WORDS: 2,211 — “If you don’t use it then what do you know about it, old man?” That certainly seems to make sense (the “old man” part). The problem there is that while I have no interest in entering the Facebook world, the Facebook world has definitely had an interest in entering MY world. Given that, I suppose I am qualified to have some opinions (which in turn will never be shared on Facebook).
Here’s my qualification to discuss this subject and apply my usual sage wisdom and unbridled intellect to express my concerns. I heard on the news today that the Facebook whistleblower and other sources have revealed that Facebook knew that its platforms were being used for… hmm… let’s make this upper case to illustrate emotion…… they knew their platforms were being used for HUMAN TRAFFICING, SPREADING EXTREMISM, and INCITING VIOLENCE! Well, hey.. those are social problems that can affect me, my family, and any unborn descendants! “How did this happen?” “Those damn Liberals again?”
My “Back In The Day” Story…
Actually we are not going too far back here… mid to late 90’s. I was reaching a high end of my “geekiness” days. I had a computer/office services business with about 10 employees at the time. Core services were mass mailing, mail list maintenance, surveys, and label barcoding. It was a business-to-business… business. I had guys come in to do networking for customers.. the days of Novell. But the social networks of the day as I recall were primarily AOL and some others that had “chat rooms”. The idea was that people would log into a chat “room” that might be subject related, and simply enter into real time on screen chatting using your PC/laptop keyboard. I was not overly fond of the AOL (America Online) engine because it was set up for family, hence chat rooms and chat subjects were family oriented. But the real “wild west” of the day was IRC.. or known then as “internet relay chat”. It wasn’t a service as much as it was some kind of portal. You needed third party software to engage chatting. At the time is was described as being like old CB radio.. in that anyone and everyone could type away, similar to talking freely on the CB. If you wanted a private chat with someone you just double-clicked on the nick ID and a new chat window opened up. Easily you could have multiple chats going at once. Strangely by today’s standards, there was absolutely no advertising popping up. anywhere. Anyway, I loved the medium.. made lots of friends. I even met some of them in real life (don’t worry, I let them live.. and they let me live). A buddy living in Moscow at the time had a phone card so he called me here in the states and we chatted for an hour on his dime. Keep in mind, cells phones were around but no smart phones. I once had a real time online chat with a guy who was in Hong Kong at the time the Brits gave it to the Chinese… and he was describing what it was like.. didn’t need CNN. One time I was crossing Iowa on I-80 and got in a jam due to an accident down the road. I plugged the cable from my cell phone to my laptop in the car and was online with my friends on IRC chatting away (oh, that stunt cost plenty in connect charges). Not so cool nowadays but back then the analog stuff was state-of-the-art. Anyway, I provide this trip into the past to present the advancement in social media tech.. and the far reaching ramifications that Facebook represents to the world that was not apparent two decades ago.
Let’s Get Back To Facebook
Okay.. one doesn’t have to be a tenth tier computer geek to grasp that anything devised to be a free social media platform is, in fact, destined to be used and abused to fit the construct of human behavior. Duh. We shouldn’t be so shocked at Facebook or any of the other platforms in their ability to be a mirror into who and what we are as a species. There should be no shock & awe here. The awe that we should have is in the internet itself in being the primary communication device of our age, far exceeding anything before it like like even the printing press, radio, TV, and the telephone. Without the Internet there is no Facebook (and that does not apply equally the other way around). The Internet is the information super highway to be sure, but free-for-all social media platforms like Facebook are simply conveyance vehicles.. pushing us around by sending us where we want to go without knowing where WE want to go ourselves… and never getting there. It’s the old adage “It’s the journey itself that rewards, and less in reaching the destination.”
The question today is that Facebook and others are using algorithms to fine tune interested content advertising flash across our screens.. and… by subject, themes, of message content. In other words, these little logic sub-routines track our interests online then send not only merchandise advertising but also links to alternative content that can easily be fake information put online as intentional disinformation and inciting and playing on conspiracies. Sources can be anything from extreme political organizations to foreign countries attempting to corrupt and incite violent opposition. At first blush it would seem that we want to prevent our children from becoming unwitting accomplices to any such activity, and being lured and/or compromised into illegal or unsafe situations. But equally as threatening is the influence social media has over adults in feeding prejudices and biases which in turn threatens to coerce a violent response into real life. In other words… this has totally gotten away from us primarily because we failed to understand the power all this has on human behavior. In fact, all this is about amplifying aspects of human behavior and presenting those aspects to affect human behavior in a way you want. It is in fact, a fine tuned form of brainwashing.. and programming you to act.
