Confronting the social engineering of Zuckerberg and alike

Will Mark Zuckerberg run for President of the USA one day?

Will Mark Zuckerberg run for President of the USA one day? In a apologetic article in C|net about internet.org Dan Farber suggests: “Who knows, one day… Zuckerberg could try running a real country.” Internet.org is the latest promotion campaign Facebook, Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, and Qualcomm to connect every person in the world to the Internet. The group wants to bring Internet access to the roughly two-thirds of the world’s population who aren’t connected.

They show a lot of ambition but have no Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, nor Time-bound plan of realisation. Though this is what you would expect from engineers. Is this mere a reaction on Google’s blue-sky scheme, Project Loon, a plan to deploy Wi-Fi-transmitting balloons over the world’s most remote areas, as some say?  Of course competition plays a part, but there is more. It is about social engineering and it is about time people start to realise that.

As to the press release the founding members of internet.org promise “to develop joint projects, share knowledge, and mobilize industry and governments to bring the world online”. “Potential projects include developing data compression tools, enhancing network capabilities to more efficiently handle data, building systems to cache data efficiently and creating frameworks for apps to reduce data usage.” They say to focus on collaboration “to develop technologies that make mobile connectivity affordable and decrease the cost of delivering data to people worldwide”.

The group plans also to back new business models and offer device manufacturers, developers, and other businesses to lower the cost of access. Finally they expect mobile operators to play leading roles within the initiative… But wait. Why are the mobile operators not involved in their plans then from the beginning?

Mobile operators not invited this time

Well they were involved in Facebook’s plans before, and they might be a bit disappointed now. In May 2010 Facebook was still able to convince mobile operators to offer for free, a stripped down ‘text only’ version of Facebook, Facebook Zero, as a bait. Facebook was able to sign up 50 mobile carriers in 45 countries when Facebook Zero launched. The history of this project is well documented in Quartz.

How did Facebook Zero come to be free to its users? Facebook spokespeople declined to comment on this but Nathan Eagle, whose company reaches a large slice of its millions of users via Facebook Zero, suspected that Facebook wasn’t compensating the networks at all. The promise that once users were addicted to Facebook they would upgrade to a full internet access plan should suffice.

In the 18 months after Facebook Zero launched in Africa, the number of Africans on Facebook ballooned by 114% but only bringing the penetration degree of Facebook in Africa at 2,4% at the beginning of 2012. The following ten months the growth declined to 18%. Today Facebook only reaches 6,5% of the Asians and isn’t yet reaching 5% of the African population.

Only the very rich top layer in these countries can afford a smartphone, the mass of poor people are limited to a basic cellular phone for just voice and text. Almost everyone is on a prepaid plan. So this strategy didn’t really work.

Sharing knowledge?

Zuckerberg said: “There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy.” This is true of course but if he really wants the poor countries joining Western information society, he skips some essential steps. To begin with, there is still the disastrous state of basic education in Africa and parts of Asia.

According to projections from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the world needs to:

  • create 1.7 million additional primary teaching positions by 2015 to achieve universal primary education (UPE);
  • replace 5.1 million teachers who will leave the profession;
  • hire a total of 6.8 million teachers to provide for every child’s right to primary education by 2015.

The situation is most extreme in sub-Saharan Africa, where the demand for teachers is rising rapidly as the school-age population continues to grow. Sub-Saharan Africa will need to recruit more than 1.8 million primary school teachers between 2010 and 2015 to ensure that every child has access to primary education. (UIS)

31 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are out of school. 55% of them will never start school (UIS database). In South and West Asia, 13 million children are out of school. 49% will never start school and another 45% have enrolled but dropped out (UIS database).

In a personal document about the same issue Zuckerberg addresses the question “Is Connectivity A Human Right?” The word smartphone is used 11 times, but no mention at all of broad band access. Though, to satisfy the shortage of teachers in the poor countries, broad band access allowing distance learning, using video, would be much more useful then the kind of undefined crippled internet access he is proposing.

Learning to read and write is needed first and it can only be brought by teachers. Teachers are the key to getting children in school and keeping them there, the key for basic education skills like literacy, numeracy etc.  Since Zuckerberg’s plea for connectivity as a human right ignores a more fundamental human right the right to (basic) education (art. 26) I think we may have reasonable doubt about the missionary intentions of internet.org.

Or just creating customers for his business?

From the statistics of Facebook we learn that it has reached a saturation point in Europe and the U.S. and is looking to Africa, Asia and South America for growth to keep its stock holders satisfied.

