Tag Archives: Facebook

Should journalists start checking ID?

The Agence France-Presse news agency has banned its journalists from using Wikipedia and Facebook as sources in news stories. This comes after it was caught with its pants down quoting liberally from a fake Facebook profile setup in the name of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

On one hand, many non-journalists might argue that it’s obvious such user-generated sites should not be considered authoritative.

But this story exposes one of journalism’s Achilles heels: In general, we take people at their word that they are who they say they are. Unless there is something suspicious that would lead us to believe otherwise (like someone giving their name as Hugh Jass), we ask people for their names and we trust that they’re not fooling us.

Is this wrong? No matter how good we get at our jobs, journalists will always be vulnerable to pranksters and others who intentionally try to mislead us. (Insert Iraq war comparison here.)

Should we just accept that as an occupational hazard, or should we start checking ID whenever we want to quote someone by name?

Blogging for a better tomorrow

Today’s paper features an article by yours truly about Ryan Costello Jr., a playwright who’s using blogging (specifically, Facebook’s excuse for blogging) to focus his energies on fixing those little things about himself that he wants to improve.

Though he admits it’s not for everyone, it seems to have worked well for him. He’s healthier, stronger (as you can tell from the photo, he has the frame of a football player, so this is all relative) and he feels better about himself.

The website has a posted excerpt from his blog so you can see how he does it. There’s also a link to the Facebook group he setup for self-help blogging.

Who knew peer pressure could be used for good things too?

UPDATE: Ryan points out one of the many things that could have used more expansion in the article, the source of the idea:

The article says I got the idea from someone’s MySpace blog. This wasn’t just a random blog I happened upon. That someone is David T. Oliveri McGovern. He started a blog called 40 in 40, where he tried to improve 40 things in his life over a 40 day period. He seemed pessimistic at the end, but within a year of making such a run at self-improvement, he launched the Man Of The House (MOTH) virtual mentorship charity. http://www.mothboys.org/ Since I started my Obligations blog, I’ve produced my third play, my first variety show, and executive produced my first short film. Just making an effort to be better has made the two of us more productive and improved our lives.

Bilingualism isn’t a threat to Quebec

Chris DeWolf emailed me about this blog post on the two solitudes from Voir’s François Parenteau. In it, he argues that anglos are zombies (then he argues that we’re not zombies) and that we’re coming to get francophones so we can enslave them, or other such nonsense:

Et c’est vrai aussi que, d’un point de vue strictement francophone, les anglophones sont des morts-vivants. Ils sont vivants, en ce sens qu’ils marchent, travaillent, mangent, dorment, votent et font des enfants. Mais comme ils font tout ça en anglais, ils sont morts au regard de la communauté francophone. Ils ne créeront jamais rien en français. Ils ne consommeront aucun produit culturel en français. Ils ne retireront rien et n’amèneront rien à la sphère culturelle francophone. Ils la “compétitionnent” même avec la leur propre, indépendante, nourrie à même la culture majoritaire de ce zombie-land qu’est l’Amérique du Nord. Et pire encore, on le sait, ils transforment automatiquement en zombie les francophones avec qui ils entrent en contact. Il n’y a qu’à voir les communautés francophones hors-Québec pour s’en rendre compte.

My problem isn’t that he’s paranoid, or that he spews vitriolic hatred and xenophobia, painting hundreds of millions of people with one gigantic brush. My problem is how familiar this kind of language is, leading people to believe that such opinions are valid.

I wonder if I should even point out that the entire premise for the post is wrong. He says census data shows that French is the mother tongue of less than 50% of Montrealers (which is true), and that this is because of an increase in the number of English speakers. A quick look at the census data shows that almost all the change in percentages comes because of an increase in immigration and the number of allophones (who speak neither language at home). What’s more, a majority of these immigrants to Quebec are choosing French over English for the first time.

Of course, facts are irrelevant. What matters is what’s in his gut. And the irrational fear is there. Just like Americans think they’re going to get swarmed by illegal Mexican immigrants and have to speak Spanish, people like Parenteau think there’s an organized anglo conspiracy to rid Quebec of the French language, and that the percentage of francophones, now around 80% province-wide, will drop to zero.

