Photo Credit: crime scene
It’s hard to miss the fact that, over the past 18 months, there has been a seismic change in the way that the general public views social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter. In fact, ever since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to testify in front of Congress early last year as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, public perceptions about Facebook have taken a sharp turn for the worse. As proof of that, consider that “The Great Hack,” a new documentary film about the Cambridge Analytica scandal premiering on Netflix, now refers to social media as a “crime scene.”
The provocative premise behind “The Great Hack”
According to the film’s two directors, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are no longer the same cute, cuddly space they once were a few years back. Remember when people used Facebook to catch up with old college buddies, share photos of their pets, and update their friends with what they had for lunch? Well, those days are over. Now, it’s all about evil social media companies “weaponizing” all that data and “manipulating” people into thinking or acting a certain way.
The directors of the film use the term “crime scene” because they say that data is now a valuable asset. So if people are stealing and abusing that asset in order to profit from it, isn’t some sort of crime taking place? Would you really let someone use one of your physical assets – such as your brand-new car – without getting paid for it? We are so used to think of crimes as taking place in a physical milieu that talking about crimes being committed in the ether might sound a little strange. But how else is it possible that companies like Google and Facebook can churn out billions of dollars in revenue each quarter, while not charging users a single penny for their services? Are they stealing our data and selling it to someone else?
“The Great Hack” Trailer.
The social media “crime scene”
The claim that social media is some sort of “crime scene” might sound like a lot of hyperbole, but there is certainly an element of truth in there somewhere. Somebody is manipulating somebody, and they are making a lot of money from it. Think about the typical social media newsfeed – some algorithm has worked overtime to figure out what to put in there, and it may not exactly be what you think should be in there. For example, if the whole goal of social media these days is to get you to click on content and share it with your friends, then these platforms have a real vested stake in stuffing your news feed full of things that will make you click or share – regardless of whether or not that content is true, accurate or helpful to society.
And it gets even more sinister than that – because if the big social media platforms have a political or social agenda, they could “tweak” their algorithms to reflect that agenda. Every piece of content that you are shown would be a subtle attempt to get you to embrace that agenda. Taking things one step further, those algorithms could seek to influence the democratic process by getting you to vote in a certain way, or to vote for certain issues when they pop up on an electoral ballot.
The people vs. Facebook
For that reason, the directors of “The Great Hack” provocatively suggest that we are “living in the Matrix” right now. The machines and algorithms are now controlling us, and most of us have absolutely no idea of what is happening. Even the creators of those algorithms might not exactly know what’s inside the black box right now. If that’s really the case, then the whole Cambridge Analytica scandal should serve as a big wakeup call to all of us to take control of our personal data and understand how it is being used by others.