Liberals this week want to drum us into outrageous fury over the fact that Facebook, with almost 2 billion accounts worldwide, handed over user data of millions of people to Cambridge Analytica, a firm retained by the Trump campaign.
Cambridge Analytica, or CA for short is part of the Robert Mercer empire, which funds an entire zoo of nonprofits from Citizens United to the Cato and Heritage Foundations, and which sponsored Steve Bannon’s career and Breitbart News after the death of its founder Andrew Breitbart. CA’s claim to fame was the supposed identification of 5,000 data points on millions of people by which they could supposedly distinguish firm supporters from wavering ones, identify potential contributors and much more. Of course the millions whose data is being sold to marketers have nothing to say in the matter. This should be no surprise to anybody. Aggregating and selling user data to marketers of all kinds has always been at the core of Facebook’s business model, and US political campaigns were widely recognized and conducted as marketing operations for a generation or two before Facebook or even the internet came along.
The angry liberals have forgotten that eight years earlier the Obama campaign hired Mark Zuckerberg’s college room mate and former Facebook architect Chris Hughes to run their web operation, and to deploy and use the social networking data of millions of users and their Facebook friends purchased the same way Trump got it. The Obama crew was so good at using the stuff that a couple months before the election Advertising Age named the Obama campaign its 2008 “Marketer of the Year” beating out the likes of Apple, Amazon and Nike.
It’s true that Cambridge Analytica, technically the offshoot of a British firm is under investigation in the UK behind recordings of an exec boasting of their ability to invent and sell imaginary but widely believed bribery, buggery, prostitution or other scandals as needed. But they’re not the biggest villains in this drama, and what would you expect from an outfit which till recently had Steve Bannon on its board of directors?
As usual, the villains in this piece are NOT the ones the liberals want identified. Trump isn’t uniquely evil, he did and is doing exactly what his darling liberal predecessor did, and what a host of commercial firms do, buying and selling your personal online history and information. CA are certainly bad guys, but the only useful difference between them and a half dozen others is that Trump hired the one with Bannon on its board instead of a Democrat.
The issue at the bottom of all this evil mess is that Facebook, the data mining companies and the marketers they sell our data to are NOT just entirely unregulated – they’ve been allowed to write what laws do exist. Like Monsanto and the agribusiness crooks who bribed judges and maybe presidents too into creating laws which patent genetic material and ban labels identifying non-GMO products, Facebook, Twitter, the data miners and the marketers have purchased laws that prohibit programmers from writing the simple browser plug-ins that would enable users to easily choose whether to share their data with Trump, Obama, Steve Bannon, Amazon, and a host of other players whose names many of us wouldn’t recognize.
Late stage capitalism has transformed our human social interactions into the private property of a handful of billionaires. In a better world, the the social networks and the internet itself would not be privately owned marketing contraptions, they would be public property, democratically managed in the peoples interests, and users would to able to easily withhold their personal information and that of their friends. But democratic management of public property is socialism, and we can’t have that.
Or can we?
For Black Agenda Radio I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us every week at www.blackagendareport.com for the latest news, commentary and analysis from the black left. Our audio pieces are also at Soundcloud.com. Please follow and share our stuff from those places on all your favorite social media. And when you visit us at blackagendareport.com, you can sxubscribe to our direct and free weekly email of each week’s new content. Email is called dark social media because Google, Facebook, Twitter cannot track or block it.