With the recent announcement that Mark Zuckerberg would meet with Congress to discuss the Cambridge Anayltica scandal, and that whole mess having not been discussed on this blog, I figured now is as a good a time as any. And since the latter is significantly less complicated than Facebook, we’ll start with the would-be propagandists. Which probably gives you a good indication of my views on them anyway.
So yes, I don’t think well of people who believe a convincing argument to a would be client is to suggest the hiring of whores, blackmail and of course convincing people via propaganda, but making sure it doesn’t look like propaganda. Rubs me the wrong way I guess. None of which is meant to imply I think they are terribly successful in manipulating people via Facebook and the like. On one hand yes they clearly do manipulate people as best they can with their information, and do so for their (predominately conservative as far as I’m aware) clients. But, at the end of the day if people are willing to believe what they read on Facebook over actual reporting, that is opinion and memes and the like over facts, then they do really only have themselves to blame. I don’t think Cambridge Analytica can really change what people think, just nudge them further to where they were already leaning. I still don’t approve of their methods, hyperbolic bullshit or not.
And all of that doesn’t get into the fact that they basically stole about 50 million users profiles worth of data from Facebook without permission from the users, stored on a private server instead of deleting it, and then using it create said ads, memes, and propaganda to manipulate people. That is something I find deeply twisted, and very dangerous. It is also, as far as I’m aware, not illegal, or against Facebook’s terms of service. Which is also wrong, and needs to be fixed. And look, again, this is the act I find reprehensible, I don’t think they had much of an impact in regards to the American Election, Brexit (which apparently they were also involved in) or anything else, people make up their own minds.
Though at the same time, if we’re not paying attention and just taking in whatever is in front of us, I wouldn’t be too surprised if we were led astray. Regardless, that is my chief issue with Cambridge Analytica, the (in my view) theft of personal data, if not the usage of it in later events.
And part of the problem with that theft is that Facebook knew about this, tried to hide and is now dealing with the fact that in the wake of this reveal, it looks like this ‘Radical Transparency’ Zuckerberg espouses apparently only applies to the Users not the Company. In other words they look like a bunch of hypocrites. Now if this was a normal company, retail or food or whatever, honestly that wouldn’t be a big deal. Big Business is full of hypocrisy, it’s all about the bottom line after all, but Facebook isn’t like any other business. It’s integrated into so much of society, so much of the economy relies on it for outreach and visibility, people still think of Facebook as the social media, regardless of whatever they use, and with over two billion active users, there is a very good reason for that. So this can’t be ignored or brushed off, because we’re not dealing with just a business, we’re dealing with part of Society that doesn’t feel responsible for it’s mistakes.
And that’s what this is: a mistake. Letting an app steal third party (Friends of Friends and so forth) data to store elsewhere? A Mistake. Hiding that breach when it was discovered? A Mistake. This should not have happened. Users are supposed to be the clients of Facebook, not the commodity, but if Facebook doesn’t understand then unfortunately it’s not the company that will suffer. Even with a boycott (sorry #deletefacebook, but a twitter trend isn’t going to be enough for this), the only people that suffer are the users.
The way I see, the only way this is going to be fixed is regulation, because Zuckerberg isn’t going to fix this, again radical transparency (of the users) is the point of Facebook not the consequence. Social media’s simply too big and to integrated not to be bound by certain rules, and if these companies don’t like that, tough. You screwed up and people, not your business, got hurt because of this; that is the problem. If this was a hacking incident, and only an algorithm was stolen, the situation would be different. But instead Cambridge Analytica took information from unknowing people and used it for profit, for their client, to manipulate them for politics. That is not acceptable and it cannot happen again, most certainly not without the users permission, and not by a company that claims to make propaganda.
So yes regulation, if only because you forced the public’s hand.
Al Jazeera: Cam,bridge Analytica and Facebook: the Scandal so Far
Vox: Facebooks Cambridge Analytica Breach
Reuters: Zuckerberg to Testify Before Congress
(Christ, that was a rant though, wasn’t it?)