About 15 years ago, I was invited to speak to graduate students at Emory University and at Kennesaw State University (then Kennesaw College) about technology innovation. At the time, I was a huge advocate for exploring how technology could advance education. And while I had some significant concerns about technology, those took a rather distant backseat to the exciting potential for empowering my profession.
That being said, the name of my presentation at each university actually was “How Much Data Would It Take To Replace You?” The idea I wanted those bright young minds to consider was the loss of our free will to think critically and make rational decisions because technology could amass so much information about us. “Others” could use that information to influence, if not control us, weaponizing our own minds against us.
These seemed like remote and highly unlikely ideas. The amount of information required would have to be so vast as to be utterly inconceivable at the time. How could that scope of information about each of us be collected and analyzed? The idea just seemed possible but not at all likely, certainly not anytime in the near future.
The form “others” would take did not yet exist. “Others” was only an ambiguous construct, an ambitious concept. Facebook was not to exist for another year. The iPhone was not to exist for another year. And the innovative and creative minds developing the internet and technology tools were promising to democratize the whole world. They promised technology would free information, would make everything good available to everyone: the ultimate universal human empowerment. God we were naive!
At the time, I had no understanding of just how much information was going to be easily gathered about us in real time. After all, then, most of our lives were lived privately. Sure, video cameras were being installed along the interstates, but that was a far cry from what was just around the corner!
Today, almost all of our lives are tracked in real time, stored, and profiled1. Literally everything is monitored one way or another. And that data isn’t just stored, it’s stored forever.
The goal is simple: know everything, accurately predict everything, control everything, profit from everything you do. The dystopia this could produce is unspeakable, but I will dare to speak it. Bombard you with advertising specifically designed to persuade you wherever you are, literally everything you see. When you are no longer a financial asset to the corporate surveillance state, ship you off to die in some way that will financially benefit the corporate state one last time.
Squeeze every dime out of your existence. People only exist as potential for profit. Your only value will be the amount of profit your existence puts into the corporate-controlled surveillance state. Nothing else about you matters. Literally nothing.
And here I want to extend a great big shout out to religion for abdicating one of your most essential roles: protecting the value and the dignity of the human soul. You too fell for profit, materialism, and greed: the money to be collected over sanctifying human fetal tissue over guarding the dignity of actual human life, the money you could raise sanctifying your brand of marriage between one man and one woman (exempting, of course, all of Trump’s adulterous, gag-ordered porn stars and x-wives) instead of the dignity of actual human love2.
Surveillance Capitalism: Spying en Masse
Smartphones, smart watches, cars, ISPs, credit cards, cameras everywhere… Privacy isn’t just dead. It is sold off for profit. Invading your privacy is a booming business, an entire mega industry. All of our data is collected and processed. AI (artificial intelligence) bots are used to crunch it and use it in ways you would probably find profoundly disturbing. But, not to worry, you are never to know.
Without Informed, Non-coerced Consent
Over 2 years ago I first became aware of what Cambridge Analytica was doing. I watched a presentation by their then CEO, Alexander Nix3, in which he told of their seeking to collect as much information about each of us as they could. Their goal was to use that information to make us do what they (their well-paying clients, actually) wanted us to do without our even knowing they were doing it. You can watch this presentation yourself at this link. The latter is the most insidious part to me: without our ever knowing they were doing this to us.
At least people consent to watching Fox News. They know they are being brainwashed into believing a specific ideology to which they probably already hold allegiance.4 That manipulation happens out in the open. Others can tell you: Stop watching Fox News; you’re being duped by corporate media!
But with Cambridge Analytica’s war on fact, on truth, on shared reality, nobody knew. Nobody knew (except Facebook?) Cambridge Analytica’s teams were harvesting data and using it to effectively spread the manure of fake reality over uninformed and misinformed minds. Their work, by careful design, was hidden, was secret.
NEWS FLASH: Cambridge Analytica isn’t the only corporation doing this with Facebook and other data aggregation services! We now live in what Harvard Business School professor, Bruce Schneider, calls “surveillance capitalism.” “There are between 2,500 to 4,000 data brokers in the United States whose business is buying and selling our personal data.”5
Enemy states can even get in on the action as well.
Democracy: the Antithesis of Not Knowing
A good friend and colleague6 once reminded me: democracy takes place in public, in the open and shared spaces, in the market place of ideas, in the bright light of open, informed scrutiny. Democracy is in and of itself consent: the majority consent of the governed! She is absolutely right.
Did you knowingly consent to Facebook giving Cambridge Analytica as much information about you as they could collect?7 Did you knowingly consent to Cambridge Analytica and the Russian government using Facebook to manipulate how you thought about the Presidential candidates? Did you knowingly consent to these and other parties plying your mind and your emotions with fake news, fake reality, lies and manipulations?
