Here’s what Facebook knows about me.

I have been reading a lot of paranoid articles about Facebook’s intrusion into our privacy so I decided that I would see exactly what they had on me.  Following simple instructions I was able to download everything that Facebook knows about me, all my posts and messages, all the photos and videos that I had posted and also see what advertisers know about me.

It is all pretty boring.

There were no real surprises. It was kind of nice to be able to have all my facebook photos in a file or see every post that I had made since I signed up in 2009.  If nothing else, it allowed me to have a copy of all these photos just in case Facebook folds or somehow my file gets closed.

What about advertisers?  Well there is a list of ads that I have clicked on to view more.  No surprises there as they obviously had some item that actually interested me – or that I may have even bought online.

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And there was a long list of items that I was supposedly interested in so advertisers could aim their merchandise at me.  But this seemed bland and innocuous and even had a few weird things like skunks and rings of Saturn and Catholic Schools in the mix.   Go ahead, advertisers and send me things about skunks.  What do I care? The only advertiser that has my contact info is Airbnb and it is one that I use. They have my information elsewhere as well.

I was surprised to see a list of many of my
“friends” phone numbers in a file.  Not all of them but many.  Not sure where that came from.  But it gives me a good phone directory for friends!  I can also see a list of friends that I have “removed”.  But don’t worry, I can’t see if you have removed me!

The bottom line is that Facebook seems not to know anything about me that I have not been open about in my posts or interested in following  up on by clicking on a link or “Liking” it.

I came away from this exercise thinking that there was nothing there that I had not posted myself and that the advertisers knew nothing about me that I had not openly declared.  Basically I have not posted anything that I consider to be “private” so what Facebook knows about me is what I have chosen to reveal. I think that is the key.  Whatever you post is public and will remain. So taking some care not to post anything that you don’t want to persist in cyberspace is probably the best strategy.

I also have to be aware that what is showing up on my news feed is selected by Facebook and geared to what I have posted or liked in the past. So it is not an unbiased reporting of  events or opinion.  Suffice to say that I have not seen any pro-Trump posts.

Actually what bugs me more is those Facebook “friends” who lurk and are entertained by  reading my posts and but are not open enough to share anything themselves or even post a “like” or a comment from time to time.  Facebook is a social medium.  To me, Social means interactive.  If someone is not willing to share anything about themselves, but is happy to read all about someone else’s life events and opinions,  perhaps Facebook is not the medium for them.  Or perhaps they might eventually find themselves on my “removed” list.

Should I cancel my Facebook page because of privacy concerns? If this is all they know about me then I see no need.  Do I wish I could spend a bit less time checking my Facebook feed?  Yes.  But that is not their fault but my being hooked on this 21st century communication with online friends.


A Facebook Harambee

Harambee is a Swahili word that means “pull together”.  It is Kenya’s national motto. There are times when their government should pay more attention to it. I want to tell you about my spontaneous Facebook Harambee experience this week.

Yesterday afternoon I saw a post on my Facebook News Feed from a friend in Kenya. Tobias Katete is the Beach Management Unit chairman in a small community on the shore of Lake Victoria, a little district that has become dear to my heart over the past few years through projects supported there by the CanAssist African Relief Trust.

Tobias reported a fire that had wiped out the home and all the belongings of a family tScreenshot 2015-12-29 22.33.46hat included a newborn infant in the remote rural village of Agok, Kenya. He appealed to locals to help find shelter for this family. His request for assistance was directed to  people in his region and I wondered how many of them would have Internet access.  This is perhaps a wrong assumption since I now correspond regularly with friends in Africa through email and Facebook and I notice that his Facebook friend list is 95% African faces.

I saw the post and wondered how I could help. At 3pm I shared it on my Facebook page asking my friends to either send me or promise $10 to help this family. Within 8 hours I had either collected or received an IOU for about $400.  By midnight I had sent 25,000 Kenyan Shillings to Tobias who I trusted with the responsibility of seeing that this money will be appropriately used to help this family recover.  Since I continue to receive notes promising support, this will be augmented in the next couple of days with another transfer. As I went to sleep last night I knew that this community would be waking up to the news that friends – strangers – in Canada have shown this compassion.  Several of my African Facebook friends have also offered support to this family. It chokes me up when I think about this sharing of our humanity.

It is now not even 24 hours from the time I read the initial post. Your money has been transferred and received in Kenya and Tobias had purchased construction materials and delivered them to the family devastated by their loss.  How cool is that?

