Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Facebook was born of male juvenile frustration. If you believe that story, Zuckerberg couldn’t attract the ladies because he wasn’t part of the in-crowd. He fought back by creating an early form of social media for rating the girls and guys. The rest is history.
The 33-year-old has an estimated wealth of US$72 billion. He's gathered that vast sum in under 14 years. By any measure a remarkable achievement.
Today, his baby hosts 2.2 billion users. In the process its transformed human communication bringing untold benefits. For many, Facebook is the only way to run their business, organise protests and training events, or keep in touch with far-flung friends and family. Online activists leveraged the power of Facebook to reach the world, expose corruption and dictators.
Most of us use it for more mundane purposes. For me, it provided great reassurance that I could reach my daughter while at university overseas. She may not have always welcomed the ‘stalking’ as I followed her from party to party. But I must thank the Zuck for that opportunity. Yes, we had to have some rules to respect her privacy. As I reminded her, we only get to see the stuff she posts. If you don’t want your parents to see it, then its probably not something you should post. That’s a pretty good rule for social media.
Remember, social media has a clue in its name. It’s social. This word indicates that you are broadcasting to the world. Even with all the filters operating, restricted access and other provisions, always assume everyone sees everything.
Facebook is free to the user. So what is the product? Well, another thing to remember is that if something is free, then the product is you. The Facebook business model is simple and astute. You give as much personal data as you are prepared to offer. Zuck then sells that to advertisers to help them decide what to sell you. In turn, you get free access to some pretty cool technology.
That’s the deal you sign up for with Facebook. And we’ve all gone along with it for several years. The latest imbroglio arises because some bright spark harnessed Facebook to politics. It was only a matter of time before this happened. The data we provide will give an insight into political views, then help steer how politicians address us.
Let's be clear; this is not a breach of Facebook. You volunteered the information that was harvested and deployed. No one forced you to do that, although ignorance of the consequences was present. The technology worked fine, as usual, human vulnerability is as present as ever. Further, and this is significant, the underlying issues are not unique to Facebook. Other platforms do the same.
The Zuck has proved slow to respond. He’s taken a fair kicking in the press. If he’s to claw back from this, he will need to do some quick work, including giving greater control to the users. These adjustments may involve a change in his business model. That's the price he needs to pay to survive.
A movement is building to exit Facebook. I’m not sure it will have much momentum, given the reliance that many have on the platform. Plus, what’s the alternative?
Where do you go to escape the clutches of Facebook? You’ve spent years creating communities, worked to maintained them. At this point, there is no real alternative to Facebook. It’s breadth of services, its penetration and volume of content make it challenging to drop.
Be honest; it’s a lifeline for many. Community organisers, minority groups and isolated individuals use it as a window to the world. Facebook provides a reach that is not possible elsewhere, and its free at the point of delivery.
No doubt governments are going to get tough on Zuck and others. That’s already in the pipeline. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes live on 25th May. The harmonised regulations bring tighter controls on data sharing as the conditions for consent get strengthened. Companies must use simple, intelligible language and easily accessible content forms. It must be as easy to withdraw approval as it is to give it.
Some of the issues that allowed Cambridge Analytica to exploit Facebook are already contained by changes made. No doubt, in the future, new challenges will arise because the data that Facebook and others hold is gold. We may have to live with that.
I recognise that deleting Facebook will have repercussions for my online and offline life. For the time being, I’m sticking with it. Yet, I’m not using any of the site-based apps and maximising my protection in the privacy settings. I don't play any of those silly games nor attempt the personality tests. Also, I’ll be watching to see steady improvements in controls. In many ways, we're privileged to live at a time when such things as Facebook open our eyes to the world. But don’t be blinded, there is a price to pay.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.