I Thought He Came With You is Robert Ellison’s blog about software, marketing, politics, photography and time lapse.

Pulling the plug on Facebook and Twitter, Tweet Archive

A year ago I uninstalled Facebook and Twitter from my phone in an effort to slim down my social media fake news diet. The idea was I'd occasionally check in from my laptop. Which I didn't. So this week I've finally taken the plunge and deleted both accounts. Or rather, deactivated, you have to wait 30 days before they actually delete anything. I also nuked Quora, because of the hack rather than any particular tendency to undermine the foundations of democracy.

This leaves me with a potential problem. As a person with a rapidly decreasing social media footprint I might be asked to host the Oscars. It would be nice to be tapped, but I really don't want to and so I've published a complete archive of all my tweets. I'm pretty sure some of them would be disqualifying. Whew.

What if the Senate Voted Proportionally to Population

Relative influence of each state on the Electoral College

This is massively less likely than sorting out the Electoral College, but imagine for a minute that 100 Senators woke up tomorrow and decided to do the right thing.

Dianne Feinstein, the senior Senator from California would wield 6.04 votes. Mike Enzi, the senior Senator from Wyoming would have to make do with 0.09 votes.

Overall a party line vote would see 55.85 Democratic votes to 44.15 Republican, assuming normal independent caucusing habits. Not quite a supermajority, but enough to not send Kavanaugh to The Supreme Court for instance.

This is based on 2010 census figures from Wikipedia.

Not going to happen, but find my estimate of your State's fair voting power by Senator below.

StateVotes per Senator
California6.04
Texas4.08
Florida3.05
New York3.14
Pennsylvania2.06
Illinois2.08
Ohio1.87
Georgia1.57
North Carolina1.55
Michigan1.6
New Jersey1.43
Virginia1.3
Washington1.09
Arizona1.04
Massachusetts1.06
Tennessee1.03
Indiana1.05
Missouri0.97
Maryland0.94
Wisconsin0.92
Colorado0.82
Minnesota0.86
South Carolina0.75
Alabama0.78
Louisiana0.74
Kentucky0.7
Oregon0.62
Oklahoma0.61
Connecticut0.58
Iowa0.49
Utah0.45
Arkansas0.47
Nevada0.44
Mississippi0.48
Kansas0.46
New Mexico0.33
Nebraska0.3
West Virginia0.3
Idaho0.25
Hawaii0.22
New Hampshire0.21
Maine0.22
Rhode Island0.17
Montana0.16
Delaware0.15
South Dakota0.13
North Dakota0.11
Alaska0.12
Vermont0.1
Wyoming0.09

How not to fix Democracy

In The Guardian Dambisa Moyo proposes a test to improve the quality of the electorate:

"...why not give all voters a test of their knowledge? This would ensure minimum standards that should lead to higher-quality decision-making by the electorate."

However:

"Of course, such a system would be truly democratic only if everybody had a fair chance of casting their vote. It is vital that those with fewer life opportunities have their say, and we cannot have a system that is skewed against the worst educated..."

So the idea is a test of minimum standards that in some way is not biased against the worst educated? Or that we could only impose such a system once education has improved to the point where is is no longer needed?

Maybe we just need a test to improve the quality of Guardian opinion pieces.

Facebook shouldn't own your social graph

Facebook shouldn't own your social graph

"Get News. Not too quickly. Avoid social. — Farhad Manjoo"

It's time to break up the Facebook social media monopoly.

There has been a shift in attitude towards regulation of tech companies recently, according to Axios:

"A majority of Americans are now concerned that the government won't do enough to regulate how U.S. technology companies operate, according to an Axios-SurveyMonkey poll. Across the board, concern about government inaction is up significantly — 15 percentage points — in the past three months."

Roger McNamee recently suggested a subscription model in a Washington Post OpEd:

"Despite a firestorm of criticism, Facebook refuses to make material changes to its business practices. It has also refused to provide substantive data about Russian interference to congressional committees, despite several requests. As a result, we can expect interference in the upcoming midterm elections. Anyone can follow the Russian playbook; many are likely to do so."

I've made the same argument myself:

"I tried Diaspora and App.net but they make Google Plus look lively. Facebook, I would pay you for an ad-free, brand-free experience. Also a ban on text on images."

Facebook is unlikely to switch to an ad-free subscription model without being forced to do it. And if we're going to force them to do something why not make them open up the social graph?

Your social network should be your property and you should be able to move it between providers at will. All social network providers should push your content out to your network regardless of where your friends live and accept content back in the same way. Content may be blocked or altered based on community standards on import but never on export. We should mandate this portability and interoperability via legislation.