Evolution of Facebook users

Zuckerberg claims in an interview with CNN that it isn’t about earning more money:

“If we really just wanted to focus on making money, the first billion people who are already on Facebook have way more money than the next five or six billion people combined,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s not fair, but it’s the way that it is. And, we just believe that everyone deserves to be connected, and on the Internet, so we’re putting a lot of energy towards this.”

The question is then why he does not join the efforts of Wikipedia Zero, a partnership with the Indian operator Aircel. Though the average revenue per user in developed countries are still very low, it is substantial and Facebook is working for it to grow, by accessing more users.

Facebook’s average revenue per user

On social network sites the business models are hidden in the algorithms they are controlled by. Every time someone clicks the ‘like’ button, he adds data to Facebook’s business model, collecting and analysing data to sell to the marketing industry, making a lot of money.

Facebook’s revenue

The  answer of David Sasaki from Mexico to the internet.org is clear:

“So, no. We shouldn’t celebrate Facebook’s efforts to “bring the internet to all” because that is not what they are doing. When Zuckerberg says that access to the Internet is a human right, what he means is that access to Facebook should be a human right. What we want to both protect and radically expand is access to the open web. And we need to use both policy and education as tools to do it.”

Negative effect of Facebook on education

Facebook isn’t an educational tool at all; it’s rather the opposite as to many studies (Junco, 2011; ul Haq and Chand, 2012; Rosen, 2013). The American psychologist Larry D. Rosen warned before for the negative effect of overuse of media and technology. Facebook can be distracting and can negatively impact learning. Studies found that middle school, high school and college students who checked Facebook at least once during a 15-minute study period achieved lower grades. Another research in 2013 confirms this claim.

He and others from California State University, Dominguez Hills, published a study, ‘Facebook and Texting Made Me Do It: Media-Induced Task-Switching While Studying’, which found that for kids ages 4 to 8, amount of technology use and chances of attention problems were linked. For tweens (ages 9 to 12), the use of video games specifically predicted increased attention problems. For teenagers, more media use, more video gaming and more online time predicted an increase in both attention and behavioral problems.

“Multitasking effectively is only somewhat possible when someone performs very simple tasks that aren’t similar to each other,” Rosen says. What is commonly called multitasking, especially for young people who use technology often, is really “task-switching,” which is counterproductive. The study found that students from the middle school to university level were more likely to become distracted when they multitasked often—that is, when they tended to task-switch rather than complete one task before moving on to another.

For kids who are constantly using technology, multitasking is inevitable. Rosen suggests that this may be one aspect of technology that is contributing to the attention problems that plague many students today (Rosen et al., 2013).

Social network sites are not so good for well being

De biologist Aric Sigman relates the decline of real world social contacts to physiological alterations and serious health risks. As to Sigman, social isolation deteriorates our immune system. Our arteries narrow and we get more vulnerable for cold and flu. He notes:

“Lack of social connection or loneliness is also associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The neuropeptide oxytocin is increasingly considered the ‘hormone of affiliation’, released in plasma and cerebrospinal fluid in response to everyday aspects of human interaction such as somatosensory stimulation, hugging, touch, warm temperature – and it is also involved in feelings of trust and generosity. Oxytocin has recently been found to prevent detrimental cardiac responses including elevated resting heart rate, reduced heart rate variability, and reduced parasympathetic regulation of the heart in adult female animals exposed to social isolation. This may be one of the central mechanisms that underlie the relationship between social contact, cardiovascular disease or better cardiac function in humans.” (Sigman, 2009, p. 17)

Also dementia is inversely proportional with the frequency of social contacts. The number of social contacts is positively related to cognitive functioning, the memory function and mental performance. (Sigman, 2009, p. 18)

The use of digital media rises while face to face contacts decline since 1987 in the U.K.

Some of Sigman claims are confirmed by psychological research. A study done by Kross and others at the University of Michigan has found that using Facebook can reduce young adults’ sense of well-being and satisfaction with life. The researchers describe their approach of the problem:

“We addressed this issue using experience-sampling, the most reliable method for measuring in-vivo behavior and psychological experience. We text-messaged people five times per day for two-weeks to examine how Facebook use influences the two components of subjective well-being: how people feel moment-to-moment and how satisfied they are with their lives. Our results indicate that Facebook use predicts negative shifts on both of these variables over time. The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time. Interacting with other people “directly” did not predict these negative outcomes” (Kross et al., 2013)

Kross and his team team conclude:

“On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.” (Kross et al., 2013)

