JUST SCRATCHING THE SURFACE OF SOCIAL MEDIA PERILS
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.