able to do or what guided its composition. About half are Westerners, predominantly Americans, all have been appointed by the Facebook-appointed co-chairs who appointed the rest jointly with Facebook.
One of the members and co-chairs is Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former Social Democratic PM of Denmark. As a staunch believer in US foreign policy, she is an adviser to the Atlantic Council, the European Council of Foreign Relations, the International Crisis Group and other Western mainstream power groups.
10. Facebook’s relations with the Atlantic Council
The overall relationship between the two is described and documented in detail here by Elliott Gabriel.
Here another take on how the Atlantic Council is related to Facebook. One key element is that Facebook – like many other corporations – have received considerable funds from Burisma – the Ukrainian Cyprus-based holding company for a series of energy exploration and production companies. This involved Hunter Biden, the US President’s son.
Another angle is slightly more “juicy” in that Facebook, the British government seem to be among the largest donors of funds to the Atlantic Council – a think tank with powerful overlapping personal connections and value-community with NATO and everything US/West European militarism. More about these relations at Project Censored.
Obviously, the Atlantic Council, among its roles in service of armament and advocacy of US foreign policy, is a lobbying organisation for NATO.
It goes without saying that this places Facebook in a company that is not compatible with any neutrality in war and peace issues. This is a major reason – among the many mentioned above – that TFF and I reduce our interaction with it.
11. Blatant censorship and a – fake – attitude to violence
Here some funny incidents from October 2019:
More recently, the way social media corporations – supported uncritically by every mainstream outlet, led by CNN – treated the President of the United States is interesting no matter what you think about Donald Trump.
While many leading voices have endorsed, promptly and without debate, the closing down of former President Trump’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, this is a decision that remains problematic no matter your attitude to Trump.
It’s conspicuous that no reference has been made to the Declaration of Human Rights by scores of people and media and other organisations who profess to promote human rights. Here is the central Article 10 from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.
The questions now are: Could Facebook and Twitter show that Trump caused such dangers that this provision could be set aside? Was this documented when Twitter and Facebook closed down the account? Which arguments did they bring forward to justify their drastic decision? Was Trump – still President of the United States – given a warning and or chance to explain himself before these two companies decided to prevent him from expressing his – admittedly bizarre – views?
The main arguments can be found in this detailed Wikipedia account of what happened – an account that endorses Trump’s accounts’ closing. It’s clear that the argument was that he incited the violence on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. Or, that it was judged that he would be able to disturb the peaceful transition on January 20 and that, therefore, he should be cut off immediately. (Which one must suppose shall not be judged finally before the impeachment trial has ended).
The bottom line was that he had said that the elections had been stolen and that, in particular, he was inciting violence. Facebook and Twitter did not mention whether Trump had somehow incited or organised it before the event took place. And no mention either of the fact that in the video in which he said that he loved the people who rioted, his repeated message was that they should go home, respect law and order and not upset the peace…
According to the Wikipedia account, when the riots took place: “Trump tweeted “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence!…”
It was after this statement his accounts were closed.
Secondly, the main argument that Trump incited violence was bizarre.
Probably millions of people before him have incited violence on both Twitter and Facebook – against North Korea, against Iran, against Syria, against individuals and groups they just don’t like.
Trump bombed Syria in April 2017; he told North Korea’s leader that he could obliterate his country because the button on his desk was much bigger than Kim Jung Un’s. He has repeatedly threatened Iran with what must be interpreted as total annihilation.
Trump was clearly involved in killing a top Iranian leader, General Soleimani in early 2020 and tweeted the American flag on the occasion.
He has violated international law. He has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal – a violation of international law – and intentionally incurred tremendous suffering on millions of innocent Iranians by imposing new sanctions. He has said that “we’re keeping the oil” in Syria – that is done by violent means and is a war crime.
Did Facebook and Twitter close down his account for any of that? Did Google de-rank him?
We know the answer is – No, they did not.
Inciting violence is only a crime when done – if it was done – inside the US.
By letting President Trump write what he did in these cases – and there are lots more – Twitter, Google, and Facebook support their President when he pillages, kills and wounds millions more innocent people abroad.
So much for Facebook’s and Twitter’s “principles”, political judgements and implicit support to the most despicable, international law-breaking and violence-inciting aspects of US foreign policy.
