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article imageReview: Zucked — The story of Facebook's rise and fall Special

By Tim Sandle     Mar 2, 2019 in Internet
How far has Facebook drifted from its original concept, of bringing people together? How did morph into the epitome of techno-capitalism? These are some if the questions that Roger McNamee grapples with in his new book, titled 'Zucked'.
The core themes of this history and analysis of the world's biggest social media platform (Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe, HarperCollins) are trust, privilege and power. Each of these has shifted over time as those running Facebook, McNamee contends, have ceased listening to their stakeholders and have strayed from the ethical principles that were there at the start.
In focusing on these three concepts in the book, by trust, MacNamee discusses how technology platforms in general, and Facebook in particular, have taken advantage of its users by misusing their personal data. This has happened due to Facebook be coming overconfident (which is about the 'privilege aspect') and becoming too powerful.
This illuminating text has not been written by an outsider. Roger McNamee has been investing in Silicon Valley ventures for thirty-five years. He was also an early mentor for Mark Zuckerberg and a player in Facebook's formative years. He remains a Facebook shareholder.
For McNamee the misuse of Facebook by certain political actors was a wake-up call, and one triggered especially around the time of the election of Trump and the Brexit process. What concerned him equally was Zuckerberg (and Sheryl Sandberg's) response, or rather lack of response, to these issues.
In time those running Facebook did acknowledge a problem, but this was seen ore as a public relations issue, something that had to be responded to maintain share price and to keep user levels up, rather than a deep rooted cultural problem with the social network itself.
McNamee asserts that the right lessons have not been learnt, and his treatise runs that, on it current trajectory, Facebook stands as a threat to democracy. Notably this concerns Facebook's willingness to align with any group, of any political ideology, who are willing to pay the right sum of money to access user data for their purposes; plus the blurring of facts and fake reporting, which contribute to a serious undermining of the political order.
Various examples of the harm Facebook can do are cited in the book, from the United Nations accusing Facebook if enabling religious persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar to the Cambridge Analytics data misuse. Then there is Facebook's user of trackers that follow users around the web, to enable a massive amount of data to be gathered, bundled and sold to advertisers. Even more concerning is the charge that Facebook used its advertising tools to gather information about people interested in Black Lives Matter and sold that data to police departments.
The solution, McNamme argues, is to hand control of data back to users and for transparency mechanisms to be put in place. To add to this, the U.S. needs a data privacy bill like the European GDPR to underpin and regulate how social media operates.
'Zucked' provides an assessment that is both amusing and terrifying, charting Facebook's transition from a fun way for friends to connect to a giant profit-maximizing beast that pervades and seeks to influence multiple aspects of our lives.
More about zucked, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, Social media, Roger McNamee
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