September 20th, 2019

Online fake news


By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on June 7, 2019.

Happy birthday wishes, reminders of upcoming events. And inevitably, puppy pictures.

Facebook and our other online media are often thought of as a harmless, feel-good part of our privileged First World lives.

Yes, we’re pestered with eye-grabbing advertising – just like television – but unlike TV, we can wait a few seconds to skip some of those ads. But after all it’s free, as long as we own a computer or mobile device.

In reality, we know that few things are really free. We’re paying a price, one way or another.

And that cost goes far beyond the nuisance of all those pop-up ads. As many people have discovered, Facebook and Google and others place paid-for material – political rhetoric, “incredible” online deals, American advocacy groups and more – ahead of the information we’re looking for.

And too many gullible people take that paid content as factual. After all, how could “Doctor Google” be wrong?

Those are some of the concerns world leaders were voicing when they met in Ottawa earlier this week. They also wanted to know what Facebook and others were doing to stop dangerous people from spreading misinformation, hatred and terrorism.

As a case in point, Facebook was used to co-ordinate the murderous Easter Sunday attack on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, which killed more than 250 people and injured hundreds more.

Arrogantly, Facebook CEO and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t interested in coming to meet elected officials, to explain how he could prevent his invention from becoming an instrument of terror.

On another Facebook issue, many Canadians want to know what laws were broken when their Facebook activities became part of the Cambridge Analytica scandal – one of the biggest known breaches of personal security data, on a global scale.

While there are many questions about Facebook and its competitors, there seem to be few answers. Perhaps their powerful owners feel no responsibility, much like the big drug companies who promoted opioid products claiming they were not addictive.

Obviously, we can’t count on those major internet businesses to clean up their act. And if they snub our elected representatives, maybe there’s a danger our governments will shrug it off saying. “We tried.”

So it could be up to us – the people whose financial and personal information they mine for profit – to take some responsibility for our own safety. We might go back to ordinary email to send any messages that we need to . . . or maybe even use the phone!

If we’re not ready to pull the plug on Facebook, maybe we can step up our security settings, or switch to another platform that’s interested in preserving our privacy.

More importantly, in some cases, we can make certain our children – and our aging parents – fully understand the dangers of using social media thoughtlessly. (A recent New West Theatre drama should drive that point home.)

And we can let our Members of Parliament know, in no uncertain terms, that this is an issue that affects so many Canadians, in ways that many have yet to realize. If the rulers of some nations can limit or cut off internet access entirely, surely our government must be able to craft laws that protect Canadians’ privacy and security.

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