This means you can 'live' on Facebook or Google or somewhere new. Social media can become competitive again. You might choose to pay a subscription fee to have a friends only feed (maybe in the order that it was published). You might choose censorship, or you might prefer a platform that can handle breastfeeding. There will be plenty of room for innovation on top of the core network. Facebook will probably be a smaller company. Democracy might last a little longer.

This doesn't solve all the problems with Facebook (and social media in general) but it could be an important first step.

(Photo by Shripal Daphtary on Unsplash)

Gun Insurance could pay for Buybacks

Updated on Saturday, May 26, 2018

Gun Insurance could pay for Buybacks

Gun buybacks are not a new idea, in fact a mandatory buyback scheme was a big success in Australia. Gun insurance as a means of reducing gun violence isn't either. But what if you combined the two?

Set up a mandatory government run insurance program for all new firearms sales. If you are a 40 year old farmer with a shotgun stored in a gun safe then insurance is pretty cheap. If you are a 19 year old with an assault rifle then it is eyewateringly expensive. The risk that you will do something harmful with the gun is priced into the cost of ownership.

One of the criticisms of gun insurance (and of any gun control measure in general) is that there are so many firearms already in circulation in the US. So take the proceeds of the insurance scheme and use them to buy back guns.

Responsible gun owners are not inconvenienced, we reduce risky firearms sales and slowly draw down the number of uninsured guns in circulation.

(Previously)

Liquid Democracy and united.vote

Liquid Democracy and united.vote

This November there will be a limited opportunity to put liquid democracy into action. Limited to District 19 of the California Assembly (where I happen to live) and limited to the candidacy of David Ernst (which is a long shot).

Liquid democracy is a referendum on every act, with the difference that you can delegate your vote to someone you trust instead of voting on every issue yourself. At one extreme it's mob rule and at the other (if you delegate your vote to David) it's no different than the current system. The potential magic is where various groups of voters are powerfully represented by someone who is closer to their ideal candidate. If elected David promises to vote based on a liquid democracy implementation at united.vote.

I think functionally liquid democracy shares some problems with proportional representation / transferable vote schemes. If you end up delegating to blocks that represent 40%, 45% and 15% of voters then the 15% block holds the balance of power and gains undue influence. It raises new problems as well. If my elected representative is just doing what my delegate says and I can change my delegate at any time then there aren't really elections any more. So we've replaced 1 representative with N delegates. Delegates are going to raise money to gain and hold onto power and will become beholden to special interests. Are there term limits for delegates? If we end up with a small pool of powerful delegates does it make any difference if I switch my vote to a group of 0.025% of the electorate?

I'm interested in giving it a try though. I like that I can take back control on issues that I particularly care about. I might well vote for David in November.

So what about united.vote?

You have to pay $1 with a credit card to sign up. This is for voter verification and it's not a steep cost but it is a massive conversion barrier. When I signed up today there were just over 1,000 participants. The site is currently oriented around the US Congress rather than the California Assembly. You don't need a password which is nice. Instead you get emailed a one time code each you log in on a new device.

One big missing feature is some sort of directory of prospective delegates. You can delegate to your existing representative (which is pointless) or search for someone you know but really I want to find someone who closely matches my views and who has a good voting record. This isn't possible right now. Until that's fixed you should delegate your vote to me ;)

The voting record is hard to parse as well. For example Kamala Harris, one of my Senators, has an F. For the votes where she has a score it's 100%, 100%, 92% and 15%. Most votes have no liquid democracy opinion attached (is this a 0?). I need to see the math here.

Having said all that my preferred option is legislative service.

(Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash)

The Trust Project, Fake News and a Partial Facebook Uninstall

Updated on Thursday, May 3, 2018

No Facebook app to be found here

The Trust Project is a well meaning but doomed attempt to deal with fake news.

Facebook, Google, Bing and Twitter are all on board because it's important to be seen to be doing something about the problem. Sarah Perez at TechCrunch writes:

"Here’s how this will work in practice: starting today on Facebook, an icon will appear next to articles in the News Feed. When you click on this icon, you can read information the publisher has shared related to their organization’s “ethics and other standards, the journalists’ backgrounds, and how they do their work,” according to an announcement from The Trust Project."

Please take a minute to scroll through the Trust Protocol Phase I MVP. Yes, this is a minimal viable product where your most recent Diversity Staffing Report is required. I don't think they understand what an MVP is. Which would be fine if they understood how to fix the problem. They don't.

