Should I delete my Facebook account?



“When the service is free, you are the product”

Image: PixBay/Creative Commons

Whether they were successful or not, Cambridge Analytica has made a lot of people uncomfortable to the point that many have deleted their Facebook accounts, and more are considering it.

The scandal alleges that Cambridge Analytica unethically used 50 million people’s Facebook data to try to influence the 2016 U.S. election. This raises a question for BestSelling Reads members, and indeed all authors in this new age of independent writers and a market dominated by e-books: should we continue to have a presence on Facebook? If so, how do we protect ourselves, and our readers, fans and friends?

The need for social media

All the book marketing gurus tell authors that we need to have a social media presence, among other things, if we want to sell books. We’re also supposed to have a website, a blog, an email list with thousands of addresses—and we have to keep writing more books.

Every author I know has a Facebook profile, and so does the group itself. It has a lot of utility. It’s one of the main ways my readers connect with me. Last week, I held a live Facebook event to launch my new book on Amazon, and used Facebook Live to do reading from my new book. I had tons of comments, questions and entries to little giveaway contests that I had.

It’s hard to give up Facebook, an application that connects millions, if not a billion people.

But it has its dangers, in the form of people who misuse it for their own gain at others’ expense.

What Facebook is doing with your information

Facebook works by selling advertising. There are more than a billion users in the world, which makes it an enticing medium to any advertiser.

But Facebook goes beyond just broadcasting like television or radio. It uses the information about you to determine what you might be interested in. This allows advertisers to develop ads that will be more appealing to you. Facebook and advertisers use demographic information, like your age and where you live, to target advertising to you.

In addition to the personal data in your profile, Facebook gets more valuable information from things like how long you spend watching a video, or which apps and games you play, and which posts you respond to.

That’s why your advertising feed, the column on the right side of the screen, and the sponsored ads in your news feed are about products and services that echo what you’ve been responding to on Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica created an app on Facebook that asked people to take a quiz. It then exploited a loophole that allowed it to collect data about both the quiz takers and their Facebook friends, as well—in defiance of privacy laws that say data about a person can only be collected with their consent, and for the purpose for which it was collected in the first place.

Now it’s a huge scandal.

What’s the solution?

There are steps you can take to protect your data from misuse. Some are just so obvious, they shouldn’t need stating. But here they are, anyway.

  • Keep your password confidential. Don’t even tell family and friends. You may trust them not to abuse your profile, but they may not be as careful about protecting your identity as you are.
  • Don’t put your home phone number, home address, date of birth or email address in your Facebook profile.
  • Be careful about what you post, especially if it’s something that you know may offend or upset a potential employer. In general, I try not to be offensive and avoid offensive language. That doesn’t prevent people taking offense I what I say, however.
  • Don’t post about being away from home or on a long vacation—you are asking bad people to break into your house.

Privacy settings

Facebook has over 50 different privacy settings, with in total more than 170 options. The New York Times has published a simple guide to help you find them.

Start with the little downward-pointing triangle on the top right of the Facebook screen. Select Settings, then from the left menu, Privacy. Set who can see your profile information. Usually, the choices are Public, Friends, Friends except acquaintances, Only me and Custom.

But that’s not all. Every App has its own settings. So do Timeline, Ads, Public Posts, and every App. This is what makes games like Farmville so dangerous as well as annoying. Set to Public, it lets others see that you use the app. Make sure you’re comfortable with each setting here.

And even if you set everything to Private, advertisers can still use the data to build a profile of you. And you know that prompt you get to add your phone number to “enhance” your security? Don’t do it. It’s another data point that can be used to identify and target you.

Don’t share everything

The more you post on Facebook, the more information you give advertisers to target ads to you. You don’t have to share every restaurant meal, unless you want to get more ads from restaurant chains.

I have learned not to answer quizzes that will tell me which fictional character I am, or what my level of education is. That just helps advertisers target ads to me better.

I am also struggling with arguing politics and philosophy on Facebook. By the time someone gets around to uploading something egregiously false, they’ve worked themselves into a mindset that will not be changed by logic and facts, anyway.

Finally, here’s something I just learned from NBCnews.com: download a copy of all your Facebook data to see just how much information you’re actually sharing. You may be surprised.

