Society Technology

The legal limits of Facebook privacy and internal checks or balances

For those outside of Greece, the case yesterday of someone getting arrested for making a Facebook page probably sounds a bit like some Muslim fanatic in Iran.   It is not quite the same in some ways though it is true that Church and State are way too close in our country.  Interestingy no major news agency has covered the case, so your best bet for a summary of the facts is in this article on HuffPo and this one from Greek reporter.

Our (anyone who cares about free speech) first reaction was of course to start similar parody Facebook pages ourselves.   Not as many as I hoped but about a dozen pages, equally or more funny than the original were started today.   Worryingly a few of them were removed almost instantly by Facebook.   Even more worryingly in one case the person who made the page had her whole Facebook account removed!

But then my legal mind fired up.   So I started a page which is an exact replica of the page that got the 27year old arrested.   Based on what I could find from the Google cache.   Arrest me now!   All I did was take publically available information from one part of the internet and put it on another part of the internet.   If they want to put me on trial today alongside the original page creator they will have to close down Google servers first!

Still, from a strictly Facebook point of view, they could close down the page for whatever breach of whichever rule they pick.   Their social network, their rules.   The case does produce some interesting questions such as “how and why did Facebook give the Greek authorities access to the page creator’s IP adress?” but technically and legally they could close down my clone page.  So I deleted it!   Not before it had 124 likes which means that I can’t delete it though.   Because Facebook makes any page delete request wait for 14 days.

So for the next 14 days, a page identical to the one that got someone arrested is publicly available here and Facebook can’t do anything to me.   Or at least if they do, they will be way way worse in terms of breach of logic than even the Greek police was yesterday.

It’s called freedom of speech people.  Get used to it.   There was nothing insulting of Christianity in the Facebook page called “old man Pastitsios”.   Making fun of the people gaining from the memory of a possibly gifted man who has died cannot and should not be illegal.


The precursor to Facebook groups 450 years ago worked much better

ridotto was pretty much like a Facebook group.   It gathered like minded people around a topic.   It was private, like a club.   Any of you who have visited Florence might have seen the plaque commemorating the Camerata, a ridotto which met at the house of Giovanni Bardi di Vernio.   They argued and talked, and gossiped and had flame wars.   I assume pretty much like people do in forums or Facebook groups.   They repeated themselves, they clashed, some member came and some left.   But in the twenty years that this group met at this house, they did something much more important:

They made the first ever opera.

Because – unlike most Facebook groups – the ridotto channeled the energies of its members around a theme.   They were concerned with the nature of musical expression.  Vincenzo Galilei (father to the famous Galileo), based on the conversations in this house, made scathing public attacks on the madrigal, the “pointless pop song” of the time.  But they didn’t just post pictures on their common timeline.   They didn’t stop at making fun of the ridiculous repetitiveness of madrigal technique.   They developed and refined specific theories to explain why the artificiality of the madrigal was useless for human expression.   They didn’t just make a facebook fan page for Girolamo Mei, the scholar who was their guru, they developed his ideas further:   one singer, simple accompaniment, clear wording, natural declamation, no dance rhythms on the words, music to express the emotions of the singer.

The Florentine Camerata staged “Daphne” by  Rinuccini and Peri in 1598.  Other members of the ridotto and Monteverdi soon followed. The world has had opera ever since, the musical genre which has survived without interruption ever since.   That in itself is quite a success in a world which has been shaken by everything from the Renaissance, to the Industrial Revolution since.

Now get back to your Facebook tab.   Yes, I know you have it open!   Check out the content, especially in pages or groups organised around a particular topic.   Do you think there is ever a chance they will produce anything close to a new musical genre?  If it happens, it won’t be with any help from the technology.  The members argue about the same topic at regular intervals, yet there is no way to organise the arguments like at .    People nitpick about the exact meaning of specialized terms yet there is no specialised dictionary being built.   Heck, you can’t even easily find an old discussion!   But most of all, you have no sense of actually building on something.   It is unsatisfying, confusing and ultimately a waste of time.

This is ridiculous given the technology at hand.   Most Facebook groups are built around a cause.   It would be quite easy to almost automatically make some of the content in a good online spat, end up available online for the public.   To intelligently build around a mission statement.   To make members feel they are actually achieving something.   So, since Facebook is so obviously intent on staying in the “timewasting” part of the market, I ask of everyone else to make the plug in technologies to get the job done.   An app to get content out of Facebook and into a blog maybe.   Another to find unusual terms or specialised words and compile them into a dictionary for new members (or the public).   Just scroll down the timeline of a Facebook group you are a member of and loads of other great ideas will come.

