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by Sai RamachandranMarch 21st, 2018
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The world is justifiably up in arms over <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a>. <a href="" target="_blank">@SmitaPrakash on Twitter</a> had this to say:

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#DeleteFacebook! RegulateFacebook!

The world is justifiably up in arms over Facebook. @SmitaPrakash on Twitter had this to say:

Stop the mind manipulation. Clear apps that are collecting your data to sell it further. Do it for your parents, if they can’t. Because they are voters too. Do it for your children.

There is no question that Facebook has been a terrible steward of the public trust. M.G. Seigler’s piece on the subject goes into much more detail if you want to learn more about Facebook’s fumbles. (More on Mr. Seigler below.)

They are telling us that deleting Facebook is the easiest way off this ride we are being taken on by data brokers. At best, this is a tactical fix. Worse is the possibility that the very sentiment manipulation that Facebook is being accused of is being weaponized to derail Facebook, the publicly traded company, and its near monopoly on “social”.

For example, even M.G. Seigler above does not mention if he has any stake in calling out Facebook’s mistakes. Is he an investor in Facebook? Has he invested in competing social media products? Mind that this is not to say that his motives are questionable, just that critical thinking is not just a section in a standardized test — it needs daily application even when someone is saying things you want to hear.

The Lede

This brings us to the Lede.

Even if we delete Facebook, how we are supposed to protect ourselves from the rest of the still hidden data manipulation shaped iceberg society is rushing headlong towards?

For example, there’s WhatsApp.

If you thought the Facebook was been weaponized, you ain’t seen nothing yet. In India, for instance, political parties have invested massive time and energy in building out a grassroots message delivery mechanism. Party cadre are expected to use WhatsApp to pool together likeminded people into groups which are then used to push out narratives. You only have to ask any resident Indian what they think about Rahul Gandhi to find out how effective this effort has been. Even the most ardent Leftist will call Gandhi “pappu” which means (politely) “kid” or (not so politely) “simpleton”. They achieved this not through any ads or tweets. It was all through WhatsApp forwards and memes.

If you are not part of the right groups, you wouldn’t even know what your fellow countrymen are being exposed to.

Make a note of the exit nearest you

We need a different transportation metaphor to properly prepare ourselves for the future — that of air travel. Like they say in the pre-takeoff safety briefing, it is on us to familiarize ourselves with the nearest exit.

When we are reading crazy forwards hosted on unfamiliar websites or watching videos about a miracle cure for cancer, our self preservation instinct has to kick in. We have to recognize that no one can do our critical analysis for us. It is on us to try to find alternate sources for the same information.

We have to understand that when someone repeatedly says that only “they” can be trusted to be honest and “they” are looking out for us, in 9 cases out of 10, they are not.

There are still credible sources of information and factchecking. There is Politifact and Snopes. Wikipedia has gained credibility as a source of information. Read transcripts if you want the raw, unfiltered information.

If a viral video does not clearly name its sources or the talking head in it — a lot of videos are just people mouthing off — understand that most of the time, they are selling snake oil.

We, as a society, have to do the hard yards of improving critical thinking within. Deleting Facebook is a knee-jerk reaction.

(Disclosure — I have family working at FB and own a tiny tiny number of common FB shares.)