We’re not as good as we think we are in Canada



RCMP watchdog to examine handling of Colten Boushie shooting

 

Indigenous leaders call for resignation of Thunder Bay police chief over non-investigation of death of Indigenous man

My home town seems to have become the epicentre of institutional racism in Canada.

I grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, a city sometimes called the Lakehead. Years, decades can go by without it getting noticed in the national news.

But it’s certainly been in the news a lot over the past year, and not in a good way.

Here’s one from the Globe and Mail of March 5, 2018:

“Indigenous leaders call on Thunder Bay police chief to resign after report alleges neglect of duty”

Then there’s this one from last summer:

First Nations woman dies after being hit by trailer hitch thrown from passing car in Thunder Bay, Ont.”

Barbara Kentner, left, was struck by a trailer hitch thrown from a moving car in Thunder Bay, Ont. Photo: CBC

Let’s look into these things a little closer.

Indigenous leaders like Robin McGinnis, Chief of the Rainy River First Nation, and Grand Chiefs Francis Kavanaugh and Alvin Fiddler, called for the chief of the Thunder Bay police force to resign or be fired over the investigation of the death of Stacy DeBungee, an Indigenous man in 2015.

DeBungee’s body was found in the McIntyre River in Thunder Bay. An independent report on the police investigation into the death found there were “serious deficiencies.” The victim’s brother said that the police immediately dismissed the death as not suspicious, and did little to no investigation. According to Brad DeBungee, the officers neglected to canvass witnesses, and ignored a woman who confessed to pushing Stacy DeBungee into the river. That woman has since died.

This case happened during an inquiry into the deaths of seven more First Nations people in rivers in Thunder Bay between 2000 and 2011. They were all initially deemed accidental, with alcohol involved. A coroner’s inquest changed that determination to “undetermined” in three of those cases. Which means there could have been foul play involved.

Then there’s the case of Barbara Kentner, a First Nations woman who was hit by a trailer hitch thrown from a passing car in January 2017 in Thunder Bay. The passenger in the car yelled “Oh, I got one,” after throwing the hitch. Ms. Kentner died of her injuries in July. Brayden Bushby, who was 18 at the time, has been arrested and charged. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for September 10.

First Nations people, including relatives of the victim, say it’s not uncommon for them to have things thrown at them from passing cars in Thunder Bay.

Do you see a pattern here? Blatant racially motivated violence and lack of concern over it by police.

But Thunder Bay is not the only place where this goes on.

Last month, Gerald Stanley of Saskatchewan was acquitted of killing Colton Boushie, a First Nations man.

The fact that Stanley shot Boushie is not in dispute. He claimed he was not responsible, that the rifle in his hands went off accidentally, and the jury believed him.

Or rather, the Crown prosecutors did not convince the jury that he was guilty beyond doubt. That’s the way our criminal courts work—which is good.

What is not good is that the investigators and prosecutors did not even try. The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission of the RCMP has begun investigation into the original investigation of the event, to determine whether it was done “reasonably” and whether race was a factor.

You think?

The RCMP did not take photos of the evidence at the scene for hours, until after dark. They then left the vehicle where Boushie died uncovered, in the rain, for two days. They did not test it for blood or gunpowder residue.

The RCMP took Gerald Stanley to their detachment to take photos, then let him go, allowing him to return the following day to make a statement. Which means he had opportunity to confer with other witnesses. The RCMP did not even take his shirt, losing potential evidence of blood spatter and gunpowder residue.

According to Boushie’s family, the RCMP were much more assiduous in investigating them. They rushed to his mother’s home in two cars and came in with weapons drawn. After announcing to Debbie Baptiste, Boushie’s mother, that her son was dead, they asked whether she’d been drinking and searched the home.

Communication: it’s what police do

A criminal case, particularly when it gets to court, is a particular exercise in communication. Investigators find facts, then link them to build an argument, or case. A Crown prosecutor (that’s what we call them in Canada) then presents that story to a jury or a judge, who decides whether to believe the story or find it less than convincing.

In our system, it’s up to the prosecutor to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. If they fail to do that, the jury is obliged to find the defendant not guilty.

