Monday, April 16, 2018
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the social media site Facebook, went all old-fashioned last week by physically sitting down before members of Congress to answer questions about privacy and his company's capacity to protect it.
I expected his thumbs to be bigger.
Beyond that, however, I thought his appearance was a little like asking the NRA what to do about gun play or Anheuser-Busch what to do about intoxication.
Privacy is anathema to Facebook's entire concept.
Members of Congress were fulfilling what they thought they needed to do in response to the use of Facebook's data by a company that specializes in using it to influence consumers' behaviors. The company inappropriately accessed data about Facebook users and used some of that information to influence voters in 2016.
Some senators and representatives clearly knew little about the world of social media. Facebook for a few is no doubt just one of those newfangled contraptions like the automatic transmission and bar-code scanning at the grocery store. But their young staff members advised them it was important to bring Zuckerberg up to the Hill, and Zuckerberg was willing because he's on a mission to quell concerns about his business and its constant appetite for information about We the People.
The more he quiets the choppy waters, the less interference he'll get out of regulation-minded lawmakers.
Facebook is a brilliant platform. I use the description out of respect for its power to lure We the People in and convince us to provide the very product it's selling to its customers. We the People are not its customers. We are its raw material. We're the coal mine and every nugget of information Facebook can bring to the surface becomes a commodity the company can sell or use to influence us to buy something.
I was listening to a podcast of Dave Ramsey, the radio missionary preaching the benefits of no-debt living, the other day as he answered a listener's question about why Ramsey promotes paying cash in most scenarios. Ramsey eschews credit but will occasionally use a debit card. He cited university research that showed credit cards and smartphone-based features such as Apple Pay reduce the "friction" of payment that exists with cash. When we pay cash, the transaction creates more resistance to spending.
Buying with cash makes us think about actually giving up our resources, in the form of money. With credit card and "swiping" of devices, it doesn't feel like we're giving up anything, Ramsey noted. When we pay with cards or electronics, we get our credit card and phone back and don't seem any poorer -- until the bill comes later. Paying cash, the studies found, actually activates pain receptors in the brain. The other ways provide instant gratification with no pain.
Facebook operates the same way with private information. Zuckerberg's creation reduces our resistance to sharing personal information. It's so easy and we get positive feedback from our "friends." Imagine years ago if someone had called your home and started asking questions: Where do you work? How long have you worked there? What's your age? When is your birthday? What's your name and that of your spouse and children? What kind of things do you like and dislike? Who do you know?
Back then, we would have said "That's none of your business" and hung up on them faster than you could dial a rotary phone.
But with Facebook and other social media services, we volunteer more and more information about ourselves, our families and friends without a second thought. For users, there is no charge for this "service" because that would reduce the number of people from which they can mine private information.
There is a price to be paid for admission, though. It's not just allowing the peeping Tom (or peeping Zuckerberg?) to peer through the windows of our lives. We leave the lights on so he can see us better and hand him a video recorder so he can share it with others.
As long as that's true, can we ever really be shocked when we discover someone has "misused" all the information we have so freely regurgitated into the social media world?
One of these days, We the People will catch on. We're all still relative younglings when it comes to the implications of social media, but we're going to learn more in the years ahead about unintended consequences of our insatiable appetite for sharing.
Is the only answer to become a social media monk? Maybe. But rest assured people like Zuckerberg will do everything he can to keep us out of the monastery.
Commentary on 04/16/2018
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