Don’t get me wrong. I am all in favour of social media. I love it. It keeps me in touch with what some friends and family are up to and, besides, it puts one right into the midst of the marketplace of ideas, whether good, bad or deplorable. Some offerings you might applaud and agree with and others not and, in the case of a few, you just shake your head and move on. On some rare occasion, some truly idiotic or atrocious contribution makes you angry, fume and rage, an extraordinary stream of emotions and reactions that track through the mind whether you are relaxing in the comfort of your home, travelling on the bus or just stealing time from your employer.
Perhaps the major attraction in social media is that participation is free: it’s a pleasure you don’t have to pay for. Nothing in upfront money. Where do you, these days, get anything so useful and, at times, even addictive, paying? It is a deception, however, although you can’t just say “caveat emptor” because, in ordinary usage, you are not actually buying or forking out. However that may be, should not the sellers also be subject to the warning contained in another Latin expression, ‘caveat venditor’ or ‘seller beware’? But these buccaneers don’t care, do they? Even though they must be fully aware of the answer to the third of my Latin language quotes: “Cui bono?” Who, indeed, benefits from all those freebies being splashed about? Well, you better believe it’s not me or you, friend. The FAANGs, Facebooks, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Googles of this world, or to give them their full, frightening enormity, FAANGY, with YouTube rounding off the predatory sextet, are not doing it out of the kindness of their heart. They’re there just for the money. For them to make their money, they deliver you, bound hand, foot and mind, to their real paymasters: these are the ones who want to sell you stuff.
Someone, somewhere, wants your soul and is prepared to pay for it. Once they’ve got it, the step to the contents of your purse or your mind is an easy one. You are now property, the modern-day slave-form. And, like the slave-masters of old, they work you to the bone. But this time it is not your physical labour, but instead, your eagerness to amass stuff. Whatever is in the market, they sell, real or virtual. But it is the virtual stuff that poses the greatest threat to the public good. It is now fully established that Facebook, for example, played a leading role in manipulating UK voters to do a Brexit on themselves. And, similarly, Americans who voted in their presidential election a few months later, were manipulated into making a bad choice for their leader, although that vote was complicated by external factors. Besides that kind of manipulation, social media allows and promotes the publication of lies and other fake stories full of destructive propaganda. When questioned about that kind of behaviour, they retreat behind a threadbare curtain of an amendment to the constitution of the United States which, if we are to believe the hype, prohibits censorship in the public sphere. When the platform operators are forced, they may concede, grudgingly and would, sometimes, remove objectionable material from their platforms. A recent example is that post of Nancy Pelosi that was manipulated to make her appear under the influence. ‘No, they can’t touch it’, they say. That would be censorship, horror of horrors, even though they know that the video is a lie. And a few weeks ago, it was a struggle to get Facebook to delete the live-streamed rant of the Christchurch mass-shooter as he went about his murderous business, killing scores of innocent Muslims going about their devotions on a Friday afternoon. I, too, in my own limited experience, have had to deal with Facebook when a horrible anti-Muslimism rant appeared in my feed. When I complained, I was horrified to hear Facebook say that the rant did not breach “community standards”. Which community? Which standards? So, it stood. This is just a minor example of how the platforms neglect what is a public duty to prevent civil dissention. Each of us, individually, has not the power to influence what the FAANGY’s do, but you would have thought that governments, singly, or even collectively, have enough clout to force them to behave responsibly.
But that, sadly, is not so. Case in point, the Canadian parliament subpoenaed the CEO and COO of Facebook, among others, to explain why they behave the way they do. They were a no-show, instead, they sent lower level officials to face the questions.
So, what do we do with these all-powerful multi-trillion-dollar corporations, whose wealth, individually and combined exceeds that of many countries? The answer, my friend, lies with us. Voting with our feet will send a message that they can’t ignore. But I hear you say, “You first.”
Tell Fren Tru