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The deeper meaning of Facebook’s problem: bad news for Trump



I’ve known a lot of people over the last five years or so who are alarmed by the possibility of their private lives and data being snooped on by nefarious entities who might misuse it.

People are rightfully concerned that the U.S. government is constantly spying on them. They’re worried that gigantic media companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon know about every facet of their lives. They fear that their every move is caught by cameras, every website they visit is noted by somebody, someplace, every email or text they send is read by someone other than the intended recipient.

Indeed, for those worriers, we’re well into the Brave New World Aldous Huxley warned us about 86 years ago.

Of course, all the things people worry about are true—in other words, they’re not just being paranoid. The government really is spying on us continually. If we’re online—and who isn’t?–we have to assume that there’s no such thing as privacy. We might not fully understand how these things work; I sure don’t. But I figure that anything I do involving a computer is being monitored.

The latest scandal to hit the news concerns Facebook, where “The…controversy centers on whether Cambridge Analytica, which helped the Trump campaign in 2016, collected and used without permission data from the accounts of millions of users obtained through a Facebook app…”. My own feeling is, I essentially gave up on any hope of online privacy when I began using social media about ten years ago. I figured then, and I figure now, that the horse is out of the barn: it’s too late to do much about it now, so I might as well just assume that my everything I do on Facebook—every comment I make, every “friend” I “like,” even how long I linger on a particular post—is known. Somebody is making money off what I do, and that’s okay with me. I don’t pay to use Facebook, but somebody has to come up with the money to pay Facebook’s employees, so if they want to use their enormous data collections to make a few billion bucks and send ads my way I never look at, it’s all right with me.

I understand why some would disagree, and I’m sure that there will be Congressional hearings at which lawmakers on both sides will express anger and concern about breaches of data, and claim that the American people are entitled to the expectation that their privacy will be respected. Of course, such talk will be political baloney. I don’t think Congress gives a damn about our privacy—that conversation ended on Sept. 11– but more surprisingly, I don’t think most of us care about it, either. These questions of privacy do not seem to be high on the list of things Americans are worried about. Most people seem to share my feeling, which is essentially: Oh, well, there’s nothing I can do about it anyhow, and if I’m not actually doing bad stuff, I don’t have anything to worry about, in terms of the government coming after me. Nobody can force me to buy stuff I don’t want, so if advertisers want to waste their money by paying Facebook to steer their ads to my feed, let them.

For me the real concern about Facebook is how foreign and domestic data manipulators used it to get Trump elected through bots, trolls and spreaders of fake news. That’s why this current brouhaha is bad news for Trump. It feeds into the increasingly widespread perception, even by Republicans, that some nasty players infiltrated social media companies, including Facebook, so that false “facts” (such as Hillary’s allegedly poor health) could filter through the electorate and get Trump elected.

We know that one of the things Trump fears most is that History will record his election as “illegitimate.” It drives him literally crazy to think that his name will be followed by an asterisk: * the 2016 U.S. Presidential election was compromised by Russia, on Trump’s behalf.  I totally believe that was the case: there had to have been hundreds of thousands of voters in key states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan) who were turned off to Hillary by phony, outrageous things they read on Facebook (which then were repeated endlessly on Fox “News,” InfoWars, Rush Limbaugh and similar Republican propaganda outlets). Those fake items were created by Russian operatives, ultimately controlled from the Kremlin, and precision-guided by individuals close to the Trump campaign; were it not for them, Donald Trump would not be President. So this is the good news about the current Facebook controversy: it is delegitimizing Trump. I don’t expect it will result in any meaningful solutions to the problem of fake posts, but I welcome it to the extent it foreshadows what History will say about this wrongfully-elected, felonious imposter of a President.

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