Friday, May 26, 2017

Is Facebook a Threat To What Remains of Our Democracy?

Social media was credited with the toppling of Hosni Mubarak during Egypt's Arab Spring uprising.

New evidence suggests it could be a double-edged sword, one capable of ending liberal democracy.

The essence of liberal democracy is governance at the consent of the governed. For that to have any meaning that has to be "informed consent" freely given. If that consent can be manufactured then liberal democracy doesn't stand a chance.

I've written three posts about this: The Big Chill, Is This How Trump Rigged the Election, Really?, and We Need to Have This Figured Out by 2019. On It Rests Our Democracy.

These posts explore how Facebook and other social media can be mined. Here's one chilling passage:

“It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.”

Even Scientific American asked, "Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?"  Consider this:

One thing is clear: the way in which we organize the economy and society will change fundamentally. We are experiencing the largest transformation since the end of the Second World War; after the automation of production and the creation of self-driving cars the automation of society is next. With this, society is at a crossroads, which promises great opportunities, but also considerable risks. If we take the wrong decisions it could threaten our greatest historical achievements.

Surely the case is made for intervention, whipping Facebook and other social media into line, protecting the public from those who would use their own data to manipulate them.  Remember the Great Recession of 2007-2008 and the notion of banks "too big to fail"?  Compared to Facebook, those "too big to fail" banks are nothing.

A couple of years ago, Vladan Joler and his brainy friends in Belgrade began investigating the inner workings of one of the world's most powerful corporations.

The team, which includes experts in cyber-forensic analysis and data visualisation, had already looked into what he calls "different forms of invisible infrastructures" behind Serbia's internet service providers.

But Mr Joler and his friends, now working under a project called Share Lab, had their sights set on a bigger target.

"If Facebook were a country, it would be bigger than China," says Mr Joler, whose day job is as a professor at Serbia's Novi Sad University.

He reels off the familiar, but still staggering, numbers: the barely teenage Silicon Valley firm stores some 300 petabytes of data, boasts almost two billion users, and raked in almost $28bn (£22bn) in revenues in 2016 alone.

And yet, Mr Joler argues, we know next to nothing about what goes on under the bonnet - despite the fact that we, as users, are providing most of the fuel - for free.

"All of us, when we are uploading something, when we are tagging people, when we are commenting, we are basically working for Facebook," he says.


deb said...

Im on facebook. They are relentless with their data mining, and they read Private messages to sell more products/services ....and none of this is surprising/
but what is, is how many people willingly jump in-- eyes wide open, and typing all sorts of information...public, private its all under scrutiny.
and the games, surveys, links, news stories, and fun comment threads to elicit even more information, and people just go along with it.
I gave up long ago, warning people that quizzes they fill out and spread around like a virus are actually data mining tricks.
the facebook folks can change opinion, and have a willing group of targeted consumers, all for sale. We are the product not the buyer, and folks still allow themselves to be exploited.
one day they will have the mindless army/lobby they want to take over the world:P

The Mound of Sound said...

I wish I could argue your points, Deb, I truly do but I fully agree with you.

Toby said...

Why do people freely provide personal information to a data collector in which control is totally invested in one man with dubious social conscience?

In the Western World Internet privacy issues are somewhat esoteric. In some parts of the world these issues can be deadly. I mean this literally. When the palace guard tracks your location through your phone, when spies read your text messages, when some regional marketing manager is faced with losing sales or selling you out, you better run and hide.


As a side issue, I have a lot of difficulty posting to this blog. The reason is that I have a couple of ad blockers and cookie destroyers running. The data miners take steps to force compliance.

Anonymous said...

Dana said...

Is there anything about our current culture that is *not* a threat to democracy?

Gardening, perhaps. Making pies - although it does depend on who the pie is made for and why.

"I submit that the democracy we are encouraging in many poor parts of the world is an integral part of a transformation toward new forms of authoritarianism; that democracy in the United States is at greater risk than ever before, and from obscure sources; and that many future regimes, ours especially, could resemble the oligarchies of ancient Athens and Sparta more than they do the current government in Washington."

Robert Kaplan wrote that in the December, 1997 issue of The Atlantic.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, Dana. Sincere thanks for that link. Awfully prescient article for the times - back before 9/11, our permawars in Afghanistan and Iraq, now Syria, Trump etc.

It's an important essay. I think I'll post it in hope that others will read it.

Thanks again.

Dana said...

You're welcome. In '97 I was a member of a fairly well known and influential virtual community called Brainstorms. This article was discussed for weeks and I've never forgotten it.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, I remember Brainstorms well. You got me involved with them in their period of decline. Have you been back recently?

Dana said...

No, not for several years now. Once upon a time it was my virtual home tho.