Legions Of The Fake Followers

I don’t post on Twitter, and “follow” only Richard’s Twitter feed and perhaps one or two more.  Twitter is always asking me to follow more people and offering up suggestions about who I might find interesting, but I always delete the suggestions.  I don’t have time to “follow” the tweeted musings of dozens of people, and figure I’d spend more time deleting notices of their tweets than actually reading them.

So the statistics that purport to show that tens or hundreds of thousands of people follow the Twitter feed of random celebrities or unknown people whose shtick is simply to react to other social media posts, for example, or that Facebook posts have received thousands of “likes,” astonish me.  I shake my head and wonder:  How can so many people find time in their days to look at the detritus of social media?

wasted-resources-ecommerce-fake-socialThe answer is:  maybe they can’t, and actually don’t.  And maybe the impressive statistics that supposedly show that they do are filled with fake followers, and fake likes, from fake people.

The New York Times ran an interesting article over the weekend called “The Follower Factory” about how entrepreneurs, governments, and criminals have created entire legions of fakery.  Some companies have created thousands of fake, automated accounts and sell them to celebrities and businesses that crave followers and retweets to appear more popular on-line.  Facebook recently disclosed that 60 million fake accounts have populated its site, distributing likes and affecting “trend lines” and influencing advertising content.  Twitter and other social media platforms also are affected by fake accounts.  And when part of the power of social media platforms comes from their claims to have millions of people participating in their platforms, how aggressive and effective are the social media sites themselves going to be in policing the fakery?

The Times story quotes politicians who suggest that perhaps the answer to this is to come up with some kind of government regulatory scheme.  To be sure, the government should become involved if the fake accounts cross the line into identity theft.  But short of that, why should the government intervene if some pathetic former pro athlete wants to buy fake followers to puff up his social media profile?  And if the gullible are going to agree with a tweet because the tweeter has lots of fake followers, rather than because of the substance of the opinion expressed, or advertisers are going to accept fake statistics rather than insist on data that can be verified as reflecting the actions of real people, it seems like that is their own problem.  The government has bigger, more important, more concrete things to worry about.

We’d all be better off if people stopped paying attention to followers, and trend lines, and likes, and started to actually think things through themselves.

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When Federal Regulation Goes Too Far

Government regulation is the price we pay for living in a civilized society.  But when ill-advised government regulations threaten to limit the selection of craft beers available to the brew lovers among us, it’s time for the feds to dial back and understand their proper role.

In this case, the government actor is the Food and Drug Administration.  It’s the entity that makes sure that Americans don’t consume diseased foods or drugs that have harmful side effects.  No one disputes the need for such regulations, of course.  But the FDA has also promulgated a regulation that would require restaurant chains to offer full nutritional information for all of the beers they have on tap.  In order to comply with the regulations, which go into effect next year, brewers will need to perform expensive tests that allow them to specify the number of calories in their beer, the protein content, and so on.

usa-whitehouse-beerThe tests are a cost that can easily be borne by the major breweries that crank out millions of bottles of beer a year — but not so much for the small, local craft breweries that prepare tantalizing artisanal offerings in small batches that typically vary from season to season.  Think of that rich Winter Warmer you enjoyed when the cold snap hit last weekend, or the tart Summer Shandy you found so refreshing on a hot July afternoon.  The cost of the tests might cause the craft breweries to dial back on the number of their interesting offerings, which would be a shame for us, and them — and for the people employed in the craft beer industry, which has been booming in Ohio and elsewhere.

I’m all for labeling consumables where people might logically want to look at the label to determine calorie count, cholesterol levels, carbohydrates, sodium content, or whatever other ingredient might be an area of dietary focus.  And if brewers want to market their suds based on one of these areas — like with low-carb beer — then by all means let’s make sure those statements are accurate.

But craft beer is not one of those consumables where ingredient labels are useful.  No true beer-lover makes a decision on whether to order a particular craft beer based on its protein content or calorie level.  They just want to know what kind of beer it is (“hmm, that Belgian-style ale sounds good”) and its alcoholic content, which is typically disclosed already at any decent craft beer establishment.

