Members of Congress Want Action from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter

Below is a press release from my congressman. It contains links to letters he and another member of Congress sent to the CEOs of three social media behemoths. The letters represent the view of dozens of representatives. Each letter is worth looking at, since each one highlights specific problems relating to the company in question:

Today, in the aftermath of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, Congressman Tom Malinowski (NJ-7) and Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18) sent letters to the CEOs of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter urging the companies to address the fundamental design features of their social networks that facilitate the spread of extreme, radicalizing content to their users.

Representatives Malinowski and Eshoo, along with dozens of their colleagues, called on the companies to reexamine their policy maximizing user engagement as the basis for algorithmic sorting and promotion of news and information, and to make permanent and platform-wide design changes to limit the spread of harmful, conspiratorial content. 

The lawmakers note that the rioters who attacked the Capitol earlier this month were radicalized in part in digital echo chambers that these platforms designed, built, and maintained, and that the platforms are partially responsible for undermining our shared sense of objective reality, for intensifying fringe political beliefs, for facilitating connections between extremists, leading some of them to commit real-world, physical violence.

To view the full text of the letters and their respective signers click on the links below.

  • Letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook 
  • Letter to Susan Wojcicki and Sundar Pichai, YouTube; Alphabet/Google 
  • Letter to Jack Dorsey, Twitter 

“Social media platforms’ algorithms are designed to feed each of us increasingly hateful versions of what we already hate, and fearful versions of what we already fear, so that we stay glued to our screens for as long as possible. In this way, they regularly promote and recommend white supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-government, and other conspiracy-oriented material to the very people who are most susceptible to it — some of whom just attacked our Capitol,” said Rep. Malinowski. “We are urging the CEOs of these large social media companies to make permanent and platform-wide changes to limit the frictionless spread of extreme, radicalizing content – something they’ve shown they are capable of doing but are consciously choosing not to.” 

“For years social media companies have allowed harmful disinformation to spread through their platforms, polluting the minds of the American people. Online disinformation is not just about removing bad content. I see it as largely a product design issue. The algorithmic amplification and recommendation systems that platforms employ spread content that’s evocative over what’s true,” said Rep. Eshoo. “The horrific damage to our democracy wrought on January 6th demonstrated how these social media platforms played a role in radicalizing and emboldening terrorists to attack our Capitol. These American companies must fundamentally rethink algorithmic systems that are at odds with democracy.”

Last Fall, Representatives Malinowski and Eshoo introduced the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act, legislation to hold large social media platforms accountable for their algorithmic amplification of harmful, radicalizing content that leads to offline violence.

Rep. Malinowski represents New Jersey’s 7th congressional district. . . .Rep. Eshoo represents California’s 18th congressional district, which includes much of Silicon Valley. . . .

Sometimes the Internet Works For Us

Yesterday, I visited YouTube to see what the algorithms had for me and saw this video:

Brian Wilson – Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) (Demo Vocal Tracks)”

It’s 2 1/2 minutes of Brian and I guess some of the other Beach Boys performing background vocals for a beautiful song on the Pet Sounds album, my all-time favorite (and #2 in the recent Rolling Stone Top 500 — “Who’s gonna hear this shit?” Beach Boys singer Mike Love asked. . . ).

This morning, the video popped up again. While I was listening, I noticed a link to a song by Fleet Foxes, one of my favorite groups:

Fleet Foxes – Shore (Full Album) 2020 

Fleet Foxes has a new album out? I didn’t know. So I played the first track:

“Wading In Waist-High Water”

It’s beautiful. Fleet Foxes often remind me of the Beach Boys. I wondered how the new album, released in September, was being received. A search for “Fleet Foxes Shore” turned up a review from Pitchfork magazine.

On his fourth album, singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold refines and hones Fleet Foxes’ crisp folk-rock sound, crafting another musically adventurous album that is warm and newly full of grace. 

They gave the album an 8.3, which sounds high.  

As I was looking at the review, I saw this:

Elsewhere, there are explicit nods to contemporary classical music, as on “Jara,” which features hocketing by Meara O’Reilly, and “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman,” which pairs O’Reilly with a snippet of Brian Wilson counting to resemble Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach, and, in its sampling, also recalls the early work of Steve Reich. 

A snippet of Brian Wilson counting? Well, I had to click on that.

Surprise, surprise! It turned out to be:

Brian Wilson – Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) (Demo Vocal Tracks)”

Yes, YouTube had twice recommended one of the thousands of Beach Boys/Brian Wilson videos they offer, of which I’ve watched many, and that took me to somebody else’s album, which uses part of that particular Pet Sounds session, which is in a YouTube video that’s probably getting attention because Robin Pecknold borrowed Brian Wilson counting “one-two-three-four” for his new Fleet Foxes album, Shore.

In the old days, only ten years ago, I might have quickly ordered the new Fleet Foxes CD. The internet would have succeeded in selling me something. But since CD technology is fast disappearing and I almost never play one except in our 16-year old car, there’s no rush. I can play the whole thing on Spotify and see if I want a copy for the car. 

Was I manipulated? Sure. Were a few more bytes of my data stored away in Google’s innards, only to be mined for heaven knows what purposes? Yeah. But sometimes it’s nice to be a tiny cog in a vast machine, even something to be a little bit thankful for.

Cinematic Entertainment of a High Order

Following a path of YouTube recommendations sometimes works out very well. I clicked on a disappointing little thing from The Criterion Collection this morning, but was then led to a series of videos called “Three Reasons”. Each one offers three reasons to watch a movie Criterion will sell you. I watched a bunch, although not all 81 of them (lunch beckoned and I do have some self-respect).

It’s my duty to share a few “Three Reasons” I especially liked.

