It’s kind of weird. Or maybe it’s just my perception of it? When online social networks were first becoming popular, they were there for the people who were going to make it what it was intended to become. An online community of people who could meet and interact with other like minds, anywhere and anytime. A home from home for you and your friends, new and old. Or at least, that’s how it was sold.
The very existence of the internet itself created a World community that anyone with a computer and a telephone line could become a part of. Suddenly the world became a lot smaller. The ability to traverse the globe in a day achieved that, but the internet brought the world into your living room. The world wide web was at our fingertips and there to stay.
Along with the world wide web came a phenomenon previously unknown to us. The ability of the few or the one, to influence the whole. Democracy in theory is supposed to achieve that. But now, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can do what I’m doing right now. If they want to that is. To live in a democracy theoretically allows you via your ability to vote, to influence the management and governance of the community in which you live. The advent of the internet allows you to influence the World.
Such is the power of the internet, that it allows the ordinary human, not possessed of great power and responsibility, to form and propose any argument or perception to the world. To posit and postulate to their hearts content. Communities of those with a like mind spring up and exchange information and ideas. Online social networking was a fact long before the big names even of old appeared. They were just an obvious and inevitable consequence, as those with the means and the will sought to bring organisation and control to this otherwise free exchange between the ordinary.
I don’t know when it happened, or how. But we all know that saying “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” At some point whether by design or not, the major social networks of today (primarily Facebook and Google) joined the ranks of the breed I usually refer to as the “corporate monster.” The amount of personal information that these entities have permanently saved on each of us is terrifying when you look closely at it. An even cursory glance at the recent scandal over the use of personal data by Cambridge Analytica confirms this beyond doubt.
If all that happened with this information was targeted advertising, I wouldn’t be so concerned. That said, this post isn’t about the shenanigans (however disreputable) of a single company or social network. For me anyway, social networking should be all about social networking. The platforms need revenue and targeted advertising is all good from that perspective. But what else are they doing with all that information?
With the access and influence that the major social network platforms have, they can do many things. Of all the things they can do, only a minority would be what the average ‘ordinary’ person would consider morally sound. To give you an idea of what I mean, think about the amount of power that mainstream media has, including access to information, resources and influential people and organisations. Also think about whatever your perception is about the potential political, financial and other motivations that drive their activities and broadcasts. Now imagine adding to all that, personal and detailed information on every human on the planet who accesses the internet. Now you have an idea of the power and influence enjoyed by the likes of Google and Facebook.
They can shape opinions, manage information, decide what is released and when and how. They can choose to emphasise or de-emphasise pages, channels, profiles. They get to decide who, what gets online and its level of exposure. And yes, they get to decide what advertising you see, when and how often. And they can do it all with all the simplicity of pressing a button, their platform’s computer algorithm doing the rest.
So, what started as an open means of sharing and engaging with a worldwide audience became just another avenue for the control and use of information, by those with the means and the will. We concern ourselves with the industrial monopolies around us while ignoring the information monopolies online. All the while allowing them to influence and control the very core of who and what we are, how we feel, and what we think and believe.
I mentioned that saying earlier that I’ll repeat here. “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s no wonder that such influence left to its devices by those who use it, would go down the road it has. We forget that as a group consciousness, the greatest power that exists lives within the spirit of humanity. The corporate monster of whatever design only ever has the power and influence we give it. We can withdraw our support anytime.
This doesn’t have to mean leaving the platforms. A tool is still just a tool. We only need to carefully guard our personal information and consider consciously how we use our information online. We can have awareness of the power and motives of those who control the platforms, then refrain from allowing their influence. And we can seek a variety of different sources for our information other than mainstream media and social networks. We can use the amazing and beautiful brains we were born with to discern and decide for ourselves what we think, how we feel, and what we believe.