What the Facebook News Controversy Teaches Us About Impartiality

The recent controversy on Facebook impartiality is particularly interesting as more than half of the younger generations (under 35) appear to rely on Facebook as a source of news (link to the Pew study here). Some do almost exclusively. This teaches us that there are still quite a few human curators behind the algorithms and that we should not underestimate social networks influence.

Facebook domination blueprintThe facts: in May, a controversy erupted in the US on the partiality of Facebook’s curation on politic topics (see here and here). It even led to a congress hearing and investigation. Facebook denied any wrongdoing and committed to change its process to ensure even better impartiality.

This event has highlighted again (see our post ‘How humans intervene in Internet’s workings‘) that even the social networks that have the most advanced algorithms rely heavily on human curation and intervention, and sometimes increasingly so. Of course human curation will introduce a bias, and this is long known and acknowledged in journalism (newspapers have typically a certain political stand, as do newspaper editors). The fact that Facebook expects to remain impartial in that context goes counter this natural trend and is an interesting statement where human cogs in its processes are considered mechanistically.

According to Reuters, the world’s largest social media network said in a blogpost that “changes include clearer guidelines for human editors on the Trending Topics team, more training to emphasize avoiding ideological or political basis, and more robust review procedures“.

I am not sure that it is possible for a social network that includes curation and edition to remain impartial. In any case it is an issue that too many people rely on a single source of information. Will there be in the future the creation of several competing social networks each with its own acknowledged political stand and editor?


Why a Crisis Could Be Better than a Slow Downfall

I am always amazed as how people in leadership positions try to avoid crisis and instead choose ways that lead to a slow downfall. I believe that comes from the need to have an impression of control about what is happening. I think this impression of control is actually an illusion.

Crisis are moments where the current balance is not any more sustainable. Crisis are great moments of opportunity (ref. our post ‘Why a Crisis is Always a Great Opportunity to Change for the Better‘). But of course, it is more difficult to keep control of what is happening, in particular for people in leadership positions pre-crisis.

triggering crisis like avalanche
Preemptive avalancge triggering by explosive is a sure way to reduce the avalanche risk. Do the same for crisis!

Trying to avoid crisis requires addressing the imbalances and trying to transition out into another state. The thing is, because they won’t be forced to, the people and organizations that benefit from the current situation won’t easily let go. They will resist. The imbalance will increase, and it is not sure at all that a crisis won’t happen sooner or later. Going into a triggered crisis mode with a plan is probably safer on the long term – and it is possibly better for most stakeholders as well. Triggered crisis will also have less amplitude, be more predictable and will remain more contained. Such is the way, for example, that avalanches are controlled in ski resorts.

I deeply believe that sometimes it is better to go into the crisis mode than try to maintain an illusory situation with the underlying structural imbalance increasing. I think that is exactly what is happening in China right now: out of a need to keep control, the government is trying to avoid a crisis by all means, and that will most probably turn out ugly at some stage, because the structural imbalances are deepening and an economic transition is needed. And in the meantime the entire global economy suffers for a long time.

Sometimes, triggering a crisis is better than trying to maintain the status-quo against all odds.


Why a Crisis is Always a Great Opportunity to Change for the Better

Churchill is famous for his quote “Never let a good crisis got to waste“. A crisis is a great opportunity to change things for the better. In some instance it is even the only opportunity to change things for the better.

never let a good crisis go to wasteWhile every crisis is destructive for part of what was (including the lifestyle of some people), it is a great opportunity to create a new order. The thing is, it is better to have an idea about the new order should look like before getting into the crisis, but this comfort is not always available. A crisis is also a great pivot point where the future can go one way or the other.

The important observation is that every crisis, even if not wanted or unexpected, should be considered as an opportunity for change into something better.

Don’t waste the next personal or professional crisis. Take it as an opportunity to change for the better.



What We Should Trust From the “Man on Site”

There are two schools of thought regarding how truthful the information from the man on site can be. One school follows Winston Churchill: “Never trust the man on the spot“. Another school believes that local knowledge offers sometimes a better insight than what is available in headquarters.

Worker on construction siteWhat’s the right way about this? It’s all about what information we want to have.