Inspect the breweries?  Sure.  Make certain that they are clean and aren’t producing a product that might make people sick?  Absolutely!  But don’t implement pointless regulations that wouldn’t make a difference to craft beer consumers, and in the process cut down on our choices.

Doesn’t anyone in the FDA drink beer?  If not, perhaps they should consult with President Obama.  He seems to like a cold one now and then.

Proposing A “Secretary Of Business” Is The Last Straw

President Obama wants to be seen as friendly to business.  He’s recently touted the idea of creating a “Secretary of Business” — a new, Cabinet-level position that would “consolidate” different federal agencies that deal with business and trade issues and create “one-stop shopping” for regulatory oversight.

This one proposal, I think, reflects President Obama’s deeply held view of the world — and why I must conclude, regrettably, that he will never truly grapple with our soaring budget deficits and federal debt, which I believe are the two most crucial problems facing our country.

In the President’s view, if business is struggling, we need to create a new government position to address the problem and shuffle existing agencies in a bureaucratic reorganization to try to “streamline” regulations.  His reflexive solution to all issues is new government positions, new government agencies, and new government initiatives.  If he needs to burnish his credentials with the business world, he thinks the proper response to to create a new government regime that shows that he cares.

President Obama has been our President for four years.  He’s seen our economy flounder, witnessed the loss of huge numbers of jobs and the departure of millions of disappointed job-seekers from the job market, watched our deficit and debt skyrocket, and heard complaints about excessive regulatory burdens, crony capitalism, and taxes stifling business investment and growth.  The fact that he nevertheless believes that he would aid business by creating a “Secretary of Business” who would help businessmen navigate through the thicket of federal regulations, and assist companies as they seek federal loans and grants and other assistance, speaks volumes about his fundamental mindset.  He’s not going to change if he’s elected to a second term.

If, like me, you believe that we need to eliminate Cabinet-level positions and federal agencies, not create them, if you believe that we need to reduce federal regulations, not hire new federal employees to assist overwhelmed businessmen in dealing with those regulations, if you believe that we need to cut spending, not maximize opportunities for people to get more federal loans and aid, how can you vote to re-elect President Obama?

Death To The Bake Sale!

When I was in school, the bake sale was a fundraising staple.  Whether it was for band uniforms, field trips, or a new suit for the school mascot, kids and parents turned on their ovens, got out their mixing bowls, and cooked the goodies that brought in the nickels, dimes, and quarters of which fund drives were made.

Now bake sales are becoming an endangered species.  In the Montgomery County, Maryland school district, bake sales are barred.  It’s just part of a growing national trend.  Why?  Because we’ve got lots of fat kids in school these days, and school administrators and food services kingpins think cupcakes, cookies, cakes, and pies are unhealthy.  As a result, kids can’t sell “non-nutritious” food in schools anymore.  Of course, as the article points out, what’s nutritious, anyway?  Pop-Tarts, which are allowed, or home-baked carrot cake, which isn’t?

Even more ridiculous, the federal government will soon weigh in on this topic (pun intended).  Uncle Sam will be publishing its “national school nutrition standards for food sold outside cafeterias.”  Just what we need!  More federal employees getting taxpayer-funded salaries to advise us about things that really should be left to parents.  No doubt there are other federal employees to police compliance, and still other federal employees to administer grant programs to award money to school districts for programs to encourage healthy eating, and state and local employees who will write grant proposals and administer the federally funded efforts — all to combat the lure of the humble brownie and kids who can’t say no.

C’mon, people!  Have we really reached the point where our schools are outlawing bake sales, and the federal government is giving us advice on what our kids should be eating?  Is there any facet of our daily lives that is safe from the heavy hand of taxpayer-funded government regulators?

The Tanning Test

When should people intervene to stop the potentially destructive behavior of another?  A New Jersey situation raises that delicate question — on two levels.

The story involves a mother, Patricia Krentcil, who was arrested and charged with second-degree child endangerment.  Police claim that she took her fair-skinned, red-haired five-year-old daughter to a tanning parlor, exposed her to a tanning bed, and gave the girl a sunburn as a result.  Krentcil denies the charge and says the child got the sunburn playing outside on a warm day.  She says she brings her daughter with her to the tanning parlor, but the girl waits nearby while only Krentcil gets into the tanning bed.  She suspects that a teacher overheard her five-year-old say that she went to the tanning parlor and reached the wrong conclusion.

