Facebook in trouble?

Facebook appears to know it is in trouble over the experiment it conducted (see previous post). On CNN, I read this morning that a spokesperson said it was research “to improve our services”.

It looks like Facebook is trying to jump through hoops. But Facebook doesn’t fit through the hoops.

When users consented to their data being used to improve Facebook’s services, most users will have assumed that this referred to services provided to the users, not services Facebook provides to advertisers. (When you’re happy, you are more optimistic, hence more likely to click on advertisements. Pessimists have a more realistic view of the world than optimists, but optimists likely see themselves as more successful than pessimists.)

And when Facebook users consented to their data being used to improve the services, they sure as hell did not consent to psychological experiments being conducted on them.

They may have expected Facebook to analyse the data and make use of the results of those analyses, yes, but they were likely thinking in terms of technology or something along those lines. Upgrading server x that delivers Facebook to country y. They may also have expected to see baby products being advertised to those who clicked on such ads and posted baby pictures, and office products being shown to people who stated that they are self-employed.

Facebook tweaking the streams of users to bring them the items it thought users wanted to see, that is one thing. I can be annoyed about Facebook not showing my friends’ posts in my timeline, no matter how many boxes I tick to try and get them to show and I can be annoyed about commercial posts I get shown no matter how many boxes I tick in an attempt to get rid of posts about products I cannot even buy because I am many miles away on the other side of the world, but that is an entirely different ballpark compared with Facebook deliberately tweaking the streams of users to make them feel happy or make them feel miserable, or even attempting to see whether it can or not.

Facebook – and the two university researchers along with it – has crossed a line, again. This time, Facebook has made an unforgivable mistake.

It is true that other media manipulate us all the time. But we expect that. We know that the BBC only reports what it wants to report and does not present an objective overview of society. We know that commercials feed us bullshit, that buying that car or buying that dress or perfume won’t make glamorous models suddenly find us irresistible. And I know that when CNN – CNN Money, that is – writes that “it does not appear that Facebook faces any legal implications”, CNN is trying to manipulate its audience too.

That does not apply when it comes to messages from our friends. It may still be true that we have one or two friends – or children – who may consciously or subconsciously try to manipulate us, but when it comes to messages our friends post combined, we do not expect those messages to be manipulated by a third party in such a way that we become happier. And we certainly don’t expect our Facebook streams to be manipulated to make us miserable.

Happy or sad?


Facebook could have conducted this experiment equally well after explaining what it wanted to do and allowing users informed consent. It chose not to.

The US Army provided some of the funding for this experiment. That does not help.

I have meanwhile realised how Facebook may be able to get away with this in a court of law. Facebook could claim that it was carrying out this experiment because it was concerned about the number of suicides and other problems precipitated by bullying on Facebook. It could say that it was trying to figure out how it could tweak the streams of its users to prevent such problems for its users. Unless some whistleblower provides evidence to refute this, that might very well work.

Facebook in for a major battle?

I just learned that Facebook made the blunder of conducting a massive psychological experiment on the users of its English-language version without their explicit consent. This is extremely unethical.

This is bound to have legal consequences.court

The Independent published about it today. The paper reporting the results of the experiment appeared in PNAS.

I hope to see class actions in every country that uses the English version of Facebook because this is most definitely not right. No amount of word-twisting by Facebook (or the researchers) can cover up that no users ever consented to this kind of experiment being carried out on them.

In addition, the university researchers involved in the study should be investigated and disciplined. If they were in my employ, I would sack them instantly.

They have damaged the scientific reputation of their universities and, in my view, do not belong in academia. I trust that Cornell University and the University of California will take the appropriate steps.

On the other hand, these researchers are highlighting a serious danger that lurks behind social media, but it does not appear that this was the motivation for their unforgivable conduct.


Help free Michael Hilton

The petition just went live. Please sign it. It helps raise and increase awareness for what is going on among one third of Britain’s population.

What happened to Mr Hilton could also happen to the other two thirds of Britain’s population, whether they are aware of it or not.

Here is the link:


Michael Hilton deserves leniency

Draft petition for Mr Michael Hilton

Michelle Kent contacted me on Twitter a few days ago and sent me this link. On Sunday, Yesterday, I wrote a draft petition to drop the charges against Mr Michael Hilton, but I want to get in touch with Mr Hilton or his son Johnny before I launch the petition. His son Johnny and Mr Hilton’s sister are now aware of the petition and are fine with it. I also contacted the court to which his case has been assigned, as far as I know. I have tweaked the text a little bit more.

Below, you can read the draft.

Michael Hilton deserves leniency


Why is this important? Because this concerns every person living in Britain. What happened to Mr Hilton can happen to anyone in Britain, whether we’re aware of it or not.

The following took place.