It places them squarely on the pro-war side of things. It exposes how they lack a principled policy, or ethical standard, concerning “incitement” to violence and how they endorse de facto killing and violations of international law.
A larger perspective
If there is going to be some kind of Internet “police,” the only thing I know is that it should be accepted by the worldwide Internet users and not be decided in the board rooms or editorial offices of corporations that have extreme profit motives as well as political connections and are not regulated by law.
Simply put, they have become too big, too influential, and they serve US foreign policy interests much more than the global citizenry’s interaction interests.
In a larger perspective, all of this is of course about an ever weaker US and West that is afraid of its monopoly on truth and being challenges by the Rest.
It’s about traditional printed newspaper losing their dominance in one country after the other to bloggers, alternative media and non-Western apps. And therefore serve us anything but solid public service material and follow the sensational money-making strategy and the populist click economy.
And all of it is possible because fake and omission thrive where solid education and intellectual literacy have disappeared, and the humanities have been starved out of our universities the last 20+ years.
In my humble opinion, there is no piece of technology (and certainly not in the hands of corporate media conglomerates) that can weed out fake journalism and alert us to what is even worse than fake – namely omitted news.
The only real guard against this intellectual decay and the misuse of the Internet and apps for propaganda and worse is and remains much better basic education, ongoing public education and a convivial public discussion.
Social media is, in this perspective, not a solution. They are part of the very serious problem.
Those of us who know the facts in some field can better look through the manipulation than people who have no education or basic knowledge about it. They will be forever victimised until we say the word – “Educate”!
And this is, finally, a larger argument why TFF and I now pull back and reclaim our self-reliance and integrity. That will, in the longer run, serve both peace and public education better than remaining part of the manipulations of these huge – and hugely unethical – social media.
Useful “old” sources
The various types of encroachments on free opinion expression started years ago. Here some sources that I found useful back in 2014-2017 and a few newer ones at the bottom:
“We need to nationalise Google, Facebook and Amazon. Here is why”
“Who will take responsibility for Facebook?”
– and other articles on that page.
“Does even Mark Zuckerberg know what Facebook is?”
“US Department of Justice demands Facebook account details of anti-Trump activists”
“What Facebook did to American democracy. And why it was so hard to see it coming”
“Google eavesdropping tool installed on computers without permission”
World Socialist Web Site
“Google escalates blacklisting of left-wing web sites and journalists”
“Facebook: Hey, Nice Media You Got There, Shame if Some Kind of News Feed Change Happened to It”
“From News Outlets And Businesses In 6 Countries Unless They Pay”
In These Times
“How the “fake news” scare is marginalizing The Left”
“The silencing of the Left”
Privacy and data collection
“Facebook pressured to refuse access to Assad campaign in Syria election”
TED Talk 2011
“Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt On Fake News, Russia, And “Information Warfare”
“Tim Berners-Lee on the future of the web: ‘The system is failing'”
“Google will ‘de-rank’ RT articles to make them harder to find – Eric Schmidt”
“Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments”
The Sydney Morning Herald
“Google provided WikiLeaks journalists’ metadata in Julian Assange investigation”
“Facespook! Social Media Giant Becomes Arm of US intel”
‘Organic reach on Facebook is dead’: Advertisers expect price hikes after Facebook’s feed purge
What Could Go Wrong With Facebook’s Plan to Rank News Sources by “Trustworthiness”
Facebook Partners With Hawkish Atlantic Council, a NATO Lobby Group, to “Protect Democracy”
Journalists, politicians and judges to sit on Facebook’s free speech panel
Better World Info
All the links you could ever want about social media
ADDENDUM – We continue to post links here after this was published
Only a couple of weeks after this was published, it was announced that Facebook had employed a former NATO press officer as its new intelligence chief. With that, doubts about where Facebook as a corporation stands politically should no longer be possible.
Read also “Inside the making of Facebook’s Supreme Court” by Kate Klonick in The New Yorker on February 12, 2021.
Twitter removes hundreds of accounts it says are linked to Iran, Russia, Armenia – please note this formulation: “Twitter said 100 accounts with Russian ties were removed for amplifying narratives that undermined faith in NATO and targeted the United States and the European Union.”
So Twitter is now – like Facebook – an officially pro-NATO organisation.
If you appreciate this Announcement and our arguments, please follow us on the mentioned platforms and show you support here. Thanks!