An organic entity, full of juice and sweetness and agreeable odour, being turned into a mechanism.Anthony Burgess
Facebook scandals and additional details of its rogue behaviour is not actually news lately, but the British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has just released a devastating report on Disinformation and ‘fake news’ which is worth mentioning. For a quick look, you can read only the bold type (my emphasis).
This is the Final Report in an inquiry on disinformation that has spanned over 18 months, covering individuals’ rights over their privacy, how their political choices might be affected and influenced by online information, and interference in political elections both in this country and across the world—carried out by malign forces intent on causing disruption and confusion.
The report examines in detail Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and its overall privacy practices:
Facebook operates by monitoring both users and non-users, tracking their activity and retaining personal data. Facebook makes its money by selling access to users’ data through its advertising tools. It further increases its value by entering into comprehensive reciprocal data-sharing arrangements with major app developers who run their businesses through the Facebook platform.
Meanwhile, among the countless innocuous postings of celebrations and holiday snaps, some malicious forces use Facebook to threaten and harass others, to publish revenge porn, to disseminate hate speech and propaganda of all kinds, and to influence elections and democratic processes—much of which Facebook, and other social media companies, are either unable or unwilling to prevent. We need to apply widely-accepted democratic principles to ensure their application in the digital age.
Clearly, neither Facebook nor his Chief Mr. Zuckerberg fare well in the report.
Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law.
By choosing not to appear before the Committee and by choosing not to respond personally to any of our invitations, Mark Zuckerberg has shown contempt towards both the UK Parliament and the ‘International Grand Committee’, involving members from nine legislatures from around the world.
The Committee calls for major changes to the way the UK regulates its elections and technology.
The big tech companies must not be allowed to expand exponentially, without constraint or proper regulatory oversight. But only governments and the law are powerful enough to contain them. The legislative tools already exist. They must now be applied to digital activity, using tools such as privacy laws, data protection legislation, antitrust and competition law. If companies become monopolies they can be broken up, in whatever sector. Facebook’s handling of personal data, and its use for political campaigns, are prime and legitimate areas for inspection by regulators, and it should not be able to evade all editorial responsibility for the content shared by its users across its platforms.
(The antitrust case against Facebook is a cry.)
The report quotes one of the witnesses, Tristan Harris, to highlight how technology is “hijacking our minds and society” and to conclude that:
We must use technology, instead, to free our minds and use regulation to restore democratic accountability. We must make sure that people stay in charge of the machines.
Thinking of digital gangsters and the way smart British people are proposing to deal with them, my mind travelled all the way back to Anthony Burgess’ novel Clockwork Orange where I found that tasty description of the author I have quoted at the beginning of this post… Doesn’t it look like a description of Facebook?