Weekend Reading: Facebook scandals, substitutes for human trust, and a wonderful story about a house

Weekend Reading is a weekly collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

1. The 21 (and Counting) Biggest Facebook Scandals of 2018 (Wired Magazine)

Every January, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces a personal challenge he will undertake in the year ahead. In 2016, he committed to running 365 miles before the year was up. In 2017, he milked cows and rode tractors as part of his resolution to meet more people outside the Silicon Valley bubble. Last January, he took a different tack. After a year in which Facebook was accused of amplifying fake news and allowing Russian trolls to deceive American voters in the run-up to the 2016 election, Zuckerberg decided that for his personal challenge in 2018, he would go ahead and fix Facebook.

He just might not have realized how much he’d be asked to fix.

As the months progressed, Facebook turned into a hydra, with new scandals sprouting almost weekly. Its stock price tanked, and internal morale plummeted. Twelve months later, Facebook has certainly changed, but it’s hardly fixed. In 2018, the social giant juggled so many crises, you probably forgot half of them. Here’s a refresher.

2. AI Hype and the Fraying Social Fabric (TheFrailestThing.com)

All such tools are symptoms and accelerators of the breakdown of the kind of social trust and capacity for judgment that emerges organically within generally healthy, human-scale communities. The ostensible demand for these services suggests that something has gone wrong. It’s almost as if the rapid disintegration of the communal structures within which human beings have meaningfully related to one another and to the world might have real and not altogether benign consequences.

There is a way of making this point in a reactionary and romanticized manner, of course. But it need not be so. It’s obviously true that such communities could have some very rough edges. That said, when you lose the habitats that sustain trust, both in others and in your ability to make sound judgments, you end up seeking artificial means to compensate.

3. Lives of the House (Geist)

Clela lived on in my house for another year, then Rodney G. Dove, passport agent, moved in with his wife Helena. From 1960 to 1967 John F. Kerk-Hecker, an engineer, lived there with his wife, Jean, and his widowed mother, Rosemary. Mrs. Jean Kerk-Hecker became the secretary treasurer of the Vancouver Ticket Centre in 1964 and John the president and managing ­director. After that, J. Gordon Henderson, a teacher, moved in with his wife Philomene, who had an MA. Then, in 1982, Josef Lampa, an engineer with BC Hydro and his wife Ivana, an aesthetician, lived there. These were the people we’d bought the house from.

Though I couldn’t match any of these previous residents to the scraps of wallpaper I’d saved, and I still didn’t know who had put up the shrine, by the time the library closed I felt I knew these people, particularly the Scotts who had lived there for so long, just from the sound of their names and the bare facts of them. This is the starting place for a fiction writer: a name, an occupation, a setting—in this case, an actual house—alchemized through memory, intuition and imagination. Presto, a character is conjured. But this is not how the non-fiction writer works, I soon discovered. About the salesman Walter M. Scott and his ­devoted Clela, I was entirely wrong.