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PROTECTING THE DIGITAL PUBLIC SPACE

“Domination” is Mark Zuckerberg’s favorite word. He illustrates better than most the domineering Tech Bros win-at-all-costs, use-all-means-to-get-to-your-ends approach. From the first time I heard him gush about “community” the hairs on my neck stood up. There was something deeply fake and disturbing going on. This guy is a dictator. From day one, he set up Facebook so that he could be its dictator. What’s he talking about community for? Facebook is not a community. Facebook is more like a drugs den where addicts are sold to the highest advertising bidder.

When a guy rides into your community and offers to build a new shining public square and tells you that it’s “free”, that you’ll never have the “pay” for it, he’s treating you like a sucker. It’s a massive con. He’s a pusher. He’s giving you free stuff to get you hooked. If you fall for the con be guaranteed that the primary emotion you will get from him is his contempt.

The roots of social media and search and much modern technology contain a giant con, are founded on lies and deception. Social media and other “free” services planted a million seeds in the sewers and swamps of society out of which crawled a multitude of Trumpian creatures. People were so dulled by false promises, fake news and all things cheap and free that they believed the swamp creatures when they stomped around screaming: “Drain the swamp! I love my community!”

Technology is valuable. Digital is valuable. The space that is created by the Web and Internet is valuable. Very valuable. The technology companies know this. The stock market knows this. The public—the people who actually create most of its value through using it—do not know this.

Time for that to change unless we want to sleepwalk into a world where megacorps are more powerful than most countries, and where they exert that power and suppress and supplant government and democracy in the pursuit of domination. This is no joke. This is no wild statement. If you’re awake, maybe you’re thinking: “Is it not too late to stop them.”

It’s not too late to try.

“Data privacy is not something that can be effectively regulated at the individual level because it is something akin to air pollution, a public good that requires a collective response,” Zeynep Tufekci, a pioneering thinker about social issues, recently stated.

I’ve been thinking about this statement a lot. We cannot effectively address data privacy at an individual level. We must establish data protection at an environmental level. We must protect individuals from being exploited because of their weakness for and addiction to short-term convenience.

What if we reclaim the digital public space? What if we start taking back the digital public square from Facebook, Google, Apple et al? What if we started regulating the digital environment like we do the natural environment? From clean air to clean data, from free speech to freedom from hate speech?

A core reason COVID-19 ripped through our fragile societies was because, for the last 50 years, all the money chased the tech dream, and the public space was drained of investment and attention. Let us as societies reclaim and rebuild our public space—both physical and digital.

Start by reclaiming your data.

Gerry McGovern

The Social Dilemma documentary
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