Mr Hilton of Meadoway, Church in East Lancashire felt very vulnerable and grew increasingly upset when he was threatened with eviction from the home in which he’d been living for 30 years. He responded by threatening to blow up his home.

The reason for the eviction was that Mr Hilton developed rent arrears as a result of what PM David Cameron euphemistically and callously calls the withdrawal of the spare room subsidy, and what I see as an instrument of a feudal aristocracy, the so-called bedroom tax.

We all tend to assume that when someone else is threatened with eviction, the person could make this ‘go away’ if only they would act. Because we have no choice but to believe that if it happened to us, we would make it go away. Because we, we would act. That is how threatening the idea of an eviction is to most of us. Losing our home…

In reality, however, there is often very little a person can do against an eviction for arrears if the person has no money. In cases of rent arrears caused by the so-called bedroom tax, it is safe to assume that if the person was unable to do anything about the bedroom tax, he or she is equally unable to do anything about the eviction. Effectively, Mr Hilton was being threatened with homelessness after having lived in his home for 30 years.

I don’t know Mr Hilton and he may have been seriously mentally ill.

If he was merely terribly stressed, then chances are that he did not stick his head in the sand, but simply felt there was nothing he could do and was convinced that his housing association could not do anything for him either. I think that he threatened to blow up his home because he could not accept the idea that there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop the eviction.

He did not blow up anything at all, and no one got hurt. He just yelled. He was arrested because he had made many people worried which can be seen as a disturbance. He has been in custody since the beginning of June 2014. The plea hearing is set for 22 August 2014 and his trial hearing is scheduled for 12 November 2014.

A little earlier, namely in May 2014, David Garbett of Sunderland took similarly drastic steps when he chained himself and his wheelchair to the railings of Southwick JobCentre. In his case, his Employment Support Allowance had stopped which meant that he became unable to buy food and pay bills.

After he chained himself to the JobCentre, Mr Garbett’s claim was settled, and his payments were backdated. Mr Garbett was not in danger of losing his home, but he too was desperate so he did something desperate.

When austerity has already been part of your daily life for years, there is no room for more austerity.

It is believed that Mr Hilton was eligible for exemption from this wretched bedroom tax, but apparently did not know how to obtain this exemption. It is also believed that Mr Hilton had been in bad mental health for some time.

So here we have two men who apparently both had health problems. One was losing his home and spoke desperate words that others felt threatened by, but did not carry out his threats. The other one was fed up with having to go to the food bank and being unable to pay his bills and did not threaten but took desperate action.

One is now in prison and has lost his home. The other one’s claims were reinstated and backdated.

Mr Hilton – the man in prison – is a victim, not a criminal. He deserves leniency.

A lack of funds can trip up a litigant in person

I promised I would elaborate.

How can a lack of money trip you up?

Some filings are crucial, which means that paying the fees for them is crucial as well. If you have to rely on a fee remission, the fee remission process can take you past the filing deadline. It means that a judge can order you to file the crucial form as soon as possible if you don’t want your case to be thrown out.

From the start, be aware of which filings are crucial and how much the fees are. Set the funds aside or borrow the money from friends. File the document and file the fee remission paperwork at the same time. Pay your friends back as soon as you receive the cheque from the court and your bank has processed it.

Also, make sure you do not run out of ink or paper at the wrong time. Have enough envelopes in stock and don’t run out of stamps or money for stamps.

When bedroom tax victims are evicted

Last September, the Independent reported that about 50,000 people – mostly disabled – were being threatened with eviction on account of the so-called bedroom tax (a cut in the benefits of those people who need support most, generally). Someone just alerted me to this post about the eviction of Michael Hilton in East Lancashire.

homeIf this account of events is accurate and fairly complete, a violation of the Interference with Good Act 1977 occurred in this case, and under  circumstances that I find repugnant.

The Lancashire Telegraph also reported on this eviction but did not mention the destruction of Mr Hilton’s belongings. I hope that the ‘rifling’ through the skip was done by caring neighbours who tried to salvage some of Mr Hilton’s possessions, if they were indeed disposed of instantly.

To me, the ‘bedroom tax’ sounds like an instrument fitting for a feudal aristocracy as those who are affected by it are often unable to change their circumstances in such a way that they can avoid it. There is an almost feudal relationship between those who impose this astonishingly ridiculous and cruel ‘bedroom tax’ (the government) and the affected persons, but that is not what this post is about.

It is not necessarily true that tenants who appear to ignore eviction notices are burying their heads in the sand. The real reason can be that there is simply very little such tenants can do. There is a general misconception among the public – including police – that tenants who receive an eviction notice can make this ‘go away’ if only they will act.

There is no magical solution called ‘help’ out there. Many councils are unable to do anything for tenants threatened with eviction. The councils can rehouse some of the most vulnerable people, but that appears to be relatively rare. I think it is a fair assumption that anyone who is unable to escape the bedroom tax is equally unable to do something about a subsequent eviction.

