Facebook’s algorithms are increasingly ubiquitous in Europeans’ lives, having many consequences for ordinary Europeans as well as the European Union.
Zuckerberg hasn’t invented anything
We are all victims of it – we all love it. My writings depend on it – your lives may revolve around it. Facebook is not his fault – it is ours. And worst of all, if Facebook disappeared tomorrow, it would be replaced the day after. The name Facebook says it all, depicting the image we want to be perceived as – the very worst of our egos, and our lust for exhibitionism and voyeurism. It depicts our love to pry into other people’s lives, our love for insult, rebellion, and slander. All this without having to leave the comfort of our own homes, and protected by the invisible crystals of a computer screen.
We do not pay for Facebook; we are not its customers. We are its victims, trapped in the virtual confines of subconsciousness that can be commercialised and traded off. More than 300 million Europeans are on Facebook, with five new profiles per second being created. Every minute, more than 500,000 comments are posted online, and just under 300,000 profiles are being updated. For this, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s undisputed chief, must be made accountable. But he cannot, for the simple reason that he hasn’t invented anything. He has just acted on what already exists – our appetite to buy into stupidity.
In making his way into the European parliament, Facebook’s robotic emperor was an image of a mister nobody, characterised by a lifeless hairstyle, and a weak smile that appeared to be stuck in the unreal reality of cyberspace. If he came to sell Facebook, he would probably have been the worst salesman in the world, if he wasn’t already the best, and the only one, in his line of work.
The true nature of the gigantic schism that separates Facebook from European ideals and ethics became apparent from the outset. The parliament’s president, Antonio Tanjani, began his address in the language of Dante. His pronunciation was so limpid, that the Italian I learned at school came flooding back, to be crystal clear. I remained hypnotised by the musicality of his voice, and miraculously understood every word he spoke. He stressed the importance of the meeting and the fact that due to Zuckerberg’s presence, the proceedings were being broadcast via a web stream. Was Zuckerberg to be trapped by his algorithms?
A digital monster
The fundamental questions posed by the European parliament covered politics, fake news, terrorism, and personal data protection when used by third-party applications. The questions were both pertinent and abundant. It’s just a shame that they were all raised at once and that Zuckerberg had little or no time to answer or to be embarrassed by the questioning.
One person who was embarrassed was our very own Nigel Farage who did not know that the microphone had to be turned on when you speak. This confirmed the already well-known fact that he never attends the European Parliament, and is not in a position to criticise it.
Instead of being put under pressure, Zuckerberg came out with well-prepared generalities that were full of wishful thinking and a repetition of what he had said in his opening remarks. Although Zuckerberg did apologize, he did not convince that he was in complete control of the situation.
Whether it’s fake news, foreign interference in elections or developers misusing people’s information, we didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibilities. That was a mistake, and I’m sorry.
Guy Verhofstadt was at his flamboyant best, comparing Facebook to the giant company that got out of control, referring to Dave Eggers’ best-seller, “The Circle”. He asked Zuckerberg how he wanted to be remembered,
You have to ask yourself how you will be remembered, as one of the three big internet giants together with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who have enriched our world and our societies, or on the other hand, the genius that created a digital monster that is destroying our democracies and societies.
Mark Zuckerberg did not answer that specific question, in the same way that he did not answer other sensitive questions.
I realize that there are a lot of specific questions that didn’t get specifically answered.
It was quite clear that the format of the hearing (ask all the questions first, and I’ll cherry pick afterwards) suited Zuckerberg. The surprise increase in animosity came right at the end when Zuckerberg was specifically asked if personal data from Facebook and WhatsApp would not be kept separate and if there would no longer be targeted advertising. The latter was one of six straight yes/no questions, raised by Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian Green MEP, who also hinted that Zuckerberg had wanted the strange format for the proceedings, for a reason,
I’ll make sure we follow-up, and get you answers to those.
As good an answer as any, I suppose, but was he referring to the format or the content?
Without a doubt, Zuckerberg wants Facebook to continue and to expand. Having escaped the questions, he will now have to put in writing what he failed to deliver to the European parliament. If he does not do so, serious doubts will be cast over whether Facebook can be trusted. Voices will be raised, asking the EU to impose its legislation concerning a monster that has got out of hand.
Today's pre-cooked format was inappropriate & ensured #Zuckerberg could avoid our questions. I trust that written answers from Facebook will be forthcoming. If these are not accurately answered in detail, the EU competition authorities must be activated & legislation sharpened.
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) May 22, 2018
Although Mark Zuckerberg got away injury-free from a situation that could have been difficult for him, we did have the opportunity to see the very best of the European Parliament – a cacophony of languages, all pointing the way to moral excellence. Nigel Farage, the architect of Brexit, and so conspicuous by his absence from this same building, finally got a taste of what the EU is all about. In the box of the accused, one of the most powerful men in the world, who has completely lost control over his invention. It may be up to the EU, to take control in his place. But, as already mentioned, Zuckerberg has invented nothing. He has taken advantage of the darker side of human nature – the need we all have, to expose our deepest feelings, thoughts, and frustrations, to complete strangers. All this, courtesy of a few well-chosen algorithms.
George is a British/French national. He has a passion for oral microbiology (obtained a PhD in Lyon, France) and a passion for philosophy and politics.