Social networks were once touted as a forum for people to freely exchange divergent opinions without censorship or commercial pressure. In reality, the lofty idealism has been supplanted by the self interest of the giant corporations that now run them.
According to Statista, four out of the 10 social media platforms globally are owned by Facebook. Out of 7.8 billion people in the world (as of June 2020) approximately 2.5 billion log onto at least one of those platforms (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger) every month.
Today, Facebook and other ‘Big Tech’ companies manipulate the lives and decisions of untold billions around the world. But how do they do it?
Here are three ways tech giants like Facebook and Twitter are manipulating people like you:
So-called ‘fact-checking’ is rife on mainstream social media platforms and this results in the censoring of your ideas and anything you share that doesn’t fit in with the mainstream narrative.
Big Tech’s justification for censoring scientific debate about the virus and the vaccines is that “misinformation”, by which they mean any dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy, can be harmful to public health.
Recent announcements reveal how the likes of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are moving in the same direction: effectively narrowing the parameters of acceptable debate on Covid.
On December 15th, it was reported that Facebook would be sending notifications to anyone who had liked, commented, or shared a piece of COVID-19 “misinformation” that’s been taken down for violating the platform’s terms of service. Not just that: it would then point them in the direction of “trustworthy sources”.
On December 17th, Instagram announced a similar policy (unsurprising given Facebook is the parent company)
On December 21st, Twitter announced it had tightened restrictions on what people are permitted to say on the platform. It reveals that they are “enforcing their new policy in close consultation with public health authorities.”
2. Profit From Your Personal Information:
Facebook has a track record of selling users’ personal information without their permission.
Remember the ‘Facebook – Cambridge Analytica scandal’? Facebook, owners of Instagram and WhatsApp, puts profit ahead of privacy. One only has to understand Instagram’s new Terms of Service to feel alarmed. Here’s just one of the worrying snippets from their T&C’s which detail how they track your movements:
The truth is that exploiting data is central to the business model of all the major social media platforms. It enables them to offer the service for free. So while regulators make some attempt to protect consumers from abuse – think the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in America – it still doesn’t go near far enough.
Facebook, Twitter and others will make empty boasts about their privacy credentials and their commitment to transparency. Yet once you dig deep into the small print and negotiate the labyrinthine user agreements, you wonder how they stifle the giggles.
In short: Businesses whose existence is reliant on your data are not likely to relinquish their grip anytime soon.
3. Treats You As A Product:
Big Tech’s ability to manipulate you through its algorithms and data harvesting practices has been highlighted by the Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’. You see only what they want you to see and they sell your attention to the highest bidder.
That means that every time you search for something, you are guided down a path dictated by the algorithm. The growing prominence of ‘recommendation engines’ draw on your search history and other past interactions on the platform – and sometimes from actions you’ve taken on other websites and across different devices.
The latter is known as omni-channel marketing: the practice by which online companies are able to pull together the separate actions you’ve taken on different websites and devices in order to identify you as one individual. End result? More persuasive advertising messages targeted to you.
A worrying time for freedom of speech and right to privacy
As social media joins the traditional media in tightening what’s deemed acceptable opinion, they go even further by monitoring our own activities and providing personalised messaging to check our thinking.
Not only has 2020 been a terrible year for freedom of speech, it’s also been a bad one for freedom of thought.
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We’ve carefully curated a list of articles for those of you interested in reading up more on how ‘Big Tech’ manipulate you.