The continuing collapse of public trust in Facebook is welcome news to those of us who have been warning about the perils of “data extractivism” for years.
It’s reassuring to have final, definitive proof that beneath Facebook’s highfalutin rhetoric of “building a global community that works for all of us” lies a cynical, aggressive project – of building a global data vacuum cleaner that sucks from all of us.
Like others in this industry, Facebook makes money by drilling deep into our data selves – pokes and likes is simply how our data comes to the surface – much like energy firms drill deep into the oil wells: profits first, social and individual consequences later.
Furthermore, the rosy digital future – where cleverly customized ads subsidize the provision of what even Mark Zuckerberg calls “social infrastructure” – is no longer something that many of us will be taking for granted.
While the monetary costs of building and operating this “social infrastructure” might be zero – for taxpayers anyway – its social and political costs are, perhaps, even harder to account for than the costs of cheap petroleum in the 1970’s.
Such realizations, as sudden and shocking as they might be, are not enough. Facebook is a symptom, not a cause of our problems.
In the long run, blaming its corporate culture is likely to prove as futile as blaming ourselves.
Thus, instead of debating whether to send Zuckerberg into the corporate equivalent of exile, we should do our best to understand how to reorganize the digital economy to benefit citizens.
And not just a handful of multi-billion-dollar firms that view their users as passive consumers with no political or economic ideas or aspirations of their own.
The obstacles standing in the way of this transformative agenda are many and, worse, they are structural – not likely to be solved with a clever app.
These obstacles stem primarily from the disquieting dynamics of contemporary capitalism – which is more stagnant than our obsession with innovation and disruption betrays.
Rather than from our supposed addiction to social networking or tech companies’ abuse of that addiction.
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Pass it on: New Scientist