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Living under a tarp next to Facebook HQ: ‘I don’t want people to see me’

The sprawling Silicon Valley campus has cafes, bike repair services, even dry cleaning. But across the road a homeless community epitomizes the wealth gap

In a patch of scrubland across the road from the Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley, a woman named Celma Aguilar recently walked along some overgrown train tracks. She stopped where a path forked into some vegetation, just a few hundred yardsfrom the tourists taking photos by an enormous image of a Like icon at the campus entrance.

Welcome to the mansion, Aguilar said, gesturing to a rudimentary shelter of tarps hidden in the undergrowth.

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The campsite is one of about 10 that dot the boggy terrain, and are a striking sight alongsidethe brightly painted, low-slung buildings housing the multi-billion-dollar corporation. The contrast epitomizes the Bay Area wealth gap.

Harold Schapelhouman, a fire chief whose department has dealt with conflagrations on the land, said he was struck by the disparities. Their employees are very well taken care of. They have on-site medical facilities, dry cleaning, bicycle repair, they feed them and there are restaurants that are there. Its amazing what Facebook does for its employees. And yet within eyeshot it really isnt that far there are people literally living in the bushes.

Schapelhouman said he was not blaming Facebook, though it is true that the success of technology companies has driven up real estate prices in the area. As a whole, California is one of the lowest-ranking US states for the availability of affordable housing, and has one-fifth of Americas homeless population. Irrespective of the utopianism that imbues Silicon Valley culture, the tech campuses are not immune to these broader social problems.

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An aerial view of the Facebook campus on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. The land that the homeless encampments are on lies across the main road. Photograph: Noah Berger / Reuters/Reuters

Aguilar, 44, said she was aware of the Facebook HQ, though she wasnt quite sure what happened there as it always seemed so quiet. Can I get a job there? So I can get out from here.

The land where the encampments are located belongs largely to the state and private owners, and it takes 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other. Aguilar pointed out a pond, covered with scum, at which she said she sometimes washed. One campsite spills out from a huge clump of marshy greenery. Another is reached via a railway sleeper slung across a strip of water where a number of bike frames are submerged.

Salvadorian by birth, Aguilar said she once worked in nursing homes and at Burger King, and had four children. She said she had been homeless for about three years as a result of a crystal meth addiction, and thought she suffered from mental illness. Can you see how the trees move? she said as she sat on the rusted train tracks. I like to think theyre talking to me.

Friend requests and instant messages presumably zing back and forth on the other side of the street christened Hacker Way, but Aguilar said she had lost her Facebook password. No matter what I do they dont want to give it back to me.

A man named Rafael Barajas Ortiz, living in a lean-to amid mud and trash, said that, like Aguilar, he had no phone. Another resident opened the door of his shelter, which was blocked off by fencing made of woven branches, and said I dont use Facebook, before declining to be interviewed further.

Passing by on his bike, a local named Jesus said he did log on to the site, but he faced a problem familiar to many homeless people: he had nowhere to charge his phone. (He showed the Guardian his profile. The public pictures offered no hint he was on the streets.)

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A homeless encampment near Facebook headquarters. Photograph: Alastair Gee for the Guardian

Although it is not widely known, phone ownership and even social media usage are relatively common among homeless people, even if not those living next to Facebook. One Bay Area survey of around 250 homeless people found that 62% had phones. A study of homeless youth in Los Angeles indicated that more than three-quarters used social media.

Devices and service plans are readily available because the federal government offers subsidized cellular service to low-income Americans. It is known as the Obamaphone program both to its users and its rightwing critics, but in fact it originated as a landline subsidy during the Reagan era. The minimum standards specify 500 minutes per month of talk time or 500 megabytes of 3G data, and consumers can get a combination of them.

They use the phone for exactly the same reasons we use it, said Allan Baez, who launched a program that involved giving hundreds of free, Google-donated phones to homeless people. The cameras are particularly popular. They are individuals, they have kids, they have friends, they have good moments, and you take pictures.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the encampments, though he noted that the companys investments in local affordable housing include an $18.5m commitment announced late last year. Otherwise, the county provides an array of homeless services, and its homeless numbers have dipped a moderate amount, according to a 2015 count.

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The sign welcoming visitors to Facebooks campus. The company recently said it would invest $18.5m in local affordable housing. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Standing amid waving grass near a campsite, Gonzalo Apale, in a filthy jacket and work boots, described social media access as almost a marker of his progress in life. Ill try to get a telephone very soon, Ill use Facebook again, he said with optimism.

