Last night my husband and I settled in on the couch and decided to flip on a movie. We scanned through Netflix, nothing really popping out as us, and then we saw it: The Great Hack. I’d seen articles on this documentary and heard people talking about it, knew loosely that it was about data privacy (or lack there of), but didn’t really know anything past that. We pressed play and almost instantly were staring incredulously at the screen as we learned about an American who was “behind” Brexit and a British guy who was “behind” President Trump’s campaign. Our two home countries (Matt is from England and I’m from America) being managed through our personal digital data footprint. Oh, and all without our permission.
The whole thing felt kind of disgusting to watch. I, personally, have always felt like if I’m going to put something on the internet or write it through my phone, then I have to be aware and prepared that anyone can see it and have access to it. Matt, on the other hand, felt super strongly about the fact that our data should be private and owned by us exclusively.
But, all that aside, what it got me thinking was, “how have we created such a ‘sheep heard’ mentality in our society?”
We live in a world where the world is literally at our fingertips. We can talk to anyone (hell, even Matt and I met online), do anything, and always be connected. And, don’t think for a second I’m overlooking the fact that I am typing this right now on my computer to be sent out to the digital world. I get the hypocrisy in it. But I think it leads us to a bigger picture, and something we really need to analyze as a species.
In the film, this large corporation known as Cambridge Analytica basically took our personal data from Facebook, created data points (around 5,000 of them) for each of us, and then in terms of the 2016 Presidential campaign, figured out who the people were that were undecided and started bombarding them with propaganda, called “ads”. It was fascinating. They were the ones who created the whole “Crooked Hillary” campaign and they repeatedly showed those of us who were in the middle what they wanted us to see over and over and over again, until we believed it. Then, Cambridge Analytica, using Facebook, applied the same idea to the Leave EU campaign for Brexit. It was fascinating to watch, but what I couldn’t believe is how accepting we’ve become of what we see online, and therefore, how we’ve really all just becoming followers.
And that’s really sad to me. Because I believe we are in a place in history where we need more leaders. We need people who go against the grain, who aren’t afraid to speak up on what they believe in, and who care about issues so much that nothing can sway their beliefs. I know I was raised that way, but The Great Hack even made me think about myself and how my beliefs have been swayed through something I’ve believed to be true online. What makes me most scared is how do future generations deal with this, when they have grown up with the internet? When their parents are vloggers, bloggers, or just Facebook addicts. The internet will tell them what to believe from the beginning, and it will be a thousand times harder for their developing minds to fight that.
I don’t know the answer, and I don’t really think there’s a solution. But I do want us to remember to think for ourselves. Yes, these big companies are taking our personal information and then tailoring their own agenda to suit it, but at the end of the day, we’re the ones listening. So think about it, next time you’re scrolling through Instagram or chatting on Facebook, how will you craft your reality? What will you feed the internet to curate a positive environment for you? How can you use your platform, however large or small, to make change?
I think it’s time we all have a good, long, personal examination of our choices and rise up to become the leaders we are born to be.
And I want to thank The Great Hack for showing me that.