J.P. Floru is a Westminster City councillor and author of The Sun Tyrant: A Nightmare called North Korea and Heavens on Earth: How to Create Mass Prosperity. He contested Bermondsey and Old Southwark in the 2015 General Election.
Shock! Horror! Facebook is sharing our personal data! Who would have thought it?
Erm…Yes. Everybody. And yet for the last week, the Guardian and the BBC, now followed by other media, have made a massive brouhaha about something few Facebook users care about. We know it’s happening. By continuing to use Facebook, we tacitly acquiesce. A few of us don’t use Facebook for privacy reasons, as is their right. But why are some in the media, now aided by Big Government, suddenly telling me that what I know to happen and am quite content about is somehow not acceptable and/or illegal? Why might Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, suddenly be dragged before Parliament’s Culture Committee to come and explain what few of his users care about?
This is of course not about privacy. This is about a conspiracy theory.
Ever since the Trump election and the Brexit vote, some self-named metropolitan elites have kept themselves busy bemoaning, contesting, and explaining away the unwanted results. How could all of this happen, when The Enlightened View was expounded by such overwhelming force by the elites?
You’ve got it: a conspiracy. Evil Facebook has gathered our personal data and somehow transmitted that to Evil Cambridge Analytica, which actually used those data! Manipulative social media have fooled the gullible (stupid) population into voting for the wrong results! To the stake with the culprits!
A splendid article in The Spectator explains what happened next. Every few weeks Carole Cadwalladr pens long articles in the Guardian and the Observer on how the Trump and Brexit campaigns allegedly hacked democracy. This is then re-tweeted ad infinitum by the incandescent self-named elites. Others write about it, too; and Russia, the behemoth on-call, of course makes routine guest appearances.
Now it has paid off: Damian Collins MP (Conservative, Remainer), head of the Culture Committee, has written to Zuckerberg to come and explain himself. Expect grandstanding; expect breathless BBC reporting for days on end. The self-named elites are on the offensive (if you don’t want to hear about it I suggest you book a two-week holiday around the time Zuckerberg appears). I bet the Guardian already has a large team investigating The Revelations. The stupid voters were fooled – and the Culture Committee and the enlightened media will reveal all!
What makes the whole exercise so pathetic is the selectiveness of the elites’ memories. Other political campaigns used exactly the same methods before. Obama and Hillary used social media data as well. The elites did not object: quite to the contrary. Obama’s campaigning methods were lauded as ‘ground-breaking’, ‘innovative’, the stuff which will make futuristic paradises reach higher levels of civilisation. “Just like Kennedy brought in the television presidency, I think we’re about to see the first wired, connected, networked presidency,” they cooed in The New York Times.
Then the other side used it. As the other side is ‘evil’ (‘fascist’, ‘xenophobic’, ‘dumb’, ‘uninformed’, and ‘uneducated’), their methods have suddenly become evil too. The Financial Times (Remain) unwittingly revealed the thinking: “A little over a year ago, I sat down for lunch with some of the brainiacs who work for Cambridge Analytica, the political polling and analysis group that helped Donald Trump in the 2016 US election — and which has faced controversy ever since.” Emphasis on ‘ever since’. Work for Trump equals being in the wrong, and attracts the self-named elites’ opprobrium and attacks.
If Hillary and Remain had won, using the same methods, would anyone at the Guardian or the BBC have cared a bean about the data gathering by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica?
You know the answer.
Our parliamentary committees should not waste time with these political witch-hunt practices. And the BBC needs to be called to order.