Still, he tries to avoid walking on the same side of the road as the Facebook campus because I dont want people to see me like this, he said. Because they are clean and everything.

Towards sunset, Aguilar took a path that spiraled up a small hill to a clearing littered with detritus.

Im going to make my house here, she explained, gesturing at a partially unfurled tent. The Facebook campus was visible through the tops of the bushes. Preferably, she said, it would not be.

The trees will grow and no one will see me.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/31/facebook-campus-homeless-tent-city-menlo-park-california


Mark Zuckerberg ‘reconsiders’ forcing Hawaiians to sell him their land

Facebook CEO makes statement after backlash over quiet title actions to secure parcels belonging to native owners within his $100m seafront property

Mark Zuckerberg has said he is reconsidering whether to seek the forced sale of tracts of land belonging to native Hawaiians in a large estate he bought on the island of Kauai, after facing a wave of criticism.

The Facebook CEO filed a series of lawsuits, known as quiet title actions, against hundreds of Hawaiians who may own small parcels of land within the boundaries of his seafront property on Kauai. The quiet title system is used to establish ownership of land where inheritance has occurred over generations and lacks formal documentation. It can result in owners being forced to sell their land at auction and, in some cases, pay the legal fees of the plaintiff.

Based on feedback from the local community we are reconsidering the quiet title process and discussing how to move forward, Zuckerberg said in a statement, following a backlash from locals who viewed the billionaire as adopting the same legal mechanisms used by former sugar barons to displace Native Hawaiians from their ancestral lands in the 1800s. One law professor from the University of Hawaii said Zuckerbergs actions were the face of neocolonialism.

Zuckerberg added: We want to make sure we are following a process that protects the interests of property owners, respects the traditions of native Hawaiians and preserves the environment.

Hawaii state representative Kaniela Ing said he was heartened by the news. In response to the controversy Ing had introduced a bill that could force real estate buyers into mandating mediation in actions involving Native Hawaiians.

Ings bill would allow a parcels shareholders to band together in a group in mediation against the person seeking to buy the land, in an attempt to give people with rights to the land more bargaining power against wealthy landowners like Zuckerberg. It would also lessen the burden on families facing potentially costly land rights legal battles.

I mahalo Mr Zuckerberg for his words of aloha and willingness to talk, Ing said in a statement on Wednesday. He then urged the social media executive to drop the legal actions, support a local legal organisation and join us at the table to restart a positive dialogue as mutual stewards of land and culture.

Zuckerbergs statement came a few days after he posted on Facebook an explanation of his Hawaii plans, as news of the actions drew headlines and anger.

He said in the post that the estate was made up of several properties and while he worked with majority owners of the tracts of land to reach a fair deal, he had filed the actions to identify all the partial owners. He said the tracts could be split between hundreds of descendants.

For most of these folks they will now receive money for something they never even knew they had. No one will be forced off the land, he wrote.

Forbes reported that Zuckerberg, currently the worlds fifth richest person, paid close to $100m (79m) in 2014 for the 283 hectares (700 acres) on the secluded north shores of Kauai, known as the Garden Island.

The region is popular with tourists, celebrities and millionaires, and has served as the backdrop for films including Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Ing told CBC that the Zuckerberg property was a gorgeous, enormous chunk of land. Theres like a six-foot wall surrounding the property to not allow locals to walk through it. But other than that, its breathtaking, he said.

He added that despite the legal nuances, the larger issue was whether any one person needed 700 acres. It just seems sort of excessive, no matter how much money you make. Especially when youre talking about an island community. Thats going to be very disruptive to your neighbours. The least you can do is go into the community, explain to your neighbours what your intentions are and Mr Zuckerberg did none of that. The first communication that a lot of the folks that own the kuleana parcels received was a letter stating that theyve been sued.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/26/mark-zuckerberg-reconsiders-forcing-hawaiians-to-sell-him-their-land


Facebook plans to invest $20m in affordable housing projects

The tech company, long criticized displacing low-income residents in Silicon Valley, will partner with advocacy groups to amid massive campus expansion

Facebook has agreed to invest $20m in affordable housing initiatives after facing intense criticism for failing to help low-income residents in Silicon Valley where the technology boom has exacerbated displacement and gentrification.