In fact I think I will setup a ridotto for people that want to work on this idea.

[soundcloud url=”″ iframe=”true” /]

Communication Society

Climbing Mount Improbable with Professor Varoufakis

Climbing Mount Improbable is one of many books by Richard Dawkins.   The author of “The Selfish Gene” fame.   Because that is what popular science is all about.   Finding a good analogy, or making a new one that catches on.   It’s not about science.   It’s about communication.    I remember raving about one of his books to a zoologist friend who simply noted that “you know, it takes thousands of other works of solid research for him to cherry pick and make those books such good reads for you.”   It is true.  Much as I love reading popular science I realise that it is a bit like enjoying the introductory course for university entry in any topic.

But Richard Dawkins has turned into the global symbol of the fight to protect evolution as a theory from naysayers around the globe.   Which led him to become the main event at massive atheist gatherings.   It doesn’t really matter if he chose it, or the role chose him.   I am one of many people that think he is great.   As I do of Steven Pinker.   For making such enjoyable introductions to topics I may have never wrangled with otherwise.   Mainly on language though his most recent book comments on the history of violence.   Reminds us of Noam Chomsky, who Wikipedia succintly describes like this:  ” In addition to his work in linguistics, he has written on war, politics, and mass media, and is the author of over 100 books.”  I can personally testify to the fact that the ones on media (my Masters topic) are way too simplistic.   He was out of his league, applying a simple theory to a complex problem.  Even if it is true, it is not useful.

It is probably anathema to most readers that I even include Yanis Varoufakis in an article after these great thinkers.  But it is the only way I can rationalize his behavior.   Here is a Professor of Economic Theory whose most recent book concludes that  “while economics has scientific pretensions, it is primarily an ideology that supports the interests of the rich and powerful, and in the process, confers prestige, influence, and money on its practitioners.”   Which is a bit like a high priest writing a book which concludes that religion has no claim to any Holy source but is simply a scam for high priests to get money from poor people”!   And I didn’t even need to fish around for that quote.   He has put it on his blog himself!

That part is fair enough.   If you are looking to sell popular science books, self promotion is of course part of the set up.   Twitter, Blog, articles anywhere and everywhere.   I even read an interview he did about the island of Aigina simply because he spends a lot of time there.   A nice tidy article in Wikipedia which I am guessing he wrote himself is nothing to be ashamed of.  Quite the opposite, all scientists or public figures would be wise to pay attention to theirs.    And taking a public position in the recent elections in terms of being openly for one party and against others is also an admirable trait in my opinion.   As is submitting a “Modest Proposal” about the future of the Euro Zone.

Mr Varoufakis does a pretty great job at spreading his views.  The BBC (though I am not sure they were happy with his take on their “censorship” of the interview) , BSkyB, Max Keiser and even CNN host his views.   The man is a rarity by Greek standards as he speaks and writes in very good English, and is obviously always available for any media opportunity.   So he can get away with ludicrous generalisations like this one in an article for CNN: “Whereas in the past we were divided between Left and Right, between pro- and anti-Americans, nowadays America is being seen by almost everyone here as a kindred spirit…”

Really?  And you write this Professor Varoufakis on what authority?   A journalist with a finger on the pulse of Greek society?   A political scientist with some similar claim?   A sociologist with some supporting research data or even simply a supporting theory?   We could of course blame CNN for not being more careful in their choice of contributor.   Or of not editing it out.   If you think like the sort of people who follow him you could even make up a conspiracy theory and assume that he never wrote it.   (The CIA must have added that sentence…knowing wink…)  But this is a small example of a very big problem.

Lacking any sort of communicational skills on a political and diplomatic level, this is what Greece has been relegated to.   What our pathetic and wimply academia doesn’t have the balls or ability to do as they are too busy saving their own jobs and fighting to stop anyone from actually judging their performance.   We have a part time economist and full time self promoting author “representing” Greece abroad.   I wouldn’t mind if he was not so good at it.   I don’t dislike what Mr Varoufakis does because it is unclear where he stands.   Is he a budding politician?   Mainly an author?   A media persona on any topic?  (Heck, let’s run around the world to the seven dividing lines and do some artsy installations!)  Nor because he is taking advantage of his claim to science on one hand to make more persuasive his pretty weak arguments on the political level.  (A sin not uncommon to people as great as Noam Chosmky at times – especially when he delved into Media analysis.)

