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

Crown prosecutors have stayed attempted murder charges against Kelowna’s Jesse Pez. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Man accused in Kelowna Halloween stabbing has attempted murder charge stayed

The Crown only proceeds with charges when evidence provides ‘a substantial likelihood of conviction’

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Interior Health reports 2 more deaths, 83 new COVID-19 cases

Health authority also identifies new virus cluster in Fernie

A rendering of the proposed “Aqua” resort in Kelowna’s Lower Mission area. (Contributed)
Towering waterfront resort planned in Kelowna

Mission Group’s ‘Aqua’ resort has been in the works for more than a decade

A pair of Okanagan Regional Library reference librarians have created a podcast called Hard Cover that takes a zany but informative look at books, libraries and librarians. (File photo)
Okanagan reference librarians produce quirky podcast

Davin Helkenberg and Peter Critchley are behind Hard Cover

Okanagan Symphony Orchestra music director Rosemary Thomson in action at the podium. Photo by Lynda Miller.
Kelowna filmmaker gets funding to create new ‘Local Heroes’ documentary

The documentary will be focused on the director of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and Opera

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

RCMP released this photo on Jan. 27, 2021 of Terrance Jones, 40, a Caucasian man with a closely shaved head, brown eyes, dirty blonde or brown hair, and a thin mustache and beard. The inside of his right arm is covered in tattoos, including one of a face. (Kamloops RCMP photo)
RCMP want public’s help to locate Shuswap man wanted on charge of attempted murder

Sicamous man was arrested previously on Jan. 11 for allegedly breaching conditions of release

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Vernon’s Noric House long-term care facility is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
COVID-19: Two more deaths at Vernon’s Noric House

Total deaths climb to 17 at local long-term care outbreaks

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

Most Read