I’m not suggesting that being surrounded by a population 50 times your size doesn’t put a melting pot pressure. It does, though nowhere near as big as alarmists make it out to be. And the shrinking population of francophones outside Quebec should be of concern as well to anyone who wants this country to promote bilingualism.

But it’s not equivalent to South African apartheid, as one commenter (who wants everyone to know he has a bachelor’s degree) suggested.

Facebook and YouTube have to change

Parenteau points to the English-only Facebook as an example of the assimilation of francophones into anglophonia. I think it’s annoying that Facebook is only now considering creating versions of itself in other languages. YouTube, which launched an English-only Canadian site despite already having translated versions, is even moreso.

But the blame for this should rest on Facebook and YouTube, not anglophones in general. And the suggestion that francophones should boycott these sites (yeah, good luck with that) is exactly how it should be dealt with.

Blaming anglos doesn’t solve anything

Even if we ignore all of that, the fact remains that Parenteau and company don’t put forward any serious solutions for the problem of “zombies” eating their brains. Some suggest sovereignty, which wouldn’t stop Quebecers from using Facebook, nor would it make French more common elsewhere in Canada. Restrictive legislation like Bill 101 just makes companies look for loopholes, which is why Momma’s Pizza House is now Maison de Pizza Maman but Burger King is still Burger King. Boycotts and popular campaigns don’t work.

And most importantly, blaming all us anglos for the problem and calling us names won’t do a thing for the cause. It’s not going to make us all run away to Toronto or start speaking French. It’s just going to get us riled up and start writing blog posts.

But I’m not going to stoop to François Parenteau’s level. I’m not going to pretend like he represents the majority of francophones. I know better than to suggest that 80% of Quebec’s population are ignorant xenophobes who want to rid the world of everyone who isn’t like them.

Why aren’t we happy with bilingualism?

Montreal is the most bilingual city in North America. It’s a place where it’s not uncommon to find people switching languages in mid-sentence. But rather than embrace that, the two solitudes are at each other’s throats. Yes, that means we have some unilingual anglophones, but they represent less than 5% of the population. Is this really the end of the world? The alien invasion? The apocalypse?

We should be celebrating the fact that we can speak two languages here. We should be promoting it as an economic strength. Instead, we have people like François Parenteau who believe refusing to speak another language makes him a better person.

Fagstein is This is news?

In case you hadn’t heard, Facebook has decided to drop the mandatory “is” from status updates, so people can say things like “Steve wants more ice cream.”

It’s a very minor thing, and an annoyance for many Facebook users, but hardly important news right?

Well, so far the mainstream media hasn’t been pushing it too much, but it’s still being treated as if we should have journalists writing about it. The Telegraph has a story, as does Wired. Some blogs are mocking the newsworthiness of the decision.

The Gazette, meanwhile, got quite a few negative comments when it posted a story as a leading news headline yesterday, questioning their choice of coverage.

Remember: Just because it’s Facebook doesn’t mean it’s news.

Of course, I’ll fully retract these comments if the local media covers design changes in my blog.

TWIM: Facebook Beacon – threat or menace?

This week’s bluffer’s guide, courtesy of yours truly, is about Facebook Beacon, the outside-website-integration idea that provoked a lot of ruckus among techies because it wasn’t as clearly opt-in as it should have been. That, in turn, prompted a petition from MoveOn.org, media coverage, “block beacon” instruction sites and, eventually, a backtrack and apology from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Some privacy advocates are still concerned that Facebook is receiving the information even if it’s not publicizing it anymore without explicit permission.

Molson flub was about marketing, not Facebook

Molson, the U.S.-owned company that wants to make us feel Canadian, has pulled the plug on a Facebook campaign that encourages college students to submit photos of them drinking the company’s beer.

Because it uses the bloody F-word, this story is getting all sorts of attention from the blogosphere. Thanks to a Bloomberg wire story, it’s getting attention in international media as well.

Molson, for their part, blames this whole new social media thing and how unpredictable it is because it’s so new and stuff.

