Social media not all bad
I READ the article on taking a stand against social media by Lord Digby Jones [Wednesday 20 February] with interest.
I agree that Google and Facebook are publishers and that they should do more to combat extremism.
In relation to other points made in the article, however, I would like to provide some balance by offering an alternative point of view.
Firstly, bearing in mind that content creators can move around from country to country, how are the likes of Google and Facebook supposed to prevent certain videos from being published, given that what is considered extreme and illegal in one country may well be the norm in another?
Clearly, they cannot rely on the video creators to provide accurate titles and descriptions, otherwise a public execution entitled ‘My Family Holiday’ would slip through the net.
Should they employ staff to watch every video that is uploaded to their network? Is that feasible, given that 300 hours of content is uploaded to You Tube every minute?
Even if it were feasible, do we really want to give individual employees at Google and Facebook the power to decide what we should see and what we should not?
How long would it be until we were only allowed to watch content of a certain political persuasion?
Google don’t publish every video uploaded to their network, but, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that they do.
If you see a video which you believe to be violent, obscene, sexual, hateful, abusive or promoting terrorism, you can notify Google. They already have staff that monitor ‘flagged’ videos 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If the video violates their policies, it is removed forever.
That’s what happens at the moment. It’s not so bad, is it?
Of course, I have a great deal of sympathy with those people who have been adversely affected by videos they should not have seen, but I cannot help but think that, in the most tragic cases, there must have been other things either present or lacking in their lives.
On the issue of personal privacy, I need to declare an interest. As managing director of a digital marketing business, I have a reasonable appreciation of the concerns of ordinary citizens and the demands placed on businesses by legislation such as GDPR.
It is my firmly held opinion that whilst the majority of people would say they care about their personal data, the reality is they don’t. Not much, anyway.
I remember when Mark Zuckerberg asked whether the billions of people who use Facebook might be willing to pay $1 a month in order to keep the platform free of advertising. The response – boycotts, protests and online fury – was entirely predictable.
That’s how much Facebook users value their personal data: less than $1 a month.
I might add that despite using Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook on a daily basis, none of those companies have ever taken or stolen my personal data.
On the contrary: I gave it to them. My email address, my phone number, my photographs, my preferences, my contacts... they’re welcome to all of it.
In exchange, these companies have endeavoured to organise and simplify my life. They remind me to wish my friends a happy birthday. They put my photographs into albums. I pay for my shopping by confirming my thumbprint to my phone. I haven’t had to remember a phone number or email address in 20 years.
To the best of my knowledge, the only way they have used my personal data is to show me adverts for things they know I like.
It is worth exploring the idea of what ‘personal’ data really is.
Is an email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org really personal? Not in my view.
If companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon or Apple attach some information to Bob’s email address, such as:
n a search for ‘hotels in Bordeaux’;
n a ‘like’ of a Bordeaux hotel Facebook page;
n browsing for Playstation games;
n listening to ’80s rock music;
and Bob subsequently sees some adverts for all of those things, hasn’t Bob gained more than he has lost?
Finally, I should like to add that our personal data has to exist somewhere in written form.
I am quite certain that if people were given the choice of entrusting the security of their personal data to the government or the world’s biggest tech companies, the vast majority would choose the latter.
Facebook and Google are free to use and yet their founders are some of the wealthiest people in the world. In my experience, people tend to be impressed rather than outraged when they finally connect the dots.