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In defence of Facebook. Sort of…

Oh my God, Facebook (like Google, YouTube, Twitter etc) is an advertising business maximizing revenues and profits by trying to make you stay hooked in as long as possible. Maximize engagement, in technospeak. Jesus, the sharks of the old media have never heard of such things before, when the world was safe in its place and not yet collapsing around us.

Oh my God, networks are run like for-profit entities, not some post-modern, soul-soothing, value-based “community” bla bla, as their “mission statement” might say. Like 90% of all the bla bla corporate mission statements adopted by sanctimonious boards in the 2000s and then derided in private by all insiders. Business analysts are in emotional distress.

Oh my God, big techs are collecting data about their clients, who are lured in with service and goodies offered for free, and then use such data for better targeting the same clients with paid ads. Or repackage the databases and sell them to third parties. We in the Retail Marketing departments of yore are shocked, never heard of such practices before.

Zuckerberg, knight of the New Apocalypse … There’s suddenly a whole cottage industry of social media bashing, ethical corporate whistleblowing and sheer technophobia proliferating on the same social networks which are the object of elevated critique.

Doesn’t all this look suspiciously like a symptom of betrayal in love? The same people who years ago were romantically engaged with utopia – and, some of them, pretty well paid for that – deploy now the same blind and sanguine radicalism in the opposite direction.

In a way, the tech giants brought it on themselves: if you keep telling people you’re going to save the world, that business has changed for good like never before in history and that new rules apply, of course people will hold you to a higher standard. In reality nothing fundamental has changed and the business standards are the same as ever.

If you keep telling your advertisers and investors that you can target users down to the tiniest pixel, and push stock prices into the stratosphere as a result, it is hard after that to convince the public that your machines cannot understand simple sentences or detect an army of Russian bots trampling up and down your network in full view.

The irony is, you are right: they cannot, because their capabilities were vastly oversold. All the networks can do is the old marketing trick of carpet-bombing people with ads they don’t care much about, because are poorly targeted, often irrelevant and mostly annoying. But you wrapped everything in techno mumbo jumbo and so you were able to pretend otherwise.

Moreover, you have run into the centuries old problem of censorhip vs free speech. Or, in your new parlance, “content moderation”. You totally hit the wall with this and your frustration is understandable when politicians are asking you to perform impossible tasks. Because indeed there’s no simple solution to the moral and practical dilemmas arising in democracies when you try to screen out “unacceptable content” popping up in public debates.

But this dead end was entirely predictable , if only you had less X-generation IT boffins and venture funds hormonals sitting on your boards, and more old school thinkers.

And while corporate consultants, engineers and stockholders defect these days to the camp of angels and spill the beans (like this lady here), there’s comparatively much less whistleblowing from the quarters where real dangers are festering: autocratic states deploying big data and AI to control populations and instill social conformity (China) or disrupt the democratic politics abroad (Russia).

You know, they have a very strong track record on this: in the real reality, not the virtual one. On the other hand, the big business in the West deploying mysterious dark arts to lord over the humankind remains a preferred topic of conspiracy literature, like the Protocols of the Elders of Sion or the Communist Manifesto. Orwell saw things much more clearly than the hipsters: it is not the Big Western Business, but the Big Eastern State.

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*Thanks ionitas.ro

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