Oh please. Encouraging college kids to take photos of themselves partying and drinking is obviously going to lead to excessive drinking. For that matter, everything beer companies do encourages the party atmosphere of excessive drinking (not that college kids need much encouragement in that area). To claim that this was some sort of shock is a lame face-saver that all these new media bloggers are eating up because they want to turn this into something more important than it is.

Contests gone embarrassingly wrong is nothing new. (Whether this actually went wrong or not is a matter of judgment — I think they knew exactly what they were doing, and it was the media coverage that caught them flat-footed.) Either way, there’s nothing about this situation could not have happened if it didn’t involve Facebook.

But don’t let that stop the media and blogging firestorm that is ensuing, followed by analysis piece after analysis piece about the dangers of advertising in a medium you have no control over.

Insert witty Facebook phone pun here

There’s apparently a race going on to see what group is going to produce the first VoIP application for Facebook. (It’s surprising one hasn’t gained popularity already.) Apparently a bunch of companies have either just launched ones or are working on them: WalkieTalkie/Tag, Jangl. Others are in development.

One of the recent additions to this list is being developed by Montreal-based BabyTel. Called simply Telephone, it works as a downloadable Java application that uses Facebook as a calling directory.

I was recently asked to visit their offices and give my thoughts on their new application. The back-end was OK (it was based on pre-existing VoIP software), but the front-end could be generously described as pre-alpha. I gave my two cents on the Facebook application page as well as the application itself, both of which seemed to have improved from my input.

Now it looks like they’re taking it to beta, producing a “viral video” with Bitchin Kitchen‘s Nadia G. (I wouldn’t really call it “viral” since there’s nothing but a bit of excess enthusiasm that would cause people to want to share it.)

I’m not one for VoIP in the first place, so it really doesn’t matter what I think, but from a user interface standpoint, my biggest issue with the software was that it’s a downloadable program instead of a web app. They’ve tried to make it as painless as possible, but I still have this .jnlp file on my desktop. Getting people to accept the “do you want to download this executable file” dialog is a pretty big step.

Whether or not it’ll be a dealbreaker for users remains to be seen.

Facebook does not fear Infoman

Yves Williams has a YouTube video of Infoman Jean-René Dufort saying we need to destroy Facebook. As if it somehow furthers that point, he created a profile for wanted murderer Sylvain Vincent and got Justin Trudeau to add him as a friend.

I guess we shouldn’t take Mr. Dufort too seriously, since his Facebook profile has almost 100 “friends” as well.

UPDATE (Sept. 26): Jean-René Dufort… Dominic Arpin… seduction… leather…  

Water Fight Part 2: Sunday at 1

Back by popular demand, the second edition of Montreal’s Largest Water Fight is tomorrow (Sunday) at 1 p.m. at Angrignon Park (by the lake just outside the metro station).

Facebook lists 150 confirmed guests, which probably means it’ll get about 75 or so. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be cooler and dryer than today, but still warm and humid.

If you didn’t make it to the last one, check out the pictures on Flickr or Facebook to see what’s in store.

Me at Montreal’s Largest Water Fight

If I can look this sexy after being bombarded by water, chances are you can look better.

A few tips from someone who didn’t think before the first one:

  1. Bring a small watertight sandwich bag to put your wallet and cellphone in so they don’t get soaked. Keep anything you don’t really need at home.
  2. Consider bringing a spare pair of shoes (or do it in sandals), as well as dry clothes in a watertight plastic bag unless you want to go home soaking (which isn’t necessarily a bad idea)
  3. Test your weapons before heading down
  4. Remember that this is dirty lake water being shot at you, not clean tap water. Act accordingly, and don’t drink it.
  5. If you’re buying a gun last-minute, Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart (both are a short bus trip away from the Angrignon Metro on the 106) have cheap Chinese Super-Soaker knockoffs for about $20.

Everything you need to know about the Montreal transit strike

UPDATED: Friday at 6:50pm – It’s over. STM and union negotiators have come to an agreement in principle. Service is resuming slowly. See the latest developments.

