YESTERDAY, MILLIONS of people around the world were reminded just how dependent they have become on Facebook and its family of apps, including WhatsApp, for communication and for business. When these platforms crashed just before midday, the impact was acute and widespread, potentially affecting millions of people and businesses all over the world.
Interestingly, the outages came just hours after the broadcast of a television interview with a former Facebook employee, turned whistle-blower, who revealed the slimy underbelly of the app that has built itself into a linchpin platform with messaging, livestreaming, virtual reality and many other digital services.
The former employee made public thousands of pages of internal research which reveal that Facebook knows of many harms that its services are causing, and that despite its public assurances, it does very little to curb hate speech, divisive political speech, violence and misinformation. The whistle-blower explained how the Facebook algorithm, instead of providing us a window through which we see the world, actually functions more like a mirror, showing us content that aligns with what we believe and also which is most likely to anger us and prompt us to engage.
Therefore, when we consider how many hours we spend every day, mindlessly scrolling through our Facebook or Instagram feeds or WhatsApp stories, we realise how vulnerable we have become to being mentally and emotionally manipulated. We have unwittingly allowed these technology giants to turn us into angry people who have lost trust in society and faith in each other. They have made it easy for us to form alliances with like-minded people who validate our insecurities and encourage our buy-in of conspiracy theories and rejection of even that which is meant to help and protect us.
We need not look any further for an example of this than the tragedy playing itself out here in St Vincent and the Grenadines where people, so completely brainwashed by what they see and read on social media, are still rejecting the COVID-19 vaccines, even as they witness their unvaccinated neighbours dropping dead daily, needless victims of the disease.
In the five hours during which Facebook and its apps disappeared, people all over the world were already putting in place alternative means of communication. The world will not grind to a halt if Facebook disappears. Entities like Facebook are too large and wield far too much influence in the world. They must be made to change their ways and take responsibility for the damage they are causing to societies around the world and in the lives of individuals. But can an entity as large and ubiquitous as Facebook even be brought under control? They must, for the sake of our world.