Mark Zuckerberg will be drag before Congress this week. Hell apologise but his company doesnt know how to change its label of surveillance capitalism
Ponder this … and sob. The United States, theoretically a ripen democracy of 327 million souls, is ruled by a 71 -year-old unstable narcissist with a serious social media habit. And the lawmakers of this republic have hauled up before them a 34 -year-old lily-white male, one Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, the sole and impregnable sovereign of a virtual country of about 2.2 billion people who stands accused of unwittingly facilitating the election of supposed narcissist by allowing Russian agents and other bad actors to exploit the surveillance apparatus of his- Zuckerberg’s- virtual state.
How did we get into this laughable mess? Answering this question requires an understanding of( among other things) the peculiar nature of digital technology, the ideology of Silicon Valley, the startling political naivety of Zuckerberg, the ethical tunnel vision of software engineers and- most important- the business simulation that has come to be known as” surveillance capitalism “.
A key factor was the surprising ability of system impressions to facilitate monopolistic outcomes. Facebook is a closed private platform that was created on a public platform- the world wide web- which in turn was built on the open internet, a public facility been developed by taxpayers’ money.
It was created by Zuckerberg as a software application that allowed people to hook up with each other and share personal information. Because the underlying architecture- the web- already existed, and because the service it supplied was free, it spread like wildfire.
And although it was not the first social networking application, it was more astutely designed and robust than incumbents such as MySpace and it eventually erased them out. As it grew, the network effect kicked in- to the phase where if a teen wanted to get laid s/ he simply had to be on Facebook. So in the social-networking sell it became the win that took all.
In the beginning, Facebook didn’t really have a business simulate. But because providing free services costs money, it urgently needed one. This necessary grew the mother of invention: although in the beginning Zuckerberg( like the two Google co-founders, incidentally) hated advertising, in the end- like them- he faced up to sordid actuality and Facebook became an advertising company.
Given that its customers were liberally supplying all kinds of information about themselves( what they liked, what academies they attended, what the hell is did for a living, etc) “its easy to” to assemble a detailed profile of each one. And this information could be used to enable paying clients( called advertisers) to aim commercial messages at them.
In this direction, Facebook became a surveillance capitalist- deducing revenues from surveilling its consumers. And the more they “engaged” with it- the more occasion they spent on the website- the more “monetisable” data they generated.
This turned out to be a licence to print money and it built Facebook the sixth most valuable company in the world at one time. Zuckerberg’s programmers constructed a remarkable automated system to assist advertisers in picking particular audiences and refining their messages- and in the process boosted their boss’s net worth to $62 bn.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of all this is that Zuckerberg and his colleagues apparently didn’t sprigs that their automated structure could also be used by politically motivated a user to direct political or ideological contents at Facebook users.
How else can we account for Zuckerberg’s air of outraged innocence when prove began to appear in 2017 that this was precisely what had happened during the presidential election, and his slow and grudging acceptance of the horrid fact which culminated in admissions of the extent to which Cambridge Analytica’s activities had undermined the privacy rights of up to 87 million Facebook customers?
” We didn’t concentrate enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well ,” he finally conceded last week.” That starts for fake news, foreign interference in elections, abhor speech, in addition to developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a wide-reaching enough position of what our responsibility is, and that was a huge mistake. It was my mistake .”
Before we get carried away by this latest sorrow fest, it’s worth remembering that this is par for the Zuckerberg course. There have been- by one count- at least 11 previous scandals involving Facebook, and in many of them the boy-wonder CEO has been scampered out to do his shtick. It’s got to the point where one can write the script. It travels: sure we screwed up; we’re determined to do better in future; but, hey,” life is about learning from the mistakes and figuring out what is required to do to move forward “.
As the Guardian’s Nils Pratley put it the other period,” This breezy I-promise-to-do-better mantra would be understandable if been proposed by a schoolchild who had fluffed an quiz. But Zuckerberg is running the world’s eighth largest company and $50 bn has just been removed from its stock market value in a scandal that, aside from conjuring deep questions about personal privacy and social media’s influence on republic, may provoke a regulatory backlash .”
Kenneth Tynan memorably defined a neurosis as” a secret you don’t know you’re keeping “. The difficulty with Zuckerberg’s apologetic cant is the fact that it serves to conceal the secret that he must know he’s keeping- namely that the root of the company’s questions, and the reason it can’t secure itself, is its abusive business model.
Facebook extracts the personal information and data roads of its users to paint virtual targets on their backs. And it has to keep increasing user “engagement” to justify its stock-market valuation( and maintain Zuckerberg’s net worth ).
As a senior company executive, Andrew Bosworth, once set it in a leaked internal memo:” The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is de facto good. It is perhaps the only field where the metrics do tell the true narrative as far as we are concerned … That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practises. All the subtle language that helps people abide searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bringing more communication in. The task we will likely have to do in China some period. All of it .” Yep: all of it.