Back in January I wrote this about fake news on Facebook:

"The horrible danger is that if you don't fact check every stupid quote on image meme the power of repetition lodges them somewhere in your subconscious where they become that thing that you read somewhere. Which is OK if you only read quality news but deadly if you want to catch up on old friends quickly."

And back in 2010 on cable news and the Fairness Doctrine:

"24-hour news stations are especially bad because most days there just isn’t that much news. This leaves a choice between repeating the news that exists which is boring, or making stuff up which is a lot more fun. Unfortunately It’s also corrosive."

Yes, it would be nice to have a set of standards around more easily vetting the provenance of "news" that you find on the internet. But the problem is with people taking bullshit at face value (myself sometimes included). When you scroll by something that meets the loose standards of your confirmation bias the damage is done. You're not clicking any Trust Project icon and you're sure as fuck not upgrading Acrobat just to read the Breitbart Diversity Staffing Report.

The Trust Project isn't the answer. Facebook just pulled their disputed flag. The Fairness Doctrine isn't coming back. Is there a technology based fix that might work?

"That’s not going to happen, argues Data & Society founder and Microsoft researcher danah boyd. Google, Facebook, Twitter—none of these companies is sitting on a silver-bullet solution. As boyd wrote for us earlier this year, we have more than a technology problem: “[W]e have a cultural problem, one that is shaped by disconnects in values, relationships, and social fabric."

From The Fake News Culprit No One Wants to Identify: You on Backchannel recently. I see. It's up to me. I have to fix it.

I uninstalled Facebook and Twitter from my phone just over a week ago. I'm not abandoning social media entirely (although I toy with this regularly). Just pulling back a bit.

For the first few days I'd regularly find my finger headed to launch Facebook. Every time I had a minute to kill. Facebook has no end (usually) so it works even when my RSS feed is empty. I stocked Feedly up with more wholesome content (Trust Project approved no doubt). By the end of the first week I was sometimes even leaving my phone in my pocket.

Now I catch up on Facebook on my laptop every day or two. It's a much better experience - when you check 200 times a day the feed algorithm gets increasingly desperate to please you. It panics and serves up lame memes from someone who you think must have been a coworker at some point but don't really remember. I get through a few updates from friends that I'm actually interested in and bail before hitting the questionable stuff.

It's up to you too.

The top four Petitions that will help to Impeach Trump

Updated on Monday, June 4, 2018

The top four Petitions that will help to Impeach Trump

Democrats are being rather lame about pushing to impeach Donald Trump. Sure, they don't have the votes. But maybe next year they'd stand a better chance of getting them if they did a little less cozying up on deals that won't happen and a little more talking up impeachment. It would be nice if Mueller wrapped things up and dropped an incontrovertible bombshell but that doesn't and shouldn't matter. It would be nice if the various Congressional enquiries did their job but again that should be viewed as icing on the cake.

Trump assaulted equal protection and religious freedom by banning Muslims from travelling to the US. It doesn't matter what else Mueller turns up. Trump violates the Emoluments Clause on a constant basis. We don't need anything more from Congress. It's hard to see the Comey firing as anything other than obstruction of justice. Democrats need to start beating the drum and get Trump out of office. They're not going to do it without a big push.

You should sign all of these petitions today:

Need to Impeach. Over a million signatures already.

Impeach Trump Now. Over 1.25M.

Impeach Donald J. Trump: The Million American Petition on change.org.

Impeach Trump on Care2.

After all that signing don't forget to call your Senators and Representative and make sure they know how you feel as well.

(Photo by Jacob Morch on Unsplash)

GGNRA Victory

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the National Park Service's effort to ban dogs from much of the GGNRA is dead:

"The National Park Service pulled the plug Thursday on a 14-year-long process for restricting dog access in the 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 10 months after revelations emerged that agency officials had improperly corresponded about the process from their personal email accounts."

I've been fighting this for over six years. Some highlights from 2011, 2013 and 2016.

End the Electoral College: Amendment, Compact, or Supreme Court?

Lawrence Lessig and Richard Painter write about the possibility of the Supreme Court taking on the Electoral College in USA Today:

"The Constitution is not going to be amended to remove the Electoral College. It’s possible that states will agree to a compact to allocate their votes to the winner of the national popular vote. But right now, the court should recognize that there is no principle in American law that could justify the unequal reckoning of the votes of citizens of the United States for president of the United States. Call it proportionality, or simple equality: it is an idea that needs urgent legal recognition, now."

It's an intriguing possibility, but they're short on specifics. Who needs to file suit to get this question in front of the court? Should I do this as I live in California and may as well not bother voting for President? If so, please get in touch guys.

I'm a big fan of the The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Until another option looks plausible please follow that link and take one the actions listed to support it.