OPINION: Hey! This is the Internet. Got a moment?
This is a bit embarrassing.
You know how you start out doing something you think will be nice but end up worried you may have done grievous harm to humanity? Yeah, that.
The idea was: we’d build a network, fill it with information, connect everyone up.
Then whenever something went wrong, everyone could be told exactly what was going on, and what to do about it.
Information and wisdom would be shared. We’d all be wiser. Boy are our faces red.
On the other hand have you seen the unbelievably colossal pile of money it’s made us? It’s been like Revenge of the Nerds only with private jets.
Shame about that well-informed wiser society thing, though.
If it had actually worked, there wouldn’t be nearly so many people worrying they’re going to die because people in China have been eating bats.
You can get all the correct information right there on the web of course.
It’s just that it’s buried under 50 million Facebook posts where you will learn THE TRUTH THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW.
For example: mad scientists manufactured this virus so that they’d get research funding to make a vaccine.
For another example, in jackboots: the virus doesn’t exist, they made the story up so they could stop you at the border, rifle through your suitcase, snoop in your laptop and commit who knows what other fascist outrages.
If things had gone the way we thought, Facebook would just bin all those posts and replace them with a helpful Q and A like this:
Q. What are my chances of contracting this?
A. For most of the people in the world: almost none.
Q: If I do catch it will I die?
A: Only if the numbers are really against you.
Q: Is this thing out of control?
A. Hardly. The response has been much more swift and thorough than for example the Sars epidemic, with information sharing, and containment measures, fully appropriate to a deadly virus. The seasonal flu kills about 400,000 people each year, so if you want to do some obsessing, obsess about getting your flu shot.
Coronavirus public meeting with Whangaparaoa community about the evacuees isolated at the Whangaparaoa Naval training base.
But that’s not the Facebook we’ve got. Problem is, an algorithm that amplifies lies is just really, really good for revenue.
So the posts that went furthest and fastest were fear-mongering about the eating habits of Asian people and related hysteria, which the news sites just hoovered up.
Next thing, Chinese people in Western countries are being banned from shops and schools and abused on buses.
You may recall that H1N1 started in the USA but that didn’t spawn endless digs about “the American virus” and “don’t let Americans near me” and “look at the weird hamburgers they eat no wonder they got sick”, but somehow we don’t think this tells us anything very reassuring.
We can’t help feeling a bit responsible. What can we do to fix it? Maybe we could make Facebook put truth next to the lies, like the gory photos on cigarette packets.
Maybe we could make it a rule that if you’ve been routinely spending more than two hours a day on Instagram, you have to take a three day break and see if your life doesn’t feel better when you’re not comparing your own life with the confected stuff your besties are posting.
For every fabulous photo you put up, you’d have to have to put up ten that show the parts of your day when you are working, vacuuming, breaking up with him, crying, cutting or purging.
There’s plenty that needs fixing, we can see that. Cyber bullying. The effect of violent porn on impressionable teens.
People being chewed up and spat out by the gig economy. Your privacy being eroded by colossal databases.
Monopoly powers wielded by the likes of Google and Amazon and Uber who have more money and power than actual countries and who can make you invisible if they feel like it.
So much power and so much influence in so few unaccountable hands. Sorry about that. Our bad.
It’s almost like, well, a virus that keeps on spreading.
We’d suggest you wash your hands and wear a mask, but to be honest we don’t really know if that’d do you any good at all.