If you are still on Facebook and haven’t watched The Great Hack on Netflix, you are a willing and uninformed participant in the scam. Please educate yourself. You may continue to be willing (read addicted), but you need not remain ignorant and uninformed.
In short, it has been admitted and proven without a doubt that weapon-grade psychological profiling, mining of personal data, and blatant manipulation ranging from overt to subliminal was used on Facebook to influence both the 2016 American Presidential election and Brexit, via Cambridge Analytica by way of Facebook.
In his own words, you can hear Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix say, “We are a behavior change agency. The holy grail of communications is when you can change behavior… we try and increase apathy.”
Did you catch that last part? “We try and increase apathy.”
When we look at the broken parts of our world right now, what repeatedly comes to mind is a sense of desensitization—the onset of apathy: lack of concern. When we become so apathetic to how we are being controlled, we not only lose our freedom, we lose our very humanity.
Professor David Carroll is featured in the film as he attempts to reclaim his own data. He says, “Our dignity as humans is at stake. The hardest part in all of this is that these wreckage sites and crippling divisions begin with the manipulation of one individual, then another and another. So I can’t help but ask myself: Can I be manipulated? Can you?”
Let me answer that for you, Dave. In the iconic words of the most famous Tina Fey impersonator, Sarah Palin, “You betcha!”
Former Cambridge Analytica director of business development and whistleblower Brittany Kaiser said, “The methodology (used to manipulate the public) is considered a weapon… weapons grade communication tactics.”
Do you really think that when you are in the brain fog, hypnotic state of a Facebook surfing scroll that you are capable of resisting weapon-grade communication tactics?
Marketing 101 teaches that the average person has to see an ad or hear a message seven times before they believe it or feel seduced or compelled to try it. “Donald Trump’s 2016 digital campaign director claimed to have run 5.9 million visual ads on Facebook, in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s 66,000. He is now campaign manager for Trump 2020.” -The Great Hack
If we continue to not care, we might as well prepare for history to repeat itself.
In 2015, I tried to warn friends to stop doing Facebook quizzes that ask about your nicknames and first pets (common security questions), and your greatest fears (HELLO!!!). I changed my privacy settings to no avail. Those who had me as a friend, or who had me in their contacts, unwittingly shared my personal information which was sold and used to further strip away my personal rights. This has happened to you, too, whether you are aware of it or not.
If you are one of those people who think that only those with something to hide need privacy, who believes in the power of transparency, I hear you. As a child, I longed for a world where telepathy was the only language spoken, for no lies nor deceit could survive in a sea of full disclosure. But transparency only works in a just society, not one in which inequities abound. If you don’t care about your own privacy, I implore you to at least have the compassion and humanity to care about the privacy of those for whose very survival may be dependent on their privacy.
When you live in a world with systematic and systemic racism, ageism, ableism, and sexism and you are marginalized in any way, whether through skin color, religion, gender, disability, or sexual identity, you not only have the right but often, you have the very need for the power of discretion in order to survive. Privacy protects the innocent, not just the guilty.
Discretion is not deceit, it’s protection. It is not fear and hiding. It’s intelligent. Online discretion is the protection of one’s vulnerabilities akin to that of men wearing a cup over their man sack when catching a ball behind the batter’s box. We wear helmets on motorcycles, seat belts in cars, seek to drink clean water, etc. These are all ways in which we protect our vulnerabilities in order to survive.
Many companies, ranging from health insurance and future employers to institutions for higher learning, have admitted to using social media and online searches to gather information on potential students, employees, or patients to help determine the admittance, acceptance or rejection of said candidates.
Pre-existing medical conditions are usually frowned upon by employers and academic administrators as it can be a red flag to missed days due to ill health and looked at as a potential loss in productivity and thereby a possible poor financial investment. In other words, if someone with a rare genetic disorder makes a medically related comment in a Facebook support group on a social media platform, because that’s the only place you can find said support group, that information can and likely will be used against them in obtaining a living wage job or a higher education for a career.
Health insurance standards for pre-existing medical conditions can change every four years based on who is president. When you are unable to procure health insurance, employment, or an education, your very livelihood is at risk.
