Category: Society

Why I stopped using Facebook

A few of you noticed that I disappeared from Facebook, and asked me if everything is fine with me. Let me start by reassuring that everything is fine with my loved ones and me, both in Norway and Italy. That said, the reason why I deleted my Facebook account is that I cannot stand the disinformation and divisiveness on my feed anymore.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a new wave of conspiracy theories: from 5G antennas transmitting the virus via radio waves, to Bill Gates having engineered Covid-19, to the evergreen new world order orchestrating all of this. The echoes of the Brexit referendum and the last U.S. presidential elections are not hard to spot. It is the pitting of “skepticism” against “experts,” and of “people” against “elite.”

While conspiracy theories have long existed, Facebook and other social media have accelerated their circulation. Moderating content after it is shared thousands of times is insufficient. Curating knowledge before it is shared is just as crucial to contain disinformation. But the tech giant is failing at it spectacularly.

In 2016, Cambridge Analytica illicitly harvested data to produce the political profile of millions of Facebook users and target them with fear-mongering ads based on lies. As Facebook’s design fosters echo chambers—where outside views are discredited—these ads were remarkably effective.

As Carole Cadwalladr put it: Maybe you think, “Well, it was just a few ads. And people are smarter than that, right?” To which I would say, “Good luck with that.” The Brexit referendum and the last U.S. presidential election have already demonstrated that liberal democracy is broken.

I was naïve enough to hope that the Covid-19 pandemic would restore some trust in reliable, fact-based sources of information. I could not be more wrong.

A growing number of people experience a sense of lack of control in their lives (e.g., long-term unemployment), and share conspiracy theories to gain a compensatory illusion of control. Detecting patterns where there are, in fact, none at least leaves this possibility open.

Unfortunately, in a post-truth society that is based more on collective- than individual identities, conspiracy theories spread like wildfire because they serve as weapons in a tribal war.

Facebook has known about this for a while. “Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content to gain user attention and increase time on the platform.” Nevertheless, Facebook shut down the efforts to make the site less divisive.

Four years after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and six months after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, very little has changed. Despite multinational companies now pulling ads from Facebook over inaction on hate speech, the tech giant is still doing too little to prevent disinformation and divisiveness. And what many people do not seem to understand is that this is bigger than any of us.

The president of the most powerful country in the world is an anti-intellectual who suggests curing Covid-19 with disinfectant injections and brags about his “tremendous job” in handling the pandemic, despite the U.S. topping all charts about infections and deaths. The silly movie Idiocracy from 2006 does not seem so unrealistic anymore. Before you realize it, another representative of the Dunning–Kruger effect could be in charge of your country.

Now, if this doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

Stopping using Facebook will not help fighting disinformation and divisiveness. Quite the contrary. But at least I will avoid everyday frustrations and invest my time more wisely.

Feel free to contact me on iMessage and Signal.

Stay safe and have a great summer!


Online friendship—Quality over quantity

The Oxford English Dictionary defines friendship as “the emotions or conduct of friends; the state of being friends.”

I have always taken friendship seriously, and I believe I have to work on friendship as I work on everything else. A couple of years ago, I started to wonder if I applied these criteria to online friendship.

I understand that online relationships are less restrained and encompass an entire spectrum from acquaintance to friendship. Nevertheless, I forced myself to treat friendship in the digital world as in the real world, so I run a sort of experiment throughout the last two years.

I chose a simple excuse to privately contact each friend on Facebook at least once a year: the birthday. Something along the lines of “Happy birthday! 🙂 How are you?”—I kept it simple.

Unfortunately, I could not do this with everyone every time for obvious reasons: some people do not record their birthdate on Facebook, and sometimes I was not able to access Facebook for one or more days; e.g., due to work or travelling. Yet, I got in touch with people I had not heard from in a while, especially those living outside Norway. Here is what I discovered:

  • Few people have a Facebook profile but do not use it. They have never received my message.
  • Some people are less polite than others. They received and read my message but have never replied. At most, they wrote a generic acknowledgement to all friends on their profile.
  • Several people are less keen than others on keeping in touch. They replied to my message with a politically correct “Thanks!”
  • Surprisingly many people are in fact keen on keeping in touch. Even those I had not heard from in ages, replied to my message enthusiastically and we updated each other about our lives.