I sincerely thank my friends for their response to this request.  It is the best Christmas present that I could receive.  Your generosity validates the work that I do in Africa and encourages me to keep it up, despite the many challenges.  Just as I have witnessed Canada’s welcoming reception of Syrian refugees, it reinforces my belief that most of us have goodness and kindness in our hearts.  Every day I become increasingly aware that we are, indeed, a global community, made ever closer by our ability to correspond and reach out across oceans and borders.

This has been a satisfying way to wind up 2015.   Best wishes to all in the New Year.

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(I have asked for only $10 from each person. As you can see, when we pull together – Harambee –  this adds up to something significant.  If you want to join us, the easiest way to send me $10 is by an Interac bank transfer or by PayPal. Message me for the correct email address to use for this. I promise that very cent will end up in Kenya to help this family recover from their misfortune.  This is a personal gesture, not an official CanAssist one.  CanAssist remains actively involved with community infrastructure development in this and other East African districts.  You can read more about CanAssist here.)




The story of Jerry O.

(Published in the Kingston Whig Standard – July 18, 2012.)
My friends told me that I needed an updated photo for my Facebook page. I have been a somewhat reluctant Facebook user but I recently attended a conference for charities on behalf of the CanAssist African Relief Trust and the message was that “conversation and collaboration” are now the keys to successful charities and fundraising. And Facebook, with over eighteen million users in Canada … half our population … is the way to communicate in 2012.

So I opened up my previously fairly clandestine Facebook account to the world, started a blog and I am going to give it a good try in the next few months.

I had been using a photo of the Rift Valley as my profile picture. “Not good enough,” was the response. “It has to be a photo of you. People will communicate with you because of common interests so they have to see who you are.”

I compromised. I found a picture that was taken last winter when I was in Kenya of me and an African child. I have always liked the photo. But I knew little about the child.

It was taken at a very small school in Mbita Kenya, one where we were working to start a school farm. There were kids everywhere. Playing and running and singing. Many were curious about this “mzungu” who was standing in their midst with a camera. One little fellow was particularly eager to be near me. He followed me around for a few minutes, sometimes holding on to my pant-leg or “petting” my hairy arms. (African men usually have little or no hair on their arms so my furry forearms are a novelty that many African children cannot resist. “You are like a lion,” one kid told me a couple of years ago.)

I was drawn to this little fellow’s smile and after a few minutes I picked him up and carried him around as I greeted the other children. He beamed. I gave my camera to one of the teachers to take our picture. You can see joy on both our faces. We became friends quickly and were relishing the new-found bond between us.

This photo has become a symbol to me, representing the happy association that I cherish between me and African people, particularly the children.

So I put it up on my page. I immediately had comments and “likes” for the photo. It seemed a good choice.

Later that morning I happened to be chatting with the Director of the School in Kenya using Skype. I asked if he could identify the child.

His name is Jerry Otieno,” I was told. “Fantastic,” I thought. Jerry sounds like such an active, outgoing name and suits the smile that I remember. And Otieno is a very common Luo man’s name meaning “born at night”. I have dear friends with that name in Kenya. It seemed perfect.

What a sad case,” continued Kennedy.

This poor little fellow was brought to our school by a teenage caregiver. He had no money for school fees or food. He is about 4 years old. His mother worked for another woman in town as a housekeeper. She got pregnant and there was no father in the picture. Last year she became ill and was taken to a hospital in a neighboring town. She died there. Her body rots in the mortuary of the hospital, unclaimed. Jerry is being looked after by the woman for whom the mother worked but she has children of her own and cannot afford his care.

We have taken him into Hope School and support his education. He gets one meal a day here. He loves school, walking to school himself most mornings.

I was startled by this story. I had picked this photo because I thought it was upbeat and the child in it the epitome of a happy African kid. I have seen lots of heart-tugging photos of emaciated children covered with flies used by charities to promote their cause. I don’t want to use those images to portray African children because even though their stories would break your heart, most of them look like little Jerry. They are smiling and cuddly and loving and resilient.

The Hope School is one that CanAssist supports. The school has about 150 students ranging in age from about 4 to 12. Most of them are categorized as “OVC’s” (Orphans and Vulnerable Children). The teachers work at the school for little remuneration and the school struggles to provide both education and one meal of porridge a day to these kids. CanAssist has helped the school by providing funds to start a school garden that will both provide better nourishment to the students and perhaps a bit of extra income for the school to help with expenses. Children who can afford it, pay about $8 a month as a school fee. But at least 30% cannot afford even that and are included with no fee.

Jerry’s story shook me but it is not that different from many others I have heard. I still think about little Rose, the Ugandan waif that got me started with this business of trying to help out in Africa. Now Jerry has added motivation to my work through CanAssist and I will leave his picture with mine on my Facebook page to remind me — and my Facebook friends— of the happiness that can come from helping where you can and the joy that just caring brings to others.