Profiting from fear

I am safe after yesterday’s sad events – which are a tragedy for those who have lost loved ones, or who may have life changing injuries.

It’s understandable that people feel the need to check on people close to them who may have been in the area – and to provide that ‘just in case’ reassurance. Once the thought comes to mind, it’s hard to do anything else.

Four or five people are killed in the UK – on any average day – in road accidents. In terms of being killed purely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, what’s happened in Westminster is hardly a blip. There are other areas we should be focusing on to reduce the number of lives tragically cut short. Where I’m currently living, 7.5% of deaths are due to air pollution. The lives lost due to mental illness, or austerity – whether indirectly or directly – are probably higher; but it’d be hard to estimate. And the equivalent of at least one Londoner a day is killed by climate change – already – although its victims are disproportionately in poorer nations.

It is only too human to get things out of proportion: one death is a tragedy, a thousand are a statistic; and the values of the news cycle exacerbate that.

What is not forgivable is Facebook – which profits from advertising on extremist content of all sorts – deliberately fueling that with its ‘mark your self safe’ tool (in the case at least, basically a gimmick).

It is using that to cement its own indispensability as a money-making communication platform: effectively forcing people to mark themselves safe. Profiting from the worst kind of heart wrenching event.

Facebook & Society

Facebook has recently announced that it is going to start charging you up to £11 to send messages to ‘celebrities’.

If there wasn’t enough of an issue already with giving this private corporation a monopoly on the way we communication, this should persuade people to move to alternatives. This comes on the back of huge privacy issues, the profiting from your personal data (on Facebook, you are the product, being sold to advertisers), and the secret ‘algorithm’ which decides what you see on your news feed. An algorithm which allows people to pay to promote their posts.

Facebook represents, and apparently believes in, the model of a society where those with more money have a greater voice. And for those who believe in the right to free speech and the right to protest, Facebook should be anathema: it could be shut down by the authorities when desired, and also leaves the potential for selective censorship (you know when any posts related to Christmas, Easter or whatever pop up on your news feed? Imagine if any posts related to, say, UK Uncut were automatically downgraded…). Moreover, people have been arrested for things said on Facebook and Twitter; and Cameron has been suggested that Facebook could be shut down during ‘social unrest’.

The alternatives are out there; Diaspora is a social network that is free and federated (meaning that, like email, it can be installed on many different servers which can talk to each other – you can install your own ‘pod’ to keep control of your own data).

See also:

Here’s a more articulate indictment of Facebook than mine: Why I’m not on Facebook

And here’s an article about how Facebook scans your private messages. There’s also some more information about Facebook changes and privacy here.