Information about the actual progress and the actual situation on the ground is best retrieved from site. Far-away management does not work and leads to unrealistic assessments of the situation. I observe this effect all too often in large projects.

On the other hand, do not expect the site people to have a very worthwhile assessment of the whole strategic or even tactical picture. They can only have a limited view of the whole due to their position. The breadth of the subjects they can apprehend depends on their scope. Local representatives in a particular country will often have a much better assessment of the political situation of that entire country and what can or cannot be done than the global headquarters. A local representative on a site can only apprehend very local issues. In general I have observed that often the local representative can be trusted on a scope slightly larger than his assignment.

In general, I tend to trust more the people on site except if the topic is clearly beyond their observation range.

Churchill quote from H. R. McMaster Dereliction of Duty (a recommended read about how the US politicians and top military got embroiled in the Vietnam war)


How Diversity Creates Value: The Business Case

There is actually a business case for diversity. Beyond the impression that diversity in a team or a business creates value by making various points of view available and opening more markets, the results are demonstrated. In the post ‘The Business Case For Diversity In The Workplace‘, a number of studies are quoted.

diversity business caseIn one study, sociologist Cedric Herring found that companies with the highest levels of racial diversity had, on average, 15 times more sales revenue than those with the lowest levels of racial diversity.

Herring found that for every percentage increase in the rate of racial or gender diversity, there was an increase in sales revenues of approximately 9 and 3 percent, respectively.

A study at the Kellogg School of Management found that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones because the presence of group members unlike yourself causes you to think differently.

In a Catalyst report called The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards, researchers found that Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors performed better financially than those with the lowest representation of women on their board of directors.

And [..] McKinsey found that diverse companies perform at least 35% better than their homogeneous counterparts.

The case seems to be made… even recruiting a diverse team requires us to have the discipline to overcome our natural preferences!

Hat tip to Tim Berry’s blog for the reference.


How to React to Verbal Abuse

Byron Katie writes in her book Loving What Is, “There is no such thing as verbal abuse. There’s only someone telling me a truth that i don’t want to hear“.

the pain shows you what's left to investigateI find this quote very relevant, with some qualifications. Byron Katie speaks in that way as part of her healing interventions, and I believe that there are some instances where verbal abuse can really be hurtful and destructive. This quote might not always be applicable, or might be too difficult to apply in really difficult relationships.

However, there is also some truth in the fact that if verbal abuse affects us, there is something that we don’t want to hear or that confronts someone we don’t want to be. We should not take it too literally then, but it might be worth investigating why we react harshly sometimes to what is being said to us or what is being said of us.


How Narcissism Increases in Our Society

Narcissism – the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes, is on the rise, and it has been for some time.

narcissismAnd that’s not just an observation of the rate of selfies and Facebook posts about the great things happening to us. It is a serious observation from the average score of people taking the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) test.

It is an interesting test to take, for example on this NPI link, at a personal level.

An interesting statistics is shared by the test group, which is the average narcissism score. It increases regularly such as in this study of US undergraduates.

The NPI average increases since  the 1990s
The NPI average increases since the 1990s

As we can see, this observation of an increase in narcissism goes back to at least the 1990s. While the series stops in 2005, practical observation would suggest this has continued until now.

I believe this is quite an important observation as it reveals quite an important feature of our societies which has probably been accelerated by the availability of social networks and the possibility to filter out one’s life to keep only the exciting part.

So, how narcissistic are you?


How Our Face Has Become MetaData

A few (scary) experiments show that today, we are not anonymous anymore in a crowd. Our face can easily be recognized thanks to the technology, in particular the technology used by social networks that pushes us to identify the face of friends.

Recognized in the subway!
Recognized in the subway!

A Russian photography student has carried out an experiment to show how easy it is to identify complete strangers.Twenty-one-year-old Egor Tsvetkov took photos of people in public places and then tracked them down on the Russian social media site VKontakte using a facial recognition app. The experiment ‘Your Face Is Big Data’ was published online (link in Russian). It is quite impressive how the results turned out to be!

We can expect this technology to be quite available, so we’re probably not anonymous any more when we are walking around or taking the tube. Something to take into account in our daily life… and our privacy settings on our favorite social networks!


How New Technology Might Already Change our Brain

New technology allows us to perform automatically some tasks that would have required significant cognitive power. It may even lead to changes in our brain functions as we fail to exercise some of them.

