Following all the recent interest in Facebook engendered by the revelation of the misuse of users’ personal data (though all the indicators have been around for a while, for example in a very interesting article from January 2017: The Data That Turned the World Upside Down), I was asked by Lens at Monash University to write a short piece.
Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and commercialising humanity
With close to two billion users worldwide, Facebook is one of the most common experiences that humans can share. Why has it become such an integral part of so many people’s lives in such a short time (since 2004)?
Firstly, it taps into what makes us human – our inherent sociality – by enabling us to keep in touch with friends, acquaintances and social circles that matter to us.
Secondly, the advent of the smartphone (since about 2007) has made social media mobile – accessible at almost any time, ubiquitous in time and space.
An intrinsic part of our sociality is being aware of what others are doing and how it can affect us. Who is up and who is down? What can we do to attract valorising attention, and what should we do to avoid unwanted attention? How do others around us relate to us and to others, and what behaviour is most likely to benefit our own interests?
In effect, being social opens us up to surveillance, and this is where Facebook excels. Through our own desire to see and be seen, it watches us and uses the resulting stream of data points to sell targeted advertising to clients worldwide.
Facebook is brokering our sociality and commercialising our humanity.