Bollocks to: Facebook

It might be time to talk about Facebook. Advertisers are boycotting the platform for July because of Facebook’s stance — or lack of it — over hate speech and incitement. These advertisers include Unilever, Coca-Cola Starbucks, Adidas and many others. Facebook employees and contractors have staged virtual walkouts in protest. 

Of course, the position of the advertisers is not one of ethics in the sense you and I understand the word. They are worried about brand contamination; being associated with a platform that has become associated with racism. If the Facebook brand has become that toxic that even these nerveless behemoths are getting bothered, perhaps alarm bells ought to be ringing with us, the punters.

And the problems of Facebook do not begin or end with tolerating hate speech. 

I have just finished Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and I urge everyone who spends time online to read it too. 

We have this image of Facebook scanning your profile to find out who your favourite bands are and what food you like so someone can buy ads from them. The truth is different and entirely insidious. Surveillance is a mild word for what they do. Facebook (and Google and many others) are engaged in a project to actually predict and modify your behaviour. This involves scraping your life — online and in the real — for every bit of data, every interaction, everything they can about you to build comprehensive behavioural models. In this, they are building on the work of behaviourists such as BF Skinner and his heirs. Skinner considered free will to be an illusion and believed human behaviour could be engineered to create a hive-like society. If you haven’t heard of Skinner, stop reading this and look him up now and become very alarmed. 

More, learning from techniques developed in the gambling industry, they have made their site deliberately addictive, designing it so that the user gets regular dopamine hits that encourage hypnotic engagement. 

And this combination of behaviour modification, addiction and the nature of the platform in which you become the subject of yourself, has caused all sorts of identity disorders among young users. 

Would we tolerate having our homes bugged for sound and vision so that we can be nudged into behaviours that are not our own? Probably not. But that’s qualitatively what these companies are doing. Today’s selfie is tomorrow’s biometric profile, as artist/academic/privacy activist Adam Harvey likes to say.

Going further, that data and the platform is being exploited by third parties to interfere in elections — the 2016 US general election, the Brexit vote, the last two UK general elections. Facebook knows about this and does nothing. 

Meanwhile, Facebook et al are using their huge money to lobby governments to exempt them from any kind of regulation that would inhibit them from doing whatever they decide they want. 

For sure, Facebook is not the only online abuser of our lives. Google and Amazon are almost as bad, and almost every online entity and seller of smart devices is abusing us too. Every time we do anything on Facebook — anything at all — we provide the company with yet more grist for its money mill. The direct revenue comes from advertising and selling data analysis tools but our lives are the raw material. 

Facebook top knob Mark Zuckerberg is sanguine about the boycott by Unilever et al. They’ll be back soon, he says. And he’s right. And the corporates are only protesting about one issue, one that conflicts with their brand. They aren’t protesting over the surveillance and all that flows from it because, of course, they use that data to make money out of us.

But what if the users began to withhold their data, Zuckerberg’s product, by staying away from the site? At least for a while. Might that be interesting? Might that be something to talk about?

Facebook loves you! Art by Nathan Hillyer
Art by Nathan Hillyer

PS:

Monday (July 6th), I was sitting in a branch of a well-known pub chain in Osaka having a pint and working on a draft of the above post, when, with exquisitely ironic timing, I got an email from Amazon. The email noted I was in this specific pub and pointed out that the location was also an Amazon ‘locker’. I could have stuff delivered by Amazon to pick up while having a beer. 

Amazon had tracked me to the pub. 

I was not on the free Wi-Fi there, so Amazon had tracked me through the cell network. 

Read more:

That book — The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

Facebook is out of control. If it were a country it would be North Korea — article by Carole Cadwalladr

Extend US Facebook boycott to Europe, campaigners urge — article by Alex Hern

Only bold state intervention will save us from a future owned by corporate giants — article by Joe Guinan and Martin O’Neill

About chrispagefiction

Author of the novels Another Perfect Day in ****ing Paradise, Sanctioned, Weed, King of the Undies World, The Underpants Tree, and the story collection Un-Tall Tales. Editor, freelance writer, occasional cartoonist, graphic designer, and all that stuff. At heart he is a London person, but the rest of his body is in long-term exile in Osaka, Japan.
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