Tag: covid-19

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!


Three actions to achieve digital workplaces in the new normal

The COVID-19 crisis has pushed a digital transformation in record time. Traditional work dynamics are gone, and many of us see now our homes as where we work.

We have never been more dependent on our employer’s IT solutions. While some tackle the transition to remote work without disruptions, others experience frustration with outdated devices and unstable services. This frustration gets compounded by dealing with non-technical issues such as suboptimal ergonomics or demanding children.

Most people are used to a seamless user experience in their private lives. Despite a global explosion in service demand around the Internet, they continue to have video calls on FaceTime, share photos on Instagram, and watch movies on Netflix, exactly like before.

Employees expect comparable user experiences in their working lives. If it is poor, some may use private devices and services as alternative IT solutions. This workaround is known as “shadow IT” and it can compromise the organization’s compliance and security. The consequences from shadow IT can quickly become expensive.

A sustainable IT architecture is crucial for realizing an effective digital workplace. It must balance scalability, security, and user experience. Here is how you, as CIO, can move forward to provide a digital workplace to your employees:

1. Migrate from on-premises to the cloud

Your organization probably still relies on on-premises infrastructure to operate business services, as well as end-user services such as connectivity, communication, and collaboration.

One of the issues with on-premises infrastructure is that you have to purchase and install servers, storage, networking, and other computing resources to expand its capacity—a process that may take months in normal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic.

When the actual demand surpasses the available capacity, you have got a problem. The typical consequence is that you lose customers. In this scenario, you lose employees too, as they are unable to work.

On-premises vs. cloud capacity over time

Adopt hyper-scale infrastructure and software-as-a-service

The cloud offers hyper-scale infrastructure, which allows you to rapidly provision computing resources with minimal management effort.

When exploiting automation, the available capacity can automatically scale up and down based on the actual demand. In this case, you can cope with unexpected spikes with minimal downsides, such as losing employees on the way.

Microsoft with Microsoft 365 and Google with G Suite offer cloud-based collaboration platforms. Other software-as-a-service providers cover plenty of additional capabilities for a digital workplace. You may want to widen their adoption in your organization.

2. Switch from perimeter- to zero trust security

Your organization needs to protect business and end-user services through an adequate security model.

Not unlike a medieval castle, the perimeter security model relies on a secured boundary between the private side of a network, often the intranet, and the public side of a network, often the Internet.

Virtual private network (VPN), firewall, and other tools protected your IT environment from cyber threats relatively well during the ‘90s and 2000s, when you had few entry points for users and devices. However, these tools were not designed for your current IT environment, where you have heterogeneous users and devices, both on-premises and in the cloud.

Perimeter security

Authenticate, authorize, and verify all users and devices

The zero trust security model relies on the principle that you should not trust anyone, neither inside nor outside your perimeter. You should instead authenticate, authorize, and verify all users and devices attempting to access your systems.

Identity and access management (IAM), multi-factor authentication (MFA), unified endpoint management (UEM), encryption, and other tools are better suited for this purpose. These tools allow you to flexibly combine legacy systems on-premises and modern systems in the cloud with heterogeneous users and devices.

Zero Trust security

Microsoft, Google, and other major IT players recommend the zero trust security model. They adopt it in their own companies. You may want to accelerate its implementation in your organization.

3. Focus on the user experience

Your organization may have neglected the user experience of IT services. IT departments may offer employees a one-size-fits-all PC, while alternatives such as Macs and iPads may be non-supported options. Some business applications may have cumbersome user interfaces. Others may require employees to access outdated remote desktop solutions. Some communication and collaboration applications may provide redundant functionalities, which can leave employees unsure about when to use what.

Avoid shadow IT

If this goes too far, employees could feel like the IT department provided them with tools that diminish rather than enhance their productivity. Their frustration could even lead them to shadow IT, with potentially severe consequences.

There are more efficient ways of working, which can raise employee engagement. To succeed, you need to provide a quality of service comparable to the ones of Apple and Google, whose devices and services “just work.” In other words, you need to provide state-of-the-art hardware, software, and underlying IT architecture.

A digital workplace requires a comprehensive approach to delivering a consumer-oriented IT environment, where the technology is continuously improved, and the workforce is frequently upskilled.

This approach is ambitious, and is going to cost—but it may be the most forward-looking investment you can make.

A shorter version of this article was published in Norwegian in Teknisk Ukeblad on May 2020.