Intelligence Squared is considered the world’s leading forum for online debate and intelligent discussion. This medium recently staged a lively discussion around the role that Facebook plays in influencing public opinion. Two contriubtors spoke in favour of the motion “Is Facebook Damaging Society” and two people spoke against the it.
Let’s think about this topic
How much thought have you given to the role that Facebook is playing in influencing society today? My belief is that the results of recent elections has demonstrated the powerful role played by this social medium in influencing public opinion
Writing in July 2019 my hunch is that the election of Donald Trump as well as the Brexit vote, both of which took place in 2016, were heavily influenced by information gleaned from Facebook accounts. Potential swing voters were identified by an analysis of personal information accumulated by a custom built app. The information gleaned was passed on to those with the capacity to target the relevant individuals, thus influencing their voting behaviour.
The Good and the not so Good
Having just listened to this online debate hosted by Intelligence Squared I have become even more aware of the potential of Facebook’s power for both good and evil. How do we control this monolith so that its capacity to educate, to stimulate business growth and to connect people can be encouraged? Whilst malevolent information gathering can be controlled. Some measures need to be established to prevent data accumulated from Facebook profiles being used to manipulate public opinion for the nefarious ends of malign forces.
Following Trump’s Election
The enquires necessitated by the election of the Trump presidency has established the need for some serious monitoring systems to guide the use of personal data. Some changes have already been implemented. Many thousands of employees have been taken on by Facebook to monitor every contribution made minute by minute on its site. Enormous teams have been assembled to peruse every new post in a multiplicity of the world’s languages. A team of 30 000 employees are checking every fresh contribution made on the Facebook site to ensure it obeys the implementation of new rules. Mark Zuckerberg has been receptive to the backlash of public opinion and has agreed to play a major role in monitoring all postings.
Is an Ethical Code Possible?
I am asking myself whether it is possible to determine an ethical code around monitoring the 2.2 billion users of Facebook. How can we possibly delineate criteria for judging items of potential erosion of values, or provocative interpretations? Is it possible to find an ethics committee to agree on the criteria for what is and what is not moral and ethical?
The power of Facebook
Have you ever ruminated on the power and responsibilities of Mark Zuckerberg? In the entire history of mankind, has there ever been an individual as powerful as this man? The Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Kings of Colonial Constituencies were not able to spread information, garner opinions and influence the masses of people in the powerful manner in which Facebook can manipulate its followers today.
There are more Facebook users than there are Christians living in the World. In fact in some sectors of society the term Facebook is used as a synonym for the Internet.
A Monitoring Board has been proposed
It seems that Zuckerberg and his Facebook acolytes have been made aware that a monitoring system is essential if public faith in their product is to be maintained. Suggestions around creating a new board of 40 members to adjudicate published information has been mooted. This board has been likened to the Supreme Court of Justice
Whether or not this analogy is realistic is doubtful. The Supreme Court monitors the behaviour of 364 million people living in the USA. Facebook will have to oversee the data of 2.2 billion people living in countries all around the world.
Positive Research Potential
There is a potential for scientific progress in the understanding of human motivation offered by the rich sets of data recorded by Facebook. The masses of personal information collected could be a force for some exciting new types of research into human behaviour. There is a growing body of research from a wide range of different disciplines like psychology, sociology and social anthropology which are now deriving useful information from social networks. The potential of this wide range of opportunities is yet to be evaluated, but the prospect of enriching our understanding of human behaviour is exciting. Data is a powerful new tool for the development of specialised scientific concepts within the field of the Social Sciences.
Let us hope that the tremendous potential of modern scientific techniques can be utilised for the betterment of society, rather than the blind manipulation of Facebook users.