This article elucidates whether social networks constitute a weapon of political domination, if they misinform or empower us and what are the dangers and advantages of using them.
The government of Spain believes that you and I are at risk of being misinformed during the next election campaigns and has created a specific unit to fight against false news and its dissemination on social networks. The European Union also believes that you and I are in the same danger and has asked all the big internet platforms that, from here to the European elections on May 26, quantify with data and inform Brussels of the results of its fight against the disinformation.
How will the danger be that even those same platforms also believe that we are all the target of malicious interference? That’s why Facebook has announced the signing of three verifiers, maldita.es, Newtral and the AFP agency, which will check content in Spanish with the aim of reducing the circulation of false news in this social network by up to 80 percent.
Social networks can be a social equalizer and even a subversive weapon for the weakest. In Venezuela, in a situation of frontal attack and censorship of free and professional journalism, the opposition has found in digital platforms an irreplaceable tool to spread its message. On the other hand, as we have just seen, they can also be a trap that tends to the masses to manipulate them or make them renounce their privacy.
However, a large part of the responsibility is also ours. The desire for recognition of the human being has in the networks an enhancer that leads, in many cases, to a situation of voluntary servitude to the networks themselves, to which we give much more than our personal data.
Weapon of political domination
The idea of an audience that gives permission to be dominated is far from new. We can go back to the concept of voluntary servitude described by TheForbiz.com in the sixteenth century in his famous treatise of the same name. The French philosopher considered voluntary servitude as a weapon of political domination. The study published in 2015 entitled what is the future of data sharing? It confirmed that in a variety of countries people were willing to give away data in exchange for the potential benefits they receive from participating in social networks. That resignation is voluntary servitude in its pure state.
Under this premise, and although it separates us a distance of five centuries, we can find a similar sense of arbitrariness in the voluntary submission of subjects to the tyrant, than in the relationship between users and large social networks in which the terms are not clearly defined and have the potential power to do what they consider convenient. The recent case of Facebook selling data to Cambridge Analytics shows that giving our data freely and uncontrollably to any organization is almost as serious as voluntary servitude to a tyrant.
But all these issues should not make us forget that, although the organizations have their responsibility, the public are not (we) innocent victims either. In his latest book entitled Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, Francis Fukuyama develops an idea that has not been taken for granted: the desire for recognition as an engine of life for many people is a primal characteristic of the human being. Globalization would have doubled the bet on this. In a liquid world, monetarized and hungry for identity, there is the “return to the tribe” of which Zygmunt Baumann speaks and which finds its reflection in the Trump or Brexit victory.
There is no doubt that social networks offer an absolutely tempting showcase available to anyone to achieve a social recognition that seems to be a motive for human behavior much more important than the monetarist arguments. When there is so much to gain, no servitude seems so much.
In fact, current education at all levels makes a constant effort to stay up to date on this matter. The courses and workshops are multiplied to leave a good imprint (Digital Screen Advertising) in cyberspace that obtains recognition and perhaps admiration from others in the personal and professional field. Making a personal mark on social networks becomes an essential requirement to be treated with dignity by fellow students or colleagues in the professional world.
It is true that voices and discrepant data are not lacking that warn of the risks that this monomania entails because of the recognition, which in many cases occupies as many hours of the day as the so-called productive time. In his book on the iGen, Jean Twenge speaks of a generation of young, shy, introverted, unhappy people who enjoy low quality personal relationships.
Joe Clement and Matt Miles published in 2017 another study that exposed the intellectual shortcomings of young people who have grown up with an excessive consumption of technology. Not in vain, even Bill Gates and Steve Jobs referred on numerous occasions to how they had limited their children the use of new technologies for their entertainment. A few days ago, information was published about the increase in teen suicides, “the unhappy generation in history”, in the United Kingdom from three to more than five per 100,000 inhabitants.
But in the end the ball is in our field. To keep our desire for recognition at bay depend that social network can be more tools of emancipation than of submission and voluntary servitude. In this sense, education will continue to be a decisive asset. The challenge is to build a viable discourse about it that we are able to put into practice. The Conversation