Does Facebook Divide Us?

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“Social media platforms use algorithms that play to our need for stimulus, on our worries, our fears and, yes, our hates to keep us clicking so they can show us ads. Seattle Times, October 28, 2018 (Donna Grethen / Op-Art)

Readers of MillersTime may know that in January I stopped using Facebook. There were a number of reasons (see Goodbye Facebook), but an important one for me was my belief that FB was adding to the divisiveness in our country, in part because they could continue to build market share and make money from its usage.

A couple of days ago the Wall Street Journal posted an article that addressed this issue. The article began:

A Facebook team had a blunt message for senior executives. The company’s algorithms weren’t bringing people together. They were driving people apart.

“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”

That presentation went to the heart of a question dogging Facebook almost since its founding: Does its platform aggravate polarization and tribal behavior?

The answer it found, in some cases, was yes.

If this issue and analysis interests you, read the WSJ’s entire analysis:

Facebook Executives Shut Down Efforts to Make the Site Less Divisive by Jeff Horwitz & Deepa Seetharaman, May 26, 2020, WSJ.

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Moving Forward, Dr. James Stein

A former colleague of Ellen’s sent this to her this morning, and Ellen sent it on to me. It’s a straight forward, up to date summary of how Dr. James Stein, cardiologist based at U-Wisconsin at Madison, sees where we are as parts of the country relax restrictions and how we individually can think about our personal decisions:

COVID-19 Update as We Start to Leave Our Cocoons

The purpose of this post is to provide a perspective on the intense but expected anxiety so many people are experiencing as they prepare to leave the shelter of their homes. My opinions are not those of my employers and are not meant to invalidate anyone else’s – they simply are my perspective on managing risk.

Key point #1: The COVID-19 we are facing now is the same disease it was 2 months ago. The “shelter at home” orders were the right step from a public health standpoint to make sure we flattened the curve and didn’t overrun the health care system which would have led to excess preventable deaths. It also bought us time to learn about the disease’s dynamics, preventive measures, and best treatment strategies – and we did.

For hospitalized patients, we have learned to avoid early intubation, to use prone ventilation, and that remdesivir probably reduces time to recovery. We have learned how to best use and preserve PPE. We also know that several therapies suggested early on probably don’t do much and may even cause harm (ie, azithromycin, chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir). But all of our social distancing did not change the disease.

Take home: We flattened the curve and with it our economy and psyches, but the disease itself is still here.

Key point #2: COVID-19 is more deadly than seasonal influenza (about 5-10x so), but not nearly as deadly as Ebola, Rabies, or Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever where 25-90% of people who get infected die. COVID-19’s case fatality rate is about 0.8-1.5% overall, but much higher if you are 60-69 years old (3-4%), 70-79 years old (7-9%), and especially so if you are over 80 years old (CFR 13-17%). It is much lower if you are under 50 years old (<0.6%). The infection fatality rate is about half of these numbers.

Take home: COVID-19 is dangerous, but the vast majority of people who get it, survive it. About 15% of people get very ill and could stay ill for a long time. We are going to be dealing with it for a long time.

Key point #3: SARS-CoV-2 is very contagious, but not as contagious as Measles, Mumps, or even certain strains of pandemic Influenza. It is spread by respiratory droplets and aerosols, not food and incidental contact.

Take home: social distancing, not touching our faces, and good hand hygiene are the key weapons to stop the spread. Masks could make a difference, too, especially in public places where people congregate. Incidental contact is not really an issue, nor is food.

What does this all mean as we return to work and public life? COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. It may not go away for a year or two and may not be eradicated for many years, so we have to learn to live with it and do what we can to mitigate (reduce) risk. That means being willing to accept *some* level of risk to live our lives as we desire. I can’t decide that level of risk for you – only you can make that decision. There are few certainties in pandemic risk management other than that fact that some people will die, some people in low risk groups will die, and some people in high risk groups will survive. It’s about probability.

Here is some guidance – my point of view, not judging yours:

1. People over 60 years old are at higher risk of severe disease – people over 70 years old, even more so. They should be willing to tolerate less risk than people under 50 years old and should be extra careful. Some chronic diseases like heart disease and COPD increase risk, but it is not clear if other diseases like obesity, asthma, immune disorders, etc. increase risk appreciably. It looks like asthma and inflammatory bowel disease might not be as high risk as we thought, but we are not sure – their risks might be too small to pick up, or they might be associated with things that put them at higher risk.

