‘We live in a very complicated world these days,’ I said. ‘Clare and I watched a Netflix documentary the other night: ‘The Great Hack’, about Cambridge Analytica and their manipulation of personal data to influence the last US election and Brexit amongst others. It turns out that Facebook, whose aim was to bring people together through connectivity is actually driving people apart. The conclusion was that fair elections or referendums are an anachronism and a thing of the past.’
Camp is away with Muriel this week on a road trip to the interior. I’ve volunteered to shop-sit the bookstore for him, since after Easter it’s a pretty slow time of year. I actually enjoy it and get to chat to all kinds of interesting customers. And I get to sit and read for hours while at the same time feeling useful and engaged. Not such a bad life. The bills and ads I just file away for Camp to deal with.
It was unusual to see Campbell or Camp staring at his smart phone instead of the calming vista of the harbour, violating one of his basic rules:
phone off after working hours.
He had some other rules of conduct, which he was wont to proclaim as if they were laws of nature. For example:
Put tools back where you borrow them from
Leave no bottles or jars with caps unscrewed
no books read and returned for refunds
no photocopying in the book store
never any beer left behind.
“What’s with the phone Camp, is this an emergency or a change of habit?”
Camp looked up, taken aback for a moment. He was obviously engaged with the contents of his device. “Oh, that. No, no. It’s just that both Muriel and Sophie want me to join Facebook – which I told them was never going to happen – but since I’m a curious guy I wanted to do a little research on the issue, hence the phone. Did you know that Facebook is now the world’s most dominant information medium with over 2 billion subscribers, but it has miserably failed to take social responsibility for its content.”
“No, oh well I know it’s popular but neither I nor Clare are subscribers. Remember, we’re the boomers, the generation with the computer free childhood, unlike the millennials whose first moments were most likely immortalized by a smart phone or broadcast on social media.”
“There you have it. Mark Zuckerberg has no idea what he unleashed onto the world. From his ideal of a romantic place on the internet where people find and understand each other it has been transformed into a murky non-transparent
information giant with enormous political power. Zuckerberg now admitted to the Russian disinformation campaign of over 3000 political ads masquerading as real news. These ‘boosted posts’ posed as concerned US citizens alarmed about Clinton’s candidacy which reached ten million Facebook users in the US and definitely influenced the election in favour of the moron in the white house. Facebook is incredibly successful but therein lies its weakness. For so many people it has become indispensable, almost like an addiction,” Camp said, rather passionately. “It has replaced analytical thinking and posts are consumed like fast food at face value without any proof, research or integrity. Teens use it as much to bully each other as to share moments and photos. It defines fashion, behaviour and modes of thinking. ”
“I don’t really understand the whole thing,” I admitted. “I understand the platform’s content is regulated and filtered by algorithms rather then people. Something I read the other day,” I ventured, taking a sip from the brew that magically appeared in front of us.
“That’s right,” Camp nodded adamantly, “even Zuckerberg has now relented to hire a thousand human controllers to filter content. Should be a few shekels out of his 70 billion dollar fortune. He also apologized for the ways his work was used to divide people rather than bring them together. To little to late I say. The network is constructed in a way that favours sensational and exaggerated entries, articles and videos, which can all be sponsored without identifying the submitters, thus it’s hard to separate slander and deceptions from genuine content. Fake news are consumed and broadcast without any journalistic integrity, usually to propagate misogynistic and extreme views. Thanks to Facebook such distortions and manipulations spread like a viral disease.”
“I see why you don’t want to join any social media Camp, but Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, U-tube and Twitter are here to stay. We have a president who governs by Twitter. Nothing you and I can do about it,” I said. “Maybe you should put your phone away now. Look there is a rainbow over Keats Island. Now that is something we can all share without a subscription.”
“You’re right for once,” Camp conceded to my chagrin, “and I promise it will not happen again.
Just then his phone cascaded through the first bars of Randy Bachman’s ‘Taking care of business’. I looked at Camp and shrugged my shoulders. He answered reluctantly. Some promises last only as long as it takes to say them. He hung up almost immediately. “A goddarned telemarketer doing a surveys on eating habits.“
“You were more fun when you left your phone at work.”
“Right you are again,” he said with a shake of his head, dramatically pushing the off button on his smart device.
“Cheers to face-to-face,” I said.
“Yes, I’ll drink to that,” Camp retorted with a lopsided grin.