The scandal has been huge, but this time nothing will happen either. It is true that Frances Haugen, the computer engineer who has been denouncing the poisonous practices of Facebook for months, has put the company in an unusual predicament: she has demonstrated, with internal documents, the same thing that many of us have been saying for years without them. And it is this: that Zuckerberg and his people lie conscientiously, that they know perfectly well the harmful effect that their business model has on the most vulnerable people, that they could make decisions to remedy those effects and decide not to. I don’t know what has changed since the previous Cambridge Analytica scandal, which demonstrated the permissiveness with which Facebook viewed the grotesque manipulation, irresponsible falsehood, and programmatic misinformation that have thrown our political world into a crisis with no visible exit, and without the Which are not understood the election of Trump, the victory of Brexit and the defeat of the peace accords in Colombia. No, I don’t know what has changed: but something has changed. And yet I believe that nothing will happen.
Because the gravity of the accusations against Zuckerberg and Facebook, the depth of their negligence and the extent of their hypocrisy, remain secondary issues for the vast majority of their users, who are the only ones capable of exerting the necessary pressure so that they things change. In a report in this newspaper, a group of teenagers spoke eloquently of the profound damage that life on Instagram causes them, but confessed their inability to stop that powerful drug that is the approval of the tribe. Having seen that, you will tell me why someone who does not perceive any harm would question anything, and for whom Facebook is the place where their prejudices are confirmed and their hatred vindicated, where the story that life tells them miraculously coincides with their preferences, yes, but above all with their antipathies, their resentments and their paranoias. I mean, everything that makes the world go round.
Our time is the time of emotions. This is how the rise of the new populisms is explained: the feeling of injury, wounded dignity, nationalist pride, nativism that until very recently was shameful, they seek (and choose) who offers them defense or even revenge. On the other hand, what we call post-truth, if one looks at it closely, is an emotional phenomenon: the replacement of verifiable reality by what that Trump official called “alternative truths”, but above all the conviction that it does not matter what happens, but what I want to happen. Well, Facebook and its cronies networks work there, in that curious dictatorship of emotions, and it does not matter that their raw material – what the virtual machine manipulates and chews and spits out for the benefit of a few – is the ego of fragile adolescents or the hallucinated rancor of a group of fanatics.
In the remote year of 2010, when I accepted that this social networks was not for me (and now it seems clear to me that never having entered is the best decision I have made), I wrote a column about it, and I ask readers forgive me for the indelicacy of citing me. “Nobody has to explain to me the advantages and infinite possibilities of networks,” I wrote. “But there is a dark side to this whole affair, all the more disturbing since mentioning it is frowned upon.” I referred to his childish and narcissistic side, and also to the feeling of existing only as long as others give us proof of it, that need for constant validation, that atavistic fear of not being seen. It was a gross simplification, but the world was simpler then. For example, the words of Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, did not yet exist. “It’s about giving you a touch of dopamine every so often, because someone has liked a photo or commented on a post,” he said in 2017. “It’s about exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors, the creators, we understood it consciously. And we did it anyway. This literally changes your relationship with society, with others… Only God knows what he is causing in the minds of our children ”. There was also no statement from Chamath Palihapitiya, a senior Facebook official: “I feel tremendous guilt,” he said. And also: “I think we all knew deep down that something bad would happen.” And also: “This erodes the foundations of people’s behavior towards others. And I can’t think of a solution. My solution is to stop using these tools. I have not used them for years ”.
So no: the Frances Haugen thing is not new. It’s been there the whole time, and we haven’t wanted to see it. And I don’t know why we should open our eyes now.
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