Mark Zuckerberg is Pharaoh.
I say this neither glibly nor lightly nor in jest: The company he runs, Facebook, is dedicated to ensuring that each of us becomes chattel—its to sell, trade, or use as it sees fit. This week, barely a few weeks after we’ve learned that the company delivered the personal data of 50 million users to Cambridge Analytica, a shadowy British political firm that used it to questionable ends, comes the news that Facebook has been collecting and storing years’ worth of its users’ contact names, telephone numbers, call lengths, and text messages, activities that occur independently of its application and yet are considered fair play by the social-media giant. A whopping 95 percent of young adults active online currently use a Facebook product; together with Twitter and Snapchat, the platform is the primary news source for 67 percent of Americans, or 78 percent of Americans younger than 50.
Responding to its recent troubles—compounded by a United Nations declaration that the platform has played “a determining role” in fanning the hatred that led to the systematic murder of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar—Facebook took up a full-page ad in the nation’s leading papers. “We have a responsibility to protect your information,” it read, coyly attempting to frame its problem as one revolving largely around consumer privacy. But as Matt Stoller noted on Twitter this week, the problem is much larger, and it’s about Facebook’s market power and its ability to “monopolize the ad market, manipulate your attention, and dominate publishers.”
Pathetically, the federal government—which had previously smacked down any corporate entity, from Standard Oil to AT&T to Microsoft, whose size and influence and market share have grown too ominous—has remained largely silent. Local governments, intellectuals, the media, and the other institutions on which we’ve depended to protect our liberties did the same. Facebook, we were told, along with Google and Amazon and Apple, represented progress, and progress was inevitable. As The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip poignantly observed, while the monopolies of old used trusts and patents to stifle the competition and were “respected but unloved,” today’s tech giants give away their offerings and are constantly among the brands Americans love and trust best, failing to understand that classic principle of commerce: If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. This is why Amazon, for example, can continue to crush local commerce and eradicate tax bases and still have municipalities fall over each other in the hope of hosting the company’s second headquarters. It’s why so many school districts and universities sign exclusive deals with Google. And it’s why so many companies continue to sign away their content and services to Facebook.
It’s time for this to end. It’s time for us to break free, and there’s no better time than Passover to rise up and walk out of the house of digital bondage. Sadly, real liberation, given the power these tech behemoths hold over every aspect of our lives, is hard to achieve—as Stoller argued in Tablet earlier this year—and would likely require decades of erring in the wilderness to achieve. But if we want to truly honor the spirit of the upcoming holiday, we need to clean more than our kitchen cabinets. Social media is the chametz of the soul: Let’s swear off it for one whole week.
Imagine the pleasure: a week without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. A week without flurries of distraction, bile, or rage. A week without the weight of a predatory corporate entity trampling over yet another corner of human life into which it was never invited. A week, in other words, of real and sweet freedom.
No government liberated the Israelites from their bitter lot. It took a prince to raise his hand, his voice, and his people’s hopes. We can each be a Moses to our friends, both real and virtual, and log off for the week. We’ll still be in Egypt in April, but our call would be impossible to ignore or misinterpret: Let our data go.
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