About eight years ago, I would begin a workshop with an opening line that went something like this: Facebook is the greatest, most irresistible social network ever designed.… by the CIA. Not factual, or course, but it got attendees to ponder how surveillance had become so easy, with no need for wiretaps, or laws such as FISA or ECPA.
Well, it’s now normal for journalists to talk of Facebook as being the great harvesting ground of big data organizations that use it to surveil and/or target users. That includes our friends and family in our networks. Social media addiction feeds the algorithm. Here’s what Mashable’s Damon Beres just wrote that it’s time to protect yourself -and your friends –from Facebook:
“The photos you post are interpreted by Facebook’s programs to automatically recognize your face; the interests you communicate via text are collated and cross-examined by algorithms to serve you advertising. Our virtual social connections enrich this marketing web and make advertisers more powerful. And many of us open the app to scroll without really knowing why. Facebook literally presents us with a “feed.” We are users the way drug addicts are users, and we’re used like a focus group is used to vet shades of red in a new can of Coca-Cola.”
He uses the analogy of the Marlboro Man, and the rugged cowboy appeal that continued to lure ‘users’ into a deadly nicotine habit, despite the truth which tobacco companies hid, and were reluctantly forced to admit.
So what to do? Some of my friends have quit Facebook. I haven’t yet. But I do recommend limiting data that algorithms could vacuum up: birthdays, business information, opinions related to our social causes, political rants and things we purchase online. No public displays of affection for family birthdays, anniversaries and such. (Birthday cards and letters were invented for this; despite claims to the contrary they haven’t gone out of style.) And Selfies! –unless you don’t mind feeding facial recognition algorithms now being used in many, many locations.
Deleting some of this now is a bit too late, but like the nicotine patch, it’s better than the alternatives. Unless your family and friends don’t mind the creepy second-hand smoke…