The corporation, which is pushing forward with a massive campus expansion in northern California, announced on Friday a partnership with community organizations aimed at funding affordable housing construction and assisting tenants facing eviction.

Housing activists who have long been critical of Facebook and its role in accelerating income inequality in the region said the investment marked an unprecedented collaboration between Silicon Valley corporations and advocacy groups and that the project could push neighboring tech companies to better address local poverty.

Im hoping this fund will be the thing that starts to move the rest of the region, said Tameeka Bennett, executive director of Youth United for Community Action (Yuca), a non-profit in east Palo Alto that helped negotiate the new agreement.

The housing shortage has reached crisis levels in Silicon Valley, which is also home to Google, Apple and many other wealthy technology firms. Rapid job creation combined with a lack of new housing has created an estimated shortfall of 22,000 homes, with the region building only 26% of the housing needed for low-income people, according to non-profit group Public Advocates.

That means only the wealthy can afford to live near their Silicon Valley jobs, forcing an estimated 70,000 low-income workers to commute more than 50 miles to work.

Facebook, headquartered in Menlo Park, has contributed to the problem in direct and indirect ways. The company sparked backlash after it began offering generous bonuses to employees if they live near campus, which advocates say has hastened gentrification. Local real estate managers have evicted low-income tenants en masse, explicitly marketing units to Facebook employees.

The funding announced this week is not simply a philanthropic donation from Facebook, which is valued at $350bn. The corporation is legally required to fund certain community benefits as part of its ongoing expansion project, and activists have spent months pressuring the company to make substantial investments.

Facebook plans to add 126,000 sq ft to its campus and bring 6,500 new employees to the area, increasing the Menlo Park workforce by 20%. Development laws mandated that the corporation contribute $6.3m to below-market-rate housing.

Still, non-profit leaders said the housing fund could have a significant impact and noted that Facebook executives have relied heavily on the input of local advocates with the kind of intensive collaboration advocates rarely see from corporations.

The community groups that have the expertise really were equal players, said Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, senior staff attorney at Public Advocates, which had raised formal objections to Facebooks expansion proposal.

I hope having one large prominent Silicon Valley company leading the way on this will be a wake-up call for all the other global corporations that the Bay Area is hosting and the need for them to work locally, he added, rather than just thinking of themselves as global corporations that exist online.

In addition to investing $18.5m toward the creation and preservation of affordable housing, the company has offered $500,000 toward legal and rental assistance to tenants threatened with displacement.

A Facebook spokesman told the Guardian that the company doesnt have projections on the number of housing units the partnership could fund, but noted that the $20m is an initial contribution and said the company hopes to attract additional public, private and philanthropic entities to contribute to the fund.

Kyra Brown, Yucas social justice program director, said it was critical that Facebook do a better job diversifying its workforce and hire locally in east Palo Alto, a historically black city. African American employees make up only 3% of the corporations senior leadership in the US.

Silicon Valley is known as this very innovative place when it comes to addressing everyday issues, she said, but my hope is that we also take that same innovation and apply it to social issues.

Brown, who grew up in east Palo Alto, said the announcement was an important first step in the tech sector helping to address inequities in the communities theyve entered.

Im glad that Facebook is thinking about the legacy it wants to leave particularly when it comes to communities of color, she said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/02/facebook-affordable-housing-silicon-valley


‘The end of Trump’: how Facebook deepens millennials’ confirmation bias

Facebook users are more likely to get news that fits political beliefs but younger voters dont necessarily realize how much the echo chamber affects them

HBO host John Oliver achieved the destruction of Donald Trump on 29 February 2016. At least, according to the Daily Beast.

Fansided, a popular social news aggregator, dates Trumps destruction at 1 August while the Daily Good called it for 21 March. Salon found no fewer than 13 glorious times that Oliver had destroyed the real estate tycoon.

Sharp-eyed consumers of the news might note that it is impossible to, as the dictionary says, put an end to the existence of something more than a single time. But for #NeverTrump Facebook users who love any content they see as bringing Trump down a peg, the formulaic headline is indicative of the Facebook media landscape: the most shareable, clickable and likable content on the site aligns strongly with its readerships pre-existing biases, assumptions and political affiliation.

For millennials who have never known an election without Facebook, the political landscape of the social media network has massive implications for the upcoming contest between Hillary Clinton and Trump not least of which because of Facebooks outsized influence on their exposure to political news.