Certainly Edgar Maddison Welch didn’t know. He was so outraged he did something about it. He hopped into his vehicle and drove all the way to Washington D.C. to stop Hilary Clinton from running a pedophile ring out of the back of some pizza kitchen. Of course, she was never doing such a thing. The owner of the pizza place and his customers were horrified when he started shooting the place up with his AR-15 assault weapon. Ed was duped, manipulated, lied to, and played for a fool. His mind was literally weaponized against his own best interest, serving the putrid whims of liars.
Yet, as the details of the scope of Cambridge Analytica’s hidden manipulation unfold, I myself can’t help but feel more and more victimized. One would logically conclude that they, along with the Russian’s influence on Facebook, changed the results of the 2016 US elections.
This all became a reality in just 15 years after I imagined it as a long range, remote and dystopian possibility. One of the dreaded questions I ponder now: how much worse is this going to be in the next 15 years?
Danger Hidden in Plain Sight
In the past you could avoid places you knew were unsafe. Not any more. We simply can’t see them any more. Digital life is by default “dark” to the average person—the unseen, invisible, and unknowable machinations of tiny micro-processors. The fact that reality is becoming more and more a reflection of the digital instead of the other way around should scare the hell out of us all!
Democracy Is Under Assault As Never Before
We cast our digital vote and just trust it gets counted the way we cast it into the digital darkness of the voter machine. Then we learn the Russians have hacked into the voting machines in several states and changed the outcome. And the majority of our federally elected officials do nothing. We were not supposed to ever find out.
What a mess.
As I’ve already mentioned, Facebook isn’t the only surveillance corporation that is complicit in selling out democracy, selling out humanity.8 Facebook just got caught.
I personally suspect that Google is no less involved in the shadow reality, just in a different way.9 Twitter is all but an extension of the Russian government’s foreign ministry—Trump’s account alone. Your ISP works for the NSA by federal law.
Your smartphone manufacturer and your ISP are probably the largest collectors of your personal and not-at-all “private” data. Probably every app on your phone is collecting and profiting from your data. Terms of service (TOS) force us to mindlessly agree to whatever surveillance capitalism wants as we have no choice in the matter, no alternative beyond not participating at all in this darkened digital reflection of the real world.
This is wrong.
But the existing corporate surveillance state has already laid the foundation for this to be the norm, accepted, even welcomed. We have foolishly come to believe the lies the corporate media has sold us for decades: that taxes and government regulation are bad. Taxes and government regulations are in fact not bad. Regulations and the money to enforce them protect the public—that’s you and me! And protecting the public (you and me) is one of the key functions of government. But privacy regulation was long ago a casualty of misguided reactions to 9/11 and government by “We the corporations…”. We need meaningful and substantial privacy regulation and enforcement.
Facebook: A Digital Utility
Now, I absolutely enjoy keeping up with friends, classmates, and former colleagues. I love being able to find old friends I’ve lost track of and meet and connect with new acquaintances. We all do. And Facebook has taken advantage of that fact in its effort to own the web for profit. (Yes, that’s one of their goals.)
But the cost/benefit ratio is too out of balance for me. The abuse is too great. I value democracy and fact and truth and reality too much. I believe in a fundamental right to privacy and that privacy matters. I stand against those who grow disproportionately wealthy by restricting access to my information, who sell me lies for profit. I believe the internet should not be owned by corporations. I believe the internet should be regulated and managed like the essential utility it is.
Facebook realized early on that people, individuals like you and me, trust people far, far more than we trust corporations. The Facebook corporation took advantage of this trust to get rich, and rich they have gotten. In the process of selling our trust for vast sums of money, selling actual political lies and putting them in our timelines as fact, Facebook has weakened our democracy and given a platform to our enemies. They have weakened our nation. They have broken our national trust.
I have always said, and I continue to believe, “Trust is everything!” I literally can not think of anything that matters more to me than trust, the byproduct of honesty, and the purest form of the dignity and respect that honesty commands.
Once trust has been broken, repairing it is all but impossible. And rather than seeking to repair trust, Mark Zuckerberg appears to me to be far more interested in protecting his corporation’s bottom line. His priorities have been and continue to be all wrong, all greed.
The Digital Legacy
As I get older, I have friends, friends’ parents (my own mother), and former professors that have died. They had Facebook accounts. Their Facebook accounts continue on even after their deaths. According to Facebook, even in their death, they are actively liking things. Really, Facebook?! Trying to make money off of dead people?! Ooops! I absolutely refuse to allow Facebook to have ownership of my “digital legacy.” This is another reason for my deleting my account.
