Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a long day on Tuesday, April 10, testifying before Congress about the Cambridge Analytica scandal over the breach of privacy of approximately 87 million Facebook users whose personal information was shared without the users’ knowledge. This information was used during the 2016 election, reportedly to sway potential voters.
The questioning went down several paths, including policing information shared on the social media app. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, raised concerns over bias of Facebook staff who monitor information, and their own political agendas. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, exclaimed, “Your user agreement sucks.” Another senator noted that some people use Facebook as if it is the Internet, being that it’s the only thing they use.
The testimony went on for several hours without much resolution because, in reality, there is no really good way to make sure everyone remains above whatever anyone else qualifies as being worthy of scrutiny, in determining whether the user and relevant information should be deleted. In simple terms, who can really judge what someone should or should not be sharing or discussing on Facebook? Even Zuckerberg said that hate speech and nudity are things not allowed on Facebook, almost as if the two should be given the same weight. And what qualifies as hate speech? Why is nudity comparable to hate speech? Further, if users can’t find what they want on Facebook, many will just go somewhere else, so what is the point of regularly monitoring what is posted? It feels as if 1984 is not such a surreal premise after all.
One particular point and perspective seems to be the most important, which is that some Facebook users seemed to believe that Facebook is actually the Internet itself and as if it is the only way to make social connections. To worsen this plight, some people seem to forget that they live in neighborhoods surrounded by other law-abiding people; that they have phones to talk to others; they have churches, organizations, public parks, bars and restaurants and a whole slew of other ways to engage socially. It’s as if Facebook has become the Holy Grail of human connection. And then we act betrayed when our privacy has been breached when we all know how vulnerable websites are when even the most supposedly secure (hello, Equifax!) have been hacked. The truth we collectively refuse to face is that we are so addicted to social media that when our privacy has been compromised, we can’t own that anything on the Internet is USE AT YOUR OWN RISK. Anyone can make promises about security, but we must be kidding ourselves in thinking that everything we see and read and are told to believe is, in fact, true and sincere. Where have skepticism and personal accountability gone?
It’s hard to say exactly what is going on on social media anymore, whether or not people will continue to put themselves at risk for privacy breaches and even monitoring and possible deletion for failing to meet another person’s standards. The best bet may just be, go and meet the people you have met on social media for coffee or a nice walk, and unplug. That would solve two problems is one effort. Life is too short to leave social connections solely to the Internet.