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

Just Posted

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
University of Victoria researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada

Emergency health services treated a person after they were blocking traffic at the intersection of Fort and Douglas Streets on June 17. (Evert Lindquist/ News Staff)
Victoria intersection traffic returns to normal after protester blocked roadway

A person in a motorized wheelchair was blocking the intersection at Fort and Douglas Streets

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of June 6-12. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
New COVID-19 cases up on Island, but health officials say trends going right way

There were 22 new COVID-19 cases in Greater Victoria last week after just four the week before

With local high schoolers unable to have a traditional graduation ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions, Amica Douglas House celebrated the momentous occasion of eight of their dining room servers. (Courtesy Amica Douglas House)
8 Greater Victoria teens don fancy dresses, celebrate grad with seniors

With celebrations nixed, Amica Douglas House hosts event for its serving staff

Eric White’s roadside farm stand in Metchosin sits stocked with produce. (Photo courtesy of Eric White)
Fledgling Metchosin farmer frustrated by thefts from stand

Eric White said every dollar made at the roadside helps sustain his farm

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of June 15

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

Most Read