What is Facebook? – It’s destructive effect on creativity and media

I have just been reading John Lanchester’s great article ‘You Are the Product’ in the London Review of Books, 17 August 2017. I highly recommend it.  If you can’t get it, here are some of the details that I really wanted to ‘share’.

Facebook is HUGE. It has just passed 2 billion active monthly users across the globe. Facebook also owns WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram, three of the four next most used Internet services. Its main rival, Alphabet, formerly Google, has 1.5 billion monthly users. They own YouTube.

Facebook’s new mission is to ‘give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.’ But this mission is almost completely contrary to its real interest and purpose. Its business is advertising. It uses unprecedented surveillance of each of our histories to sell targeted advertising.  Doing this has made it worth £445 billion, and it makes billions each year.  Its success has been to join up with ‘consumer credit agencies’ and our phone records, to track our every move, for the benefit of paying advertisers. Facebook’s business is based on surveillance.  The one time it polled its users about the surveillance model was in 2011, when it proposed a change to its terms and conditions. This is the change that underpins the current template for its use of data. The result of the poll was clear: 90% of the vote was against the changes. Facebook went ahead and made them anyway.

Facebook is a business that exploits our desire to compare and copy. It’s a pretty bleak place.  This goes right back to Mark Zuckerberg’s first impulse to create it, when he suffered a romantic rebuff, and sought revenge and control.  A number of studies have shown that Facebook causes unhappiness. Its use is linked to envy and depression.  In effect, people are swapping real relationships, which make them feel good, for time on Facebook, which makes them feel bad.

The Facebook button tracks every Facebook user, whether they click on it or not.  Facebook targets advertising at us, and it shapes the flow of news towards us, often linked to this advertising. During the American election there was a lot of pro-Trump targeted advertising plus a lot of fake news. Targetted fake news outperformed all traditional media outlets like television and newspapers. Both of these new influences got Trump elected. It leaves elections vulnerable to being distorted by people with a lot of cash. Facebook has no incentive to cut fake news – though it says it wants to – because fake news generates interest and reaches people as much as any other news and makes it just as much money.

We may imagine our newsfeed is largely to do with our friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is our friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Our eyes are diverted to the place where they are most valuable to Facebook.

Facebook is making unprecedented amounts of money using content that is entirely created by other people, or worse, stolen.  In 2015, 725 of Facebook’s top 1000 most viewed videos were stolen. We collectively have an interest in sustaining creative and imaginative work in many forms and on many platforms. Facebook doesn’t. Forget community – it has two priorities: growth and monetisation.

And it’s not too keen on anyone apart from themselves making any money from that content. Over time this is profoundly destructive to the creative and media industries. Alan Russbridger, former editor of the Guardian, told a Financial Times conference in 2016 that Facebook had sucked up $27 million of the newspapers projected ad revenue that year. ‘They are taking all the money because they have algorithms we don’t understand which are a filter between what we do and how people receive it’.

The music industry was a $20 billion industry in 1999, a $7 billion industry 15 years later.  That didn’t happen because people stopped listening to music. Music became something people could get for free that, in effect, Facebook and YouTube were monetising. ‘In 2015, musicians earned less from tracks and from its ad supported rivals than they earned from vinyl. Not CDs and recordings in general: vinyl.’

Facebook is incredibly wealthy, expansionist, ambitious and ruthless. It acts without any moral compass. It’s doing it all firstly for the money, and secondly – and this goes back to Mark Zuckerberg’s first impulse to create it – because it can. Facebook is a business with an exceedingly low ratio of invention to success. Because it is part of the new technologies industry, it has escaped much public control or regulation. It charges people different prices for the same item based on their perceived ability to pay. This has been proved by a Spanish study using profiles of people with different incomes. This practice is illegal, but so far, has been unregulated.

Efforts must be made to control, regulate and tax Facebook, by all those who believe in ‘building community’, creativity and regulated media.  This applies now, and to the near future. Facebook currently has a huge interest in automation and artificial intelligence, technologies that are new and real and coming soon. We don’t know what’s next. We don’t know the next set of tools and technologies that will become available. Facebook will have a big part to play, and it is impossible to view that prospect without unease.