Badlands (1973), directed by Terrence Malick, maker of distinctively beautiful, sometimes puzzling works of art.

Fellini Satryicon (1969), from the wonderful Federico Fellini, who unfortunately didn’t get better with age.

The Killing (1956), by my favorite director, Stanley Kubrick, who left us too soon.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959), the best movie Otto Preminger ever directed.

Ok, one more.

Something Wild (1986), directed by Jonathan Demme, whose varied credits include The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Stop Making Sense and three episodes of Saturday Night Live.

In addition to their DVD collection, Criterion has a streaming channel. It’s got hundreds of American and foreign films, but none of these five. They have their reasons ($$$) for not offering their entire DVD collection online, but it’s still worth checking out as an addition or alternative to Netflix, whether your taste runs to L’avventura, West Side Story or Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Now a public service message:

The American president is a disaster. He’s almost certainly doing something horrendous right now. That’s why we should vote him and every other Republican out of office in November. If you’re willing and able to support Democratic candidates in addition to voting for them, please do.

Friday Night “Soul Music” Potpourri

There is an ongoing discussion at Brian Wilson’s website called “The Battle of the Bands”. Every week someone selects four songs from YouTube that have something in common (say, songs about food or songs with great bass lines). At least one of the songs has to be related to Brian Wilson or the Beach Boys. Then the 20 or so regular participants rank the four songs (gold, silver, bronze and tin).

Opinions are offered, other videos are posted, stories are told and at the end of the week, the votes are tabulated. It’s an enjoyable pastime, since the participants are into music and extremely well-mannered (although they tend to be a little long in the tooth, like a certain blogger).

This week’s theme is Soul Music. The artists represented are Etta James, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke (singing the Beach Boys song “Sail On, Sailor”),  and Barbara Mason (doing her big hit “Yes, I’m Ready”).

I voted a couple days ago, giving gold to Otis Redding. This afternoon, one thing led to another (I believe that’s the definition of “the Internet”) and I ended up listening to and sharing several YouTube videos more or less associated with “soul music”. You might find some of them of interest. 

First, some related philosophical observations:

“There is two kinds of music, the good, and the bad. I play the good kind.” – L. Armstrong 

“You blows who you is.” – L. Armstrong

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” – F. Nietzsche

Whether it’s gospel-influenced, doo wop, R&B, soul or whatever, this one is pretty damn amazing. The Chantels, featuring lead singer Arlene Smith, from 1957/58:

James Brown sings it’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” in Paris. He launches into a bit of a medley around 6:40 or so:

Which doesn’t really lead to Bill Medley talking about Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, Carole King or Eric Burdon, or “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” or some famous songs he had the chance to record but didn’t:

The #1 “blue-eyed soul” record that he and Bobby Hatfield did right after they split from Phil Spector:

Which leads in a way (“she’s been my inspiration”) to an extended version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made To Love Her”, including instrumental intro and outro:

I really disliked that song when it was on the radio in 1967, and was very surprised when the Beach Boys put it on their terrific “Wild Honey” album later that year. But sometimes we progress. This is the late Carl Wilson doing the lead vocal:

The Beach Boys covered Stevie Wonder, and in 1980 the Los Angeles punk rock band X covered the Doors (whose “Soul Kitchen” referred to a soul food restaurant in Venice, California):

Which doesn’t lead at all to Jimmy Cliff, but this is real good and clearly soulful (although rhyming “over” and “White Cliffs of Dover” is geographically suspicious in a song called “Many Rivers to Cross”. Those cliffs aren’t known for their waterfalls.):

Too bad there’s no money in propagating this Internet stuff.

Peter and Gordon Go To Pieces

I’ve been puttering around with a YouTube playlist for a few months, adding songs that I especially enjoy hearing. Most of them aren’t the biggest hits — they’re songs I want to hear more of. So I haven’t included wonderful songs like “Good Vibrations” and “In the Still of the Night”. I’ve got “Let Him Run Wild” and “Ramble Tamble” instead.

Many of the songs are singles I heard on the radio when I was a kid — songs that I’ve never owned but can now hear whenever I want. It’s amazing, and somehow seems improper, that all of this music is available for free. 

YouTube apparently allows a playlist to have a maximum of 200 entries. Right now, I’ve got 199 songs or some 10 hours of music (plus unwanted commercials).

Certain artists aren’t well-represented on YouTube. For example, some law firm or corporation apparently makes sure that there are very few Bob Dylan album tracks available; otherwise I’d have included “Highway 61 Revisited” for sure. On the other hand, you can find just about every song ever recorded by many well-known artists. But songs come and go fairly frequently, so it’s never certain that a particular song will be on the list the next time around.

One of the surprises I got while compiling my list is how much I enjoy a particular song by the British Invasion duo Peter and Gordon. I was never a big fan of theirs and would never have thought of “I Go To Pieces” as a personal favorite, but I love it every time I hear it. Released in 1964 (not 1965), the single got up to number 7 in the U.S. It wasn’t a hit in the U.K., failing to make the top 50.

So, without further ado, thanks to our friends (or Masters of the Universe) at YouTube, here is “I Go To Pieces”, written by Del Shannon (“Runaway”), and performed by Peter Asher (the one who looks like Austin Powers) and the late Gordon Waller: 

And here’s a link to my rather large YouTube playlist (“I Go To Pieces” is currently number 70 out of 199 entries):

P.S. 6/25/13 — Looks like I’ll be moving to Spotify. I’ll pay $5 per month to avoid commercials, plus they’ve got “Highway 61 Revisited”.

P.P.S. 6/26/13 — Spotify is pretty amazing. It’s like being in the 21st century. Except it doesn’t seem right that all this music, including new albums, is so cheaply available, the price being either exposure to advertising or a small monthly fee, plus being observed by whatever tracking software they use.