Lesson learned: concentrate on quality over quantity, even with your friends online. You may be positively surprised as well!

Double standards in Norwegian environmental culture?

Norway: Environmental hero or hypocrite?” was the question the Financial Times asked a year ago. As a resident in Norway for the last decade and with a background of research and innovation, I have long been concerned with the same question.

Norway has implemented a number of measures for a green shift. For example, power generation is mainly based on renewable sources, and the number of electric cars per capita is the largest in the world. Nevertheless, the waste volume in Norway increased by 7% while recycling decreased 1% from 2013 to 2014.

I was a research scientist at SINTEF between November 2012 and February this year. During these years, I have been concerned that there are no trash cans for sorting food waste, plastic, bottles, glass and metal, while there are plastic cups in each kitchen at the SINTEF offices in Oslo.

I believe that an organisation researching technology to fight global warming should “eat its own dog food”. A year ago, I suggested that the SINTEF administration in Oslo should reduce waste volume and increase recycling. Despite multiple reminders, they have never returned to me.

SINTEF is probably not the only organisation that does not sort its waste, but if not even a research organisation takes responsibility for the environment, then Norway has a problem with environmental culture.

While we wait for the authorities to force businesses to tackle the problem, tonnes of recyclable trash are thrown away as mixed waste every day. Is it not time to quit the double standards and actually start implementing a comprehensive green shift? The alternative is to get a reputation that is hard to get rid of: being an environmental hypocrite.

The original version of this article was published in Norwegian in Aftenposten on June 2017.

Six months in Oslo—Life of a researcher in the capital of Norway

26 November 2012 at 3:00 in the morning. I was sitting on the bed of my bare room in Bergen, overwhelmed with fear and excitement, looking at my life packed into suitcases, backpacks, and boxes, and staring at my one-way ticket for the earliest morning flight to Oslo: “Will I like Oslo?”, “Will I enjoy my new life?”, “Will I miss Bergen?” Now, after six months in Oslo, I can finally answer these questions.

The city of Oslo may not have the charm of other western European capitals. It was built when Norway was among the poorest countries in Europe, and it is not difficult to notice. It has little classical architecture, and the one it has is not exactly impressive: even the neoclassical Royal Palace is way too dull to my taste. But Norway is among the richest countries in the world now, and the municipality is finally investing resources to give the city a new touch of contemporary architecture. The Fjord City project aims at opening the city towards the fjord by building housing and recreation on the waterfront part of the city centre. The Opera House in Bjørvika together with the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Tjuvholmen are notable examples of this development. Although controversial, I find these buildings amazing, and I believe that, together with the upcoming buildings such as the new Munch Museum in Bjørvika, they are going to give a unique character to the city.

Another distinctive feature of Oslo is that its people can be quite diverse. The various areas of Oslo have all different atmosphere, with Grünerløkka (Oslo East) featuring rather laid-back people and Frogner (Oslo West) featuring rather posh people—to the point that “vestkantgutt” (literally west side boys) is a common Norwegian expression to denote daddy’s boys. This heterogeneity is unique in Norway, where otherwise the law of Jante preserves uniformity across the society. Now there is good and bad with the law of Jante, and I must confess that I have incorporated some of these values into myself after many years in Norway, but one of its bad sides is that it tends to deprive people of significance. I find it interesting that this phenomenon is less evident in Oslo, where people are less afraid to show that they are successful.

I bought a new flat in Rodeløkka, north of Grünerløkka. It cost me a fortune, but it increased my quality of life dramatically 🙂 I have met plenty of charming people so far, both international and Norwegians, which made my social life enjoyable. I am also satisfied with my new job at SINTEF, where I am currently working on some challenging but stimulating EU projects—namely PaaSage, MODAClouds, and Broker@Cloud, for those interested. All in all, life has never been so good, and, to be honest, I have never really missed Bergen.