Vacancy – Project Co-ordinator

The Charity Company Paradiso, in partnership with Charity Esteem, is seeking:

A Project Co-ordinator for a weekly drop-in for young people

Based at: Old School House, Shoreham
Contract: Freelance position 1 day / 8 hours a week for 12 weeks, including Wednesday drop-ins. Fixed term for 12 weeks (subject to further funding)
Pay: £100 per day, £12.50 per hour
Start date: 25th May 2016 tbc
Interview Date: Thursday 12th May 2016
Application Deadline 5pm Monday 9th May 2016

As Project Coordinator you will work with the Project Director to plan and deliver a pilot project that will support a small group of young people aged 16 to 26 who have mental health and wellbeing issues.

We are seeking a candidate who is passionate about supporting young people and has experience of doing so. You will have an understanding of mental health and wellbeing issues and difficult behavioural situations.

Your responsibilities will include networking with other professionals and young people, planning sessions which incentivise young people to attend, organising a meal together at each session, and co-ordinating 2 special trips.

You will develop the drop-in with Company Paradiso and Esteem so that it can successfully continue with further funding.

For a full Job Description, click here. For an informal chat about the job, please ring Jon Potter on 01273 440277. To apply please send CV and brief email describing your suitability for the job to Jon@companyparadiso.co.uk.



Why can’t you vote online? – May 2014

I have just voted by post. And it reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a group of young people, who asked, “Why can’t you vote online?”

This does seem a very good question. If you can pay money on the internet, and do your tax return, why can’t you vote?

A little further investigation revealed that in the 2010 general election, only 44% of 18 to 24 year olds voted. This is the lowest turnout of all age groups. British youth are the least likely to vote across all European countries. Though of course people of all age groups would benefit from being able to vote online, if they can’t get to the polling station.

UKIP looks set to do well this time, but would this still be the case if voting better reflected all age groups?

There seems to be a growth in political participation through groups like Avaaz, 38 Degrees and Change.org. Why not provide an easy route from this participation, to voting in elections. It seems a good way of increasing engagement in society and democracy.

Mad Girl – February 2013

Medical Journalists’ Association Broadcast Drama Awards, from right, Jon Potter, Mitch Hadley, Phil Gladwin, Mary Peate, then Bethan Roberts, also nominated for her radio play, ‘Falling’.

Our radio play Mad Girl, co-created by us and writer Phil Gladwin, has just been nominated for a Broadcast Drama Award by the Medical Journalists’ Association for its excellence in handling a medical theme. It did not win – that honour went to ‘Getting On’, with Jo Brand from BBC 4 – but it came in the first three, beating Casualty and the Archers!

The play was written by Phil Gladwin and directed by Mary Peate. Three years in the making, it was created from first hand accounts by people in Sussex who hear voices.

It may be useful for those working with young people or adults, and is available free to listen to and download, see Listen Again.

The main character is fifteen year old Rose, who hears voices. Mostly she gets along with them ok, but when her real Dad turns up out of the blue to take her away for the weekend, things get completely out of control.

Phil Gladwin, Mitch Hadley.

This year the Charity has applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund to run a project called Stories of Transformation. Volunteers with mental health issues will explore changes in health care over the last 40 years and share stories of transformation, breakthrough and spiritual awakening for a project exhibition and radio broadcasts on BBC Radio Sussex. Decision on that application will come in late February.

Jon Potter, Director

The Brighton Comedy Festival – September 2012

We are right in the middle of preparations for our performance of ‘WARNING: May Contain Nuts’. The title for the event was suggested by Danny and Naveed at the Sunrise mental health Drop-In Centre in Slough, back in 2010. The performances have grown and flourished since then. The comedy angle arrived because we found so much humour in drop-in centres and groups, and because, by chance, World Mental Health Day occurred during the annual Brighton Comedy Festival. The Festival had no idea of this, but could see a good link and was happy to programme ‘WARNING: May Contain Nuts’ in 2010 and again this year.

We are preparing all new material in our weekly Brighton performance group. We’ve had good fun with John Hegley, the performance poet, who is doing songs with the group alongside Lorraine Bowen, ‘the Casio Queen of Brighton’ who’s starting off with the lovely ‘Everybody’s good at doing something, and I’m good at cooking crumble’.

We love Jonathan’s lines ‘Anxiety, Anxiety, Anxiety! This can’t be happening to me! I’m the God of the Galaxy! ‘ and the chorus “He’s the God, He’s the God, Of the Galaxy, But he’s got, but he’s got, Anxiety.’

