Social media users are essentially left with three choices following the revelations that their Facebook data was being manipulated for political purposes, with each of them having their own pros and cons but none of them embodying the “perfect solution”.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal has led to an outpouring of fury from most Facebook users even though it should have been obvious from the get-go that they were the product all along given that they used the company’s services for free. Facebook was clearly making money off of their information, whether the bulk of its users realized this or not. The most popular reaction of many folks to this revelation has been to threaten to leave social media entirely or migrate to another platform, though most people are just venting their frustrations and intend to remain on Facebook regardless of the virtue signaling craze that they’ve been caught up in.
There are serious concerns, though, that remaining on social media in general might be irresponsible given that it’s being used by both state and non-state actors to build what the author previously termed as the “Holy Grail of Hybrid War” before the Cambridge Analytica scandal even broke. To elaborate, the US’ newest National Security Strategy warns about how Russia is supposedly “exploit[ing] marketing techniques to target individuals based upon their activities, interests, opinions, and values” and “integrat[ing] information derived from personal and commercial sources with intelligence collection and data analytic capabilities based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning”, but that’s actually what US intelligence agencies and now even private “deep state”-linked companies are doing in order to manipulate the masses.
People all across the world voluntarily give Facebook important information about their personal lives which in turn allowed Cambridge Analytica and presumably also the CIA to build so-called “psychographs” of individual users which were then expanded to entire demographics in order to identify the most effective narratives to use in attempting to convince them of one or another point, which in the context of this scandal was supposedly to vote a certain way. While Facebook’s being scapegoated, no one should forget the fact that all social media companies are probably doing the same thing in coordination with their host country’s “deep states”.
The difference between Western-based social media companies like Facebook and foreign ones such as VK in this respect is that the US is the only actor with a global reach and which has already proven its capabilities in using this information for orchestrating Hybrid War violence such as the so-called “Arab Spring” theater-wide Color Revolutions and the spree of urban terrorism commonly referred to as “EuroMaidan”. Russia, to run with the VK example, has no such intent or means to do so, and the social media companies within its borders and to which its “deep state” might speculatively also have access to don’t contain the vast repositories of information about non-Russian users all across the world like FB does, thus making the comparison specious upon closer examination.
Nevertheless, whether it’s to the American government or possibly even the Russian one, some people feel very uncomfortable thinking that their personal information could be used for constructing “psychographs” that could then be put to use in carrying out tangible political change, whether of a peaceful or violent nature. That’s why there’s a moral and ethical argument in favor of leaving social media entirely to ensure that the least amount of data is used by “deep states” for these purposes, though at this point it’s practically impossible to erase one’s digital footprint because Facebook is capable of tracking people who don’t even have an account.
This sobering realization all but neutralizes the “protest effect” of abandoning social media unless one gives up the internet, too. Bearing this in mind and accepting that most folks won’t “go Amish”, some people feel more comfortable with a foreign government potentially having access to their information than their own one if they had the choice, rationalizing this decision by the fear that they have that their country’s authorities might abuse this for dystopian purposes. This explains why there’s a movement for Facebook users to migrate to VK, for example, and it’s telling that this potential exodus is being driven mostly by Westerners than people from the “Global South”, even though the latter are much more likely to be violently victimized by the US’ use of the “Holy Grail of Hybrid War”.
Migrating might prevent, or at least delay, the US from building former Facebook users’ “psychographs”, but alternatives like VK are limited in terms of their general audiences, which might interfere with people’s outreach and activist efforts. That site, for instance, is mostly frequented by people from the so-called “RuNet” of Russian speakers, so if Western-migrating folks don’t speak the language, then they’re unlikely to be able to have many worthwhile interactions with strangers. Another factor is that those who they do speak with will mostly (key word) be from (or connected to) the former Soviet Union anyhow, thus severely diminishing their global reach if they’re trying to raise awareness about certain issues.
People who aren’t looking to do so but simply want to be able to chat with their friends without fear that their own governments are spying on them (even if a foreign one might be) won’t have this problem, but they should still accept that it’s unlikely that they’ll meet as many new English-speaking friends online than if they stayed on Facebook. Again, this isn’t an issue if someone and their close circle migrate to VK or other alternatives together, but the politically minded among them shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this will likely lead to more “groupthink” and the creation of an Alt-Media “echo chamber”. The political activists among them might understandably not want that and could begin reconsidering their migration by contemplating a return to Facebook where their targeted audience still “resides”.
This brings one back to the “unpopular” but “pragmatic” choice of remaining on Facebook in order to network with the greatest amount of people from the largest number of countries as possible for whatever the individual’s reason for doing so may be. While the platform regularly censors and suppresses certain categories of political and social commentary, creative users might find ways around these measures or invent methods to “game”/”deceive” the algorithm. They could also self-censor themselves by only publishing “mildly” political posts and using Facebook as a tool for identifying individuals who they could then “recruit” to VK or other platforms for “real” conversations afterwards.
What everything ultimately comes down to is Facebook users asking themselves whether they’re alright with the US government having access to their information for “psychographic” and potential Hybrid War purposes, and if not, then whether they’re willing to leave the platform in protest. The second-mentioned course of action would depend a lot on what motivates them to use Facebook, since casually keeping in touch with friends and family can be done on other platforms. If one’s intentions are political, and especially if they have to do with “enlightening” others about whatever issue it is that they’re interested in at the moment, then that might be comparatively more difficult to do on anything other than Facebook. The same goes for following different information outlets because few have a presence on any of that site’s competitors.
The “perfect solution” would of course be if a social media platform with Facebook’s gigantic scale and global scope was created but which was impervious to censorship and any “deep state’s” clandestine efforts to exploit users’ data for “psychographic” and other purposes. That, however, is unrealistic for anyone to expect and will probably never happen, so people are therefore compelled to choose between leaving social media (and the internet) entirely, migrating to another service, or simply “sucking it up” and remaining on Facebook despite its increasingly dystopian tendencies. Whether for better or for worse, “Facebook is king”, and it will probably remain so for the foreseeable future.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.