“I am scared of Facebook”, John Lanchester says in You are the Product. LRB.
Here’s why: launched in 2004 just for those with current Harvard Uni email addresses; October 2012 it announced 1 Billion regular users (55% of those daily); by 2017, 2 Billion regular users (66% daily). “No human enterprise, no new technology or utility or service, has ever been adopted so widely so quickly.” Added to which 3 of the next 5 biggest internet companies are owned by FB.
FB’s interests are often directly at odds with those assumed to be society’s. Take the idea of “post-truth” or concerns about dealing in “fake news”, FB has no financial interest in truth telling; that’s not its business. FB’s customers are not the 2 billion individuals uploading massive amounts of personal data (far more than they would ever wish to hand over freely to governments) they are “the product”, FB’s customers are the advertisers who use their cunning logarithms to place adverts in front of us and our like-minded friends.
In 2014 The New York Times did some adding up, concluding that every day, humanity was spending 39,757 collective years on the site…that’s every day. Or almost 15m years of labour free, every year.
“FB is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in history.” Collating information based on card purchases, name/address, income, education level and relationship status, in tandem with a partner company, Experian, they have data on almost 48 million UK adults. This feeds the advertiser’s logarithms. This is what the advertisers buy.
FB does stuff because it can. There is no moral compass. Grow, multiply and monetise. Moneterization assists growth. Money from advertisers, advertisers buy access to us…we are the product.
Enter Girard’s ‘mimetic desire’: human beings are born with needs (food, shelter etc) once these are met we look around to see what others are doing and wanting and we copy them to a greater or lesser degree.
Research indicates a correlation between increased time on FB and decreasing mental wellbeing; the reverse of increased “real-life” time/interactions and better mental health. In short swapping stuff that does us good for stuff that does us bad. Increasingly.
Lanchester sees FB as “a company whose essential premise is misanthropic.” The mission “to connect” really only means to connect with people we know or people who in the main have similar views. There’s a whole other world(s) going on that we have increasingly less idea of. “We” are fragmenting. “We” are becoming narrower.
…and that’s why he’s “scared of Facebook.”