I got off Facebook about 10 years ago. I know that this has had no impact on the company or its business model. When I saw in 2007 that Facebook was selling user information, I knew I could not stay on the platform much longer. But the lure of network effects, where it takes almost no effort to connect with other people, is too powerful for most of us.
Facebook is convenient. For most businesses it is suicide not to be on Facebook. It is an extremely convenient way to connect all your online communication and most of your digital content consumption. It is so convenient that it is the only way some people connect online. In thinking about Facebook, I noted that we may be heading toward a platform-dominated global social network that will not only shape our behaviour but narrow the scope of our humanity.
“The REAL danger facing a world interconnected by social networking isn’t disruption … This danger is an all encompassing online orthodoxy. A sameness of thought and approach enforced by hundreds of millions of socially internetworked adherents. A global orthodoxy that ruthless narrows public thought down to a single, barren, ideological framework. A ruling network that prevents dissent and locks us into stagnation and inevitable failure as it runs afoul of reality and human nature.” —John Robb, Global Guerrillas 2017-09-22
Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica, a company with initial defence roots that used Facebook data to profile voters and then use targeted advertising to influence the democratic process — namely the Brexit referendum and the last US presidential election.
A person’s online identity has now become an essential feature of their social and professional life. Opting out is tantamount to running away to live in the wilderness. It’s possible but self-destructive. “To exist in modern society,” he [Wylie] tells us, “you don’t really have a choice but to use these platforms.”
He then repeats his essential point: “The internet is part and parcel of democracy now, whether you like it or not … Do we need rules that we as a society agree on, with independent regulators who are on our side, not on shareholders’ side?” —Peter Isackson, Fair Observer 2019-10-16
We now live in a surveillance economy. That is not going to change in the short run. But unless we move beyond our tribal tendencies we will not be able counter populism (made more extreme by actors like Cambridge Analytica) nor improve democracy. In order to thrive in a networked world we will need a new form of democracy.