Facebook, Tool for the Despots

Anti-Social Media; How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy, Siva Vaidhyanathan, 2018

Even when we post and share demonstrably false stories and claims we do so to declare our affiliation, to assert that our social bonds mean more to us than the question of truth…How do we train billions of people to value truth over their cultural membership when the question of truth holds little at stake for them and the question of social membership holds so much?

The social aspect of social media trumps any effort to build or spread civic responsibility into the system. Facebook is a pleasure machine. The pleasure is light and fleeting. That’s what keeps us coming back. But Facebook is also an anxiety machine, an anger machine, and a resentment machine…but the resentment is deep and durable.

Facebook attracts us, hooks us, encourages us to declare our affiliations, divides us, and tracks every single interaction along the way. Facebook’s surveillance system is part of its pleasure system. They cannot be severed.

The influence of Facebook on the violent attacks in Charlottesville is difficult to trace but important to address. I live in a nation that no longer seems able to filter out of its public sphere the most odious calls for an ethnically pure state, that has a major political party that can no longer resist fringe elements, and has a media ecosystem that rewards the most alarming and spectacular claims and is now willing to take seriously the claims of white supremacists. One man sympathetic to white supremacists even assumed the presidency in 2017 because the established filters all failed. Facebook did not generate these problems. It did amplify and normalize them by scrambling our senses of truth and justice and fracturing a sense of collective national fate. Mostly Facebook makes it hard to think.

Between Google and Facebook, we have witnessed a global concentration of wealth and power not seen since the British and Dutch East India Companies ruled vast territories, millions of people, and the most valuable trade routes. Remarkably, and unlike the East India Companies, Google and Facebook have achieved this feat nonviolently and with only tangential state support…They did all this by inviting us in, tricking us into allowing them to make us their means to wealth and power, distilling our activities and identities into data, and launching a major ideological movement – what Neil Postman described yet only predicted in 1992: technopoly.

Postman: “It (technopoly) consists of the deification of technology, which means that the culture seeks it authorization in technology, finds its satisfaction in technology, and takes its orders from technology.” This ideological domination demands a sacrifice of all previously stable belief systems. So trust in institutions, ancient or modern, erodes. Local identities and traditions are rendered valueless except as raw material for remixes, parody, tourism, tapestries, and games rather than expressions of deep human narratives and connections.

Postman: “Technopoly eliminates alternatives to itself in precisely the way Aldous Huxley outlined in Brave New World. It does not make them illegal. It does not make them immoral. It does not even make them unpopular. It makes them invisible and therefore irrelevant.” If it didn’t happen on Facebook, it didn’t happen.

The problem is, Facebook by 2013 already was so dominant that for may people absence from Facebook meant invisibility

The most fruitful response to the problems that Facebook creates, reveals, or amplifies would be to reinvest and strengthen institutions that generate deep, meaningful knowledge. We must support scientific communities, universities, libraries, and museums around the world. We must foster deliberation through publically funded better journalism, forums for debate, and commissions that could harness expertise to address our most pressing challenges.

Modi Duterte Trump

The book is very good on the exploitation of Facebook by despots such as Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Narendra Modi in India. He talks about the efforts of the Trump campaign to target potential Hillary voters with negative information, such as highlighting the Bill Clinton record of criminalizing crack cocaine, black incarcerations, and Hilary comments on blacks. These efforts probably further suppressed Hillary’s votes in key states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

In the meantime, Vaidhyanathan continues to use Facebook.

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