Those folks who have been using Facebook faithfully over the years would, I think, admit that the social media site has had an impact on our lives.
Facebook has been fun. It’s allowed many of us to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. It’s enabled us to record our memories, pay homage to our loved ones, and just generally share our lives with our connections.
I say connections in this case rather than friends because, for many of us, our friends are only a subset of those we reach with our Facebook feeds.
That in itself has been a way in which Facebook has impacted our lives. For better or worse, the details of our lives—large, small, petty, even private—have reached beyond our inner circle.
The product is…you
Now we can and do control our Facebook feeds—to an extent.
By default, a Facebook user’s feed is open to the entire world. Even if we apply the filters and restrictions that Facebook provides us in our settings, there are still ways that outsiders can view information about us.
For example, at the very least, outsiders can search on our names and can usually see some part of our feed.
And, since Facebook has changed its settings multiple times over the years, it’s entirely possible that the restrictions that we set were modified in some ways that we’re not even aware of.
But our settings are only half the problem. It’s been said more than once that, for Facebook, we users aren’t the customer, we’re the product. Facebook’s customers are the advertisers and publishers that pay Facebook to let them contact us.
If you’re interested, I wrote a post several weeks back that describes how we Facebook users are targeted by advertisers and publishers.
Then why tech-52, you ask, are you writing about Facebook again? Blame it on Bill Maher, I say.
The Real Time host on his October 20th show had a pretty scathing commentary about not only Facebook, but also about its users and those who would exploit them.
Now, I know Maher is not for everyone. He can be ascerbic, gruff, condescending, and profane. But he does often provide food for thought, even if some are thoughts we’d prefer not to entertain.
At the end of each show, Maher does his “New Rules” segment, and finishes up with a rant. Here’s in part what he had to say:
The conventional wisdom is that in the 1980s, Saint Ronald Reagan defeated the Soviet Union, and then the Berlin Wall came down, and everybody was friends…But what really happened is we stopped fighting the Cold War. But the Russians never did…There is an entire building in St. Petersburg filled with a Russian troll army, hundreds of employees of their defense department sitting in front of computers pretending to be Americans, and creating thousands of tweets, memes, news site comments, and flat-out fake stories designed not to take any sides on an issue, but just to get us fighting about it…To create chaos. The better to elect the chaos candidate…That’s what they were doing, that’s what their meddling was meant to do—start shit. And, boy, was that easy to do, since Facebook is the place where thinking went to die…we spread [Putin’s] propaganda for him…And it really bugs me that Facebook took that word [sharing] and ratfucked it…Facebook sharing isn’t sharing, it’s mostly humble bragging…it’s a lot of that bullshit and it’s a healthy amount of ‘here’s something I want you to know I have.’…For something called sharing, there’s an awful lot of ‘look at me, look how talented my kids are. Look at what great concert seats I have. Look, I’m in Italy and you’re in Fuckoma…And the Russians saw this, and they…used it as the engine for spreading their bullshit. For the purpose of starting cockfights…Except, we’re the cocks. We’re the brainless birds pecking at each other. That’s what Putin knew, that with social media, it would be easy to get America to start cockfighting. He just made sure the tiniest cock [Trump] won.
Maher’s rant rekindled for me some of the angst I’ve had over the years about the power of social media. About how it lulls us into thinking it’s just an idle pastime. About how our own egos can be stroked and manipulated. About how we create our own information bubbles. About how what we share can be weaponized against us.
A cautionary tale for the ages
And, now, with the revelation that 126 million Americans, more than a third of the entire population, viewed content generated by Russia during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, it’s prudent to reflect on our Facebook devotion.
If you’re interested, here on one site are the Russia-produced ads that the House Intelligence Committee released for public consumption. The 30 or so ads are only a small sample of the estimated 3000 fake ads that appeared during the campaign.
As you can see, some are anti-Hillary, some are pro-Trump, but all are inflammatory for some segment of the political spectrum in the U.S.
What’s the answer? Should we give up on Facebook? On social media? Not necessarily.
But we could read more books. Broaden our consumption of media and ensure that we are better informed.
We could share of ourselves—truly share—by seeing our friends and family more in person. By volunteering. By donating. By being active in improving our community. By voting.
And certainly become more cognizant of what we put out there for strangers to see, and in turn what we consume as information.
Russia will be back. In fact, they never left. We need to be vigilant.
Stay woke, my friends.