Contributing to the commodification of our existence

When you think you have seen it all… Göteborg this week experienced a “slut shaming riot” (not three words I expect to see in one sentence) actually the background is better explained here but I couldn’t resist “slut shaming riot”. The short version is:

The turmoil was set off after an Instagram user asked for tips on “sluts” in Gothenburg, and promised anonymity to anyone sending in pictures. More than 200 pictures were submitted, giving names and alleged sexual activities of girls aged 13 to 14.

A 17-year-old girl was outed on Facebook as being behind the Instagram account, a mob  organized via Facebook, set off to teach her a lesson.

The rioting students then moved over to the Nordstan mall in central Gothenburg, forcing confused holiday shoppers to take cover inside stores as police work to bring the unruly teens under control.

Naturally the media was asking lots of strange questions attempting to find someone to hang. Who’s fault is it? Kids today? Social media? Technology in general?

Most reports didn’t explicitly say it but they were steeped in the nostalgia of days gone by and the illusion magnified through history that these kinds of things never happened when they were young, that things really were better in the good old days.

Really stupid. A largely non-violent riot made up of teenagers? The concept is as old as history. People using an external trigger to let of steam and to take advantage of a situation… That must describe almost every riot in history!

Amid all this media clutter the question gets asked: Are we going to grow up and stop using social media? The answer is most obviously NO. Social media users like using social media – it fills a need and provides a service. Obviously we will not stop using this medium.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think about what the medium is doing to us. There is a great level of social media fatigue. My favorite example comes in the form of humor. We are developing a larger ability to poke fun at social media use – it’s not pointing at the stupidity of others but actually poking fun at our own use.

Take for example the excellent Look at this Instagram (Nickelback Parody) which show’s how our need to “share” is not innovative, creative or special. Seriously “Look at this coffee foam… I’m frigging Michelangelo” talks to me 🙂

However there are more important problems that are being missed. Our “bad” behaviors – oversharing, outing others, narcissism, voyeurism, stalking… just to name a few – need to be addressed but while we argue on the correct social norms of social media use we are blind to the bigger problem.

We are contributing to the commodification of our own existence. The companies that provide these services are collecting all our data. It’s not only the material you share but all your behavior (check out YouTube What Facebook Knows About You & Malte Spitz’s TEDTalk: Your phone company is watching).

These massive surveillance systems use the data they collect to manipulate the way we think by hiding and revealing different information to different users (Have written and spoken a lot about this. Here is an example). Then there is the question of who should own the rights to a users data. BTW please remember a picture of your face, flirting online & comforting a loved one is all “data”.

The licensing puts the legal right in the hands of the companies. You signed the license. You don’t like it? Then f**k off. But there is more to rights than licenses. I like the way Mat Honan expresses his sense of being betrayed in Why I Quit Instagram

By now you’ve likely heard Instagram changed its terms of service. There is a lot not to like, but I didn’t quit because of any single change in particular.

Why did I quit Instagram? It’s the thoughtlessness, stupid.

Instagram was built not by a team of ten in San Francisco’s South Park – but by tens of millions and then hundreds of millions of people all over the world. …

Which makes it remarkable that the company has shown such utter disrespect for that very network of people.

We like using social media and should be allowed to use social media. What the discussion should be is turning to the question of why companies are allowed to profiteer in the way they do on our data.

Who is going to protect us? Well it should be the same legislators who are busy abdicating their power to the social media companies and hiding behind the sanctity of the contract: In this case a ridiculous document few have read, even fewer can understand and whose terms get changed at the drop of a hat.

We are protected by lofty human and civil rights documents. Government has a duty of care to ensure that we are not harmed. And still nothing.

The rights we have worked hard to achieve, the rights we so proudly proclaim in other circumstances are now all being contractually frittered away…

Every pic you take
Every post you make
Everything you like
All your friends in sight
Facebook’s using you

Every smiling friend
You post on Instagram
Won’t belong to you
Nothing you can do
Facebook’s using you

Oh can’t you see
They know you and me
Can match your name to a face, that can be accessed anyplace

And maybe just next year
Whatever shop you near
Cameras ID you
To further market to
Facebook now owns ‘you’

Since it came the net is a worse space
If I share I feel like I’ll be traced
The buttons and the “like us” pleas disgrace
The thoughtful words that they replaced
I just can’t not feel paranoid

You own nothing here
It couldn’t be more clear
Instead of getting mean
You feed the machine
The one that’s using you

—© 2012 Facebook
via Rosinal McDonald (found in the comments section of Why I Quit Instagram)

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