In Saskatchewan, the Crown failed to make its case convincingly. It’s as if the RCMP were trying not to collect a convincing weight of evidence.

The same story plays out across the country wherever Indigenous people are involved. Over and over, white people get away with murder when it comes to Indigenous people.

We’re not what we say we are

Canadians like to think of ourselves as open, inclusive and fair. And we like to project that image to the world. But the image fails under the lightest scrutiny.

Canada has consistently failed to treat Indigenous people fairly. We’ve known it for a very long time. We have accepted this contradiction between what we say to visitors and immigrants, and the way we treat Indigenous Canadians.

The Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls only got started  last year, after years of being opposed by the previous Prime Minister.

Governments budget less than half as much money per student in an Indigenous community. More than 100 First Nations communities in this country don’t have clean drinking water. Some have been boiling their water for decades. And it’s only in the past two years that any effort has been taken to correct this.

When did our civilization decide that ensuring its people had safe water to drink was a priority for government? Oh, yah, about 5,000 years ago.

It’s time we non-Indigenous Canadians—okay, I’ll say it: white—acknowledged how badly we’ve been treating Indigenous people.

It’s time to change. And if the police at any level, across the country, can’t, it’s time to change the police.

Leave a comment.

Army of Worn Soles is on promotion today



Book 1 of the Eastern Front trilogy is on promotion through BookDoggy. If you haven’t read it yet, now is your chance to get it at a reduced price. Because after this promotion, the price will go back up to its regular setting.

Get it at BookDoggy http://bookdoggy.com/?p=2671&preview=true

What’s it about?

A Canadian is drafted into the Soviet Red Army during World War 2, just in time to be thrown against Nazi Germany’s invasion in Operation Barbarossa. Caught in the vise of the Nazi and Communist forces, Maurice Bury concentrates on keeping his men alive as they retreat across Ukraine from the German juggernaut. Now the question is: will they escape from the hell of the POW camp before they starve to death?

Get Army of Worn Soles for just 99 cents.

See a free sample.

RIP: Canada’s everyday poet



Gord Downie passed away last week.

Okay, that’s not news anymore. Every Canadian and many others around the world know that. But I need to acknowledge the passing and honour the man whose words have meant so much to me over the years.

Gord Downie was the front man and lyricist for The Tragically Hip, which has become known as “Canada’s Band.” Which makes Downie Canada’s principal poet and conscience over the past 30 years or so.

So I thought I’d share with everyone the words of the first Tragically Hip song I remember. Please, pay attention to the words. They are powerful, and like all great poetry, they have many deep layers of meaning.

“New Orleans Is Sinking”

All right

Bourbon blues on the street, loose and complete
Under skies all smoky blue green
I can’t forsake a dixie dead shake
So we danced the sidewalk clean

My memory is muddy, what’s this river that I’m in?
New Orleans is sinking, man, and I don’t want to swim

Colonel Tom, what’s wrong? What’s going on?
You can’t tie yourself up for a deal
He said, Hey, north, you’re south, shut your big mouth
You gotta do what you feel is real

Ain’t got no picture postcards, ain’t got no souvenirs
My baby she don’t know me when I’m thinking bout those years

Pale as a light bulb hanging on a wire
Sucking up to someone just to stoke the fire
Picking out the highlights of the scenery
Saw a little cloud that looked a little like me

I had my hands in the river, my feet back up on the banks
Looked up to the lord above and said, Hey, man, thanks

Sometimes I feel so good I got to scream
She said, Gordie, baby, I know exactly what you mean
She said, she said, I swear to god she said

My memory is muddy, what’s this river that I’m in?
New Orleans is sinking, man, and I don’t want to swim

Swim

What’s your favourite Tragically Hip song? What’s your favourite poem? Leave a comment below.

What I’m working on now: A new book



After publishing 10 books in the past two years (wow—I just blew my own mind), I am not slowing down, but I am changing direction.

I had a writing and publishing plan.e72b9-bonescoverfinalforweb

Two years ago in July, I published two books in two different Kindle Worlds: Torn Roots in the Lei Crime Kindle World, based on Toby Neal’s Lei Crime series; and Jet: Stealth in the Jet Kindle World, based on the bestselling series by Russell Blake.