Just in case you were curious, no, there wasn’t a last-minute agreement between the STM (Société de Transport de Montréal) and its maintenance workers (the Syndicat du transport de Montréal). So the strike is on, and everyone’s going to need to spend more time planning how to get around town.

I’ll dispense with telling you the blindingly obvious (bike, walk, carpool, taxi) and get down to some things people have been confused about with the coming strike.

The basics

  • The people on strike are maintenance workers, not bus drivers and metro ticket-takers. They belong to a different union, so don’t blame them for the disruption.
  • Service is still being provided during rush hours and late at night, on a schedule established by the essential services council.
  • Nobody knows how long the strike will last (basically it’s until one side cracks from the pressure), but the last strike was 8 days long if you need a ballpark figure. The union insists it could be over “in minutes” while the STM and city warn it could be a long strike.
  • The government has the power to impose a settlement through legislation, but is reluctant to do so. Nevertheless, the labour minister has given both sides a 48-hour deadline as of Wednesday to settle the conflict.

The timing

Buses and metros will work on the following schedule:

  • Weekdays: 6:00-9:00, 15:30-18:30, 23:00-01:00
  • Weekends: 6:00-9:00, 14:00-17:00, 23:00-01:00

At the start of these periods, buses will start up mid-route wherever they would normally be at that time. And any bus that starts will finish, even if it reaches its terminus after the service period is over. (Note: This works out for most routes, however some longer ones like the 211 may lose a departure or two at the end due to logistical problems — the last departure of the morning 211 Westbound is at 8:39am)

Metro trains will also start mid-route at various points in the network. Stations open 15 minutes before the first train, and schedules are posted at metro entrances.

The metro end-times are somewhat complex:

  • Green (1) and Orange (2) lines: Last trains start at the two terminuses at the end of the morning service period (9:00am), passing through Berri-UQAM at 9:25. For the afternoon and evening periods, the last trains will depart the terminuses 20 minutes before the end of the service period (6:10/4:40pm, 12:40am), all passing through Berri-UQAM at the last minute of the period.
  • Yellow (4) starts from both terminuses at the end of the service period
  • Blue (5) starts from both terminuses at the end of the morning and afternoon service periods. The last trains of each day leave at 12:15am as they normally do.

The STM has replaced its normal bus and metro scheduling pages with a hacked-together system that notes which bus stops are cancelled and when metros will run through a particular station. In case you’re unclear about a particular departure, check the STM’s website and it will give you a definitive answer.

All this being said, this strike is still nothing short of chaos for STM management. So expect the network in general to be less reliable than normal and give yourself a margin for error.

Services unaffected

  • AMT commuter trains are not run by the STM, so they will be running on a normal schedule.
    • Those of you who have not taken commuter trains before should know that regular bus pases are not accepted on board. Individual tickets are $3.75 to $5.25 on the island, one-way. Check the link to confirm rates and zones.
    • In a hilarious twist of irony, an unrelated CP Rail labour conflict may cause delays on the Blainville, Dorion and Delson train lines. The Deux-Montagnes line is unaffected (it’s run by CN).
    • Just in case you thought it couldn’t get worse, the AMT is coincidentally experiencing technical problems with its diesel-powered trains the likes of which it hasn’t seen in decades.
  • Transit service in Laval (STL) and the south shore (RTL) as well as other off-island-run services are unaffected. In fact, the STL will be increasing service on lines that come onto the island to compensate for the STM strike, including running their night-time shuttle between Montmorency and Henri-Bourassa during the daytime when metro service is not running in Laval.
  • Paratransit service is considered essential and will run on a normal schedule.

Cancelled services

  • Night buses will not be running (they all fall out of the service periods)
  • School extras (special buses added to handle increased loads from people leaving classes) will be suspended. So if you take the bus with lots of other people from high school, consider other transportation options or a long wait.

