In 2007 I was concerned that Facebook was selling personal data. That same year I asked if there could be a public alternative to Facebook. By 2010 I had left the platform.
This year, after our local newspaper closed, I commented that we are now dependent on this global corporation — that uses our data to manipulate us — as our main form of communication. It is as if we live in a company-owned town, and buy all of our goods from the company store, using a party telephone line that the bosses listen in on. This is directly the fault of government, organizational, and community leaders who have either been lazy, ignorant, or perhaps malicious in promoting this control platform to engage others.
I have faulted our common natural stupidity for following along with the costly convenience of using Facebook as the default communications medium. Christopher Wylie, the whistle-blower for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, said that, “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?”
So, does Facebook control society? Not really, but it can influence the ‘persuadables’.
“You don’t need to change everyone’s mind, argues Brittany Kaiser, former director of business development at Cambridge Analytica. You just need to change the minds of the ‘persuadables.’ And the way you identify them is through understanding not just what they buy or say about themselves, but how they think. Through harvesting personal data, Cambridge Analytica could, and did, identify and persuade them.” —Vox 2019-07-25
And there is no doubt that our social networks can influence us, as shown in the research Christakis and Fowler did for their 2011 book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do — “As part of a social network, we transcend ourselves, for good or ill, and become a part of something much larger. We are connected.”
But Facebook is not an all-powerful entity that is smarter or better than society collectively. Zuckerberg just got lucky, like “a clown car that fell into a gold mine.”
Can they [Facebook] prevent you from learning about a local city council candidate by blocking that person from advertising? Absolutely. So absolutely they can swing elections. Can they convince you to vote for someone you know about but don’t want to vote for? No. But they can make it so that you never learn about somebody or a proposition that you might otherwise be interested in or dislike or whatever.
So I do think that they have power. I just don’t think they’re secretly hypnotizing us. I think these people are — I’ll use a Zuckerberg quote about Twitter, which is a great quote — “a clown car that fell into a gold mine.” —Matt Stoller
The current court actions in the USA against Facebook may be the beginning of the end for this clown show. It cannot happen too soon.