Up to that point, I had published only three book-length titles:

  • The Bones of the Earth, book one of a planned Dark Age trilogy, a historical fantasy
  • One Shade of Red, a spoof of Fifty Shades of Gray
  • Army of Worn Soles, the first book in my Eastern Front trilogy, based on the real experiences of my father-in-law in the Red Army during the Second World War.

My plans at that point were to complete the Eastern Front trilogy (done!), then move to the second and third books of the Dark Age series. I also thought I might intersperse those projects by writing and publishing
stories that would tie together into a paranormal-occult-romance novel, Dark Clouds. I had written four chapters, publishing them on various platforms. A lot of people liked the first chapter, which stands alone as a story called The Mandrake Ruse. You can download it for free.

At that point, I had never even heard of Kindle Worlds, and never considered writing fan fiction.

Then Toby Neal diverted me.

Near the end of 2014, Toby Neal, bestselling author of the Lei Crime series and other books, and a prominent member of the BestSelling Reads authors group, selected a few authors to write for her brand new Lei Crime Kindle World. The idea was to publish a novella, something between 10,000 and 40,000 words, based on the characters and situations of her mystery novels.

I was excited and, to be honest, flattered to be one of the first invited to this project. And it also solved another problem for me. I had an idea for a light-hearted thriller with characters based on my family, but I could not make the plot work. When I got Toby’s invitation to write a Hawaii mystery, the plot, setting and characters fell into place.

However, there was one big problem: my main character was a geologist, and I knew nothing about the geology of Hawaii. I wasn’t getting the details I wanted from books or the Web. So I booked my next vacation to Maui, and what I experienced added a lot of realism to the book. And while I missed the first launch in April 2015,
I did manage to write a book, re-write it, get a cover, get it edited and proofread—and share a beta draft with Toby Neal herself—in time for the “second surge” in July.

While I was working on my first Lei Crime book, Russell Blake invited me (and several others) to write for his new Jet Kindle World, too. Its first deadline was the same as the second one for Lei Crime: July 31, 2015.

So, while Torn Roots was with beta readers, editors and proofreaders, I wrote a short, fast-paced thriller called Stealth, introducing two more characters based on people I know: Van Freeman and Earl LeBrun. And I met the deadline without cutting any corners.

My writing went fast in a new direction.

Since then, I wrote and published two more Lei Crime novellas and one novel. I was invited to another Kindle World, based on Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye series about a kick-ass woman detective and her giant dog, Blue. I’ve written two books for this series, both featuring Van and LeBrun.

Now, it’s time to get back to the original plan.

Don’t get me wrong—writing the Kindle World books has been a blast. I really enjoyed the characters and situations I created, and to judge by the reviews, my readers have, too. And I think I will find it irresistible to return to them, putting them in more impossible situations.

But I want to get back to the next book in the Dark Age trilogy. Last year, when I was waiting for medical attention after breaking my knee, I worked out the plot outline for book 2, The Triumph of the Sky. (Guess which song inspired that and I’ll send you a personalized, signed e-copy of The Bones of the Earth.)

The Dark Age trilogy is what I call “historical magic realism.” It’s epic fantasy, but set in a real time and place: the sixth-century CE Eastern Roman Empire, often known now as the Byzantine Empire. But the people there at the time called themselves “Roman,” even though most of them spoke Greek.

The Bones of the Earth, book 1 in the trilogy, was about Javor, a poor Sklavenic boy from beyond the Empire’s borders, who travels to Constantinople, the capital of the Empire, searching for answers about his parents’ death and his great-grandfather’s magical dagger. The second volume will tell the story of Javor as a young man, living in Constantinople with a wife and family, going on several adventures and contending with deep, supernatural forces. It’s based on a number, just as the first volume was. I’ve made some progress: two chapters written. In a future post, I’ll post some advance samples when I’m happy with them.

But don’t get too excited. Triumph is going to be a big book, like Bones was. But I’ll keep you up to date on progress, and I’ll have lots of contests and giveaways along the way. One of the first will be a giveaway to anyone who can deduce or guess which number figures prominently in the plot of The Bones of the Earth, and later another one for the number that’s the basis of The Triumph of the Sky.