The idea of eviction makes most people feel so extremely vulnerable that they distance themselves from other people’s evictions by telling themselves that eviction could never happen to them. They, after all, would act if it ever happened to them. That assumption is wrong. Eviction can happen to anyone. If it were to happen to you, you might find yourself just as powerless and just as distraught as Mr Hilton, certainly if you’d been living in your home as long as Mr Hilton had. 30 years.

In all fairness, Hyndburn Homes appears to be trying to do what it can, but it is a bit hard to tell from a distance. I am finding them very communicative, though, and that is usually a good sign. I have asked for concrete examples of solutions Hyndburn Homes finds together with tenants. Seeing what is possible might help diminish the number of tenants who seemingly refuse offers of support and ‘choose not to work with’ housing associations.

When you’re very stressed, which is almost always the case when you’re about to be kicked out of your home, it becomes very hard to see solutions. All you likely still see is a giant wall of problems closing in on you. I too would like to know what solutions housing associations are able to offer. Because many people – tenants and housing associations alike – need that inspiration.

What trips up English litigants in person?


Below are some hurdles that I believe can trip up English litigants in person (LIPs). I will elaborate on each of these hurdles in following posts.

  1. A lack of funds;

  2. A lack of organisation;

  3. The dislike of confident people;

  4. A misunderstanding of rules and deadlines;

  5. The use of euphemisms and confusing language;

  6. A lack of understanding of the legal foundation for a case.

As a litigant in person, you also have be able to spend the time as and when required and you may need access to resources you don’t have or are not aware of, such as databases.

Pro file-handling tips – 2

One of the cornerstones of legal undertakings is good organisation. Earlier, I mentioned the usefulness of Jalema clips and cable ties. Here are three more tips.

Stock up on bulldog clips or, preferably, foldback binder clips to keep your pages together when you’re still working on them and haven’t punched holes in them yet. Foldback binder clips come in all sizes and are usually black, but are also available in brighter colours and without any colour (metal).

If you’re copying many pages and are worried that one of the pages might accidentally get lost, print the information (what document the page belongs to) on the paper sheets before you copy onto the other side of the sheets. (If you include page numbers, have hundreds of pages, and something goes wrong, consider inserting pages like 18a, 18b and 18c if that means you don’t have to start all over again. It’s not elegant, but it’s practical.)

If you have a ring binder and are concerned about pages falling from it, tie a ribbon (or a piece of string) around it, so that each of the three open sides has one piece of ribbon safety pinor string that will stop a page from falling out. It can also help you identify your binder quickly.

White shoes and magic circles

England often seems to have a big problem with them. White shoes. Sneakers. Trainers.

trainersI’ve been wearing them for decades. No, not the same pair, ha ha.

I love to walk and I love to run and I love being able to make that bus, train or tram on account of a last-minute sprint instead of being hampered by my high-heeled footwear. Wearing those white shoes also helps if you have to traverse long corridors and many staircases in university buildings a lot, like I used to do.

My Dutch GP used to compliment me on my sensible shoes, but many English people seem puzzled and amused or even alarmed by it when I wear white shoes. Trainers. Sneakers.

I don’t know the exact background for the strange looks I sometimes get because of my white shoes – something to do with ‘chavs’ ? – but I can’t be the only one who gets them. Those looks. Next time you catch one or dole one out, remember the following, and smile.

A white shoe firm is a top firm in law, management consulting or investment banking. Clifford Chance, as one example, is usually seen as part of the magic circle, but would be called a white shoe law firm much more often if it weren’t English and the description weren’t of American origin.

And next time someone comments on my white shoes? Maybe I will smile, and counter that I work at a white shoe firm.

If the British pay more attention to substance and less to color-coordinating their acccessories, and hire more people on the basis of their capabilities instead of on size of tits and perceived fuckability or the fact that someone is the son or nephew of the Duke of Dipshitz, Britain may soon be in much better shape than it is today and be a better place for everyone.

I usually wore my white sneakers while at work at Clifford Chance. Because Clifford Chance cared more about what I was able to do than about what I was wearing. (Might that be because HR was Dutch?) Yes, I was on a contract. Yes, I quit, but I was overqualified, only there to make some extra money, and they were aware of that. They looked after their legal secretaries pretty well and most of their lawyers were pretty damn good. Some were even better than pretty damn good.

The power of peaceful negotiation

Negotiation is an important part of civil proceedings. Even before you start those proceedings, you must have taken reasonable steps and reached out to the other party without the involvement of a court. When you’re trying to resolve a conflict, slinging mud at the other party and voicing anger are rarely useful, but when you feel wronged, remaining reasonable can be hard.

