JUST SCRATCH­ING THE SUR­FACE OF SO­CIAL ME­DIA PER­ILS

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE -

BE­LAT­EDLY, WE’VE BE­COME SLIGHTLY more aware that tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies such as Face­book and Google have a vested in­ter­est in har­vest­ing our per­sonal data, elim­i­nat­ing our pri­vacy and un­der­min­ing the com­mon good. That’s not a side ef­fect, that’s their busi­ness model. In the In­ter­net age, there’s money to be made – lots of it – in sell­ing users (i.e. you) to advertisers. But that’s just where it starts. As the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal shows, the more per­ni­cious use of the tech­nol­ogy in­volves in­ten­sive psy­cho­log­i­cal anal­y­sis to sway pub­lic opin­ion, from the prod­ucts we buy to the votes we cast.

For all in­tents and pur­poses, it’s the use of psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare tech­niques – psy ops – to sup­port the cor­po­rate state. And that’s even without the (often il­le­gal) data min­ing by gov­ern­ment in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.

Hailed as de­moc­ra­tiz­ing the flow of in­for­ma­tion – twoway and de­cen­tral­ized, just the op­po­site of what we’ve seen his­tor­i­cally – the In­ter­net has mas­sively re­shaped the way we live and do busi­ness, for in­stance. It’s also be­come a bo­nanza for the dis­sem­i­na­tors of pro­pa­ganda and col­lec­tors of data in­tent on strip­ping away our pri­vacy for their own gain, fi­nan­cial and/or po­lit­i­cal.

We’re com­plicit in that, flock­ing to sites like Face­book, where we’re lay­ing our­selves bare to the world.

Face­book, like many In­ter­net sites, ex­ist to har­vest in­for­ma­tion, sell it to advertisers and tar­get you with per­son­al­ized ads. Track­ing is the norm, as is col­lect­ing as many de­tails as pos­si­ble of what each of us does on­line.

The ubiq­ui­tous Google is an even larger col­lec­tor of data and in­vader of pri­vacy. Worst still, it’s in­creas­ingly a cen­sor, fil­ter­ing search in­for­ma­tion for its own gain – di­rect­ing web surfers to its own or af­fil­i­ated sites, for in­stance – and for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.

Sites on both the right and, par­tic­u­larly, the left now ar­gue they’re be­ing blocked or pushed back pages in searches that are per­formed.

The screened right-lean­ing sites have tended to be more on the fringe, gen­er­at­ing con­tent deemed hate-re­lated. On the left, even pro­gres­sive sites long ac­cus­tomed to high Google rank­ings have been feel­ing the pinch.

Such cen­sor­ship tac­tics are the work of an estab­lish­ment – of which the large tech com­pa­nies are cer­tainly part – that knows it has lost all cred­i­bil­ity with the think­ing pub­lic.

At­tempts at man­u­fac­tur­ing con­sent are noth­ing new, first by co-opt­ing the tra­di­tional me­dia that has be­come strictly cor­po­ratist and now via new tech­nolo­gies, with even greater con­trol and ap­palling out­comes. The tra­di­tional view of the me­dia speak­ing truth to power, hold­ing lead­ers ac­count­able, has cer­tainly been un­der­mined by a va­ri­ety of fac­tors, in­clud­ing the con­cen­tra­tion of cor­po­rate own­er­ship. That’s be­ing re­peated in the elec­tronic age.

The In­ter­net pro­vided some­thing of a work­around for groups of all ide­olo­gies that felt left out of main­stream news cov­er­age. Now, with in­creased fil­ter­ing – aka cen­sor­ship – an agenda is yet again be­ing pressed.

Clearly, there are all kinds of un­savoury in­for­ma­tion to be found on­line, some of it out­right crim­i­nal. There are lies and li­bels left, right and cen­ter. Where the search en­gine changes are said to tar­get the worst of such hate­ful and “fake news” sources, the wider net that catches up many sites crit­i­cal of es­tab­lished or­tho­doxy is not in­ad­ver­tent.

Prof­its and po­lit­i­cal con­trol are the end game, not byprod­ucts of the tech­nol­ogy.

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