People over 60-70 years old probably should continue to be very vigilant about limiting exposures if they can. However, not seeing family – especially children and grandchildren – can take a serious emotional toll, so I encourage people to be creative and flexible. For example, in-person visits are not crazy – consider one, especially if you have been isolated and have no symptoms. They are especially safe in the early days after restrictions are lifted in places like Madison or parts of major cities where there is very little community transmission. Families can decide how much mingling they are comfortable with – if they want to hug and eat together, distance together with masks, or just stay apart and continue using video-conferencing and the telephone to stay in contact. If you choose to intermingle, remember to practice good hand hygiene, don’t share plates/forks/spoons/cups, don’t share towels, and don’t sleep together.

2. Social distancing, not touching your face, and washing/sanitizing your hands are the key prevention interventions. They are vastly more important than anything else you do. Wearing a fabric mask is a good idea in crowded public place like a grocery store or public transportation, but you absolutely must distance, practice good hand hygiene, and don’t touch your face. Wearing gloves is not helpful (the virus does not get in through the skin) and may increase your risk because you likely won’t washing or sanitize your hands when they are on, you will drop things, and touch your face.

3. Be a good citizen. If you think you might be sick, stay home. If you are going to cough or sneeze, turn away from people, block it, and sanitize your hands immediately after.

4. Use common sense. Dial down the anxiety. If you are out taking a walk and someone walks past you, that brief (near) contact is so low risk that it doesn’t make sense to get scared. Smile at them as they approach, turn your head away as they pass, move on. The smile will be more therapeutic than the passing is dangerous. Similarly, if someone bumps into you at the grocery store or reaches past you for a loaf of bread, don’t stress – it is a very low risk encounter- as long as they didn’t cough in your face (one reason we wear cloth masks in public!).

5. Use common sense, part II. Dial down the obsessiveness. There really is no reason to go crazy sanitizing items that come into your house from outside, like groceries and packages. For it to be a risk, the delivery person would need to be infectious, cough or sneeze some droplets on your package, you touch the droplet, then touch your face, and then it invades your respiratory epithelium. There would need to be enough viral load and the virions would need to survive long enough for you to get infected. It could happen, but it’s pretty unlikely. If you want to have a staging station for 1-2 days before you put things away, sure, no problem. You also can simply wipe things off before they come in to your house – that is fine is fine too. For an isolated family, it makes no sense to obsessively wipe down every surface every day (or several times a day). Door knobs, toilet handles, commonly trafficked light switches could get a wipe off each day, but it takes a lot of time and emotional energy to do all those things and they have marginal benefits. We don’t need to create a sterile operating room-like living space. Compared to keeping your hands out of your mouth, good hand hygiene, and cleaning food before serving it, these behaviors might be more maladaptive than protective.

6. There are few absolutes, so please get comfortable accepting some calculated risks, otherwise you might be isolating yourself for a really, really long time. Figure out how you can be in public and interact with people without fear.

We are social creatures. We need each other. We will survive with and because of each other. Social distancing just means that we connect differently. Being afraid makes us contract and shut each other out. I hope we can fill that space created by fear and contraction with meaningful connections and learn to be less afraid of each of other.

We are social creatures. We need each other. We will survive with and because of each other. Social distancing just means that we connect differently. Being afraid makes us contract and shut each other out. I hope we can fill that space created by fear and contraction with meaningful connections and learn to be less afraid of each of other.


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A Warning We Should Not Ignore

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While I’ve cut back on how much time I am spending reading various articles, posts, news reports, and time spent on social media, tweets, etc. (Facebook is a thing of the past for me now), I continue to follow what for me are a few reliable sources of information.

In that vein, I came across something two days ago that I think is worthy of your time and consideration. It’s from The Atlantic magazine’s upcoming June 2020 publication, written by Franklin Foer, a staff writer for The Atlantic and the former editor of The New Republic. He clearly writes from a liberal perspective. Nevertheless, what he has to tell us in this somewhat lengthy article contains new and detailed information about the situation facing us vis-a-vis Russian interference in our elections, his view that it is going to happen again, and our lack of preparedness for it.

