The Decline of Facebook

I have read and listened to Joseph Bernstein talk about Facebook being a propaganda tool. There is a lot of defining what misinformation is, and what disinformation does, but it’s mostly political. In my opinion, that makes it propaganda. My take away from Bernstein is that the existential threat of Facebook is also propaganda, from Facebook.

One very interesting fact about the Facebook whistleblower disclosures to the SEC, and one that got almost no press attention, is that she claims, based on internal Facebook research, that they were badly misleading investors in the reach and efficacy of their ads. And to me, the most damaging thing you could say about Facebook is that this kind of industrial information machine doesn’t actually work.

Knowing that some of Facebook’s power is a lie is somewhat reassuring. It’s not reassuring enough for me to go back or anything, but it does help me to not look down on the people that still use it.

I am also a big fan of Cory Doctorow’s writing. A few years ago, he blasted Facebook for basically ruining western civilization in order to make money off of advertising. There’s way more to it than that, but basically the huge troves of information that Facebook gathers in the interest of targeted advertising has cause all kinds of negative externalities. Much in the way that hydrocarbons have destroyed the environment for the purposes of selling cheap plastic shit.

Facebook isn’t a mind-control ray. It’s a tool for finding people who possess uncommon, hard-to-locate traits, whether that’s “person thinking of buying a new refrigerator,” “person with the same rare disease as you,” or “person who might participate in a genocidal pogrom,” and then pitching them on a nice side-by-side or some tiki torches, while showing them social proof of the desirability of their course of action, in the form of other people (or bots) that are doing the same thing, so they feel like they’re part of a crowd.

I have done more than my fair share of my own complaining about Facebook. It would appear that Facebook is not the all-powerful propaganda machine that it has been made out to be, and if its stock price is any indication, Facebook may very well be on the decline.

Facebook now has to somehow retain users who are fed up to the eyeballs with its never-ending failures and scandals, while funding a pivot to VR, while fending off overlapping salvoes of global regulatory challenges to its business model, while paying a massive wage premium to attract and retain the workers that it needs to make any of this happen. All that, amid an exodus of its most valuable users and a frontal regulatory assault on its ability to extract revenues from those users’ online activities.

Modernizing the smuggling operation

The winter holidays are a depressing time for me, so the last month or so of the year I like to really throw myself into a game or project. After being ridiculed by one of my DnD bros about how inefficient and antiquated my piracy set up is, I decided to modernize by adding applications to automate the downloading and organizing of my stolen goods.

My old fashioned manual method was to search trackers like YTS, EZTV, or The Pirate Bay and then add the magnet links to a headless Transmission server that downloads the files to an NFS share on my file server. Once the download is complete, I would copy the files to their final destination, which is a Samba share on the file server. I don’t download directly to the Samba share because BitTorrent is rough on hard drives. My file server has several disks, some of them are nice (expensive) WD Red or Seagate Ironwolf disks, and some are cheap no-name drives. I use the cheap drives for BT and other forms of short term storage, and the nicer drives for long term storage.

For media playback, I used a home theater PC that would access the shared folder, and then play the files in VLC media player. This was the state of the art in 2003, but the game has gotten more fierce.

My new piracy stack now consists of Radarr, Sonarr, Lidarr, and Jackett. These are dedicated web apps for locating (Jackett), downloading (Transmission) and organizing movies (Radarr), Tv (Sonarr), and music (Lidarr). Once the media is downloaded, sorted, and properly renamed, it will be streamed to various devices using Plex.

Rather than run a different VM or Linux container for each app, a friend recommended that I use Docker. Docker is a way of packaging applications up into “containers.” It has taken me a good while to get my mind around what the difference is between a Linux container and a Docker container. I don’t have a good answer, but I do have a hot take: if you want an application/appliance that you can roll into a file and then deploy to different hosts, you can ask one of two people do do it for you: a system administrator or a developer. If you ask a system administrator to do it, and you will end up with LXC, where the Linux config is part of the package, and that package behaves like a whole server with RAM, and IP address, and something to SSH into. If you ask a developer to do it, you just get the app, a weird abstraction of storage and networking, and never having to deal with Unix file permissions. And that’s how you get Docker.

Because I am a hardware/operating system dude that dabbles in networking, LXC makes perfect sense to me. If you have a virtualization platform, like an emulator or a hypervisor, and you run a lot of similar systems on it, why not just run one Linux kernel and let the other “machines” use that? You get separate, resource efficient operating systems that have separate IP’s, memory allocation, and even storage.

The craziest thing about Docker is that if you start a plain container, like Debian, it will pull the image, configure it, start it up, and then immediately shut it down. And this is the expected behavior.

I like that Docker can pop up an application very quickly with almost no configuration on my part. Docker storage and networking feels weird to me, like a bunch of things stapled on after delivering the finished product. From a networking standpoint there is an internal IP scheme with randomly generated IPs for the containers that reminds me of a home network set up on a consumer grade router. If you want the container to have access to the “outer” network, you have to map ports to it. Storage is abstracted into volumes, with each container having a dedicated volume with a randomly generated name. You don’t mount NFS on each container/volume, instead you mount it on the host and point the container to the host’s mountpoint. It’s kind of like NFS, but internal to Docker using that weird internal network. Also, in typical developer fashion, there is very little regard for memory management. The VM that I am running docker on has 16gb of RAM, and its utilization is maxed out 24/7. Maybe Docker doesn’t actually use that RAM constantly, it just reserves it and manages it internally? It’s been chewing through my media collection for a couple of months now, and slowly but surely new things are showing up in Plex. Weird as the stack is, it’s still pretty rad.

All the randomly generated shit makes me feel like I don’t have control. I can probably dig a little deeper into the technology and figure out some manual configuration that would let me micromanage all those details, thereby defeating the whole entire purpose of Docker. Instead, I will just let it do its thing and accept that DevOps is a weird blend of software development and system administration.