Confronting surveillance capitalism: How to respond to our digital overlords? A conversation with Zeynep Tufekci
In June 2017, Facebook was at the peak of its power. At the end of the month, it announced that it had reached two billion users, making it the largest organized entity on the planet, bigger than any country, corporation or religious denomination. Together with Google, it was dominating the global market for digital advertising. The stock market was valuing it at half a trillion dollars, making its founder Mark Zuckerberg one of the world’s richest men.
But something has changed in recent weeks. An accumulation of revelations of how Russian operatives used Facebook to insinuate themselves into the 2016 election, by creating fake accounts and group pages, pumping up false news stories, and targeting tens of millions of users with ads designed to sow division and affect voters’ inclination to vote, has finally forced the question of Facebook’s power onto the table. After initially pooh-poohing the idea that Facebook may have helped tip the election, Zuckerberg has backtracked and the company is starting to cooperate with federal investigators. Larger questions about its business model, which is best defined as “surveillance capitalism,” are finally gaining traction. The Russia-Trump scandal, which is still unfolding, is just the tipping point for Facebook.
To help us understand how Facebook and the other big tech platforms got to be so powerful, there may be no better guide than Zeynep Tufekci, New York Times columnist and author of the recent book Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. In a recent oped, she wrote that “by design, business model and algorithm, Facebook has made it easy for it to be weaponized to spread misinformation and fraudulent content.” Since the company has no meaningful competition, the question remains: what can we do about it.
Come join us in the search for answers, and to kick off our new series of Civic Hall talks on Tech and Power.
Copies of Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest will be available for purchase!
Civic Hall Members, email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive your free ticket!
November 27th: Franklin Foer in conversation with Zephyr Teachout
December 13th: Noam Cohen in conversation with Micah Sifry