Are Facebook and other social media sites more trouble than they’re worth?

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We lose a lot of privacy by using social media. Is it worth it?

Scams have been around since the beginning of time and, sadly, many among us prey on the weaknesses, gullibilities and ignorance of others for their own personal gain.

If you’re old enough, you surely remember receiving the oddly handwritten letter from the Nigerian prince, informing you that he’s going to give you millions of dollars for little to no reason at all.

There was next-to-no harm in that. Oh, sure, there was a small percentage of people whose good judgment was clouded by greed, and they would write back, but it wasn’t nearly as big of a problem as phishing, spear-phishing, pharming or other online scams are today.

If you’re even the least-bit internet savvy — only a 3 on a 1-to-10 scale-type of savvy — you know that the convenience of the internet comes at a cost. We’ve all looked at something we’re interested in buying, like a computer or a pair of pants or sneakers or a set of golf clubs, and later found ads for those following us around the internet.

Google, we know, for all the information is provides, is basically an advertising company, and if we use it, we’re giving it very personal information about ourselves that is uses to send us ads.

That’s a trade-off we choose to make: If I can order a case for my iPhone X and a charger on Amazon, I don’t mind they know I’m an iOS user. It makes it easier for me on future searches.

But the recent news that a company called Cambridge Analytica unlawfully took the private information of 50 million Americans from Facebook to try to influence how you vote and what issues you support is most decidedly not OK unless you specifically choose to give them that information.

What you do online makes it easy for a giant social media company like Facebook, as well as your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to know a lot more about you than you might be comfortable. Most of us don’t think twice about it before sharing details of our lives with our friends, both those whom we know in real life and those whom we’re acquainted with only online.

We rely on Facebook to zealously guard the information we give them, because it can be used for nefarious purposes. The raison d’être of Cambridge Analytica is exactly what many of us would find nefarious: Influencing how we think about a particular candidate, a particular issue or an overall political leaning.

Its founder, Christopher Wylie, left the firm in 2014. He made a startling statement to the New York Times about those who are currently running the country.

Rules don’t matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it’s all fair. They want to fight a culture war in America. Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war. — Christopher Wylie, founder, Cambridge Analytica

If you’re like most people and you use Facebook and other social media sites to connect with old friends and family, to talk about topics that interest you, you most assuredly don’t want to be brain-washed into a specific way of thinking. You use your wits when you vote. Theoretically, you vote for a candidate you think will best advance causes you believe in. If you’re liberal, say, you may be left of center on most topics, but in the middle on a few and right of center on one or two.

But if you’re unknowingly brainwashed via social media, then you’ll simply move further to the left. The opposite is true for conservatives, who will move further to the right.

The problem, of course, is it’s almost impossible to govern. Too many of us, but certainly most of our politicians, act as if they’re on a team and not on the same side. As Americans, we should want what is best for the country: More jobs, higher pay, less wars,  cleaner air and water, freedom of speech, good, effective and inexpensive health care and security from our enemies. We should all be able to agree on that. The devil is in the details of getting there.

But if we’re brainwashed when we’re posting photos or our trip to Cabo or cheering on our favorite football team, that’s a problem.

A 21st century phenomenon is the hatred that is spewed on social media. Granted anonymity, far too many people turn nasty and belittle others online. It’s out of control in many ways, but we accept it in exchange for the ability to stay in touch with loved ones in distant places.

This news about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica is highly disturbing, and out to at least cause us to re-think our social media approach.

If more news like this breaks, social media will turn out to be more of a social disaster than anything else.

4 comments

  • I agree, Kevin. Social sites are getting scary and more cumbersome to navigate due to algorithms that determine what you see.

  • Kevin check out Douglas Rushkoff 3 documentaries on PBS Frontline. Hopefully they make a new one for this. He saw it coming, I don’t think to this extent. But he was on the first wave. Hopefully he will do a new one.

  • MillennialMerit

    The anonymity of social media is a double-edged sword. It allows people to speak their mind without fear of social repercussion or damage to their reputation through saying ‘controversial things.’ However, that same power is often used directly against others to belittle and insult.

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