Almost 70 years ago, George Orwell wrote a nightmare into our language when, in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, he imagined a future in which ‘Big Brother’ scrutinises an enslaved society with an all-seeing eye.
More recently, civil libertarians have warned ubiquitous CCTV and Government surveillance, born out of the fight against terrorism, have begun to fulfil Orwell’s prophesy.
Yet both the fictional fantasies and daily realities pale into insignificance alongside the threat posed by social media.
Scarcely imagined a generation ago, they have become a monstrous, intrusive presence in almost all our lives, especially frightening because of their influence upon children.Ruthless
Don’t take my word for it. Facebook’s former technology chief said a few days ago the site is ripping apart the fabric of society — ‘eroding human interactions’ and leaving users feeling ‘vacant and empty’.
The Government’s independent ethics watchdog, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, last month warned that social media companies should face fines for failing to remove racist, extremist or child sex abuse content.
Headed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos (pictured), these men and women are armed with the most personal details about each and every one of us such as no Gestapo, KGB or Inquisition in history ever dreamed of possessing
That was followed by a testy stand-off between the Commons’ Home Affairs Select Committee and executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google, who were lambasted for the appalling content allowed on their sites.
Now, there has been a dramatic intervention from Security Minister Ben Wallace, who warned that internet giants should face punitive tax penalties if they don’t help deal with the threat of terrorism.
He said these ‘ruthless profiteers’ were failing to prevent the radicalisation of young people online, and thus forcing the Government to devote hundreds of millions in resources to tackle the threat.
This is all proof society has awakened to the fact that the way we go online and use our mobiles to communicate and shop has empowered the warlords of the electronic universe.
Headed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, these men and women are armed with the most personal details about each and every one of us such as no Gestapo, KGB or Inquisition in history ever dreamed of possessing. (Germany’s competition watchdog has just accused Facebook of a ‘limitless’ collection of users’ data.)
And all this information is being extracted every second of every day — not by red hot irons and thumbscrews, but because we are handing it over through our own actions.
As for the scarily addictive Facebook, five years ago, when it reached a billion users, 55 per cent of them used it daily. Today, numbers have doubled — with two-thirds updating their entries every day
We make constant voluntary sacrifices of privacy in pursuit of convenience and social exchange, seemingly unaware of the consequences.
There are 32 million UK Facebook users, and the company uploads more than 300 million images every day. Many of the young not only expose every detail of their relationships, social and working lives, but some also photograph and then broadcast images of themselves having sex.
Maja Pantic, a professor of affective and behavioural computing at Imperial College in London, offers a dire warning: ‘As individuals, we must get back the ownership of our own data — we just don’t understand how bad this really is.’
Already there is a fightback. Millions of iPhone users, led by the former chief of the consumer watchdog Which?, are seeking a £1 billion settlement after falling victim to Google embedding computer codes in their Apple devices which were designed to reveal to Google the websites users visited.
As for the scarily addictive Facebook, five years ago, when it reached a billion users, 55 per cent of them used it daily. Today, numbers have doubled — with two-thirds updating their entries every day.
For their part, while YouTube’s bosses profess a willingness to tackle abuses (some of them appalling) and Google at least pretends to think about them, Facebook simply does not care, according to a social media analyst.