Facebook (Meta) founder Mark Zuckerberg has promised to work harder on ensuring personal details of consumers cannot be stolen by third parties. This comes after allegations that such data has been used to profile and target people, not just for commercial purposes, but also to influence them politically. He may really intend to do so, but the question is whether he has the ability, or even an understanding of the enormity of the problem.
The internet, in general, and social media, in particular, has become an unprecedentedly complex entity, almost autonomous in its existence. Various platforms and applications may influence it in many ways, but the suspicion is that, in the aggregate, it may be acquiring an identity of its own. The rules and purposes of evolution may well have kicked in here. As creatures of this world, human beings may have to struggle to prevail, as they have had to in the natural world.
Just as creatures have found their own niche on planet Earth by adopting survival techniques, people will have to find ways and means to benefit from this new technology without falling prey to its vagaries and toxicity. This has to be done not just at the individual level, but also as organised societies, mostly as nations with power to legislate and control. Individuals need to control their interface with the net as intelligently as possible, giving priority to keeping financial details as secure as possible.
Many users of social media treat it as neutral and democratic. It is neither, which is why they ought to be as circumspect in expressing themselves as they would in the real world – keeping in mind the circumstances. Abuse and expression of extremist opinion can trigger immediate and violent retribution in the physical world. Why do they believe it would not on the virtual world? Even highly educated and otherwise savvy people get caught up in the need to respond reflexively, without first-hand knowledge of events and motivated by pre-conceptions, as has become most evident in recent events. Unconsciously, they reveal their prejudices and blind spots, opening themselves to manipulation by others. This is a vicious cycle and the ‘freedom’ ends up becoming a prison. They need to be saved from themselves, which requires regulation at several levels. At the end, the legal systems of nation-states need to develop the ability to act against trouble-makers of every kind – hackers, operators of the ‘dark web’, scamsters, and political hate-mongers. There has to be a balance between ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and civilised order.