Author: Maria Manolova
The Cambridge Analytica crisis has exposed the sinister sides of the social network. No easy solution appears to be on the way
The article published by the online edition of Capital weekly discusses the risks of harm generated by Facebook against the backdrop of the Analytica scandal. The author presents also interesting facts about the data stored by the social network. In the personal profile of an average Facebook user for a little more than 10 years, 2 036 076 544 bytes have been accumulated, Manolova argues. These are 5594 files and 54 data folders. The list includes every status, every web log, every photo, every message, and any file that is received or sent.
Manolova also points to the fact that people care a little (if at all) about this huge on-going accumulation of personal information. Until a week ago, few people even thought about it, and even fewer users worried about it. Until the moment when “Canadian gay vegan, who by chance has created Steve Bannon’s psychological manipulation and information warfare,” as one of the Cambridge Analytica masterminds, Christopher Wiley, calls himself, appeared on the stage.
It has been crystal clear for years that Facebook uses people’s personal information to turn it into psychological and users’ profiles and sells it to advertisers as a pair of eyes with certain interests. However, the 28-year-old Wiley opened the door to a different, more sinister universe. Cambridge Analytica’s revelations have made known the otherwise obvious fact that Facebook has so far gone beyond the rules and has shown that the same technology can also be used to sell certain opinions, distorted truths and, ultimately, political influence.
The scandal happened in a moment that was unfavorable to the social network. For several years there has been a lot of pressure from Facebook making people feel unhappy. In recent months, former employees of the high-profile company have turned against it, trying to shake off the guilt for the damage they have done to society with their work. After more than a decade of social networking, people are already different – addicted, distracted and spoiled by social networks. The world is also different – the illusions that Facebook can help uniting movements such as the Arab Spring have been replaced by fearsome awareness that it is rather radicalizing and leading to extremes and divisions, as Brexit has demonstrated. The Cambridge Analytica case is a focal point for all this tension. Facebook is likely to survive this crisis, but it probably will not be the same anymore. Its soaring stock market boom in recent years is at best over. The question now is how far the collapse caused by consumer dissatisfaction, state regulation, and the outflow of advertisers will go.
Further in the article Manolova analyzes the crux of the conflict based on FB and Cambridge Analytica controversial practices. According to her the scandal does not actually say anything new. Doubts in Facebook’s manner of treating data have been wide spread for years. “Facebook knows us better than our friends” is the title “Wired” published in 2015 – a moment when Cambridge Analytica has already created psychological profiling algorithms shortly before triggering them in favor of Donald Trump’s ad campaign in the 2016 US presidential race. Researchers from Stanford and Cambridge have used psychological test responses and live profile information to lay out an algorithm that may be more accurate in judging someone’s behaviour than her relatives’ opinion. The survey has been running between 2007 and 2014 – since the time when Facebook is a relatively small website until it has become a global force that determines the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The results are shocking then. If you show the algorithm 150 “likes” to a certain person, he can draw more accurate conclusions about her than her own friends, the survey shows. With 300 “likes” data, the machine is doing better than someone’s own life partner. In some cases, the computer model can defeat participants even concerning their knowledge of themselves. Cambridge Analytica uses the same principle to build its tools for profiling and behavior prediction – but raises bets by using them for political manipulation and information warfare. “We broke Facebook,” admits Christopher Wiley himself.
This statement, of course, is highly exaggerated. As far as Facebook is “broken”, it’s been a long time ago and it’s because of its business model. It works best when users are as emotionally involved as possible for the longest time. And this happens when the passions are strong and irrational. Facebook literally feeds on the anger, fears, weaknesses and (instant) happiness of people. Of course, the company does not recognize it. In the last two years of the social network, they have furiously denied their role in spreading online bullying or fake news in the US elections – and in the referendum on the Britain’s exit from the EU. At least when the media or some critical voices ask them these questions. The picture changes to 180 degrees when the social network speaks to marketing specialists responsible for advertising budgets. Magical Facebook then becomes an all-knowing organization with unmatched detail and detail. In short – a system for monitoring people.
Over the years, Facebook has been a lot of things concludes the author – a personal diary, a commenting board, a playground, recently trying to be a site for small ads and sales. Through its various metamorphoses, external developers, like Cambridge University lecturer Alexander Kogan, who fed Cambridge Analytica with the personal information of 50 million people, had had access to the surveillance system in question. “I was worried that we could not keep track of the information coming from our servers and we had no idea what the developers were doing with it,” claims Sandy Parakylas, former operations manager who has been in charge of the Facebook security breakthroughs in 2011 – 2012. “I’ve always suspected that there is something like a black market for consumer data,” he says. In his words, the social network has not taken action on this issue at the time.