This article goes beyond anything I’ve read on this subject to date, and I hope you will spend the time to consider what he has uncovered and wants us to know:

The 2016 Election Was Just a Dry Run, by Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, June 2020

As always, I am open to your reactions, whether you agree or disagree. Use the Comment section of this post to let me and others know your reaction to what for me is a very disturbing account of where we are headed for the upcoming elections.

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Know the Rules – Follow the Rules

I know we’ve all heard, read, watched all sorts of advice, much of it good, some questionable, and some simply not up-to-date or just inaccurate.

Below you will find links to two videos/advice from Dr. David Price, a critical care pulmonologist caring for COVID-19 patients at NYC’s Weill Cornell Hospital. (Hat Tip to David P. Stang for alerting me to this information.)

He will tell you some of the things you know, some things you may not be sure about, and some things you may need to know in the days and weeks and months ahead.

What is outstanding about these two videos is the level of practical advice that comes from someone who is on the front lines of caring for people who come to one of our best hospitals. Dr. Price is clear, straight forward, and seems to have the very latest experiences and knowledge from the front lines.

I’m sure there is something in these two videos for everyone, no matter how much information you may know or where you live in this country or abroad, or what you already know that is valid or perhaps not valid.

He is positive and focuses his remarks for a wide range of people.

The first link, the first video is a 24.05 minute compilation of Dr. Price speaking to us all: Empowering & Protecting Your Family.

The second link, the second video is a 57:06 minute conversation from Dr. Price that includes much from the first video but also includes his answers to questions from people across the country: Empowering, Protecting Your Family and Responses to Questions about COVID-19.

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Goodbye Facebook

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I’m going on a diet.

Not the kind of diet I’ve been on for the last three years, with some success, despite some ‘give backs.’

But a diet from the two to three to four hours a day I spend between email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and a variety of websites that provide me with some form of input about things important and not so important.

I’m starting by withdrawing from Facebook, which is something I’ve been considering for a year or more, not just because of the amount of time I spend on it, but also for a number of other reasons.

There’s lots I like about FB, particularly for being in touch with friends (and some foes) with whom I otherwise might not have frequent contact. Certainly I enjoy posting photos (mine and Ellen’s) and links to my MillersTime.net blog. And there are a number of links that I follow from various FB posts that I might not know about otherwise.But I’m choosing to start this diet with FB because of what FB has become and what its leaders, particularly Mark Zuckerberg, have done with this once promising social networking website. I’ll spare reposting Lisa W’s list and explanation of Ten Reasons Why You Should Quit Facebook NowSuffice it to say that I agree with at least eight of her 10 points.

(I have previously posted (on FB!) Sacha Baron Cohen’s powerful three minute video of how FB’s platform and policies are allowing the spread of hate and lies in our political and other discourse and, in fact, makes what is occurring there even worse by their unwillingness to intervene. If you haven’t listened to Cohen’s message, stop now and click on the link above.

I will continue, for now, with my Instagram and Twitter accounts knowing that Instagram is owned by FB. As with any diet, you can’t cut out everything at once, but you have to start somewhere. In order not to just transfer my FB time to one of the other social media time killers, I will also limit my total time spent using these (and other) social media platforms.

So by the end of January, I will no longer have a Facebook account. Between now and then, I will figure out alternative ways to stay in touch with some individuals abroad and with friends here in the US. I’m open to suggestions as how to do that.

And if you want to help me (having partners in dieting has proven valuable to me with my weight loss), you can let me know if you’d like to be on my MillersTime.net mailing list, which at no cost to you will get you three for four emails a month that describe my most recent blog post (on travel, photos, family, grand kids, books, films, baseball, and an occasional attempt at describing something that is on my alleged mind.) Just email me if you want to get those notifications about new blog posts.

Finally, for now, I will retain my two Instagram accounts (samesty84 and millerstimeblogger). So feel free to follow me there and send me your Instagram handle (if you want to stay in touch that way).

There’s always that old fashion way of communicating – email (Samesty84 at gmail dot com) and texting. I am diligent in responding to email (and snail mail) from friends…and texts, which seem to be my wife’s and daughters’ preferred way of reaching me.

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