There is an indisputable link between mental health and social media. Social media kills people. Violent computer games affect boys. Cyber bullying has turned deadly for girls. Sexting is rife. Online sexual predators are pervasive. Terrorist radicalisation and recruitment are real.
The internet has become the new wild west with power concentrated in the hands of tech giants – Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Netflix. Global giants are out of control. They destroy competition and privacy and misuse the information they collect.
No parent wants their children growing up being manipulated by tech designers who are able to control their attention, make it impossible for them to do their homework and make them compare themselves to unrealistic standards of beauty.
Social media giants’ main game is manipulating people and shaping society.
So how to respond to this new threat to our way of life? Do we try to control it or do we try to inoculate people against its effects?
Any suggestion these global behemoths can reform themselves or be trusted to ‘act fairly’ is laughable. And they’ve only just begun – they’ve been going less than 20 years. Imagine what they’ll be like in another 20 years. They’ll be craftier, more devious, more predatory, more intrusive, more exploitative and more authoritarian.
Things are changing so profoundly – in social attitudes, world economics, and especially technology that politicians and bureaucrats are hopelessly ill-equipped to manage it.
Politicians, public sector bureaucrats and regulators who think they can control these internet titans are either delusional or dishonest. They are bullies when it comes to ordinary citizens, but powerless – or rather, impotent when it comes to tech giants. Facebook, Google and Amazon are bigger than many of the world’s governments anyway. And once they start issuing their own currency they’ll almost be governments. If you thought big government was a concern, wait till you see what big tech has in store.
The recent announcement that Donald Trump has been banned from social media – his primary means of communication, demonstrates that these Silicon Valley oligarchs are now more powerful than even the President of the United States.
As commentator Paddy Hannam says, “The simple fact that social-media firms have the power and inclination to silence people at will – including people as powerful as the US president – is a dangerous threat to free expression.”
So listening to Australian politicians and regulators saying things like, “We’re going to introduce codes of conduct” or “We are going to increase fines and other penalties” or “We’re going to set up specialist units within the ACCC to better understand how their algorithms work” or “We are going to appoint an internet ombudsman” or an “eSafety Commissioner” must make the tech companies laugh out loud. And as for academics suggesting, “We need to bring them into public ownership. Nationalise them. They need to be subject to democratic, not market, control”, if you thought the owners of these tech giants were authoritarian, imagine them being owned and run by politicians and bureaucrats! Big Brother would truly have arrived. Google has been granted a patent to monitor home activities like a high-tech nanny reporting things people in the home are doing, watching, reading and saying around the dinner table. Sound familiar?
The nation state is hopelessly outdated and outgunned in this digital age. We can no longer rely on politicians, bureaucrats and regulators to protect us. Citizens and businesses must protect themselves.
Looking to politicians, public sector bureaucrats and regulators to fix the nation’s economic, social and technological problems is a lost cause. (If we learn nothing else from watching Question Time it is these people should not be controlling our lives!) Not only do politicians behave appallingly, they take our money and our freedom and say they will act in our best interest. Instead they act in their own interest and the interests of rent-seeking cartels.
Tech entrepreneur and former Google insider Tristan Harris says we are in the midst of a ‘great social upheaval’. He calls it ‘the checkmate’ where technology attacks the very foundation of what we trust. He says we are entering a digital Dark Age where disinformation is more valuable than factual information. Tech investor Roger McNamee calls tech tyrants a ‘clear and present danger to democracy’.
Frank Furedi says, “Their declaration of war on Parler indicates that they see themselves as not simply private companies but as global institutions that can wield political and policing power over the digital world.”
One institution which can do a lot to help combat the lawlessness of this digital jungle and its predators is the family. The family is the ideal place to start building relationships, learning who to trust, who not to trust, who to communicate with, and who not to communicate with.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher talks about ‘the need to better police Big Tech’. Well, society has three levels of protection against harm. Level one is a person’s own conscience; level two is the family to keep its members in check; and level three is the police. Perhaps more focus on level two would be in order.