The demands

The STM is demanding/offering a five-year contract with:

  • Pension eligibility be reduced by five years (meaning you’ll have to work five years longer, or be five years older, before you qualify for the same benefits)
  • Reduced pension benefits for those retiring after 2019
  • No salary increase this year
  • A 2% salary increase for each of the next four years

The union wants a three-year contract with:

  • No changes to pensions (they’ve since offered to take the cost for this out of the salary increase)
  • A 2% salary increase for each of the next three years plus cost-of-living protection which would add on another 1-3% per year

The history

2,142 maintenance workers, who comprise people like mechanics and janitorial staff but not bus drivers, metro booth operators or supervisors, last went on strike in November of 2003. That strike lasted 8 days. Their latest contract ended Jan. 6, 2007, and they voted to strike on March 4. On May 6 they set the date for the strike.

There have been 15 transit strikes in the past 40 years. The longest was in 1974 when maintenance workers shut down the metro (but not buses) for 44 days.

The politics

Both sides are trying to win this battle in the court of public opinion. The STM took out a full-page ad in Wednesday’s papers.

The union says:

  • They are paid less than private-sector counterparts
  • They have been open to negotiating at any time (while the STM team goes home at 5 p.m.)
  • They are paid less and get less benefits than Laval transit maintenance workers
  • They have already made concessions and are willing to end the strike even with only partial concessions from the STM
  • The strike is our fault
  • Other arguments summarized on this blog post

The STM says:

  • The deal they offered is the same one being given to other city unions
  • They have a $22 million deficit this year and can’t afford more money
  • The union has been without a contract for only a few months and are “taking the city hostage”
  • Their benefits package (especially the pension) make up for any salary difference with private-sector maintenance workers

So far most people are on the STM’s side, noting that $22-$25 an hour is a lot to pay someone to clean vomit off a metro station floor, and that those suffering from this strike are mostly the poor and working class.

The media have come largely on the STM’s side as well, with The Gazette, La Presse (again) and Le Devoir all printing editorials saying the union already has the rights it needs and the strike is overkill. Of course, the crazy union lefties don’t like that idea.

The law

This is a perfectly legal strike. The government has the power, through special legislation, to force and end to the disruption or force a settlement. However, a mutually-agreeable settlement is far preferable to this drastic action. Though some people suggest that charter rights have somehow been violated, no court has ruled that convenient public transit is a charter right.

Your employer has no obligation to change any working conditions due to the strike. This includes changing your schedule, compensating you for cab use, providing alternative transportation, or anything else you might think you deserve because you work at odd hours. You’re still responsible for getting to work on time and working whatever hours you’ve agreed to. Unless public transit is part of your job somehow, the strike becomes your problem, not theirs.

You may be eligible for a partial refund of your monthly or weekly transit pass once this is over. After the 2003 strike, the STM offered a $5 discount for the following February 2004 bus pass ($2.50 for reduced-fare passes). Three years later, it settled a class action lawsuit and discounted $2 off the November 2006 transit pass ($1 off the reduced pass). Hold on to this week’s/month’s pass in case it becomes necessary. Note, however, that it could be a while before you see anything, and it won’t be that much.


Among the more interesting alternatives, CJAD is turning this into an opportunity for a publicity stunt, offering a free shuttle from the West Island to downtown during the strike (between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.).

The Journal today has a list of ride-sharing services, where you can offer and look for a partner to carpool with. And there’s always communauto, which is bound to be busier than normal.

As expected, at least one taxi driver (whose blog is apparently the second-most influential in Quebec) is going to profit heavily from very angry people.

How about informal taxis? Hitch-hike with a tip in hand.


Though it won’t get you to your destination any faster, writing angry letters might help alleviate your stress a bit.

Or if that’s too much for you, just join the “I don’t support the strike” Facebook group. Or the other “I don’t support the strike” Facebook group. Or the other one. Or the other one. Or this one. Or that one. Or the one over there. Or this one right here. Or this group. Or that group. Or this one. Or that one. Or that one. Or, if you support the strike, join the lone Facebook group that’s taking their side.

So far at least one online petition has started up demanding the government legislate an end to the strike.

The first (and only) attempted protest against the strike by concerned citizens is planned for Thursday at 4pm at Emily-Gamelin Park (aka Berri Square, corner Berri and Ste-Catherine). It was an utter failure, with only three people showing up (not including the media).

Finally, just to balance things out, here’s an interesting blog post arguing that the union’s demands are justified in the big picture.