“People just gave me their data, I do not know why …” They trust me…fools,” 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg said about the first portion of four thousand people who entrusted his personal information to him in 2004. After this conversation, several years later, the CEO of the now global Facebook company repents and recounts how he has wisely overcome this and this… until he has reached the last scandal. “We have a responsibility to protect your information, and if we can not, then we do not deserve it,” he said. “I’m sorry we did not do enough in 2014. We are now taking steps to make sure that it does not happen any more,” Zuckerberg wrote in status, appearing after five days of silence. Now the question about Facebook is how belayed this message is….
Manolova explores also the ugly side of beautiful Facebook.
The problem that Cambridge Analytica has so well illustrated has been felt for a long time. The social network exploits the most vulnerable human traits – machiavellitism, psychopathy and narcissism. The lashes, notifications and messages are designed merely to add users. Walls are a well-designed platform for radicalizing opinions. For 10 years, Facebook has penetrated into the cracks of human psyche and divisions of societies. “Rapid injections of dopamine from the endless feedback we have created ruin the way society works, there is no common civil discourse, there is no cooperation, but only misinformation and untruths,” said Chamat Palihapitia, former Facebook chief for audience expansion. The same reasoning and the same guilt motivate Christopher Wiley to highlight the operations of Cambridge Analytica. “We risk fragmenting society in such a way that we no longer have shared experiences and shared opinions, and if you want to make a fundamental change in a society, you have to break it first and then you can fit the pieces as you like,” he commented. Asked by the New York Times whether he feels guilty about using the platform, Mark Zuckerberg himself “responded with a very long pause,” and that when he ever sat at his Harvard dorm, he did not assume that any of this would ever happen.
The growing number of in-house people who shine red lamps and decide to commit themselves to the struggle against their previous employer could not fail to bring results. It may have happened around you – conversations to delete Facebook profiles are getting more frequent. Data does not yet show a sharp drop in users, but #deletefacebook is gaining momentum. The beginning of 2018 was the first time in the history of the social network when the number of new users did not grow. Facebook has had a natural problem anyway – young people just do not like it enough. That was three months before Cambridge Analytica. Now the scale of problems has increased. The company’s business model – collecting as much data as possible for consumers and selling it to advertisers (governments, politicians and what they ask for) is becoming an increasing threat to consumer privacy and the structure of society. This is a conflict that can not last long. Resistance to this model is already in place, from the lowest personal level to the wider state efforts.
Finally Manolova discusses the topical issue of social networks regulation.
Today, Facebook still seems too big to fail. The social network is part of the lives of 2.2 billion people – almost double the population of China who rely on it for information, communication and entertainment every day. This habit can not disappear overnight. But let’s not forget that just before Facebook, its predecessor, MySpace, seemed like it could not disappear from the internet ecosystem. And the obstacles to the largest social network are already stacked. Facebook will have to fight with investigations in the United States and the UK, with attempts to be regulated in the European Union and elsewhere and undoubtedly with the attempts of a known or unknown competitor to exploit the weaknesses that Cambridge Analytica has just shown and to sneak into its niche and gain consumer attention.
The social network, however, is not the only culprit for the extreme situation we have fallen in. The so called Big Data is the mantra of the last decade, but so far little has been said about the problems and limitations surrounding it. Data is the fuel of the greater part of the digital economy, and exploitation, not always to the best interest of people, is a fact in many places on the Internet and technologies outside of Facebook. The social network is just an illustration of how information can be used to analyze, create tools, and influence people. In this case, the company has been looking for a consumer addictive effect and has achieved it successfully. The regular smoker reaches the cigarette case 20 or 30 times a day, but the regular Facebook user – probably much more. But in the first instance, the tobacco industry is subject to super-rigid regulations, and in the second, social networks have grown in absolute freedom.
Now, even Mark Zuckerberg himself says he ‘is not sure that [Facebook] can not be regulated’. Although late, the rules are already set. “Personal data is the currency of the current digital market, and as every currency needs stability and trust,” former Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding commented earlier. The new GDPR should protect consumers from such crises and abuses. Mark Zuckerberg’s decision is now “to give people more control over their personal space,” making the menus on the social network more understandable, access to certain options easier, and the button to delete the profile more prominent. Facebook needs to be preparing for a wave of different regulatory efforts over the coming years.
Manolova concludes her analysis somehow optimistically that there is still good news emerging out of the scandal and it is that people today are becoming more and more careful about their personal data. Business, not just Facebook, but Google, Amazon and all other similar technology companies are entering a new phase. The initial accumulation of data seems to be over soon.
Съпротивата срещу Facebook. Кризата с Cambridge Analytica разобличи зловещите страни на социалната мрежа. Лесно решение не се задава
March 30 2018
The information is prepared by the team of the COMPACT project.
COMPACT is a Coordination and Support Action funded European Commission under framework Horizon 2020.
The objective of the COMPACT project is to increase awareness (including scientific, political, cultural, legal, economic and technical areas) of the latest technological discoveries among key stakeholders in the context of social media and convergence. The project will offer analyses and road maps of related initiatives. In addition, extensive research on policies and regulatory frameworks in media and content will be developed.
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