By Sushil Kutty
If you notice the cows have all been put to pasture, sort of. No more cow vigilante justice and beef in fridge. Instead, there is data leak and the cool stuff that can be done with smartphones: move data of the cattle-class into the folders of the ruling class. Time was when the Internet was the superhighway to freedom; the Arab Spring, and how a phased out superpower could not get away with blasting a Malaysian Airline out of Ukrainian airspace with a missile.
Like Mark Zuckerberg said, “Facebook gives people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” But lurking in the recesses of Zucky’s mind was world domination. In the aftermath of Donald J. Trump’s unexpected election, there were reports of Zuckerberg looking at his 2 billion Facebook friends to script a compelling narrative to swing the Earth on its axis to his design.
In August 2017, news swirled that Zuckerberg was acting like someone planning to run for office and running for office in the United States more often than not meant running for President. Mark and his wife Priscilla Chan hired a couple of Democratic pollsters linked to both Barack Obama and the Clintons, and George Bush, and Zuckerberg went on a year-long “listening tour” of the 50 states.
What happened to that tour nobody knows but most analysts thought Zuckerberg was a serious contender because he had the money and, more important, he had control of Facebook’s algorithms and advertising features to rock the status quo, the applecart – the Facebook platform had the ability to shift the election outcome if Zuckerberg so chooses, said those in know.
It would have been a success, too, if Zuckerberg had taken steps to corral his ‘friends’ on Facebook; prevented the likes of Cambridge Analytica to raid his coffers of human preferences. He failed and what we have is ‘friends-unfriending Facebook’ and a war of who is mining data for whom. The reason for such a pass is that the Internet has gone into the hands of a relatively few – it is no longer a free agent for change.
Till a month ago, the Internet, specifically Social Media, was thought to be transforming the world for good, giving meaning to the saying “the meek shall inherit the Earth”. One David Patrikarakos wrote the book ‘How Social Media is Reshaping Conflict in the 21st Century’ and identified the new kid on the block – the Homo digitalis, a lone wolf on the loose with nothing but the smartphone, changing perceptions to win battles, and hopefully the war.
Governments took notice and governments quavered in their strongholds. The grey t-shirted Zuckerberg was the toast of Social Media. The feeling was mutual. Or, so the ‘friends’ thought: The weak shall always win. They said the Internet decentralized power and everybody believed it; that the crowd at the bottom of the pyramid was shaping change and it was no longer the government at the top passing information it saw fit to the crowd below.
Cambridge Analytica changed all that. Zuckerberg failed his ‘friends’. The middleman was back in currency, shaping crowd-perception and then passing the altered crowd-information to interested parties. The Homo Digilatis became hostage to Alexander Nix and Christopher Wylie – to Amrish Tyagi. Power went back to those who could buy it – the likes of DJT and the Congress Party, and the BJP.
Their designs exposed, both the BJP and the Congress are now engaged in confusing the voter with allegations against each other; and they are doing it on Social Media. The twitter war between Congress President Rahul Gandhi and the BJP’s propaganda machine is getting uglier by the hour with both parties’ trolls all over Social Media doing the bidding of Divya Spandana (Congress) and Amit Malviya (BJP), both of whom are engaged in “radical recentralization of power”. These are the newly empowered individuals and “networks of individuals” at war with each other to grab power.
The belief is that simply by looking at Facebook “likes” a person’s personality can be assessed with a fair degree of accuracy. And Cambridge Analytica with data from 50 million Facebook profiles has control of a minimum of half a billion “likes” to play around with. The Facebook algorithm is no longer a black box in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg alone. Data miners like Cambridge Analytica also gained access to it to use it to manipulate voters for the Congress and the BJP, and it will be bloodless coup whoever wins. The cows can graze in peace. (IPA Service)