See you soon!

Live blogging from my event



 

 Here I am at the Coles The Book People location in the Billings Bridge plaza in Ottawa for my second-ever book signing event. On the table, I have the three paperbacks in my Eastern Front trilogy: Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War. 

Traffic isn’t all that heavy—it’s mid-day at the beginning of what looks like a beautiful long weekend. This might have worked better outdoors.  

It’s interesting to watch the shoppers go by. They seem to come in waves. The babies come in groups—one moment, the mall is quiet; the next, three squalling babies in a phalanx of strollers are crowding the mall in front of my table. 

Most people just walk by, not even looking. They’re not here for books. Some people slow down and look at the books on my table. Occasionally, one will stop and talk.

People seem delighted to meet authors, and eager to share what they know about either the war, history or even books. And a few buy books. One lady even bought the whole set, since I’m offering a special price for all three.

It’s a very different experience than marketing e-books online. I like talking with people interested in the subject, or history. And the tactile aspect of a paper book, rather than the virtuality of e-books, well, satisfying.

I may try this again some time.

Bringing history to life



As you, my faithful readers know, I recently published the third book in my Eastern Front trilogy about the experiences of my father-in-law, Maurice Bury, during the Second World War. Writing those three slim books took me more than 10 years. Not only because the story itself is dark and difficult, but also because it required a lot of research to get the details right.

ArmyofWornSoles-smallerUnderTheNaziHeel.jpgCover-WOOW-500x800 (1)

While there must be thousands of books and other sources about the Second World War, most of it, at least those in English, focus on the western part of it, with a British, American or, sometimes, Canadian perspective. There is relatively little in English about the Eastern Front, where Maurice was drafted by the Soviet Red Army.

My research for the books began with the subject, my father-in-law himself. While he had occasionally mentioned something about his time in the army, at one point in the 1990s I decided I would write a book about his story. So we sat down in his kitchen, and I took notes.

But before I could complete writing the book, Maurice passed away. Which meant that any information I still needed, I would have to find in other sources.

Trusting memory

When I began writing the story, I realized I would have to turn to history books for essential background information about the war, the politics, weapons, organization of the armies and so much more.

Maurice’s memory of his own experiences was excellent, but he did not remember the exact dates, nor the number of his unit. When he told me how he sustained his wound, he remembered the weather, the German fighter planes arcing in the sky. But he did not remember the exact date. I had to do some research to work out when the Germans got to Kyiv, and the extent of the fighting there in 1941.

I also had to research the weapons used. Maurice told me as a Third Lieutenant, he commanded eleven men in an anti-tank unit. When he described fighting against the German tanks, the Panzers, it seemed to me to require some precision. The shell had to hit the tank at just the right angle to penetrate the armour and detonate inside. The challenge was that the modern Panzers had sloping armour to deflect anti-tank shells. The Soviet tanks in the early part of the war, on the other hand, had straight armour, making it easier for an armour-piercing shell to strike at the right angle.

But I neglected to ask him to describe the Soviet anti-tank gun. When I came to write about it, I realized I had no idea what it looked like. The answer surprised me. I had thought of a kind of cannon, but the PTRS-41 and the similar PTRD were strangely delicate-looking. They looked more like long rifles with extended, slender barrels. My first thought was “That little thing can knock out a tank?”

Image source: 13thguardspoltavaskaya.com

It turns out, it didn’t manage to do that very often. The shells could not penetrate the Panzers’ front armour, so the Soviet anti-tank gunners would try to shoot at the sides or back of the tanks, where the armour was thinner. That was an extremely risky tactic, requiring the gunners to allow the Panzers to pass them before shooting.

Finding this information in historical sources brought me back to the notes I took when interviewing Maurice before he passed away. He once told me that his men destroyed a Panzer by shooting at the back, hitting the exposed fuel tank.

As a writer, this was a satisfying—to find confirmation of Maurice’s memories and stories in the history books and websites.

What’s your experience?

Have you ever found that kind of confirmation of a relative’s or friend’s memory or story in an official or historical reference? Share that in the Comments.