Rethinking America

How Facebook Plays the US Political System

How Facebook has gotten away with its constant abuses dealing with the greatest raw material of all time, data about human preferences and interactions.

Credit: www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • Facebook has made an art out of always playing naïve. It is prepared to get away with its patent set of lies and deceit until the end of time.
  • Facebook claims that it sets its engineers free to devise great things for humankind. It does anything but – it’s a highly deceptive money-sucking machine.
  • Facebook’s approach is to claim noble aspirations -- while always being prepared to break a lot of china. Then it claims remorse -- but doesn’t change any of its practices.

Data is the primary raw material of our time — and Facebook is a key player in that arena.

But here’s the curious thing: Until the current brouhaha about Donald Trump’s posts, no matter what charge had been levied against the firm by whichever privacy or competition authorities, Facebook always portrayed itself as completely unperturbed.

Its nonchalance beats even the past imperial swagger that, before the age of data imperialism, U.S. oil companies used to be famous for.

But as much as the latter outsourced their dirty work to U.S. and UK intelligence agencies and operations, even they rarely claimed that they did not need any permits (and at least legal titles) for what and where they wanted to explore and drill.

Moreover, well over a century ago — in the earlier, rough-and-tumble capitalist times in the United States, the oil industry essentially had the privilege of operating in a quasi-lawless state. But the law — and antitrust — eventually caught up with it. It begs disbelief that Facebook should operate with less oversight than the oil industry of old had to contend with.

Data: The new oil

After all, more so than oil these days, data is a very precious raw material. And, as with oil, if not conducted properly, its extraction, production and distribution can certainly cause considerable damage to the human environment.

Even so, Facebook has gotten away with playing with fire as it taps into the greatest raw material of all time, cataloguing our every move and click to gather its data about individual preferences and interactions.

Pseudo libertarianism

Facebook has played political Washington like a fiddle. All of which makes makes its pseudo-libertarian attempt to get away with Zuckerbergian boyish naiveté and wonderment all the more troublesome.

Zuckerberg’s humanizing sidekick, Sheryl Sandberg, ultimately is an equally ruthless enforcer. She has tried, but one assumes deliberately and artfully failed, to provide more adult supervision to the company.

The fact that, at various stages in the past, so many senior executives left the company in disgust over its business model of at most paying only lip service to any serious privacy rules is conclusive proof of that.

As is the fact that Sandberg’s erstwhile offer to seriously explore a paid model option for using Facebook still is without any follow-up. The company simply cannot part with its emotions-driven toolkit. Otherwise it wouldn’t rake in the dollars.

Zuckerberg’s and Sandberg’s goal

The goal of the Zuckerberg and Sandberg act is to make sure that U.S. politicians have no teeth. And President Trump has made plain his view that anybody putting any shackles on Facebook and the rest of the Silicon Valley privacy-eating machine is messing with his idea of Making America Great Again.

No matter what troubling activities it engages in, and no matter how it is found out to have operated against its presumed noble principles, Facebook has made an art out of always playing naïve. It was prepared to get away with its patent set of lies and deceit until the end of time.

Great thing for humankind?

It is grotesque that the company still claims that it sets its engineers free to devise great things for humankind. It does anything but. A highly deceptive money-sucking machine would be much closer to the truth.

The firm’s basic approach is to claim noble aspirations, while always being prepared to break a lot of china. And then to claim remorse, while not really being sorry about it or changing any of its practices.

That, Facebook’s boy wonder likes to believe, is simply the price of progress. Of course, he is far from alone in the belief that data imperialism is the core condition of continued American leadership in the world.

To stay ahead, so his ultimate suggestion goes, we Americans just have to press the pedal harder to the metal of the human data trough. After all, the Chinese are even more ruthless.

Companies intervening

That it is now major U.S. brands’ refusal to keep advertising on Facebook that is getting Mr. Zuckerberg to rethink his ruthless ways might be considered progress. And it is.

But that companies act with a greater deal of conscience than politicians do is truly a sign of how debased American politics has become.

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About Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist. [Berlin/Germany]

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