In my view, it’s hard to justify the state arresting and charging a mother with child endangerment under such circumstances, which apparently involves just one incident, no pattern of behavior, and a condition — a child’s sunburn — that has an entirely plausible, innocent explanation.

But look at the picture of Ms. Krentcil.  She admits to excessive tanning, and judging from the grotesque, leathery appearance of her skin, perhaps she even has an addiction to it.  How can the tanning parlor, to say nothing of her husband and her family, continue to allow her to expose herself to UV rays under such circumstances?  Shouldn’t tanning parlor attendants, like bartenders, have an obligation to cut people off when they’ve had enough?

Businesses often complain about “unnecessary” government regulations, but businesses can be as responsible for regulatory overload as overzealous bureaucrats.  If New Jersey tanning parlors are fine with taking money from misguided folks and then allowing them to tan, tan, tan until they look like an old shoe at the back of the closet, the tanning parlors shouldn’t be heard to complain when the state decides it needs to step in.

Hands Off Our Coke! (And Pepsi)

California is at it again.  It has determined that because the caramel coloring used in Coke and Pepsi includes a substance that a study has found causes cancer in mice, the soft drinks need to include a cancer warning label.  Not surprisingly, Coke and Pepsi have decided instead to change their recipes — and because it would be more costly to just change the recipe for soda sold in California, the recipes will be changed for all Coke and Pepsi products sold in the U.S.

What’s that, you say?  You haven’t noticed that the soft drink-guzzling Americans you see on the street, who have been swilling Coke and Pepsi on a daily basis for decades, have turned into tumorous monstrosities?  That’s because the study on which California’s determination is based deals with tumors in mice, not people.  What’s more, the Food and Drug Administration states that a human would need to drink more than a thousand cans of Coke and Pepsi a day to equal the dose administered to the mice in the study. Even the most slothful, couch-bound, Coke-addicted video game geek couldn’t approach such levels.

This latest action by California is another example of our regulatory state run amok. Studies, no doubt funded in part by tax dollars, test substances on rodents at ludicrous exposure levels and find increased incidence of cancer, which is not surprising because gross overexposure to just about anything — including water — can be harmful.  Then, “consumer advocacy groups” use the study results to start the drumbeat to ban the substance, advancing the dubious argument that because absurd exposure levels are associated with increased cancer incidence in mice, any exposure at any level increases the risk of cancer in humans.  Then, nanny states like California issue edicts like the one directed to Coke and Pepsi and manufacturers have to change what they are doing, thereby increasing costs and messing with products that Americans have used for years without any problem.

At some point, I hope, people will wake up to the sham nature of such “public health” findings and demand that states like California reserve their intrusive regulations for those rare cases that raise real public health issues — ones that don’t assume consumers quaff 1,000 cans of Coke a day.  Until then, hands off our Coke!

Protecting Helpless Citizens From The Scourge Of Porch Couches

Breaking news:  the Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council has finally — finally! — acted to ban porch couches.

Thank God!  Resolute action on this crucial issue is long overdue.  For years, Americans in countless college towns have had to live with the threat of beer-soaked couches serving as the breeding grounds for new forms of bacteria and potential pestilence, of diligent students being overcome by noxious fumes emanating from the mildewed orange artificial fibers on exposed and threadbare sofa armrests, and of the traffic hazards posed by chunks of styrofoam pulled from the burst sides of cheap cushions rolling through the city like sagebrush tumbling through the dusty streets of Laredo.  Now we can only hope that local government officials in college towns will turn to other weighty matters, like cracking down on the appearance of troubling garden gnomes and the sale of cheap foreign-made Che Guevara t-shirts that shrink five sizes after just one washing.

Of course, you would expect that far-sighted public servants in a town like Ann Arbor would take the lead on the pressing topic of outdoor davenport regulation.  The only weird thing is that one of the big safety concerns with college porch couches is that excited students might set the furniture ablaze after a big home team sports win.  Why would Ann Arbor council members have any concerns on that score?