UBC assistant professor Taylor Owen spoke about the negative impact of social media technology at a conference held Friday at UBC Okanagan. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press

UBC assistant professor Taylor Owen spoke about the negative impact of social media technology at a conference held Friday at UBC Okanagan. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press

Dark side of the internet being exposed

UBC prof says our democracy and economy faces social media governance challenges

The innocent novelty of the internet providing a voice for public discourse is now showing its darker side, becoming a threat to both our democracy and economy, says a UBC assistant professor.

Taylor Owen, who has focused his research efforts on the implications of emerging digital technologies for state power and control, says the internet 25 years later has evolved from a public forum to being controlled by a few major platforms, such as Google and Facebook, that have found a lucrative way to monetize our collected online data for both the political and economic advantage of their clients.

“The end result is the structural problems that exist today are allowing bad actors to use these platforms that threaten our democracy by dividing people into fragmented groups politically,” said Owen, citing how that has allowed fringe political groups to connect with a like-minded audience and augment the propensity of fake news.

“We have started to see the fragmentation and radicalization of our populations.”

RELATED: Social media addiction damaging to youth

Owen offered an update of the technological revolution in how we communicate at a two-day conference entitled “Human, Machines and the Future of Work,” hosted at UBC Okanagan campus on Friday.

Owen said while the public debate tends to focus on content and how it should be interpreted between reality and fiction, he said more attention needs to be spent on how the Internet industry is currently structured, something the big player platforms in the social media world don’t want attention drawn to.

Owen said what is different from the earlier development years of the Internet is not the sharing of information, regardless of the content, but how big data is using our data reading and consumer habits to make money while “nudging” us to act or think in certain ways.

“The big players have found a way to make money off the Internet through data collection. Artificial intelligence now plays a role in tracking what we do online, and using that information to sell to others seeking to reach a particular audience,” Owen said.

“Facebook places a commercial value of $28 a month on every North American user, $16 for Europe and $1.50 for the rest of the world. So after year after year of 20 per cent plus growth, Facebook user growth has stagnated the last two years, which may be a sign we are starting to see a backlash against how our data is being used and the privacy issues that debate opens up.

“What we need to be asking ourselves is when we open up Facebook, why we are seeing the information that is targeted to us individually and how that is being done.”

RELATED: Reporter calls out immigration photo on social media as fake news

Owen said in the U.S., where the Internet has little governance oversight, the impact of social media’s negative influence is being played out in how political debate in that country has become polarized, fake news has become a national talking point and people are losing any sense of objectivity.

“If you look at the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton had millions to spend on her campaign and was in tight with the major social media platforms perhaps in a questionable way, yet Trump prevailed in the election with less resources but an understanding of how to communicate his message directly to his voters,” said Owen.

He cited Trump’s use of the Cambridge Analytical resources to target 50,000 micro-ads on a daily basis during the campaign, and the Russian influence where Facebook groups were set up a year in advance to build a following and two days before the election those sites began posting information to suppress interest among Clinton supporters to vote.

“That information was weaponized in such a way for political advantage that it impacted the election,” he said.

RELATED: Has social media passed its peak?

He said corporate shareholders and private citizens are beginning to understand the implications of monetizing and target marketing our data, and the pushback for government intervention will feed off that growing resentment.

“I think one of those points of no return is the idea that money is being made of white nationalism and white genocide target marketing, which I think for a lot of people is just going to far, to where we start asking in greater numbers what is the impact of all this collected data and what damage is it imposing on our dmocratic government,” he said.

He feels self-regulation among the big industry players will never work, in the same way that self-regulation didn’t work for U.S. financial firms and ultimately triggered a financial collapse back in 2008, leaving network governance that speaks to privacy rights and how our data can be monetized in a more transparent way.



barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A heavy snowfall in the Chilcotin overnight, as seen here at Ulkatcho First Nation near Anahim Lake on Friday, Nov. 27, has resulted in several downed power lines and the closure of some of Highway 20. (Graham West photo)
Heavy snowfall, downed power lines, Highway 20 closed Bella Coola to Anahim Lake

A travel advisory is in effect between Tatla Lake and Anahim Lake

More than 60 cm of snow has fallen at Ulkatcho First Nation since a snowfall warning went into effect Thursday, Nov. 26. Submitted photo)
VIDEO: More than 60 cm of snowfall in Chilcotin since Thursday, Nov. 26

Graham West of Ulkatcho First Nation captures the scene on video

Newly elected Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson participated in a virtual oath ceremony with the BC Liberal Caucus on Friday, Nov. 27. Here he poses for a photograph with Kate Ryan-Lloyd, clerk of the legislature. (Screen image taken of YouTube live stream)
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA participates in BC Liberal Caucus virtual oath ceremony

First-time MLA Lorne Doerkson will represent the region

Snow continues to fall near Anahim Lake as shown here on the DriveBC webcam Friday, Nov. 27. (DriveBC image)
Snowfall warning for Chilcotin expected to last until noon Friday

Drive BC is warning of black ice between Tatla Lake and Alexis Creek

Patrons exercise at Re4rm Fitness prior to last week’s new, provincial COVID-19 regulations. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake fitness centres adapt amid new COVID-19 regulations

Gymnastics, dance studios, martial arts, yoga, pilates, strength and conditioning impacted

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
Two Fraser Valley churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Shoppers line up in front of a shop on Montreal’s Saint-Catherine Street in search of Black Friday deals in Montreal, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Black Friday shopping in a pandemic: COVID-19 closes some stores, sales move online

Eric Morris, head of retail at Google Canada, says e-commerce in Canada has doubled during the pandemic.

After twice have their wedding plans altered due to COVID-19 restrictions, Suzanne Schmidt and Andrew Sturgess got married in Bakerview Park last weekend, with the only guests being their two daughters, Zoey (foreground) and Tessa. (Darren Ripka photo)
From New Zealand to Bakerview Park, B.C. couple weds in ‘backyard’

Twice scaled-down wedding ‘proof that good things still happen during bad times’

Most Read