Not only Facebook but most apps request access to a person’s contact info, but few people (understandably) read the terms and conditions before clicking “I agree.” Even if you as an individual decline, that doesn’t mean that every single person you know from friend, family, co-worker, or casual acquaintance who created a contact for you in their online address book will do the same. Therefore, even when people use pseudonyms and separate email addresses for their online presence, if those are linked to their legal names, addresses or photographs, within anyone’s contact list, that information is now vulnerable to being shared with millions largely for the primary purpose of marketing, although information procured for one purpose is often misused for another.
Many medical offices now take the photographs of their patients, as do employers, government agencies (DMV), and school identification cards. Facial recognition software is becoming more easily accessible for users in both the private and professional sectors. There may not be a way to remain in society entirely anonymous, but there are ways to help make it more difficult for personal identifiers to be used against law-abiding citizens while they still have the freedom to choose how private or transparent their lives will be.
If you an able-bodied, white, Christian, heterosexual, and especially male, you probably have nothing to fear in risking what you share. Your privilege protects you like varnish to wood. You can drink beers and even keep a calendar with notes about which night you and your friends are planning a gang bang and still be appointed to the highest court in the land.
For the rest of us who are less able-bodied, Jewish, Muslim, Hindi, Buddhist, LGBTQ, black, or brown people, or those who speak with an accent other than British or Australian, well, we have to work a little harder to obtain anything close to the power of privilege.
I left Facebook in 2016 because I saw how Facebook ads were manipulating people during the presidential campaign, and I experienced first-hand relationships torn apart by Facebook ads that caused division. Even with the knowledge, we have of how our systems were hacked, I expect to see even greater division arise on Facebook during the 2020 campaign.
While I missed seeing photos and updates of my friends and people I know on Facebook who inspire me creatively, I viewed that as a want, not a necessity. Furthermore, the people who were true friends and not just acquaintances actually picked up the phone, shot a text or an email, or came to see me in person when Facebook was no longer an option. I went from having hundreds of collective Facebook “friends,” who I rarely had time for, to devoting more energy to the 10 core relationships that have and continue to nurture my life. True engagement finds a way to stay connected when the Facebook modality for connection is no longer in use.
Facebook is a platform for social engineering: manipulation, control, and ultimately financial profit, masked and marketed as a platform for connection. Much of humanity has traded in their empathy for apathy under the definition of Facebook “connection.”
Even knowing this, believing this, and experiencing it, I still come back.
What drew me back to Facebook this time was need. This is where Facebook garners its leverage. It has created a monopoly for “connection.” Not to sound off any alarms that we’ve all grown accustomed to ignoring anyway, but we have all been harvested as supply—yeah, the “Soylent Green is People” kind of metaphorical vibe. I realize you will only get that line if you are over 50, or a film buff, or have already started to Google it. Nevertheless, I persist.
Many of the resources needed for my lifestyle as a freelance writer, who must homeschool my child due to medical issues, exist exclusively on Facebook support and networking groups. Believe me, I tried meetup groups and local resources to avoid coming back to Facebook, but it was like living off-grid and once again using a library instead of the Internet. Don’t get me wrong, I love libraries; but we have all become dependent on the immediacy of the Internet. In fact, I bet due to that compulsion for immediate gratification you have already Googled and now know the source from with the line “Soylent Green is People” was created. Imagine how long it would have taken you to get that information if you had to get in your car/public transportation, go to the library, and search for it there instead. I get it. We live in a world of now. I too use the microwave because it’s faster even though I’m pretty sure it’s not as healthy as an open flame.
However, when we become dependent on immediacy for our information, we often trade in accuracy. My understanding of Wikipedia is that anyone can update it. I’m aghast that people use something as a source for accuracy that hasn’t been vetted. But that, my fellow social media minions, is the world we are now living in. All news has the potential to be fake news—it’s not a republican or a democratic issue alone—it’s happening everywhere around the globe. Misinformation is the new game of telephone, it’s entertainment, the chicken soup for the bored soul.
The book Brave New World tried to warn us that this future of drugged comfort, entertainment, easy distraction, and ego validation would lead to our willingly handing over our privacy, freedom, and civil liberties. Did we listen? We did not.
