This week I was looking for a personal document in my home when I stumbled upon a couple of boxes box filled with older photographs that dated back to my childhood and into the 2000s. That’s a time span of about 50 years.
I put my document search aside for a moment and took one of those impromptu trips down memory lane as I grab handfuls of photographs and sifted through them one after another. I romanticized the past as I saw the smiling faces of my children in their little league uniforms and the glossy shots of other close people in my life.
My search for the document was ultimately futile, but I knew all along I could get a replacement for it if I needed to. The photographs, however, remained in my mind the rest of that day, creating mixed emotions, and then it dawned on me all at once that I didn’t have any, or at least very few, physical photographs of my life beyond around 2004 or so.
The year 2004 is important to me because it was the year I started my first blog. Many people didn’t even know what a blog was back then. Around that point in time, I started taking my photographs exclusively with digital cameras and then later with phones. These photographs were stored on computers and then later on various applications. Many of them were lost in computer crashes or photo-sharing accounts now long disappeared, but like many people I still have images on my phone, computers and, of course, on Facebook.
Until now, I’ve always had extremely mixed feelings about Facebook. It, too, was founded in 2004 so it has always paralleled my adventures in technology with various platforms.
In the beginning, on the positive side, I felt Facebook had the potential to strengthen democracy around the world and to promote equality and diversity on a global level because it could give a voice to disenfranchised people.
On the negative side, I saw after time how Facebook was slowly but surely co-opting and absorbing a huge chunk of web interaction and taking hits away from anything outside its Big Tech Bro control. The company actively and openly worked to move traffic away from established news sites and even smaller blogs like mine to its own platform and then commercialize that information for its own profits and growth.
In recent days it has become clear that Facebook has not only failed to strengthen democracy around the world it has also allowed nefarious actors to manipulate its users through disinformation campaigns. Meanwhile, it has continued its relentless quest to destroy corporate and independent media outlets through its self-appointed grandiose gatekeeper role on the Internet.
Consider just the recent news about Facebook’s role in distorting and influencing the 2016 U.S. elections. It has been revealed in recent days that the company allowed bad actors connected to the company Cambridge Analytica to mine their user data to minutely configure information attacks that helped Donald Trump win the American presidency. These bad actors, of course, paid good money for that information.
Facebook has already come under fire for allowing Russian troll farms to sow discord under false identities on its platform leading up to the 2016 election.
One gets the feeling this is only the very beginning of a much larger exposure to come of how Facebook—and we should include Twitter here as well—has used its platform and allowed others to use its platform to manipulate its users for its own profits without even a passing regard for American democracy.
The silence of the still youthful Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg when it comes to the issue seems to confirm it. One thing Facebook has in common with old-school capitalism is the immoral idea of making money no matter what the social or political or human cost. There’s really nothing new here in the treachery caused by greed. What’s new is the magnitude of the advertising lie and the fact it was based on selling nothing physically tangible to people, just mostly generic “likes” or, to put it another way, fleeting moments of temporary acceptance. That’s hardly worth the demise of democracy.
If Facebook were just a box of old photographs maybe we wouldn’t be here at this tragic and crucial moment in our country’s history, but it’s long past time to recognize it has become an insidious force in our culture and throughout the world.