It’s informative to remember how Facebook got its start as a college frat-boy “book” recording who among the women on the campus were the prettiest. It was advertising of a sort that was insulting to women, treating them as products and sexist at inception, but also elevated “men” or at least males to be the ones in judgement. In my experience, entitled college men — usually sophomores — feel fully qualified and objective in making such subjective judgements about anything from breakfast to God.
Leaving aside preferences among alternative beauties, these guys — meaning later to achieve the heights of trading stock — had given themselves the right to decide which women — via their socially approved appearance — would bequeath their escorts with assumed sexual prowess that would “pay” a woman for investment in a relationship. Honesty, character, humor, faithfulness, were beside the point. Same sex relationships were beneath notice, much less contempt.
These assumptions persist in today’s Facebook methodology. Sheryl Sandberg, in an interview, repeated over and over again that they were intent on providing “experiences.” Like a pimp.
There are various aspects of this kind of online experience which have great “felt” but unreal intimacy. First is the supplying of bogus or slanted information, second is the suppression of information they don’t want you to have, and third is leaving you out, making you irrelevant. There is a fourth: making you look at advertising you didn’t ask for.
These four amount to one simple truth: online you are not in control. Maybe you paid for content; maybe you “pay” by looking at adverts; maybe you reveal yourself by making contacts, mentions, and relationships; maybe they are taking notice of every delete you make, no matter how quickly. With a computer they can record how long you look at any image. How long did you look at that naked . . . Oh, and you were just trying to figure out what it was?
White Xian culture, particularly in its Aunt Grundy aspect, provides a reliable map of what’s in or what’s out. Or so it seems. It teaches people that if they didn’t really look/inhale, that gazing on naked people or smoking whatever, is a sign of innocence. It isn’t. it’s a sign of guilt— an entry point for a chancer.
The entry point to Facebook is “happy families”a phrase the English tend to use sardonically, but the Americans — esp. those not quite wealthy, not quite English, not quite educated, rather recently immigrated — tend to define as those with good teeth, nice clothes, pretty houses, new cars. The irony is that the people who really ARE like this aren’t aware they are privileged. They believe everyone is like this. The idea is rather new, the product of a fortunate time with rising incomes. But more recently it has required a certain kind of blindness, the stepping-over of impoverished people flat on the sidewalk. They’re not on Facebook.
Beyond this ideal, the images and the precursor images of same-color/different gender grinning romantic couples assume they are not just hooking up, that they are making enough money to sustain a family, that they are secure in their jobs and that they don’t cheat. At one time public opinion enforced these limits, but now they don’t. Reality is Facebook cheating, maligning, framing, and denying. It’s a fantasy world that people assumed would stay secret — that’s how it “feels.” There is a file of your worst unsuspected moments.
After years of watching television where other people take all the risks and die in front of you only to appear again in a more recent series with a familiar plot, people tend to treat computers the same way. But computers are active — they have agendas — they are not likely to care what you think. If you have a screen with a mic in it, you’d be well-advised to put opaque tape over the tiny hole when you’re not actively using it. Same for a visual capacity. Your microwave might not be wired to spy, the way KellyAnne Conway claims hers is, but your computer might very well be watching and listening.
At night I turn the power off on my computer because it is able to turn itself on otherwise. Maybe you’ve gotten yourself into some kind of jackpot with software and have had to ask a techie to come online with you and lead you through the escape, both of you on the computer at once, each of you with your own mouse and software. Nothing fancy. Like talking on the telephone. They ask you nicely, but they don’t have to. They can tell your computer what to do, over-ride your intentions, exceed your software.
And you’ll never know who they really are. You can get some clues. There is an entire industry based on their ability to shut off your access or someone else’s access to your connection. Called “block lists”, they are entirely arbitrary and you won’t know it’s happening — no notifications. There are other companies who “sell” their ability to identify who’s got your “block list” or “black list” and how to escape from them. They can charge you, the same as hackers can impose blackouts and demand money. The only difference is that “block lists” claim virtue, pretend they are protecting you from photos and print that will do bad things to you, because they are evil. (What you and I consider evil might be quite different.) You can use Google to find them unless your access to Google has edited them out.
In addition, other entities can use one’s computer. Sometimes this is voluntary, like information-gathering that is legitimate, say a study of stars that is so overwhelmingly composed of tiny bits that the only way to get at the patterns is by using hundreds of home computers in a network. Or it might be a bit shady, like reproducing movies to sell to people far away, which is a kind of streaming called torrenting. It’s not quite legal, not quite illegal, imperceptible except that your computer becomes overloaded and slows down.
There’s more. Parallel networks are out there, like the Dark Net, except unknown, specialized, unsupervised. A person adept at code (like a teen) lives in a world entirely other than what his or her family or teacher knows. I’m not a threat because I’m approaching eighty and am lucky to remember how to download my photos. They’re in my camera and — I am informed —in the cloud under the provider’s name. I did not give permission for this. They are mostly about my cats, but they could easily be more sinister. The cloud is nothing mystical: it’s just a giant hard drive plant like a sci-fi movie.
THEY decide. THEY access my info and implant spies. THEY are invisible, but I’m willing to guess they are white or Asian, male, young, and sealed into a tight little world of their own as though they were religious acolytes. Most of them have no time for sex, they are penetrating code.