“When your back’s against the wall
You can’t read the writing on it.
If pride comes before a fall
You can’t cheat life or con it.”
— From The Song of the Gadarene Swine by Bachchoo
Facebook is in trouble. I don’t quite know what the stock market fall means for its founder and owner, the young and handsome Mark Zuckerberg, but it is now said that billions of dollars have been wiped off its share price. Perhaps, gentle reader, you did know that Mr Zuckerberg’s name (baptism by fate?) translates as “sugar mountain”. (This, incidentally is the same translation of “Ganj-e-Shaker”, one of the epithets used for Farid-ud-din, the Sufi Saint of Sabir in Pakistan!) Sugar mountain indeed! Facebook is worth $500 billion, so what’s a loss of 10 or 15 billion to the company? It is a bit of spilt milk as the tanker of Facebook rumbles on and hits a few potholes. I presume, without checking with my hedge-fund friends — for the reason I don’t have any — that this loss of 7 per cent, and then some, means some people who invested those billions of dollars in Facebook Inc. have pulled their funds out and sent them instead to Panama or some other tax haven. Or perhaps they have bought villas in France, real estate in Dubai or castles in Scotland.
I’m sure they haven’t handed the moolah over to the US President Donald Trump to build his wall — though he keeps saying he will make sure capital stays in the US and makes it great again. The spilt milk was caused by a report that Facebook assisted a company called Cambridge Analytica to harvest the profiles of 50 million Facebook subscribers and then use these profiles to feed these mugs fake news to influence the way they voted in one or other campaign. The person who blew this loud whistle, one Chris Wylie, worked for Cambridge Analytica till 2014. This is what he said last week: “Cambridge Analytica’s goal was to establish profiling algorithms that would allow us to explore mental vulnerabilities of people, and then map out ways to inject information into different streams or channels of content online so that people started to see things all over the place that may or may not have been true.” Ah, so now we know where Mr Trump got his catchphrase about “fake news” from. The irony is that after Mr Trump was elected, Cambridge Analytica boasted that it was they who swayed the vote by infecting the posts and perhaps the minds of the American segment of those 50 million subscribers to Facebook. So, did “fake news” make a difference to the outcome of the presidential election?
Impossible to say. I watch advertisements for posh cars on TV or in magazines almost every day. I have never bought a Ferrari or a Porsche in my short and happy life. My bank balance, I hereby claim, is completely impervious to such ad-persuasion. Ferrari-Schmerarri! CA also boasted that, having received millions of pounds in UK currency to influence the referendum on membership of the EU, they infected the British segment of Facebookwallas whose profiles they had, with the untruth that Turkey was about to join the European Union and this would result in millions of swarthy, if not completely brown or khaki, immigrants flooding into Britain; by implication that they would be a burden on housing, schools, social services and would take our jobs and deflower our fair maidens. All false, lying, cheating news. Again, it is impossible to say if anyone fell for this and whether CA’s boast about influencing the referendum to gain a majority for Brexit can be substantiated. And now owing to a Channel 4 TV undercover investigation we know more about Cambridge (hang on, I’ve neglected to say the name they have registered has nothing to do with the hallowed university — the best in the world!) Analytica’s methods.
Posing as a Sri Lankan politician’s aide, an undercover journalist approached Cambridge Analytica’s functionary and asked how they could assist the politician win an election. The functionary said that for a tidy consideration they could spread rumours about his or her opponents. They could send in people to make offers of bribery of a very attractive nature to the opponents — and then record them accepting the corrupt proposals and subsequently expose them. They could do worse. They could set honey traps using very sexy Ukrainian or other women who would be offered to the opponents who would then be recorded having sex with them. The exposure would assure a win for the client. The effect the Channel 4 exposure will have on companies such as Cambridge Analytica is yet to be seen. The effects on Facebook will unravel this week. I am sure Facebook has a wide range of social classes as subscribers. I am not one. My overworked comment when I am asked if I am on Facebook is “No! I am on Facelift!”
But I do ask myself whether people who want to see what their friends are eating for breakfast or those who want to spend their time texting their 365 friends a happy birthday on most days of the year or getting every detail of a medical diagnosis or a holiday by the beach fall for the sort of fake news that CA disseminates. In the wake of these revelations, I am sure millions of Facebook subscribers (incidentally, some young people told me Facebook was being overlooked by the young and was only for “wrinklies”) will be wary of joining competitions which ask for their preferences. If CA’s claims of influencing elections are true, then more people than one thought are akin to creatures who follow a lead to jump over a cliff to commit suicide. When I was last subjected to a survey of my food preferences, I said Dhan-sakh, goat’s paya, baked beans and maska slice. I have never received any politically persuasive communication as a result. But then I’m not on Facebook and probably have other exploitable vanities.