Not to mention Barbara’s contribution, called Sky:
So, the other day, I’m going home from poetry group and my neighbour comes rushing out of the house. Barbara, she says, Can I borrow 60p for the phone box, my Sky’s gone! So I think Sky? What Sky? Has she gone and named her daughter Sky? And then the penny drops. Oh, she means Sky Television. So I rummage in my purse for change. And after she’s gone I think, 60p for a phone call?

Loads more to come on October 10th at the Pavilion Theatre, now the Dome Studio, where our compere will be Angela Barnes. It sold out last time so book now if you can, hope to see you then. Brightoncomedyfestival.com Telephone 01273 709709.

Call for Writing Submissions – July 2012

If you have been supported by mental health services at some time, we’d love you to submit writing for our current project. We are looking for poetry or prose up to 1500 words, for a book of collected work. We have no theme as such, but we are always interested in material that shares people’s story.

The final deadline will be mid November but please get in touch with us now so we can read your work and involve you in writing workshops, performances and planning the new book. Each writer will receive two free copies of the book. It will be a development of ‘Warning: May Contain Nuts’ from 2010 and will again be linked to performance, this time on World Mental Health Day, Wednesday 10th October, 6pm, Pavilion Theatre in Brighton. The book will include some material from the performance as well as other wide-ranging contributions.

Please contact us at writing@companyparadiso.co.uk or listen to a recent interview with Jon Potter for Brighton and Hove Community Radio. The interview covers our current writing for wellbeing project, plus more on why story is important to us, our work at Reading Prison, creativity through song, and Ho’oponopono.

See Listen Again 2012 on homepage or www.mixcloud.com/alternativeshow/interview-with-Jon-Potter-director-of-arts-charity-company-paradiso/

Writing for Wellbeing – June 2012

Participants and staff with Jon Potter (right) at Serena Hall

A few weeks ago Company Paradiso completed a project that used music and writing to develop people’s emotional wellbeing. We worked with young people living independently at Slough Foyer and YMCA, and with homeless people at Serena Hall, a drop-in centre run by Slough Homeless Our Concern (SHOC).

Over the project we came to believe that overcoming homelessness is not so much about giving shelter, although that is important for stability, but about emotional health, having a reason to change and wanting to change. Otherwise, you can get temporary accommodation or go into rehab but that may not work and you will be back on the street. Sometimes people have a ‘moment of clarity’ where they suddenly see things from a different angle and change course. We were looking for these moments.

We identified the benefit of looking forward. One of the staff said that it’s very important to have a sense of future, because if you’ve got nothing to look forward to, you’ll go back to what you know, which in this case that could be homelessness, addiction, prison and so on. Much of the writing on the project, in lyrics, letters and diaries, was about love and the importance of family and those who support us or value us.
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Understanding Your Story – January 2012

Many studies over the last 20 years have confirmed that writing about emotional experience brings increased wellbeing. Broadly speaking, not talking about important psychological phenomena is a form of inhibition causing low-level stress and health problems. Letting go and talking about experience reduces the stress of inhibition. Translating experience into language, spoken or written, can change cognitive and lingustic processes and bring better health.

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Writing about emotional experiences can improve health – November 2011

I have recently come across some fascinating research by American psychologist James Pennebaker www.psy.utexas.edu/Pennebaker   For many years he and others have demonstrated that when individuals write about emotional experiences, significant physical and mental health improvements follow.  Writing programmes of 15 minutes a day for 4 days that focused on deep emotions had health outcomes such as reduced visits to the doctor and better immune function.  He describes this:
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‘Handle With Care’ Update Sept 2011

Tim Loughton,
Minister for Children and Families

This week I took three young people who have been through the care system to see Tim Loughton, Minister for Children and Families, at the Department of Education in London.  He had agreed to meet us following an interview we did with him as part of the ‘Handle With Care’ project back in May.

One of our young people had spent 6 months on the street age 16 in church grounds, sheds and a tent, before getting a room at The Foyer in Slough.  Next week she will begin a degree in Theology at Kings College, University of London.  An amazing story of achievement.  The young people talked on the journey about how to describe their backgrounds on CVs and university applications and she thought ‘living independently’ was the best way.  I don’t think it describes the half of it.
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