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We’re paying the price for a free ride on net platforms

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POSTED March 21, 2018 1:29 a.m.

The Chicken Littles are squawking like mad demanding that foxes guard the hen house known as Facebook.
The fact an analytic firm used data gleaned from Facebook users to sell a product — in this case political leaders — have users whipped up in a frenzy demanding politicians do something.
Actually American politicians have been doing something. They’ve been using Facebook as well as old school instruments of communication to do for at least two centuries what they are accusing the Russians are doing with social media — undermine elections.
Take the infamous Lyndon B. Johnson TV commercial with the little girl picking off daisy pedals that morphed into a nuclear detonation to completely distort Barry Goldwater’s position and portray him as mentally unbalanced in the 1964 presidential election. It was crafted using data gathered by Madison Avenue of people’s reactions to specific images — likes and dislikes, if you will.
Name one election where your mailbox isn’t stuffed with attack fliers distorting positions of a candidate originating from some nebulous sounding committee or organization such as Californians for Honest Government that was designed to trick you into voting for a candidate that reflects who the committee wants elected.
American politicians are howling because Russia is intruding on their turf. It’s OK for American politicians to have a front with an innocent sounding name to inject poison into the political process but not Russians.
As far as a foreign government interfering with domestic elections, we need to look into the mirror. We are as pure as New York snow that’s been on the ground for a week. Our transgressions have ranged from Radio Free Europe to the 1973 Pinochet coup in Chile funded in a partnership with the Facebook of the day — International Telephone & Telegraph — and the CIA.
More recently the United States had tried to stir the pot in Russia’s own backyard — nations that were once part of the Soviet Union.
Of course when we meddle it’s not interference. It’s advancing “what’s right” as seen from our smug, self-righteous viewpoint.
The level of the anguish and gnashing of teeth with Russian meddling is the need for a narrative that explains the results of the 2016 election where the preordained candidate didn’t win and enough “simpleton bumpkins” between the two coasts were supposedly “swayed” by misinformation spread via Facebook to have the Electoral College work in favor of the candidate that got the lower popular vote count. It was made all the worse by the fact someone the elitists in another era would have dismissed as a “vulgarian” won.
That doesn’t explain, though, the level of the wrath being directed at Mark Zuckerberg and the likes of Facebook, Google, and other Internet platforms. What does is the fact most of us virtually worship firms that rose from bytes and silicon to “disrupt” the economy and overall structure of society as if they were all deities and the key to an enlightened world.
Given how they all are about making money and have become the wealthiest firms almost overnight by breaking all the rules and being somewhat ruthless about it much like the occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, what did anyone expect?
At their heart they are no different than any other corporation. And, contrary to popular belief, they did not discover fire and invent the wheel. They simply repackaged them.
Besides what did you and I expect? We bought into the anti-capitalism cry that the Internet should be free not just as in anything goes but in terms of what it costs us to use.
If Facebook didn’t have to rely on advertising driven by data collection to earn money and could charge its 214 million users in the United States $5 a month, we might not be where we are today having non-stop convulsions about Russian meddling. Facebook racking in $12.84 billion a year from user fees would be a lot less reliant on selling data given they’d have a reason to protect their gold mine.
But when you lose customers to someone charging them less because customers aren’t willing to pay for what they are getting you are going to mine them in different ways. One of those ways is using data that you collect to sell to those that want to influence buying decisions whether it is what you do with your cash or your vote.
Facebook et al need to cover their costs. They have the right to make money.
And most of us are happy we don’t have to pay for using Internet sites and can virtually do anything we please on it.
That’s true until we don’t like some of the things other people who don’t act, think or believe like we do and then we demand that the foxes regulate it.
But we can never bring ourselves to the point we believe we have to pay for it which is a bit odd since we’d go ballistic if people who used our services such as employers or customers didn’t pay us.
Now there is a fear in the Silicon Valley they will be treated and regulated like the businesses that they disruptive while they were free from having to follow the rules and societal convention.
As for the rest of us, the old adage is true. You get what you pay for or — in the case of the Internet — you ultimately pay the price for a free ride.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.

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