The Ericle, in both his personal & political personae, is a keen user of social media in general and Facebook in particular. I think it is not unfair to say that I spend at least 30 minutes of every day on Facebook. I do not regard this activity as trivial or a waste of time, as I enjoy the interactivity that it affords with a wider community of people than would be possible in the non-virtual world. Since the dawn of social media, the ‘naysayers’ have taken swings at Facebook users with criticism such that they are narcissists, life-wasters etc. Today, with the revelations of the ‘alleged’ activities of Cambridge Analytica and the SCL Group, we are witnessing a broad re-visiting of the social media proposition and I am quite exercised that the issue does not become an excuse for a massive popular over-reaction in general which will in turn fuel the desire of regulators and governments, serving completely different agenda, to clamp down on the control peddle
Let me clarify what I think is at stake here, and what is not. There has apparently been a data-breach by Facebook and, quite rightly, Facebook needs to be taken to account for this and to provide assurances, backed by working practices, that it will do everything in its power to prevent repetitions. Whether this requires new legislation and/or regulations is a matter I am not sufficiently expert on to say. However, it seems to me that ‘privacy’ is ‘privacy’ regardless of its milieu and I would be very concerned if the matter requires new & separate legal instruments rather than an extension of the rules that are deemed to govern in general.
What I am reasonably certain of, is that it was not Facebook’s intention to have its platform used in this way. And what I am clear on, is that nothing in the core proposition offered to Facebook customers is flawed or misrepresented. This statement may horrify some, especially members of today so-called ‘snowflake’ generation. I have the freedom to post on my Facebook page anything that I want within the confines of the law. I choose to post family details, trivia, personal images and political opinion; the latter mostly under my Ericle persona. I choose mostly not to be confrontational and I try to take care that what I post will not offend or upset. I also chose to restrict viewings of my personal page to my ‘friends’, whereas my Ericle page is open to the public. How is this different from a similar activity undertaken in the non-virtual world and more significantly why should my personal behaviour differ on Facebook than anywhere else in the world? I don’t walk down the street with a placard announcing my bank account details, nor go looking for fights with strangers, so why would I choose to do this online? In everyday life, if a commercial organisation offers you a free service, you naturally will ask yourself what’s in it for them. Similarly, I understand that in accepting an account with Facebook – or for that matter, a free email address from Google – that the qui pro quo is that the personal details I chose to divulge are used by them to target paid-for advertising. You may think that Facebook & Google are getting more out of this deal than yourself and then if it really bothers you, you can choose not to play that game with them. However, what it is unfair for you to do, is to scream “foul” and claim astonishment that such things go in this world.
As some of you may know, I devote a deal of my energies to a voluntary group, (see here), that concerns itself with helping mainly older folk avails themselves of the resources of our 21st-century digital environment. For some digital exclusion has very real consequences to their lives, (I assure you that I, Daniel Blake is not ‘ a minority report’), while for most the internet is a very real antidote to isolation, Today’s disproportionate media assault on Facebook, together with other over-blown scare stories concerning the internet, brings with it commensurate disproportionate angst among our attendees. Moreover, this angst is the fuel used by commercial and political institutions to stoke the fires aimed at reeling back parts of our society that are beyond its control. It is exactly for this reason I am fearful that, in the same way in the UK the BBC is under continual attack, that social media has become a global battleground where we need to be very circumspect in our rush for judgment and take great care that hard-won civil liberties are not tamely given-up in the process.