Anyone who has had cause, as I have, to become annoyed enough at Facebook to try to drop it for another platform soon discovers, as I did, that no other can do the trick. Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg’s genius is evident in the many ways the platform has so successfully entrapped us all.
The Brothers Grimm’s tale Hansel and Gretel is about an evil witch with a taste for tender young children that she roasts in her oven after enticing them into her delightful candy house.
The deceitful witch did not build her pretty candy house for the children at all, but to satisfy her ravenous appetite for roasted children. Similarly, the evil genius of Zuckerberg did not build Facebook for us at all, but to satisfy his ravenous appetite for the billions he makes for himself and his shareholders by running the Janus-faced operation.
For years, I have known that Facebook made its billions by selling user data to advertisers and this did not bother me in the least.
“I have nothing to hide,” I reasoned. “I have nothing to lose.”
It turns out I was wrong. We may all have nothing to hide, but recent events show just how very much we have to lose.
“Social networking site,” is how Facebook presented itself to us from the beginning. “Surveillance platform” is the way it presented itself to its real clients.
Way back in the beginning, Zuckerberg is on record as calling those of us signing on to Facebook in droves “dumb fucks.” He knew from the start how much we stood to forfeit. Only now are we ourselves beginning to glimpse the full extent of the damage Facebook has done us.
One possible example is Brexit, the exit of Britain from the EU, which has done, and is still doing, so much damage to that once-proud nation.
Turns out the Americans and Facebook might have been up to their eyeballs in determining the outcome of the election that led to the whole mess.
However, let us look at an example closer at hand, where there is much more actual proof of wrongdoing, confessed on YouTube by the guilty themselves — the 2016 US presidential campaign that put Donald Trump in the Oval Office — and which is doing so much damage to an even larger and once-prouder nation.
Former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton received the majority of votes in the 2016 US presidential election, but the archaic electoral college system for determining the victor put Trump in the White House instead.
Turns out now, this did not happen by itself, but was skillfully orchestrated by some of Trump’s people who from Facebook posts were able to accurately pinpoint a relatively tiny number of voters in each of three pivotal states, who had specific prejudices, fears and misconceptions that, when targeted and appealed to, got them out to vote for Trump.
The scheme worked in all three states and swung the election in Trump’s favor, giving him the electoral college victory, even though Clinton clearly won the majority of votes countrywide.
On YouTube, anyone can see how Facebook devised an app that made it possible for a certain British academic whiz to access the data not just of those who used the app, but of all their friends and contacts as well.
The professor shared this method and the Facebook data on all these people, and their friends and contacts with Cambridge Analytica, founded and funded by a pro-Trump billionaire and his daughter, and operated by Trump’s ideological buddy Steve Bannon.
Cambridge Analytica’s scheme proved successful in handing Trump the presidency. Thus, in effect, Facebook was behind the undoing of the US’ democracy. The same could easily happen in Taiwan or elsewhere.
In retrospect, Zuckerberg could have done so much good with the Facebook idea he stole from a fellow student at Harvard and turned into a hugely profitable business for himself. Instead of doing good, he opted for making billions. And, not satisfied with that, he was busy until the very end trying to figure ways to make even more billions as fast as possible — when the truth finally got out.
Others warned him of the dangers that lie ahead if Facebook would not better protect user data. Zuckerberg and other Facebook higher-ups simply did not care. They did not regard it as important. Their entire focus was on maximizing the profit-making potential of the platform and expanding the business end as fast as possible.
So Zuckerberg is now one of the richest men on Earth, while all the rest of us are only beginning to discover how very much poorer we are than we ever imagined possible, and in ways that really matter, not just to us, but to our children and their children as well.
William Stimson is an American writer who teaches at National Chi Nan and Tunghai universities.
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