There’s a lot of noise around Facebook right now, and I suspect you’ll hear a lot more news soon. A member of parliament exercised an extraordinary power this weekend, seizing internal documents from the firm while one party to a lawsuit against Facebook was traveling in London. The British government is already threatening to make the documents public; you can expect fascinating reading from that. Here is a BBC story summarizing the situation.
It’s just the latest salvo in the EU’s effort to reign in large tech firms and their data collection practices. A serious discussion about this issue can’t come soon enough. Facebook and Google have hacked humanity, creating a weapon that’s now out of control. They created this problem, and it’s theirs to solve, I argued this weekend in a long-ranging interview on WTOP in Washington D.C. this weekend. You can listen to the interview here, or click play on the button below if your browser allows it.
I was invited on the show to talk about last week’s story, “Facebook, Google invented digital crack, and now we’re addicted to lies. It’s a health crisis.” As evidence, I talk about my parlor game these days, in which I ask friends if more or fewer people believe the Earth is flat today than 10 years ago. here’s a taste of that story. (Click here to read it).
I’ve written many times that consumers have been hacked. Corporations with billion-dollar research budgets have poked and prodded us for decades, exposing every weakness, turning your human nature against you and exploiting that systematically. After reading this excellent Washington Post story about the spread of conspiracy theories online, I worry that this hacking process is almost complete.
The story does a masterful job of matching up a man who makes $15,000 a month spreading crazy, sexy lies online — “CALIFORNIA INSTITUTES SHARIA LAW!” — with a lonely 76-year-old woman who believes and shares those lies.
As CNN’s Brian Stelter points out, the story is really about addiction.
Take a vulnerable population and give them a hit of excitement at just the right moment, and you’ve got ’em hooked. Then, you just need to keep ratcheting up the dosage. Fake news has become Amerca’s new drug of choice. We don’t really need Russians to spread fake news, though they certainly helped at the beginning. We’re doing a fine job of “amusing ourselves to death.”