Soraya Mehdizadeh examined how narcissism and self-esteem are manifested on the social networking Web site Facebook.com. She reported:

“Self-esteem and narcissistic personality self-reports were collected from 100 Facebook users at YorkUniversity. Participant Web pages were also coded based on self-promotional content features. Correlation analyses revealed that individuals higher in narcissism and lower in self-esteem were related to greater online activity as well as some self-promotional content.” (Mehdizadeh, 2010)

A study of Hanna Krasnova, Helena Wenninger, Thomas Widjaja, and Peter Buxmann in Berlin uncovers a rampant nature of envy on social network sites (SNSs), identifying Facebook as a stressfull environment (Krasnova et al., 2013, p. 1):

“According to our findings, passive following triggers invidious emotions, with users mainly envying happiness of others, the way others spend their vacations; and socialize. The spread and ubiquitous presence of envy on SNSs is shown to undermine users’ life satisfaction – a major contribution of study.” (Krasnova et al., 2013, p. 13)

Connectivity does not mean connectedness

CEO’s like Zuckerberg claim they want everyone in the world to be connected, but they do not want us to be connected to each other. Rather, they want us connected to them. They desire every bit of communication to flow through their centralized servers; they want to know everyone’s hopes, lusts and fears. They sell these emotions to marketers who insert themselves into our online lives and direct our attention towards getting more gadgets, diet pills and lines of credit. Some financial lending companies even scan our friend networks to define our creditworthiness.

José van Dijck points to the confusion deliberately created by their promotion talks:

“The meaning of “social” hence seems to encompass both (human) connectedness and (automated) connectivity – a conflation that is cultivated by many CEO’s and its deliberate ambiguity…” (van Dijck, 2013, p. 12)

“Sociality coded by technology renders people’s activities formal, manageable, and manipulable, enabling platforms to engineer the sociality in people’s everyday routines.” (van Dijck, 2013, p. 16)

 Robert Gehl is warning about the idea that connectivity equals development:

“Every new communication technology since the telegraph has been accompanied by cheerleaders who claim that connection will bring about global equality and wealth. Look back through history, though, and see that economic disparity was not only not eliminated after the invention of, say, the radio, it was exacerbated. Powerful groups maintain themselves by incorporating new technologies into their means of oppression.”

He also warns for a technocratic totalitarianism:

“The revelation that Facebook, Google and other firms are targeted by the National Security Agency should give pause to anyone in the non-connected world. To be connected is to have our phone records, emails, online commerce and social media activities stored and analyzed by the NSA. Do the non-connected want to be monitored like the rest of us?”

Even assuming the newly connected won’t be brought under the gaze of the NSA, they will no doubt be monitored by their own leaders. The new cyber-industrial complex is selling surveillance to dictators.

NSA paid millions to cover Prism compliance costs for tech companiesThe technology companies, which the NSA says includes Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook, incurred the costs to meet new certification demands in the wake of the ruling from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (Fisa) court.

Maybe it’s time to consider a new parallel internet, free from government spying, corporate monitoring, and overpriced ISPs? There’s a cure for that.

See for a list of wireless community networks by region on Wikipedia.

References

Junco, Reynol, 2011, ‘Too much face and not enough books: The relationship between multiple indices of Facebook use and academic performance‘, Computers in Human Behavior (2011), doi:10.1016/j.chb.2011.08.026

Krasnova, Hanna, Wenninger, Helena, Widjaja, Thomas and Peter Buxmann, 2013, ‘Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?‘, 11th International Conference on Wirtschaftsinformatik, 27th February – 01st March 2013, Leipzig, Germany

Kross E, Verduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, et al. (2013) ‘Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults’. PLoS ONE 8(8): e69841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069841

Mehdizadeh, Soraya, 2010, ‘Self-Presentation 2.0: Narcissism and Self-Esteem on Facebook‘, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Volume 13, Number 4, 2010

Rosen, Larry D., Carrier, L. Mark,Cheever,  Nancy A., 2013, ‘Facebook and texting made me do it: Media-induced task-switching while studying‘, CaliforniaStateUniversity, Dominguez Hills, United States

Sigman, Aric, 2009, ‘Well Connected? The biological implications of social networking‘, Biologist, Volume 56 Number 1, February 2009

van Dijck, José, 2013, ‘The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media’, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press

ul Haq, Ahsan and Chand, Sohail, 2012, ‘Pattern of Facebook usage and its Impact on Academic Performance of University Students: A Gender Based Comparison‘, Bulletin of Education and Research December 2012, Vol. 34, No. 2 pp.19-28

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