Do we really want to become the subjects – kept under permanent surveillance – of a global state by the name of Facebook? If not, then quitting the social networking habit is the only escape..
If you had $19 billion to hand, you could buy Iceland and still have $5bn to spare. Or you could buy the entire world music industry and still have $3bn left over. You’d also have the option of buying American Airlines, along with the five most valuable paintings ever sold, and then have a good think about how to blow the remaining $3bn. Alternatively, you could opt for the aircraft carrier USS Ford plus the entire French TGV fleet; or maybe you could buy the entire island of Jamaica (and still have money to burn). If you were minded to do something sensible, and wanted to one day be able see your own memorial from above, then you could have sanitation facilities installed to provide the entire world with clean drinking water – and you would still have almost half the money remaining.
Mark Zuckerberg used that $19bn to buy WhatsApp. What is WhatsApp? WhatsApp is the possibility to do something (almost) for free that would otherwise cost money: namely, to send messages over the internet (for free) from modern smartphones, instead of using the paid-for mobile network, as long as you have flat-rate mobile internet. Currently, you can use the app free for a year, after which an annual $0.99 fee kicks in. For the time being, it remains ad-free, which has only increased its popularity. Currently, over 600 million people (October 2014) use it to communicate with their friends each year. For free. Countless billions of messages are sent every day. That was worth $19bn to Mark Zuckerberg.
Well ok, his Facebook is itself valued at around $100bn, ten years after its founding. That’s around $14bn more than Mercedes Benz ($30bn), BMW ($29bn), Adidas ($6.7bn), and Deutsche Bank ($20bn) put together. We know what we get from these companies: quality cars, sporting goods, financial products. What do we get from Facebook, exactly? The chance to reveal our innermost thoughts to our hundred or thousand closest ‘friends’ (99% of whom aren’t really friends at all and couldn’t care less what we’re thinking). There are, however, some people who are very interested in what we’re thinking: companies like Mercedes, BMW, Adidas, and all the rest. For them, Facebook is an advertising eldorado that surpasses their wildest dreams. Where else can they instantly discover what their target markets think of their products (through the Facebook ‘like’ button)? Where else is it so easy to follow what someone enjoys watching, listening to, consuming? Facebook is now so packed with ‘advertising breaks’ that young people are starting to quit. It’s one thing to turn yourself into a product without realising it, but it’s another thing altogether to be constantly treated as a product. Always bear this in mind: Whenever you get something for free, you aren’t the customer anymore, you’re the product!
Neither were the $19bn that Zuckerberg paid for WhatsApp as real as they might seem. $15bn of that sum was in the form of Facebook shares. Depending on developments in the markets, the share price bubble might expand indefinitely – or it might burst. If the exodus of young users continues, that can’t be ruled out. They are also leaving Facebook, having recognised the disadvantages of Facebook’s practice of claiming the copyright to everything that is uploaded — for however long they please.1
To start off with, most Facebook users didn’t see a dark side to their enthusiastic internet self-promotion – something that seems to be an ever more pressing need for ever growing numbers of people. Just how rude the awakening can be is described by Sascha Adamek in Die Facebook-Falle (‘The Facebook Trap’). An IT expert had made it past the final round of interviews at a large telecoms business, being selected from among ten applicants as the new head of the technology department. “The celebrations didn’t last long, though. After just four days had passed, his secretary seemed a lot colder than she had at first, and his fifth day at work also proved to be his last. In the human resources department, a man he had never seen before handed him a piece of paper from upper management – he was being dismissed. Deflated, he just about managed to catch a glimpse of a photo that his colleague held under his nose. It showed him naked in a circle of naked men and women. They all had candles on their heads. (…) Our successful applicant wasn’t fired because he was a member of a meditation group with a touch of the esoteric about it, but because his photo complete with name was on the internet.”
These days, most companies check to see if higher-level applicants have left traces on social networks. According to survey results, for 46% of companies, something as apparently harmless as party photos would negatively influence their selection. CVs and preferences listed in the application are compared with entries to Facebook & Co: an easy way to uncover sugar-coating, which 49% of companies take umbrage with. Particular distaste is reserved for applicants who have at some point made a negative comment about their work or working environment somewhere online. The more important the position being advertised, the more intensively applicants are researched on the internet. A new form of collective guilt arises: not just the applicant themselves will be checked out, but also their friends and family. Professional researchers comb the net for evidence of affairs, secret second homes, and sexual preferences, which could leave the applicant open to blackmail. Even a son, or daughter, or grandchild could be a career-killer if they are involved with a crowd that doesn’t suit the company’s polished public image (although the applicant may be completely in the dark as to their offspring’s personal life). For despite all the outrage about NSA snooping, Joe Bloggs doesn’t need an intelligence agency to make his embarrassing secrets public. He can manage that all by himself.
Zuckerberg’s vision, after all, is that Facebook become a supranational world state, with anyone deleting their account turning themselves into a refugee. It goes without saying that we all acquiesce to ‘Big Brother’ and unceasing surveillance by telling the world what we buy, what we like, where we are, and so forth. Facebook makes no secret of it. It’s stated quite plainly in the terms and conditions that “We monitor your actions on Facebook.” Zuckerberg also has plans to eliminate search engines like Google over time, by having all Facebook users conduct searches from within the Facebook ‘internet state’, as he announced in October 2010.