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Tuesday, October 22, 2019
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Tougher rules needed to make social media accountable

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Steve Kannon
Steve Kannonhttps://www.observerxtra.com
A community newspaper journalist for more than two decades, Steve Kannon is the editor of the Observer.

Adult, sane and in possession of a functional government, New Zealand moved quickly against deadly weapons following a mass shooting there. In neighbouring Australia, the government is moving to hold social media companies accountable for streaming the likes of the Christchurch mosque attack and a host of other unethical postings that are the norm with Facebook and Google.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is looking to pass new laws for social media giants that would enforce jail terms and millions in fines if they fail to take down harmful material quickly.

“Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure their technology products are not exploited by murderous terrorists,” says Morrison.

“It should not just be a matter of just doing the right thing. It should be the law.”

The move is similar to European Union attempts to rein in social media companies for the spread of hate speech and inciting of violence and terrorism. (The EU most recently took such companies to task for violating copyright laws, as social media firms profit greatly from reposting the works of others.)

Canada, by contrast, has done little to constrain the inherent evil of Facebook and its ilk. In fact, it’s been complicit in stealing your privacy and failing to protect you and your family from exploitation by both internal security (the Orwellian spy agencies) and corporate interests. The U.S., of course, is far worse, where there are no adults, no sanity and little in the way of functional government to protect children from mass shooters, let alone reel in the social media companies.

We are, of course, well-advised to fear governments taking away our privacy. The government has removing your rights as its primary goal. But they’re not the only ones putting us at risk: we’re often our own worst enemies.

With sites like Facebook, we’re laying ourselves bare to the world.

Facebook, like many Internet sites, exist to harvest information, sell it to advertisers and target you with personalized ads. Tracking is the norm, as is collecting as many details as possible of what each of us does online. There’s nothing neutral about most of it: this is not just a sociology study, though, of course, it’s that too.

Leaving aside the issue of why exactly people feel compelled to post the up-to-the-second minutia of their lives, there’s a danger of what you post being used against you.

That’s an obvious peril, brought about by, well, stupidity.

In the bigger picture, the Internet’s increasing presence in our lives means we have to set up rules that prevents the abuse of technology that can track our every movement online. The marketing purposes behind much of what’s done today is a poor reason to allow it. The prospect of far more sinister motives means action is needed in short order.

Coupled with the undermining of privacy – embraced by governments not the least bit eager to protect their citizens – the sorry state of affairs brought on by social media companies should leave no one upset if they all suddenly went away tomorrow. Such would be a reason to rejoice, in fact.

There’s very little social about such sites, at least in the conventional human sense of the word. The occasional use is one thing – though the sites, along with the ubiquitous Google, are mining data, joined by the likes of the NSA – but there are many people, many of them young, who spend too much time and think too little of the consequences.

More than just too much information, poor judgment and bullying, such time spent online has societal implications. Hacking, fake Twitter and Facebook accounts, online bots and a host of other technologies are increasingly part of an arsenal to sway public opinion on a massive scale, all based on psychological research being done by the same people investing in technology companies and the likes of right-wing websites such as Breitbart.

Such companies are developing increasingly sophisticated tools for gathering up large swathes of online data – the things you post and like on Facebook, for instance – in order to both predict your behaviour and to sway it. This goes beyond targeted advertising, which is itself somewhat problematic.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg argues today’s young users don’t have the privacy concerns of past generations – putting your information out there and being tracked is the norm. He’s fine with tracking users, and he assumes everyone else is, too.

Aside from the issue of being treated solely as data points for advertising purposes, you should be concerned about what Internet sites do with your information. Beyond potential embarrassment and employment troubles – the result of posting your bar-hopping escapades for all to see – access to your personal details is a fraudster’s dream in two words: identity theft.

Tougher government regulations, ideally outlawing the collection and storage of personal information for such trivial reasons, is what’s needed. Governments, however, have no regard for the public good, and are among the worst offenders.

For now, we’re on our own. And if you don’t look after your privacy, you can be sure someone else is glad you didn’t.

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