“If a product is free, you are the product” (Davis 2015). You are not the consumer, the consumer is the entity who paid for the product or service. Looking at social media through that lens shifts the perception and purpose of platforms such as Facebook and Tumblr. I use these platforms but I am not the consumer therefore they are not the product or service. If I am the product then these platforms are not products but production lines. They produce us, millions and billions of targets to sell to the actual consumer- online advertisers. They pay for us, every detail social media can possibly learn from us, and in return the social platforms allow them to fish for us with advertisements for their own products. And we are the best kind of product- one that can be used over and over again, turned into a consumer for the profit of the entities who advertise on our walls.
Better than that, for the real consumers of social media, is that these production lines have become imbedded in our culture. How often do we lament time wasted on playing games on Facebook or consuming the bite sized information Twitter allows others to share or scrolling down Tumblr’s endless dashboard? And yet the idea of deleting or deactivating these accounts is impossible, not necessarily because it is not an appealing concept in its own right but because to remove oneself from the online world is to be cut off from friends, uninvited from any potential event, to be uninformed of the world around us. As technology has advanced, we have taken it into our lives without considering how it must function in the system we created. We have allowed these platforms to become necessary for us to function in society and maintain social connections but our world runs on money and we didn’t stop to consider how these ‘free’ services were surviving. It has become necessary to allow others to sell our information in order to function. We have to remain linked into this online network that drains time and energy and floods us with snippets of information and an endless stream of opinion and commentary because without the service we would be alone.
In his campaign #StopDataRetention, the initial video of which is posted below, Greens’ Senator Scott Ludlam said the following in protest of the introduction of a bill to introduce mandatory retention of metadata by telecommunication companies.
“Imagine a guy whose name you do not know, who you have never met, who silently follows you around—just here, just over your shoulder—listening to your conversations. He was there yesterday, he was there all day today, he will be there all day again tomorrow. He makes quiet little notes of everyone you meet, every conversation you have, what you are wearing and anything you exchange, no matter how intimate the contact. He follows you every minute of the day, everywhere you take your phone. He installs sensors in every room of your house, and there is the abolition of curtains and front door locks—total transparency, all the time.” (Australia, Senate 2014, p. 7751)
He spoke against collection of metadata that would allow agencies to follow people wherever they took their phones or sent an email. The introduction of the bill despite the campaigns against it frightened me because it makes me a suspect before any crime has been committed. The idea of being reduced to a product, to be sold onto others without my knowledge or the freedom to opt out of the system, is far more terrifying.
Australia, Senate 2014, Parliamentary Debates, viewed 30/07/2015, <http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansards%2F8fc5e309-2803-465c-a1b0-230a21553985%2F0260%22>.
Davis H, 2015, ‘Introduction- course overview’, lecture, MSS1MNC, La Trobe University, 28/07/2015.
Ludlam S, 2014, #StopDataRetention, online video, 2 October, The Australian Greens, viewed 30/07/2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cwPM5Aubyo>