When Facebook became a public company its childish founder exhorted his employees to “move fast and break things” – a teen-hacker’s trope. What didn’t occur to Zuckerberg is that liberal democracy was one of the things they’d break.
Revelations about the harvesting of users’ data show that Zuckerberg’s all-powerful company has no sense of social – let alone political – responsibility. As the Guardian notes in a damning series of articles (I’m borrowing from them here) including “How Facebook’s destructive ethos imperils democracy,” Zuckerberg has become an agent of instability, division and abusive exploitation of Facebook users (or should I say, Facebook addicts).
Our revelations… show that by late 2015 Facebook had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale but failed to take firm measures to deal with the consequences or to notify the affected users of what had happened… The revelations in our lead story today are shocking not just because they reveal the extent to which Facebook’s advertising system was exploited for political purposes in the 2016 election, but also because they demonstrate the company’s inability to comprehend the responsibilities that accompany its newfound power.
Facebook still poses as a tech company. It is not. Facebook is a ruthless advertising corporation that happens to use digital technology in order to conduct its core exploitative business.
This is all Facebook actually is about: collecting the personal information and data trails left by its 2 billion users to construct detailed profiles to sell to advertisers in order to foist precisely calibrated advertisements on tech addicts groomed to be susceptible.
Facebook’s machine for delivering commercial messages was used for delivering far right targeted political lies to voters. The UK Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election are just some examples of Facebook-enabled outright lies masquerading as political information.
A crass data analytics firm was even able to harvest the Facebook profiles of about a third of all US Facebook user/addicts, which were then used to construct psychological models of those individuals for Trump’s campaign purposes.
As the Washington Post reports in “Trump campaign consultant took data about millions of users without their knowledge”
Facebook’s [just suspended] of Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that played a key role in President Trump’s 2016 campaign… A Cambridge University professor working for Cambridge Analytica in 2014 created an app, called Thisisyourdigitallife, that offered personality predictions and billed itself on Facebook as “a research app used by psychologists.”… The professor, a Russian American named Aleksandr Kogan, used the app to gain access to demographic information — including the names of users, their “likes,” friend lists, and other data. Once obtained by Cambridge Analytica, political campaigns could use those profiles to target users with highly tailored messages, ads or fundraising requests.
Facebook said 270,000 people downloaded the app. But people familiar with how such systems work — including a former Cambridge Analytica employee — said the app would have given Cambridge access to information on the friends of each of those people, a number that almost certainly reached into the tens of millions….
Despite Facebook’s concerns in 2015, the social network continued to work with Cambridge Analytica. During the presidential election, Facebook employees assisting Donald Trump’s digital operation worked in the same office as Cambridge Analytica workers, according to a video by the BBC. One former Cambridge employee, Joseph Chancellor, continues to work at Facebook as a user-experience researcher, according to Facebook’s public website.
The information Facebook holds on its users – at least 98 data points per user is revealing – includes preferences, habits, sexuality, politics, hopes and fears. Zuckerberg has sold this information for profit. He will again.
Casual indifference to the unintended consequences of digital technology is par for the Silicon Valley course – where the mantra of “creative destruction” has the status of religious dogma. This “dogma” also absolves true believers in their right to enjoy unlimited greed and avoid personal (let alone legal) responsibility. True believers excuse themselves as if they serve some higher cause rather than just indulging their grubby exploitation of others.
Thus Putin/Trump and authoritarians everywhere have in Zuckerberg a perfect ally and global enabler. Brexit lies, Trump lies, Putin lies, misogynist lies, and racist lies were and are still enabled by Zuckerberg for profit. These lies are warping more and more people’s minds.
Yet when suspicions about the exploitation of Facebook’s systems by political bad actors (including Russian agencies) first surfaced, the reaction of Mark Zuckerberg, was one of hurt denial that his lovely idealistic (highly profitable) creation could have such nasty consequences.
Facebook represents a new kind of low: corporate power over the human mind itself, the dimensions of which are only now becoming faintly apparent. The automated machine Facebook built with the capacity to target individuals, to raise anxiety and reinforce prejudices, suppress voter turnout, amplify partisanship is one hundred percent destructive. It is cut from the same morally deadening fabric that groups like the NRA, ISIS and KKK are cut from. Like these terror organizations Facebook’s power comes from the fomenting of fear and misinformation amplified.
Zuckerberg has been slowly forced to admit some of the implications of the monster that he and his employees have created. But overall Facebook is still in denial. Facebook just can’t admit it is F—–g up the human race for no reason but profit.
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