So it is not because Mr Varoufakis is “wrong” that he ruffles my feathers so much.   In this day and age, and especially in Economics “wrong” and “right” are not even part our vocabulary.  Nor is it simply that it seems rather irresponsible to me that he doesn’t take into account the consequences of his attitude.   Spreading fear of an imminent Eurozone collapse most obviously increases the chance of it happening.   Doomsayers have always had this advantage.   Even with their wishy washy vague language, a quick retrospective look at their work usually indicates how little their predictions bear a resemblance to reality.

No, what really annoys me about Mr Varoufakis is that my country hasn’t got anyone better to represent us on the global media stage.   Rather like pine trees gain a foothold in our mountains and sea gulls or goats are the only animals that survive in a lot of our much troubled natural environments.   A once wondrous complex country, with natural and intellectual complexity second to none is being turned into a one question entity.   And that is the doing of people like Mr Varoufakis.



Google and the nation state

I was 17 years old when I first looked North from the peak of Smolikas.   At 2637 meters it is the second highest peak in Greece.   The sun was setting and all I could see was a sea of mountain peaks in the haze.  My head was full of heroic stories from the 2nd WW, but no, you can’t see borders from up there…

A few years ago I was walking at Prespes lakes, a point where three Balkan countries meet.  We were stopped by the then newly assigned border police with their fancy jeeps, guns and night vision equipment and forced to leave our camp site.   I later learned that the reason was that they take a sizeable percentage from the contraband in the area

During my military service I was stationed in Thrace.  Even during a one day leave I would cycle North to the mountains.   I had to go through a police check which was then operational to control (and oppress) the very small Muslim population up there.   Friendly people, we shared a coffee or two and a few times I had crossed the borders with Bulgaria by accident.   There were no clear markings…

Most Greeks have never actually been to Thrace.   That doesn’t stop them from pronouncing that Turkey somehow wants to take it from us though!  Most Greeks haven’t travelled to Skopje, even though the road from Thesaloniki is very easy and quite beautiful.   That doesn’t stop them from insulting everyone online regarding the name of “Macedonia”.   And most Greeks have been to Bulgaria only for skiing.   Still, some continue to spread a fear that Bulgaria wants to take part of our country for access to the sea…

This post is in English because I want to apologize.   It isn’t our fault.   Politicians have fanned up the “Macedonian issue” pretty much since Greece was established as a modern country less than two hundred years ago.    Google today dedicated a doodle to the independence of “Macedonia” but luckily there are no street riots like the massive one some years ago.   For those of you that haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of a massive economic crisis.   Not cooperating with other countries, and even more so neighbooring countries is almost suicidal.   It’s not just about tourism (though many Americans reading online disputes will assume that we are a war zone!) but all kinds of collaboration.

The online fights are endless.   As if history is objective.   As if Alexander the Great was somehow “Greek” in the same way that modern Greek are.   We selectively forget that Athenians hated his guts, that he and his father had to physically and violently fight against the other city states in order to unite the enough to go away against the Persians.   The logical fallacy of the history crazed argument is that it is impossible to draw a direct connection between the pretty short lived empire of Alexander the Great and the modern Greek state.   The fact that his father imported the best tutor of the time (Aristotle) isn’t enough.   Southern cities considered Macedonians  “barbarian”.   You will never get a “definitive” answer regarding the “Greekness” of Alexander the Great.  (And I haven’t even started about his mother!)   It is a great topic for conversation over wine and cheese.   Not politics and not online.

We are living on a truly globalized planet.   National identity, much like religion is a dwindling part of our self image.  “Self” image.  That means something you keep to yourself.   Nobody can touch it and you don’t go around messing other people’s self identity.  When we get to practical matters and collaboration between people or countries sure, we need rules.   Simple, practical rules, not insults in capital letters and bad English!   You can call a country “Macedonia”, “Macedonia2” or “” for all I care.   If the Kalash in Pakistan (descendants of Alexander the Great according to some) want to become independent and call themselves “Macedonia”, be my guest!   If Alexandria in Egypt wants autonomy and wants to draw from it’s past for a name, you can be “Macedonia3”!   Heck we can give all countries a number, it would save us time and data space!