Thursday, October 17, 2019

Carole Cadwalladr describes Facebook's role in Brexit — and the threat to democracy

While "The Facebook Dilemma" earned two Emmy nominations, it failed to win in either category.  However, the subject of Facebook's role in influencing voters is still a topic worthy of examination, as "The Great Hack" explores.  Carole Cadwalladr, the reporter central to the story of "The Great Hack" as she uncovered the role that Facebook and Cambridge Analytica played in the Brexit referendum, gave a TED talk on the subject earlier this year, Facebook's role in Brexit — and the threat to democracy.  Watch.

In an unmissable talk, journalist Carole Cadwalladr digs into one of the most perplexing events in recent times: the UK's super-close 2016 vote to leave the European Union. Tracking the result to a barrage of misleading Facebook ads targeted at vulnerable Brexit swing voters -- and linking the same players and tactics to the 2016 US presidential election -- Cadwalladr calls out the "gods of Silicon Valley" for being on the wrong side of history and asks: Are free and fair elections a thing of the past?
I heard this talk on the TED Radio Hour a couple of months ago and was properly appalled by the material, if not surprised, but it took a fellow Coffee Party USA volunteer and former director to call my attention to the transcript of the talk.  I'm sharing some of the key paragraphs near the end.
Our democracy is broken, our laws don't work anymore, and it's not me saying this, it's our parliament published a report saying this. This technology that you have invented has been amazing. But now, it's a crime scene. And you have the evidence. And it is not enough to say that you will do better in the future. Because to have any hope of stopping this from happening again, we have to know the truth.

And maybe you think, "Well, it was just a few ads. And people are smarter than that, right?" To which I would say, "Good luck with that." Because what the Brexit vote demonstrates is that liberal democracy is broken. And you broke it. This is not democracy -- spreading lies in darkness, paid for with illegal cash, from God knows where. It's subversion, and you are accessories to it.
And what you don't seem to understand is that this is bigger than you. And it's bigger than any of us. And it is not about left or right or "Leave" or "Remain" or Trump or not. It's about whether it's actually possible to have a free and fair election ever again. Because as it stands, I don't think it is.

And so my question to you is, is this what you want? Is this how you want history to remember you: as the handmaidens to authoritarianism that is on the rise all across the world? Because you set out to connect people. And you are refusing to acknowledge that the same technology is now driving us apart.

And my question to everybody else is, is this what we want: to let them get away with it, and to sit back and play with our phones, as this darkness falls?
Democracy is not guaranteed, and it is not inevitable, and we have to fight and we have to win and we cannot let these tech companies have this unchecked power. It's up to us -- you, me and all of us. We are the ones who have to take back control.
It's been three years since I used the phrase "a 21st Century crime scene," but Cadwalladr calling social media "a crime scene" tells me its time to bring it back.  As for any commentary I might have on her talk, I think her words speak for themselves.  I don't need to add my own take; I just need to boost the signal.

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