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Digital literacy and the social web

This is not necessarily an easy conversation for us to have.


However, there is a very serious conversation on the go at the moment about ethical issues surrounding Facebook and by extension Twitter, Youtube and Google and their relationship to us, the users.


Although these platforms have enabled some very positive things, like helping people to connect around shared interests, as we have here, connecting families and generally promoting a more connected open society, there have been some ugly unintended downstream consequences that we need to be aware of and thing seriously about so we can make informed decisions going forward.


1. Because these services are free we, and the data we produce, are essentially the product, and in fact, the fuel that drives the algorithms and the machine learning and artificial intelligence that underpins these platforms. What does that mean for us, the users? Well these platforms have to make money and to do so they use everything that is known about human psychology to purposefully manipulate us into spending more time on the platforms. We are not made aware of this. (To learn more I highly recommend this TED talk by Tristan Harris entitled How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds everyday


2. Bad actors have found a way to hijack these platforms to drive an agenda based on manipulation and misinformation. This was the case in the 2016 American presidential elections, it was the case with Brexit, it was the case during the latest European Union Elections. (See Facebook still can’t control the far-right political propaganda monster it built)


There is now a serious conversation about how to regulate these social platforms, with some even suggesting that they be shut down until the platforms can find a way to fix the glaring problems that are causing real world harm. (See A Genocide Incited on Facebook, With Posts From Myanmar’s Military)


In the meantime it’s super important to understand that whether we like it or not while participating on these platforms we are being manipulated and to work hard at not developing a false sense of security here.


Here are some additional resources to help guide your thinking:


Carole Cadwalladr TED talk: Facebook’s role in Brexit - and the threat to democracy


Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe


This is a conversation we need to have as individuals, families and communities. It’s important for us to proceed with eyes wide open.


Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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