Six out of every 10 millennials (61%) get their political news on Facebook, according to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, making the 1.7 billion-user social behemoth (which includes more than 200 million in the United States) the largest millennial marketplace for news and ideas in the world. But within Facebooks ecosystem exists a warren of walled gardens, intellectual biomes created by users whose interest in interacting with opposing political views and those who are them is nearly nonexistent.

Baby boomers are the most likely to see political content on Facebook that supports their own views, said Amy Mitchell, the director of journalism research at Pew Research Center. Thirty-one percent of baby boomers on Facebook who pay attention to political posts say the posts they see are mostly or always in line with their own views, higher than both Gen Xers and millennials.

But baby boomers are the least likely to get their political news from Facebook unlike millennials.

According to another Pew Research Center survey from 2014, consistent conservatives were twice as likely as the average Facebook user to say that posts about politics on Facebook were mostly or always in line with their own views, and that four in 10 consistent liberals say they have blocked or unfriended someone over political disagreements.

This creates what the New York Times Ross Douthat calls the Samantha Bee Problem, named after the late-night comedian whose unbridled criticism of fellow late-night comedians for not holding Trump accountable for past statements sparked a Samantha Bee Destroys headline-a-thon of its own. The widespread sharing of Bees segment, Douthat hypothesizes, is indicative of political chambers that inured Facebook audiences to conversations solely with those who share their opinions.

Among millennials, especially, Douthat argues, theres a growing constituency for whom rightwing ideas are so alien or triggering, leftwing orthodoxy so pervasive and unquestioned, that supporting a candidate like Hillary Clinton looks like a needless form of compromise.

That confirmation bias the psychological tendency for people to embrace new information as affirming their pre-existing beliefs and to ignore evidence that doesnt is seeing itself play out in new ways in the social ecosystem of Facebook. Unlike Twitter or real life where interaction with those who disagree with you on political matters is an inevitability, Facebook users can block, mute and unfriend any outlet or person that will not further bolster their current worldview.

Even Facebook itself sees the segmentation of users along political lines on its site – and synchronizes it not only with the posts users see, but with the advertisements theyre shown.

Test it out yourself: Go to facebook.com/ads/preferences on your browser and click the Lifestyle and Culture tab under the Interests banner. You see the box titled US Politics? Its followed with a parenthetical notation of your political alignment, from Very Conservative to Very Liberal.

Platforms and traffic-hungry websites have followed the behavioral lead of Facebooks users. News sources largely aggregators of video clips and interviews from other sites that barely exist beyond the sharing economy of Facebook have arisen as major players in the sites political news sphere.

Sites such as US Uncut, Occupy Democrats, Addicting Info, Make America Great and The Other 98% may barely have homepages, but their Facebook pages are rich with millions of followers and sky-high engagement in many cases higher than many mainstream news outlets combined. Occupy Democrats, a far-left page popular with supporters of onetime Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, has 3.8 million likes on its Facebook page. MSNBC, another left-leaning outlet with far wider reach outside of Facebook, has a mere 1.6 million.

Not everyone sees the proliferation of openly ideological outlets that meet the needs of openly ideological friend circles as evidence that millennials are more extreme in their confirmation bias than prior generations.

I dont see sufficient evidence to buy the argument about siloing and confirmation bias, Jeff Jarvis,a professor at the City University of New Yorks graduate school of journalism said. That is a presumption about the platforms because we in media think we do this better. More important, such presumptions fundamentally insult young people. For too long, old media has assumed that young people dont care about the world.

Facebook is, after all, a reflection of its users wants and behavior its not Mark Zuckerbergs fault people seek out like-minded news sources to buttress their political beliefs. Before Facebooks walled gardens came the cable news wars between left-leaning MSNBC and right-leaning Fox News, and before that, local newspapers that catered to the certain wings of a citys population. (Think the Washington Post versus the Washington Times.)

Newspapers, remember, came from the perspective of very few people: one editor, really, Jarvis said. Facebook comes with many perspectives and gives many; as Zuckerberg points out, no two people on Earth see the same Facebook.

The onus, then may be on millennials and all Facebook users to proactively seek out news sources outside of their ideological comfort zone.

Yes, Facebook shows us what our friends like, Jarvis said. But if you have smart friends, chances are they will send you to smart things. Further, arguments online show the existence of opposing views, so I dont buy that young people are unaware of other sides.

Journalisms job is to inform society. If society is ill-informed, it is our failure.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/01/millennials-facebook-politics-bias-social-media


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