Now.. let’s put this in a bit of context here. You go to your local grocery store to buy a jar of pickles. Those many brands of pickles sitting on the shelves are not placed there willy-nilly. Decades upon decades of behavioral research has suggested that your eyes will naturally focus on the items at eye level. So, pickle companies might give a grocery store added discounts for displaying their pickle brand at eye level locations. Grocers are happy to do that in order for the discounts given them translating to added profit percentage on the sale of that item. Everything in the grocery store is in place in an attempt to get your money, even all the packaging itself. That kind of “brainwashing” is accepted in society. If you are a company making chocolate widgets you might want colorful packaging, and placed in one of those cardboard product displays sitting directly in the aisle for you and your cart to go around, just to get your attention. Yet I think we can all see the difference in seemingly benign attempts for product marketing to stimulate a spontaneous desire to purchase an item, and that overt attempt to convince you to act in ways you would not normally act, by only presenting to you information that plays on your biases, stereotypes, and political preferences… and making you think there are others who think like you, and seeming to add credibility to conspiracy. In reality both forms are cousins. But that does not mean as a society we just allow it to permeate abhorrent human behavior.
What Made All These Guys Create These Social Platforms?
Like anything else, motivation can be a money-making idea.. but if you look back on some of these creators, Wozniak & Jobs, Gates, Zuckerman, etc. money was either secondary to creating an idea from scratch… or… developed in home basements, garages, and college dorms, to enhance the Internet and unlock a new power for engaging socially around the world… and doing it for free to the user (such is the Liberalism assigned to colleges and universities). I think in Zuckerman’s case he was a total geek and came up with a nice world changing concept… but absolutely failed to comprehend the drawbacks as it would play on human behaviors. I actually think the business side consumed him… oddly, the “Frankenstein” turned on his master in that Zuckerman had to consider aspects of business management and organization and stockholders and it all just blossomed so quickly on him. That’s my speculation of how he might have personally got into this jam. It’s the age-old management argument I constantly make to those who don’t care…. you don’t promote to management just because of seniority. You do it based on the ability to lead others. Just because you are a master plumber and you don’t like the guy you work for, and you break away to start your own business, doesn’t mean you know how to manage other people. But.. that’s for a whole different post. Point being, one has to think that while these computer fellows were geniuses in creating what they did does not mean they knew how to run a company… much less one that may have zoomed to 1 billion bucks inside of five years.
So How Do We Regulate Facebook And Future Such Platforms?
Any government exists in order to regulate. What differs between governments is the intent for any regulation. Our Constitution regulates how we have chosen to live. But to try and find an applicable regulation any way remotely similar to that we will need for regulating social media, to use as a template, is likely very remote to non-existent. Being a radio guy I might reference the FCC who was created to regulate what transmits over the airwaves, in effect, they regulate the entire radio spectrum. Along with radio licensing the FCC also regulates what frequencies you can transmit on… largely to avoid radio interference. The FCC even type-accepts radios manufactured to the public to maintain low interference. But more to the point with Facebook… because the FCC regulates radio… and TV.. it also regulates content. Across all radio spectrums the FCC prohibits cursory and vulgar language (although enforcement is not always practical). Cable TV stations are not transmitting over the airways, which is why the FCC has no regulative authority for content. This is why the early days of cable boomed with porn. Over the decades porn on cable is nearly gone. But, adult content, and even some respected news networks do allow curse words (even F-bombs) to slip in from time to time. Streaming is a whole to medium… again, it’s by wire, or requires a specific action on the consumer to pay for it, so the FCC doesn’t control content. Now, does any of that provide some ideas for regulating social media? I don’t see it myself.
Personally I think we need to consider a Secretary of Technology heading an agency that includes research on future tech and its ramifications to society… as well as enhancing current technology. Along with that should be mechanisms for regulating how social media can be used. On the other hand, maybe Homeland Security should have a voice given the “bad” social media actors are foreign players. BUT.. this will NOT be easy because there IS a developing need to have a world wide social network for exchanging those things important to us humans around the world. When we speak of regulating platforms like Facebook we are saying someone, somewhere wants to control content, and it’s human for some humans to want to control how others act, think, and behave outside of human filters of what might be appropriate. Control is power… and there will never be a lack of humans wanting power to dominate other humans. This is the overriding fear of regulating social media…. the idea of regulating too far and stifling the benefits.
As for the short term…. Facebook is a business like any other business therefore they exist solely at the pleasure of the consumer. Facebook could indeed end up in on-going civil challenges in courts for their alleged responsibilities in bad things that happen, that will suck out some cash.. but they can (for now) afford it. They seem to be headed for some real PR challenges, which generally show up in reduced revenue somewhere. But is there any alternative to Facebook that would not suffer the same problems down the line? I don’t know… but I do not represent the age demographic that keeps up with such things. Will the Fed require a breakup of Facebook? If so, does that make anything really better in the long run? There’s a lot more questions on this than possible remedies.
In the meantime, I will continue to care less about using Facebook because that’s just me. But we collectively cannot and must not ignore Facebook for its impact on our lives… and security to the country.