No corporation lasts forever, and Facebook itself will one day die. Perhaps they get bought out. What of the accounts and the data in those accounts then? Who will control the account data? How will they control it? Will they charge people for access to their own information? All of the answers to these questions and more are unanswered, unknown and unknowable. I am unwilling to participate in whatever that will be.
Mass Psychological Experimentation
Since Mark has proven an inability10 to self-correct his corporation, his is a compelling argument for government regulation. He has allowed candidates, corporations, and enemy nations to successfully wage psychological warfare on the citizens of the United States11. Let that sink in because that is simply not an overstatement.
We know about Cambridge Analytica, but how many other psychological experiments are being carried out on Facebook? Facebook has repeatedly claimed there have been none, but we undeniably know they lie for money. The details of the Cambridge Analytica debacle exposed at least one other.
Those silly little games people play on Facebook have a purpose. Facebook is collecting more information about you, who you are, how you think, what you value, how to better manipulate you. They seem so harmless. They seem so fun. They are not. They are part of the Facebook psychological experiment.
Facebook has found and capitalized on a very interesting crucible: the value of friendship. People in general feel that to give up Facebook (a completely digital construct) is to give up their friendships (a completely analog construct). This highlights the fact that we now perceive reality to be a reflection of the digital, and not the other way around. Notice, I’m including myself in that. So, I want to experiment with reversing that trend by having more immersive, analogue, face-to-face experiences and fewer digital ones.
Isolation vs. Connection
The research consistently indicates that the more people immerse themselves in digital relationships (Facebook, for example), the more isolated they feel. Facebook has even acknowledged this finding in their own work. Facebook use is carefully designed to be an addictive behavior because that increases revenue.
To compensate for feeling more alone because of more Facebook time, users spend even more time on Facebook, and the addictive cycle is started. Once again, Facebook is conducting a dark psychological undertaking on the whole world. What neuroticism are they breeding?!
I want to replace my digital relationships with the real friendships those digital relationships merely dimly reflect. Even though doing so is less convenient, less expeditious, I want to emphasize the real world over the digital reflection of the real world.
But I’ve always been wired up that way: to prefer being physically present. Remember, I’m the guy who even hates talking on the phone. I would prefer to be sitting across from the person with whom I’m talking. I want to look at you, to be able to hug you, to be able to fully give you my attention. I want to be able to fully convey that our time together is an authentic, shared, life experience with all of the sensory, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual amplitude that experience can naturally afford humans in shared time in a real, physical place.
Facebook Doesn’t Want to Let Go of Us
Naturally, Facebook doesn’t want you to delete your account. Deleting your account reduces Facebook’s revenue and ultimately threatens their business model. Facebook makes deleting your account a long and difficult process. I’m told it takes over 30 days. I’ll document the process from start to finish when I do it.
The fact that they try to manipulate users into not deleting our accounts actually makes me want to delete my account all the more!
All of that Uncivil Discourse
I have friends across a very broad spectrum. Some are exceptionally conservative; others are ardently liberal. Some are hyper-religious while others are atheists. This has never bothered me. My heart is large enough to care about all of these people at the same time.
Just like everyone else, I too grow weary of the strident and often hateful rhetoric. I grow so frustrated at times that I react rather than respond thoughtfully. To assume that anything we write on Facebook (digital construct) is going to change our friends with whom we may disagree in the real world (analogue construct) is probably terribly naive. The only benefit that is then accrued by these all-but-pointless posts is venting. Yes, sometimes I need to vent.
And sometimes I wish I didn’t even know that a friend held certain views I find utterly detestable. Facebook has broken some of my friendships. For example, I’ve deleted friends who have clearly demonstrated to me their hateful racism. I don’t want that energy anywhere near my life energy. Sometimes engaging only tends to legitimize or validate, as if a detestable position/ideology were on the same footing or had the same merit as a countervailing position.
And all of those “Click here to show your support for [or stand against] this, that, or the other just tells Facebook more about how they can manipulate you. They accomplish nothing else. Nothing. I need to engage my life energies in fighting for issues I hold dear in more effective ways that do not involved Facebook at all.
After all, I’ve never had anyone tell me a Facebook thumbs-up changed their lives. “Your clicking ‘Like’ made me the person I am today!” said no one ever. Have you? Activity in the real world changes lives. Relationships in the real world enriches lives.
I just no longer want anything to do with Mark’s dark, greedy, manipulative, psychological experiment/surveillance apparatus. As far as I am concerned, Facebook isn’t just untrustworthy. That platform is dangerous. They value greed more than the dignity of humanity. The scope of the damage they can cause has already altered history.
I know the vast majority of my friends will continue to use Facebook. That’s total cool. I get it. It’s convenient. You, like me, have sunk a lot of time into your posts and responses and conversations. Those have become a digital extension of you. I don’t think bad about anyone who continues to use Facebook.