Negotiation is a skill that most Britons lack, at all levels in society. Even British Prime Ministers regularly behave as senseless raging bulls or adolescent bullies when it comes to negotiating internationally. It makes them look like utter fools. It works only when they are dealing with the likes of George W. Bush, who was not exactly known for his finesse, intelligence and diplomatic skills either.

yay!In 1985, a stranger broke into my home overnight and raped me in my own bed. When he was done, he reached around for something to tie me up with. One thing he grabbed and tugged at was the cable of a lamp. Oh no, I thought, if this guy ties me up, it may take weeks before anyone discovers me! I had just started my Master’s and was living in a high-rise filled with student flats. One of my neighbours was deaf, and the other one didn’t give a toss and was rarely home anyway.

So I negotiated.

I quickly spun a story of how I was in bad mental shape, already seeing a shrink (nope) and how tying me up would be very damaging to me psychologically, that I wouldn’t be able to handle it, that it would break me.

You know what? He listened. He took one of my pullovers and tied that around my head, and not too tightly, so that I wouldn’t be able to see him or wack him on the head with something and knock him out instantly as soon as he’d turned his back. When he was gone, I took the pullover from my head, and dialed the numbers of a friend and of the police. (Of course, I would never have called police if this had happened in the UK.) A women’s self-defence course was part of how I chose to deal with the matter. I also did a great deal of reading, talking, writng and some painting.

Later, I had a downstairs neighbour who blasted me out of bed many nights with loud music. Oh no, I thought every time while the bass shook my bed till 4 or 5 because I had to be in class at 9 in the morning.

One day when I was well-rested, I knocked on his door.

I asked him if he was ever bothered by noise coming from my place. It is usually very hard to tell whether someone in an adjacent home can hear what goes on in your own home or not. No, he said, and then he asked if he himself was ever loud. So I told him. Indeed, he had not been aware of the effect of his music at all.

He paid attention to it for a while and then slowly, the noise built up again. He was on mental disability benefits so he was home all day and all night, didn’t have a place where he needed to be at 9 the following morning. So I bought him headphones. I knocked on his door again, and gave him the headphones. Problem solved.

When I was walking back from the Winn-Dixie supermarket in central Saint Petersburg one day when I was living in Florida, there was a sudden pull and tug and gone was my shoulder bag. Oh no, I thought, my passport is in that bag, and my bank cards, and my driving licence! As a foreigner, I had to carry ID with me at all times.

I negotiated.

a sense of elationFirst I put my shopping bags down, then picked them up again. No way I was going to lose my groceries too. I walked after the thief and kept calling out to him. “I am a foreigner and my passport and driving licence are in that bag. I need those. Please let me keep my passport and my driving licence.” I didn’t give up.

You know what? He listened. He stopped and told me to stay back. He went through my bag and my purse, took the money – peanuts – and dropped the bag with the rest still in it on the ground. Then he took off. I picked up my bag and got to keep everything that mattered to me. It made my day! I was elated!

People asked me what I would have done if he had pulled a gun on me. I had no idea. Duck behind a car? The thought had never crossed my mind. I focused on what was important to me, and went for it, by negotiating.

I do this without thinking. If you believe in astrology, you might say that my zodiac sign explains it. You know what I think? It comes from having had a partly crappy childhood, and also from being Dutch.

When I was a young child, my parents often fought on Sunday. I hated it. I hate senseless fights. I would often buy pastries (“gebakjes”) after church or the day before and hide them in my dad’s walk-in cooler room where he stored his dairy products. I would wait until the fight seemed to be reaching an impasse, and then I’d shuffle to the back of the building where the cooler was, and timidly shuffle back with my pastries, hoping fervently that they would create a breakthrough distraction and end the fight.

When I was a teenager after my mother had passed away, my dad would often go berserk, as if he had a sudden short circuit in his brain. He would for instance threaten to crash the car with my siblings and me in it, and floor the pedal. For some reason, this often happened while we were on a twisty German Autobahn with plenty of bends to lose control in. Let me tell you that that is bloody scary when you’re a youngster and don’t know how to drive a car. No degree of phantasizing about grabbing the wheel gets you out of such a situation.

So I’d negotiate.

I’d talk to my dad like crazy, trying to find the words that would pull him out of his craze and make him slow down the car again. I always succeeded, otherwise I would not have been typing these words here today. I guess that’s how I learned to negotiate. I don’t think in those moments. I act.

(Okay, except that time when my dad tried to set fire to me. Then I froze because there are limits to what a human being can handle. That’s when my two younger sisters acted for me.)

reaching outReal-life situations without an immediate urgency are often very different. Then, it can really help to think. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and focus on a compromise that benefits all sides.

It’s amazing how two parties can be equally convinced that they’ve been wronged and that they’re in the right until they start looking at the situation from other angles and gain some distance.