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Truthout - June 3, 2019

The personal is now public. Consider Facebook. As the global leader in platforming interpersonal interactions with public discourse across boundaries, Facebook enjoys a virtual monopoly in reflecting power.

Facebook’s massive global reach gives the platform immense influence to shape public perception, awareness and opinion. Notably, one of the platform’s creators, Chamath Palihapitiya, did admit that the team “knew something bad could happen,” having “created tools that are literally ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” Still, public awareness of this subterfuge has changed nothing.

The relevance of mediated social reality to everyday life has, for much of the industrialized world, never been as pronounced. Information technology and social media exist within political-economic contexts wherein ideas and information are routinely commodified for marketplaces. In 2001, researcher and author Edwin Black meticulously laid out the case of how publicly traded companies can (literally and figuratively) make a killing out of acquiring and managing private information for use in particular markets.

Along with altruistic pretenses like its claims to respect the commons and connect the social world, Facebook also sells user data to advertisers and other institutions intent on managing public perception while simultaneously using personal data for private profit.

The social is also now commodified. Facebook is strictly oriented around total profit in the commodification of user data. In fact, The New York Times detailed how Facebook has allowed its big tech partners to breach privacy rules to gather user data.

Moreover, the very nature of corporatized social media makes users into active market actors, products to be sold. As professor and media theorist Robert McChesney points out in a C-SPAN interview, “Everything we do online is known by commercial vendors and the government to the extent it wants to know. We have no privacy at all.”

No reasonable human being really wants to be integrated into the AI singularity, experimented on, spied on, or to have their private interactions packaged and sold. Resistance to this onward march, we are conditioned to believe, is futile. So how might Facebook’s digital citizens, now 2.3 billion strong, better comprehend and understand the company’s immense power over their ideas and their freedom to exchange ideas — the foundation of freedom itself? A conceptual model of the late 1980s can help pry apart the puzzling performances of this anti-social behemoth. ...
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