Face it. You don’t care about how Cambridge Analytica acquired your personal information, if you did, you would have been up in arms about data breaches long before anyone ever outed them for using your Facebook data to assist in an “alleged” election scandal. The truth about what happened with the people, and the data, in the latest instance of internet maleficence, won’t affect you any more than the last ten data breach scandals. As individuals, we’ve become increasingly better at moving on with our lives as if nothing happened, especially if the events in question didn’t directly affect us. So just as you forgot every other outrageous breach of trust related to personal data in less than two months, this too will pass.
The reason we can’t hold on to a grudge longer than a couple of months may have something to do with our digital devices. Between glances towards our smartphones, smartwatches, and computer screens, there are real-world events happening out there, or at least that’s what I’ve heard. I’ve been working in the technology sector for a long time, the majority of which, I’ve always been able to maintain the balance between interacting in the digital world and in-real-life (IRL). For those that are slightly younger than me, they only know the former, and that has lead to a world that requires anyone hoping to gain the attention of Millennials to find ways to inject information into the digital realm.
As a result of the narrowing number of ways we receive information, society is in the middle of an information war between to distinct forms of media – social media vs. traditional media outlets. The scariest part of the war is that it may have already been fought and lost by everyone involved. Seriously, there may be no winners. This post isn’t just about the Facebook data scandal, it’s about the effect access to instantaneous information can have on society, and it’s a post that comes way too late to make any material change. For those interested in the general well being of their communities, it’s probably a post that will be worth a couple of good conversations at the water cooler, but beyond that, I fear all is lost.
Old Money vs. New Money
The ability to shape the face of our nation, and any for that matter, has always been controlled through access to information. The era of Gen Xers had a set of clearly defined gatekeepers that influenced the nation in the ways they saw fit. The world of radio, television, and print was dominated by behemoth corporations that changed society through the sounds, images, and words people absorb on a daily basis, and the writers, photographers, and musicians were handpicked to cultivate our thoughts and impressions on critical issues. Before the digital era, these were the only forms of mass communication that existed, and for all intensive purposes, those in power liked it that way. These information gatekeepers acquired power, influence, and what people around me always referred to as “old money.”
At one point in my life, I remember everyone around me perpetuating the idea that “old money” was impenetrable. There was nothing that would ever be able to pierce the wall of power and influence the people involved with institutionalized information distribution had built up. After all, how can you start a revolution if you couldn’t spread the word? The idea of other mediums carrying the same weight, and trust level, with the public that companies like CBS or the New York Times garnered was unthinkable. Who would ever put their trust in some random article that appeared on the Internet? No reasonable person, right?
Welcome Millennials, a generation of individuals who believe everything they read on the internet. Do you know why? Because they read it…on the internet. Not only does this generation trust what they see and hear on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, the speed it’s delivered at was unthinkable to traditional media outlets ten years ago. As a result, social media sites are the primary source of news for a lot of individuals. There’s now an entire generation of people who expect there information to be customized, instantaneous, and accurate, something “old money” media outlets have yet to truly master.
Pay to Play
For the first time, companies can distribute information to the masses instantaneously, but how accurate the information is, and who has the right to send it, is what is under real scrutiny in the Facebook scandal. Companies like Google and Facebook have amassed vast quantities of personal information about everyone on the planet, and have decided to let anyone who is willing pay a fee leverage it.
The truth about digital marketing platforms is that they are scarily effective at targeting demographic subsections, and narrowing down advertisements by gender, age, location, and interest is only a drop-down menu away for anyone who has the cash. Only now, after the outcome of an election has come under scrutiny, are people seemingly paying attention to the fact that advertising on digital platforms is open to everyone. Where was their outrage when the IPO was lining their pockets? Where was the need for regulation when Facebook ran behavioral experiments in news feeds?
Let’s all be honest with ourselves. Our outrage over the current Facebook scandal is one of convenience, little importance, and one that will ultimately change very little. We don’t have the attention spans for drawn-out debates anymore, and because we can’t see how it directly affects our lives, we’ll eventually move on. The only people that care about the outcome of this debate are people who are fighting for power and influence at a level most us will never attain. So I suggest we all move to the next fake social outrage issue because this one isn’t one where we can honestly say we care.