For the last couple of years I’ve taken a Lenten break from Facebook and Twitter to clear my head for a while.
Life is certainly more peaceful without them but I do miss things too: breaking news on Twitter; chit chat on Facebook, with those little glimpses of someone’s life that gives you a comfortable sense of a connection sustained.
Every Easter I wonder whether to reinstall the apps and, so far, I have. Its not that I haven’t known that an account on Facebook is a deal with the devil, but, believing myself to be savvy enough to recognise the advertising, the echo chambers, the nudges one way or another, I’ve thought, what’s the harm in
a joke shared, or an anecdote? It’s not as if I would ever publish something really sensitive or private.
I now know that its not as simple as that. We need to take account of something called ‘surveillance capitalism’:
‘Surveillance capitalism’ was the term coined in 2015 by Harvard academic Shoshanna Zuboff to describe this large-scale surveillance and modification of human behaviour for profit. It involves predictive analysis of big datasets describing the lives and behaviours of tens or hundreds of millions of people, allowing correlations and patterns to be identified, information about individuals inferred, and future behaviour to be predicted. Attempts are then made to influence this behaviour through personalised and dynamic targeted advertising. This is refined by testing numerous variations of adverts on different demographics to see what works best. Every time you use the internet you are likely the unwitting subject of dozens of experiments trying to figure out how to most effectively extract money from you.
This is from an excellent article in Open Democracy by Jennifer Cobbe. It’s well worth looking up.
As is the Talking Politics podcast that referenced it – an illuminating discussion about ‘what Facebook is doing to us and can anything make it stop?
As Janet Cobbe writes:
We’ve ended up with an internet built not for us – but for corporations, political parties, and the state’s increasingly nebulous ‘security’ demands. We need to better understand this problem so that we can challenge it.
Maybe this is the year I let lent last a little longer.
Later that same day…
I’ve just come across a very useful article in the Guardian with all the links you need to find out just what Facebook and Google know about you. Its worth checking. Google is an extraordinary tool for mass surveillance: