Documentary: The Great Hack & (More) Thoughts on Social Media
Nearly two months ago, on April 26,2022, it was announced that Elon Musk was buying Twitter. Upon hearing the news, we immediately deleted the Belgrave Crescent Twitter account. Of course, the last time we’d tweeted anything there was in 2017 so it wasn’t being used anyway, but we thought it was a good time to finally make it official. We also deleted two other side accounts we’d forgotten about and seriously considered getting rid of the TIG account as well. It was also around this time that we took another (much longer) break from Instagram. We know from the huge spikes in traffic that you found your way over here anyway, despite the social media slowdown.
It was also around this time that I watched The Great Hack, a 2019 documentary film about the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal, produced and directed by Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer (both previous documentary Academy Award nominees). It was frightening as it was fascinating and enlightening. Some of the take-away points were: WhatsApp messaging was instrumental to Jair Bolsonaro’s election win in Brazil; Facebook swayed the 2010 election in Trinidad & Tobago; and Facebook facilitated the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The documentary also covered Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook to propel Donald Trump to victory, and for winning the Brexit campaign. The film looks at a world where data is worth more than oil, a murky world of darkness and unbridled capitalism. It was chilling.
And yes, I know⏤it’s not much fun to be talking about the dark side of social media all the time. And while it may not be a fun topic, it’s important to stay informed. If you’re a longtime reader, you’ll know that I’ve been musing on this topic for at least the past five years. But now it really feels like we’re entering a shift. While Facebook (whose success depends on a business model that exploits personal data to maximise engagement and economic value) has been “uncool” since 2009—long before all their data privacy issues, Instagram‘s heyday was 2013-2015 (despite Forbes wondering if it was already becoming passé in 2012). And now it appears to have become as unsafe as Facebook: the more you use Instagram, the more of your attention and data it captures and sells, and the more it maximises profits for its shareholders. Everything has always been about building an app and a brand that compels you to use Instagram as often as possible for as long as possible. But is Instagram dying? Well, yes and no. People will undoubtedly continue to use it for some time yet, but what is dying is the probability that small businesses, artists, and activists will be able to organically reach the number of people they once could on the platform. And this number will continue to decline as time goes on, which can be frustrating if you’ve already invested a lot of time and energy on it.
Social media may never go away⏤it’s become a part of our culture now. But (hopefully) it will change and evolve. Old platforms will die and new ones will emerge that will not harness our content and free labor under the guise of connectivity. New platforms that will give us a reprieve from being under surveillance, tracked and monetised every waking moment of our lives. Perhaps our relationship to them, and the internet as a whole, will evolve as well. We might reject the platformisation of our social and working lives and go back to the pre-2009 days of using social media for connecting, rather than performing, for deepening our social ties and making our lives richer, and the world better.
Failing that, perhaps we’ll discover a new-found love of the analog world.