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When it comes to Facebook, it's caveat emptor
Today is a PSA of sorts… about Facebook and similar platforms
A little background:
I spend precious little time on FB/ Facebook. That limited use is carefully calculated, based on my professional knowledge of domestic and foreign, adversarial influence campaigns, which are ongoing. Yes, Russia is a primary threat… still. I would leave FB entirely but it’s helpful for keeping up with a lifetime of family, friends and colleagues, literally all over the world. As people of my generation might say, “it’s a necessary evil.” The evil part is somewhat of an appropriate fit considering how FB and most digital platforms operate, “under the hood.” On surface, all seems shiny and fun but underneath that hood lies technology and less than ethical uses of that technology, which is disturbing at best, dangerous at worst.
Since it’s my profession to understand, in-depth how FB’s and related data is used against us personally and collectively by those without a scintilla of morality, let’s take a short, plain-spoken look under that hood. I won’t go into the technicalities for a variety of reasons but it’s long overdue that we all know a little more, for our own good.
First and foremost, there is no reason to trust FB/ Meta. They played an active role in Russian interference of the 2016 election.
Cambridge Analytica had purchased Facebook data on tens of millions of Americans without their knowledge to build a “psychological warfare tool,” which it unleashed on US voters to help elect Donald Trump as president.
March 17th, 2019
Data, data and more data
If you are on FB, have you noticed lately how many more of those little questions and games there are? What prompted this article today was observing the significant uptick in those supposedly fun questions that permeate your FB feeds. Your favorite pie, the first show you remember, your favorite relative or friend, favorite heroes etc. are all some innocent sounding bits of information but, they don’t use it as they claim, “to improve your FB experience.” Every one of those questions end up in your personal file, that helps anyone with access to that data to use for their own purposes, most of which are not to your advantage. The closer we come to the Mid-term elections, the more questions and games. The simple and best answer… do not play.
When you think of your data, try looking at it like one of those “paint-by-number” pictures. Every time that FB and their associated businesses collects a data point, another space is colored in. The more spaces colored in, the better they know you and the easier it is to manipulate you. This is precisely what the Trump campaign, in conjunction with Russia and immoral US politicians and contributors used to manipulate voters during the 2016 election. In addition to learning about you, the data they collect also details your relationships with friends, family and others. It’s not the classic conspiracy theory about “big brother” that’s the threat, it’s foreign enemies, politicians and marketers who know EVERYTHING about you, often based on FB data. Yes, Amazon and Google are also massive collectors of your data.
Advertising is a primary use and those questions help FB to customize which ads you see in your feeds. For those with more nefarious purposes, like Ted Cruz and the former president, this data, illegally acquired helped Trump manipulate voters to his advantage. Yes, of course, Russia also used this data, courtesy of Trump’s former campaign manager (Paul Manafort) and close friends like Steve Bannon, who shared it with the Kremlin, who used it to help Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Ads in particular have become a scourge of modern living. They assault us everywhere and use the same tactics used by militaries, operating with influence, around the world. Ads are inescapable. Even the ads themselves account for much of the data that marketers use to influence your buying habits, in their favor. We see it all the time, dishonest or misleading ads intended to scam buyers. FB in particular, is well-known for scam advertising, ripping off users. Although FB has a lot of nice language stating how hard they work to protect us, investigative research shows a different story.
How the Scam Works:
A fun quiz pops up on your Facebook feed or another social media platform. A few questions are answered to prove how well you know a friend. Or a short personality test is offered to match with a character from a favorite TV show.
These quizzes appear to be meaningless, but the intent behind them is to collect information. For example, questions like: "What was the first car you owned?" “What is your mother's maiden name?” or “What is the name of the street you grew up on?” These are common security questions for insurance, banking and credit card accounts. Sharing this information can lead to accounts being hacked, and personal and financial information being stolen.
FB’s business practices can be lethal
The threats regarding your personal data, are similar on most platforms but globally, FB has become a threat, not just regarding elections, scams etc. but is also complicit in genocidal massacres in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma and violent, religious extremism, in support of Prime Minister Modi of India’s BJP Party, based on radical Hindutva.
The threat against Americans from FB’s permissive approach to ads, including political ads, is a threat to our democracy. For those who operate in the influence community, it’s well-known that the nexus between social media advertising and political manipulation puts voters at risk from dishonest politicians. It’s politicians that make critical decisions regarding our national security. During the Trump administration’s foreign policy generosity to Putin and Russia played a serious role in enabling “Putin’s War” and other US supported “wins” for Putin.
Texas’s Senator Ted Cruz, an early devotee of this dishonesty, in conjunction with the infamous and now defunct, Cambridge Analytica, continuously puts on a master class of dishonest, hate speech based on his experience with Cambridge Analytica. Now, largely with FB and other platforms turning a blind eye to political conspiracy theories, (the bedrock of the Trump cult) American voters are at risk of making crucial political decisions based solely on the conspiracy theory content they allow.
Politicians, just like advertisers have rarely allowed ethics to stand between them and “winning.” They do this because the American people permit it at the polls, immorally influenced by overt and sometimes loony dishonesty. We all have a citizen’s responsibility to be well and accurately informed, in order to vote. If you don’t do your homework and elect folks based on truth, you too are complicit in destroying our democracy. I’m not saying that it’s easy sometimes to avoid being manipulated. Politicians and advertisers are as dishonest in presentation as they are in content. Still, if every voter gave more effort to find credible information, rather than swallowing whole, what their respective parties bombard you with, this threat will diminish in severity.
Even the ABA, American Bar Association has addressed this threat. In a relatively recent piece from the ABA, they acknowledge that FB, more than other platforms, “game” current law, leaving the defamed with only one option, to sue FB. This is an abject failure by the US and state Congresses to legislate protection, not censorship. Government cannot censor free speech. Platforms though, must have accountability when they cause harm, especially lethal harm as seen on January 6th, 2021, during the armed insurrection at the US Capital.
Companies nor politicians will degrade their profit potential by self-regulating truth. If dishonesty gets them bigger sales and politicians more wins, they could care less. It’s up to voters to demand responsible behavior by either by boycott or electing representatives that will see to it that harmful dis and misinformation doesn’t threaten citizens or the nation. Until then, FB for me, remains a national security threat and must be used with all due caution, if at all.
For additional reading on protecting your data on FB and other platforms, please see this relatively user-friendly guide from the AG of NY. Protect Your Privacy and Safety on Facebook | New York State Attorney General (ny.gov)