Zuckerberg: the world’s biggest dictator

My latest article at MercatorNet is a brief primer on the increasing significance of Facebook and other Big Data collectors in shaping our polity:

So called “dark post” Facebook ads are visible only to their targeted audience, and as a recent post promising to build a border wall “(not a fence)” shows, the Trump campaign clearly thinks these tactics worth continuing.

With all the focus on “fake news” and not trusting everything you read online, it’s disconcerting to find that people are being wilfully manipulated by online content the rest of us can’t see or scrutinise, even if we wanted to.

The danger in Facebook’s Big Data powers is epitomised in new revelations that Russian operatives used Facebook to influence American politics over a two year period, with as many as126 million Americans viewing the posts.

Facebook has refused to release the ads, but described them as focused on “divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum”, such as race relations and gun rights.



Why I’m not on Facebook

A friend recently suggested I start a facebook account to give my articles greater exposure.

She’s probably right, yet I can’t help but resist the thought.  I may come around to it in time, but for now I can at least express my misgivings about facebook as a medium.

Firstly, I do know what I’m talking about: my wife has a facebook account and somehow I end up logging on to it more frequently than she does, which is still not saying much. We’re a bit like the parable of the two sons: one says ‘yes’ but doesn’t do it, the other says ‘no’ but then goes and does it anyway.  Which of these is greater in the kingdom of facebook?

Secondly, I’m fully aware that I’m the kind of person who would spend way too much time obsessing over facebook if I ever did get my own account.  I’m not a terribly virtuous person, and it’s really only due to the peculiarities of my temperament that I tend to spend more time at home reading and thinking, than out in public disgracing myself. Facebook would bring those two worlds together, and I could full well end up publicly disgracing myself in the thoughtful privacy of my own home.

Thirdly, all the usual stuff that people complain about in relation to facebook – I enjoy being free of it, knowing it only vicariously through my wife’s account.  I don’t have to worry about facebook stealing my thoughts, injecting mood-altering drugs into my coffee, superficially boosting my social status, or whatever it is they’re up to these days.

But I fear my facebook hermitage may come to an end, if it proves in the long run that the most effective way of building my writing career is through some kind of symbiotic relationship with the ubiquitous corporate giant.

There but for the grace of blog go I.


My friend replied:

But you missed the main problem with facebook: it is an endless temptation to misrepresent oneself to gain the admiration of others, and also to constantly envy everyone else’s life despite knowing they also are misrepresenting their own lives!

I wish I’d thought of that one!