This is how democracy is being lost, this is how Trump believes he will turn democracy into a dictatorship. This is how we have become a nation that continues to work and play and live our lives as if nothing has changed while children are still locked in cages separated from their parents, living without basic necessities, experiencing trauma and in some cases dying.
But can it also be a platform for gaining back all that we have lost? Can we use social media, Google, Amazon and the other Sci-Fi turned real Godzilla and King Kong monsters to create the world of our design? Due to the ubiquitous misappropriation of quotes on the internet, I no longer trust the source of most quotes, i.e. quoting a reality TV star as originating timeless wisdom by a great Ancient Greek philosopher has made me, let’s say, skeptical. Having said that, can we, as Gandhi is “quoted” as saying, “Be the change we want to see in the world?”
Or have you already abandoned these words and replaced them with armchair activism to assuage the guilt of doing nothing to stop Facebook, doing nothing to keep our civil liberties, doing nothing to keep our democracy intact, end mass shootings, tackle climate change, secure that the living wage exceeds the cost of living, provide healthcare as a human right and not an “affordable privilege,” and to get children out of cages and reunited with their families?
In 2015, I remember posting on Facebook Martin Niemöller’s poem, “First They Came,” as a warning.
By 2016, “They” came for the Muslims with a ban, they came for Immigrants with concentration camps, they came for transgendered in the military. When will they come for you?
How far down the list is your marginalized loved one? Who will be left to come for you?
First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
I came back to Facebook in 2019, for network support in my career as a writer and for medical condition support and home school resources. I came back because it was a need. It’s been a mixed bag of an experiment and not something I’m convinced is worth having as a platform for connecting compared to what it can create and cause in destruction.
I’m signing off for now, but not before I check notifications, reply to a comment and like a post (I gots to get my fix, man). It’s an addiction, this machine, this platform, this onslaught of steady information. Sure, it “connects” me while also distracting me. I can go down a two-hour rabbit hole from shiny objects posted on the Market Place alone. I’m not immune, very few of us are.
We are all suffering from Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to Facebook. We know its evils and yet we stay for what’s good. My chains extend as far as the door to “log out” but not through to the door of freedom and to some extent, isolation: being cut off from, after clicking “delete account.”
We can no longer pretend that pulling onto the great information superhighway isn’t without its traffic fatalities. There is value to being online, but we must proceed with caution—especially when it comes to our privacy, not only of ourselves, but of our friends and families as well.
When asked what legislation should do to better protect each person’s data, whistleblower, Kaiser replied, “The sole worth of Facebook and Google is the fact that they own, possess and use the personal data from people all around the world. So I think the best way to move forward is for people to really possess their data like their property.”
How do we do that? Proactively! Own your information, lest it owns you.
10 simple steps you can take now to make Facebook a safer experience and to continue to own your data.
1. Disable “Ask Siri” and kick out Alexa, you don’t need these broads, trust me.
2. Put stickers on the cameras of your computers and devices.
3. Be mindful of how much time you spend on Facebook.
4. Log out of apps when not in use.
5. 7 iPhone settings you need to turn off now
6. 7 macOS privacy settings you should enable now
7. Respect people (instead of treating them with suspect) who want to connect but who choose not to plaster their or their children’s photos on social media due to privacy concerns and a desire to own one’s data.
8. Know that you are being manipulated with weapon-grade communication tactics. Don’t fall prey to liking or reposting every meme that supports your confirmation bias without considering the consequence of doing so and what you might do instead to bridge a gap rather than burn a bridge.
9. Stop and ask yourself, “Is this true? Question and call out manipulation when you see it.
10. Use Facebook for its purported intended purpose: to connect, not to further divide.
Special thanks to brave and courageous writers and journalists like Carole Cadwalladr for bringing truth to light! The world needs you and your voice.
Sage Justice is a mother and a freelance writer who rocks a Menopause Mohawk. She’s written for The Mighty, Kveller, Life Learning Magazine, and Mothers Always Write. More on her blog Sage-Living.org and rare appearances on social media via twitter @Sage_Justice1.