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Upon news that Robert Mueller III’s exhaustive special counsel investigation found no evidence of collusion between President Trump and Russia, I attempted to do what many Internet users have done over the past week: share my 2¢. One comment was contributed in response to a Yahoo news story: “Does the media owe Trump an apology?“. Another was submitted in response to the Breitbart headline: “Jeff Zucker: No Regrets on CNN’s Russia Hoax Coverage, ‘We are not investigators’.

What did my comments have in common? They were on topic. They were coherently written. They did not troll anyone. Yet they were deleted within minutes by what I can only assume are anti-SPAM/abuse algorithms.

Unfortunately, for me, this is nothing new. And perhaps some who are reading this — if by some miracle you are! — can relate.*

I have been aware that my voice has been shrinking for some time — long before the term “shadow banning” came into use to describe the practice of limiting Internet users’ exposure to others’ content without suspending the offending creator/contributor’s account. In the late 1990s I published an e-zine — that’s what they were called before the term “blog” was popularized — which was noteworthy enough to make it into an Internet archive known as the Wayback Machine. In fact, this blog, The Social Critic, is an outgrowth of the efforts I began in 1998.

Today, however, there is no evidence on the Wayback Machine that this blog’s predecessor existed.

Approximately 10 years ago, Social Critic posts stopped indexing on Google. I combed through WordPress and Google’s webmaster tools to no avail. I had no idea what happened and I was unsuccessful finding answers. As a result, this blog is but one of millions of obscurities online.

About two years ago, I noticed that my decades-long DISQUS profile contributions had all but been blotted off the face of the Internet: No matter the topic, no matter the website, no matter how thoughtfully-worded the content, it was yanked — often so fast that I came to conclude that I was being nixed not by any human intervention but by a DISQUS algorithm (“bot”). I reached out to DISQUS and was told that for all the comments “Detected as SPAM”, I would have to individually petition each website moderator to approve my comments. When I pointed out that over the past three years my comments have been pulled so fast that no human moderator could have been responsible for their removal, I was told that there would nonetheless be no effort to address how the DISQUS bot operates on my profile. When asked if the length of my comments or the fact that I sometimes edit them for typos could be responsible for the pervasiveness of the problem, DISQUS refused to be specific. Why, I asked, does DISQUS allow users to post an unrestricted number of characters or make use of an “edit comment” option in the first place — if in fact writing more than one paragraph or performing an edit can trip a SPAM bot by which to nullify any and all efforts to participate in a discussion? Again, DISQUS refused to elucidate. As a result, I am left with years worth of posts — including early contributions that had accrued numerous “up-votes” by readers — that are no longer visible because they have been slapped with a false SPAM designation. (more…)

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American Competitiveness: The New Untouchables or The New Half Truth?

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

— Henry David Thoreau

In “The New Untouchables “, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argues that in this downwardly mobile economy there is no room for average. Extraordinary is what it takes to survive and thrive in the modern workplace.

I get that.

Yet for all my appreciation for education — I hold two degrees so I do, in fact, lean in favor of Friedman’s premise that education is key to American competitiveness — his education-as-a-panacea argument oversteps its reach.

Most strikingly, Friedman’s description of a successful “untouchable” American worker isn’t a portrait of educational endowment at all. Friedman’s favorite descriptors, instead, refer to personality attributes: entrepreneur (risk taker), creative (visionary), analytical (critical thinker), and persuasive (charismatic). The obvious problem with Friedman’s pin-the-tail-on-the-wrong-donkey premise is that temperament is inborn — teachers, let alone parents, cannot instill personality characteristics that are not there to begin with.

Friedman’s eagerness to finger the usual suspects — schools — also ignores six reasons why Americans are at a competitive disadvantage in the global era. Here we examine those realities, and the future these changing times have in store.

First, there are more of us occupying this country — and this planet at large — than ever before. At some point, the mathematics of population growth have to matter. The sheer number of people in today’s workforce suggests more and more people are competing for the same jobs even as we adopt more and more technology to displace human hands. That’s not a sign of a lack of education; it’s a sign that business owners comprehend that productivity gadgets and gizmos don’t require breaks, a salary or workers’ compensation.

It comes down to the numbers.

Second, I would argue the inverse in response to Friedman’s suggestion that there just isn’t enough talent to be had here in the States. Over the past 50-some years there are more colleges turning out more graduates on an annual basis than employers of the past had access to. Many foreign nationals, in fact, come to the US for higher education opportunities. On the flip side, there are only so many engineers, M.B.A.s, lawyers, scientists and the like universities can churn out before higher-end fields become saturated in much the same way low-end jobs are chalk full of contenders.

It’s no longer merely a question of whether there are clear winners and losers on the academic front.

Job scarcity is a threat, in part, because of the decades-long trend of mergers, acquisitions and a globalized labor pool. Consider: There are generally fewer than a dozen heavyweights in a given industry — everything from mainstream media to appliance manufacturing. This trend does not bode well for domestic job expansion. And if jobs aren’t available to begin with, it is tough to gain a competitive advantage even with above-average potential. So what we are seeing, in this author’s opinion, is an over-supply of talent.

But that doesn’t mean the proponents of Friedman’s dire self-fulfilling prophecy won’t get their wish.

(more…)

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