The double negative effect

I’m not sure we shouldn’t be regulated.”

If you wanted to signal just how much you hate the position you’re taking, put it into a sentence with double negatives. Message delivered, Zuck, old boy. Anyone with your kind of money is now in the ‘old boy’s club’, in case you were wondering. It took a year of sleuthing by the Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr and her colleagues plus Chris Wylie, a pink-haired Canadian data nerd whistleblower from Victoria, and two bizarre election results–Trump and Brexit–to finally bring on this double negative admission of guilt.

The thing is, it didn’t have to happen: the question of how to regulate the giant media platforms, including Google, was presented to none other than the Clinton administration, way back when they were the new, bright kids on the block. And guess what: they made the wrong decision. They gave these unknown entities a special category as a digital platform without much oversight, instead of what they might have done: herd them firmly into the laws governing publishing and copyright, by which the likes of the Guardian and indeed, all publishing houses must abide. But for reasons that perhaps one day soon will be unearthed, they got their own special deal. And then happily went about abusing the trust that people put in them by harvesting their data and their friend’s data, all unbeknownst to them, and selling it to outfits like Cambridge Analytica, who then proceeded to use it against you and your friends. The better to manipulate your mind and influence important democratic outcomes, like Trump and Brexit.

I’ve been following this complicated tale for over a year and during that time, failed more than once to explain its ramifications to my friends and family. Even now, some of them do not grasp the import of what is going on here, which is nothing more nor less than the destruction of our democratic edifice, shaking under this onslaught of malice via Facebook and digital algorithms that know you better than you know yourself.

The trouble is, our politicians aren’t much smarter; they have proved fairly useless at  reigning in and imposing transparent laws on the excesses of practically everything to do with the digital revolution. The reason is they don’t speak techno and do not write code, so they are actually trying to control something they don’t understand themselves. Case in point: Canada hired IBM to build a brand new digital payment system that was meant to shepherd all federal government departments and their various employees with their different union agreements under one handy umbrella. They did that not because the system they had wasn’t working; no, they did it because they believed that the new digital wonder, aptly named Phoenix, would be more efficient and thus, save precious taxpayer dollars. A laudable idea, you might say.

Except that two years since it was launched, Phoenix is still malfunctioning to such a degree that people are not getting paid, paid too much, or paid the wrong amount. There has been a change of ministers, long lists of sincere excuses, and desperate civil servants demonstrating for a solution. Demonstrating civil servants, in Canada. Let that sink in. There were similar clusterfucks in other government jurisdictions, in Australia, where they went back to pencils, paper and people. The costs are staggering. But if you’ve ever hired a software designer and barely understood what he/she was saying, you know how easily such unfortunate side effects can happen.

So that leaves us with a serious challenge. I hope that the obvious conclusions, which is that both Trump and Brexit were achieved via illegal manipulations of public opinion, gets everyone out of their seats, demanding new elections without benefit of Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and incomprehensible algorithms. We should simply outlaw the use of all this preposterous, dangerous and largely secret digital information gathering.

Hey Zuck, I am absolutely certain that you and your kind must be regulated and soon. I just wonder if our politicians are up to the task. Maybe they should hire Chris Wylie to help them figure this one out? Love him or hate him, he is the only guy here willing to talk plainly. No double negatives with him.



One thought on “The double negative effect

  1. Well, you did the research…good on you.
    The thing is, I’m no longer surprised by any of this, as I remember years ago hearing that we were being ‘unfiltered’ with sound-advertisements that came through the air-waves without our knowledge.
    So many ways to be manipulated, eh?

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