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Carelessly feeding the monster

An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne Marie Flynn

In recent days, tech giant Facebook warned that it may ‘pull out of Europe’, if the Data Protection Commission or Ireland enforces a ban on its sharing of data with the United States.
The ban by the DPC follows a landmark ruling in July by the European Court of Justice found that the company had essentially failed to put in place adequate safeguards to protect the data protection and privacy rights of EU residents, meaning that such data was at risk of interference from US intelligence agencies. Facebook has protested the enforcement of the ban, maintaining it would render the company unable to operate in Europe due to their reliance on data transfers between the EU and the US.
I will admit that my first reaction upon reading their statement was along the lines of ‘if only’.
I’ve been a longtime fan of the internet. Back in the late ’90s, the idea of instant electronic communication was bewitching to me. I was an early adopter of discussion forums, chat rooms, and some of the first social media sites, fascinated by the possibilities they offered, social and educational. To my teenage mind, the potential of this technology and the communication opportunities was limitless. I met people and nurtured enduring friendships that started online.
I had no doubt it could only be a force for good. How utterly naïve I was.
In the intervening 20-odd years, instead of extolling its many virtues I frequently find myself fervently wishing that Tim Berners Lee had kept his invention of the World Wide Web to himself. I long for the days I never really experienced, where communication was limited to phone call and post, before the time that email and online technology meant that the pace of work increased exponentially and employment regularly encroached upon personal time. The days before we were all slaves to WhatsApp groups.
Now, I firmly wish our communication technology would stop progressing and start regressing.
Now, the idea that Facebook existed as a useful tool for keeping in touch with friends and families seems delightfully, innocently quaint. Here we are, with this global behemoth with the power to threaten us and the way we run our country. A monster that mines the data we foolishly hand over at no cost or thought to how it can be misused. A company that has done untold damage, by facilitating unprecedented meddling in democracies the world over. A platform that allows people to spread dangerous political, scientific and health-related misinformation daily online. A platform that enables the worst types of racists, homophobes, misogynists, and xenophobes to target vulnerable minorities and spread hate and fear. A platform upon which, every single day, humans like you and I regularly abuse and snipe at each other with hurtful and hateful comments. None of which has any consequence, save to the damage and hurt done to individuals.
I don’t use Facebook anymore, save for work, and even then, it pains me no end to do so. My time on other social networks is limited and approached with caution. Why? Because that data Facebook is talking about?  That’s ours – yours and mine. Our names, addresses, emails, phone numbers, photos, posts and every piece of content we have ever posted or been tagged in, along with countless other metrics even I’m not aware of. There is an old saying that goes: ‘If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product’, and never was it truer than in the case of Facebook and its associated companies.
Of course, we all know that Facebook isn’t the real problem. The problem is humans and how unspeakably cruel and callous they can be; we know this from long before the time the internet existed. Facebook however makes it easy for them. It enables and empowers cowardice, removing the need for abusers to look the objects of their abuse in the eye and often offering them a free cloak of anonymity.
And of course, we know that Facebook is bluffing. Lose all that lovely advertising revenue by puling out of Europe? Not a chance. Face any real consequences for the damage it has done?
Dream on.