But for me: Facebook is a war zone against trust, against the shared experience, against the authentic public space democracy requires, against privacy, against free will and individual agency, against critical and informed thinking. Facebook shows us everything that is wrong with the corporate surveillance state. Facebook assails reality, making reality something malleable and subject to financial influence. Facebook is, in and of itself, manipulation for profit.
You might recall that, despite being an early adopter back in the day, I was slow to come to the Facebook party. And, on April 13, 2018, as a birthday present to myself, I will begin the process of deleting my Facebook account. In a future post here at my blog, I’ll share ways we can still keep in touch. God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I plan on actually still being alive and well in the real world! I’m just leaving the digital black hole that Facebook has become for me.
Additional links to writing that has influenced my thinking:
- Zuckerberg to Facebook Users: You Agreed to This
- The Irreversible Damage of Mark Zuckerberg’s Silence
- Mark Zuckerberg Talks to WIRED About Facebook’s Privacy Problem
- [Video] Christopher Wylie Tells How He Helped Influence An Election
- [Video] Channel 4: How Cambridge Analytica Wins Elections
- Mark Zuckerberg Refuses Request from UK Parliament to Speak about Data Abuse
- Poll: Facebook Is the Least Trusted Custodian of Private Information, Majority of Americans Do Not Trust It
- The Cambridge Analytica Data Apocalypse Was Predicted in 2007
- Cambridge Analytica’s Blueprint for Trump’s Victory
- A Tour of the Manipulative, Creepy Bullshit Facebook Pulls to Stop You Deleting Your Account
- Cambridge Analytica Became a US Powerhouse Thanks [to] Mercer’s Laundered Money and a Judas Goat Named John Bolton
- British Authorities Raid Cambridge Analytica Offices in London
- Why I’m Quitting Facebook
- Researcher at Center of Facebook Data Scandal Points Finger at Christopher Wylie
- Leaked: Cambridge Analytica’s Blueprint for Trump Victory
- Deleting Facebook? Here Are the Best Alternatives For What You’ll Miss
- Watch: Zuckerberg Talks about How Important Facebook Privacy Is in 2009
- The Flight of the Zuckerberg
- You Know Who Does Creepier Stuff with Your Data than Cambridge Analytica? Your ISP
- The Case Against Facebook
- How to Download and Save Your Facebook Data before Deleting</li>
- [Video] Cambridge Analytica: Undercover Secrets of Trump’s Data Firm
- Facebook/Cambridge Analytica Legal Primer: ‘Breach’ of Data? No. Trust? Yes.
- Why did Facebook Pitch in over $1 Million to Fight this CA Privacy Ballot Initiative?
- Where Is Mark Zuckerberg?
- The Cambridge Analytica Scandal, in 3 Paragraphs
- Cambridge Analytica Suspends CEO Alexander Nix Amid Scandals
- Facebook Owes You More Than This
- Facebook Insists that Cambridge Analytica Didn’t “Breach” Data, but “Misused” It, and They’re Willing to Sue Anyone Who Says Otherwise
- Step-By-Step Deletion Guide
There’s so much more, but I suspect I long ago exceeded the typical reader’s interest level.
where you go when, what you watch online on TV and in the movies, what you eat, every purchase you make, the people you associate with, what you read, what you search online, your emails, your phone calls, your heart beat, when you exercise, the number of breaths you take per minute, when you’re awake, when you’re asleep, the quality of your sleep, when you’re having sex (Sleep Number’s SleepIQ Tech bed monitors breaths per minute and heart rate.), when you turn on what lights (where you are in your house when), the music you listen to, the mood you’re in, the room temperatures you prefer when… The camera and mics in your TV and in your smartphones can be turned on remotely. ↩
Oh, this list could go on and on and would include rewriting history textbooks, denying science and critical thinking, protecting your self-articulated racism, etc. ↩
He will be the fall guy. He was fired in the wake of this scandal coming to light. ↩
They just don’t get that this ideology is against their own personal best interests and is carefully crafted to support the vision of a corporate state. ↩
CNN: <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/26/opinions/data-company-spying-opinion-schneier/index.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">It’s Not Just Facebook. Thousands of Companies Are Spying on You</a> ↩
Shout out to Janet McC. ↩
Mark Zuckerberg says you did: when you agreed to the Facebook Terms of Service as you created your account. Aren’t they clever?! ↩
They are quick to call this data transaction a data breach, but that is simply not the case. Their business model is to sell access to you and your data. ↩
Tell me our search results are not heavily influenced to include those sources that pay for placement in search results. ↩
probably a complete lack of desire ↩
and god knows what other countries ↩