Mind-altering GPS

One of the best examples is the GPS. Driving with the GPS, following instructions without having the overview of what we are doing, diminishes our navigation capabilities at least in terms of training. This is even noted in this Bloomberg article: ‘How GPS Came to Be—and How It May Be Altering Our Brains‘.

I have remarked quite often that people that use GPS systematically become utterly lost geographically if they happen not to have the small device, and can’t even guess in which part of town they are. And as GPS is now ubiquitous in our phones, we always have it close-by. But at the end, we lose our sense of orientation and our capability to map out out surroundings and build a consistent picture of geography.

It might not be a big hurdle (until the day where the GPS won’t work!) but keeping a good sense of orientation is, I believe, a good capability to have. Maybe someday we’ll have remediation practice – in any case, our technology has started to transform us.


How Our Office Space Setup Really Critically Determines Team Performance

In complex projects, open space project spaces are a must. I realize this is probably the case in most instances where complex situations have to be managed. To the point where actually, if the space is poorly adapted, performance will certainly lag.

open_space_officeIt is the experience told by General McChrystal in his highly recommended book ‘Team of Teams‘, which I will certainly comment in quite a few future posts as I believe that it is quite a fundamental book for the organization of the future.

In the book he explains the extreme organizational transformation that his special forces command had to undergo in order to be able to respond to a complex insurgency situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most fundamental transformation was to create a command center as an open space, with representatives of all relevant agencies and sections of the military, where open communication was promoted. It was a revolutionary move in an organization pervaded by a culture of secret and segregation of knowledge, but it worked.

What amazed me again in his description is how organizing the physical space (prolonged by a virtual space with participation of geographically removed contributors) was really the one transformation that made the change.

When I talk to clients that want to tackle complex problems, I now ask first about the type of office building. If it’s old-fashioned with closed offices and cubicles that reach the ceiling, I know we’re up for disaster.

What about your office space?


What the AlphaGo experience teaches us

The world witness with awe how the world champion of Go, Lee Sedol got defeated earlier this year by a machine, AlphaGo. This historic event (go is apparently much more difficult than chess for a machine – a machine beat the chess world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, 19 years ago!) has generated a lot of comments and controversies.

alphagoAn interesting segment of the comments is that the machine won using strategies that no human had used before, and some found beautiful (see this Wired article). Interestingly enough, quickly however (after 3 stunning defeats though) the human Lee Sedol was able to take the machine to its own game. The graphic analysis of what happened is exposed in this great article very worth reading on Quartz ‘Google’s AI won the game Go by defying millennia of basic human instinct‘.

Is AlphaGo actual Artificial Intelligence? There are even some articles denying it like Why AlphaGo is not AI.

My take on this momentous event is that it shows again that the machine can help us develop new abilities and look at things differently. It probably still cannot equate the humans in learning ability, but does provoke thought supports us by finding new ways to consider problems. And that is possibly the main message from this experiment.


Why there is Debate Between Content Moderation and Free Speech

Moderation on social networks is an essential feature. In an excellent essay on the Verge ‘The secret rules of the internet – The murky history of moderation, and how it’s shaping the future of free speech‘, the relation to free speech is discussed. “As law professor Jeffrey Rosen first said many years ago of Facebook, these platforms have “more power in determining who can speak and who can be heard around the globe than any Supreme Court justice, any king or any president.'”

content_moderationThe testimonies about content moderation are quite breathtaking, and the decisions whether to keep some videos that have shocking content but are important from the political perspective (like the murder of people during demonstrations) an example of tough decisions to make.

And because “The stakes of moderation can be immense. As of last summer, social media platforms — predominantly Facebook — accounted for 43 percent of all traffic to major news sites. Nearly two-thirds of Facebook and Twitter users access their news through their feeds“, this determines what people will ultimately see from the world.

Of course before there was journalism, a limited number of sources and effective censorship by governments. What has changed is that it is now privately handled and not susceptible to democratic control. I would anticipate that at some stage, guidelines might be defined by governments (e.g. related to anti terror campaigns) but at the moment it is an issue to be kept in mind.

Related posts: The dark little success secret of all social networks: heavy moderation (2012)