Social Network Kool-Aid

It’s interesting how, if you are critical of Facebook, a throng of voices rise up in solidarity with Mark Zuckerberg’s empire. But what are these people really defending? Their own idealised version of reality whose motto is ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ — the collective mind and its unconscious vehement taboos that are externalized through social network technology.

We don’t have to drink the Facebook koolaid; however, we still might need to remain on Facebook—the alternative being social ostracisation. Facebook could also be a source for the good if we learn to use it mindfully and subversively, without buying into its mission or its ideology. It’s a question of where we put our attention and how we use it. Shouldn’t we question — or at least understand — what is behind our virtual spaces? Shouldn’t we point out the paradoxes of this Brave New World? For instance, being connected leads to a new kinds of isolation, living in a virtual space takes us away from ‘the real’ sensual world — there is something ethically dubious about making money from ‘memories’, engineering emotions, and cashing in on desires and vulnerability. I could go on, but I think that this has been well documented elsewhere.

Is Facebook the major insturment of a new kind of totalitarianism? Is it the most brilliant and invisible kind of tyranny than anything we have come up yet, precisely because there is no figure of evil or person we can be held accountable? Facebook, apparently is everyone and no one. There is this baby-faced Zuckerberg — a paragon of innocence and youth — which is the actual ‘face’ of Facebook, how could he be blamed. (However, isn’t it all little sinister to put such a powerful and total instrument in the hands of a mere boy?)

In any case, there are no shortage of people to rhapsodise about amazing powers this avatar of technology has given us. Just as many people are numb and terrified and powerless before this new social media God. Adulation or fear, seems to be our only option. And even if we ‘bitch and complain’ and make a big noise that is still part of the Facebook trap: to keeping us glued to the screen. This is what Americans call freedom.

As a Facebook user, how dare I criticise Facebook, many people tell me. Facebook is an indelible part of the public space at this time, there is no way to deny this. Yes, true. Certainly we should change it from within, by sharing meaningful content. But we should also remember vast amounts of cash our emotions are generating for advertising companies. Are we going to go along with this obscenity, even if it is ‘good for the economy’—whatever that means?

What can we do if Facebook litters our public spaces with targeted ads and soft pornography, and yet bans artworks that depict the human body? Certainly we should complain and do what we can to stop algorithms censoring our lives. One of the terrible new age fallacies — that is actually one of the reasons that Facebook can operate — is that one should ‘accept’ and ‘tolerate’ what is unacceptable and intolerable, to become spiritual people at peace with the way things are. But wouldn’t it be terrible achieve this kind of peace, which would amount to acquiescence to ‘artificial intelligence’—which is not intelligence at all, but speed and efficiency. Thus Buddhism — or more precisely ‘Facebook Buddhism’ — is turned into the ultimate tool for passive consumerism.

Facebook is an unelected government, like the Chinese communist party, which actually decides what ‘news’ we have access to. If it admitted to its vast editorial powers, this would at least be honest — its pretense of transparency and freedom of expression is precisely ‘the big lie’. It’s algorithms are its own business — there is no public access to a private company. And yet we should never speak of this, because we are all complicit in that lie, because it is a convenient one. Facebook affords us convenience and ‘connection’ and access to ‘beautiful people’ and therefore we are quiet as a mouse.

We should never really admit that Facebook has probably become more powerful as an entity than the US governmentor or the Catholic religion. Of course Facebook doesn’t make bombs or foreign policy directly, but it shapes minds and manipulates feelings, and thus it is even more deadly. Of course Facebook allows alternative voices to exist, but keeps their readership small and insignificant. On Facebook, like everywhere else in a capitalist society ‘money’ has the loudest voice.

And yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Obviously, I am here speaking from a different vision. One should not underestimate Facebook, either its power and potential for both good and evil.

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