By Fiona Grahame
I’ve been on Facebook several years now, Twitter too. Facebook in particular has been a good way for me to reconnect with friends whom I lost touch with and family members living far from me.
In Orkney it’s used to connect people up who want to sell items surplus now to their requirements but of use to others: the circular economy. Local artists and crafters can share what they produce and even make a few sales. That happens across communities, Orkney, Scotland and globally.
In a wider context I can, from my own home, watch live feeds from the Scottish Parliament and interact with others watching at the same time. Police Scotland and other organisations are also using it to engage directly with the public.
Facebook has been an extremely useful tool for connecting people up. And here’s the thing – I can control what I want to see and who I want to interact with. I can block people, unfriend them, stop seeing their posts and limit which adverts come my way.
Jeffrey Adams even produced this really useful video on how we can control the data we see.
Facebook is under attack. The mining of our personal data on Facebook is all over the media and indeed The Orkney News also reported on it way back in August 2017. The UK Government is very keen to limit how Facebook functions, for our own protection of course.
Facebook has been used for and by political parties to influence the way we vote in an election and even to smearing candidates. This is something newspapers, state broadcasters and some political parties are quite accustomed to doing: the only difference being that this time they are using a social media platform. A platform that we can control what we see and what we choose to believe,just like we can switch over a channel or not buy a newspaper.
In the 16th C Mary Queen of Scots was subject to a very successful public smear campaign by her opponents with derogatory posters appearing of her depicted as a mermaid all across Edinburgh after the murder of her husband Lord Darnley.
People at the time would have associated a mermaid with a woman of very loose morals, a fornicator. You didn’t need to be literate. The image was enough. That was in 1567 and then as now people could choose what they wished to believe.
In the UK Parliament MPs are governed by a Code of Conduct, however, this code ceases to apply when a General Election is called. Even for those who have signed up for re-election. It means they can smear other candidates or other political figures in order to affect the election. It is quite bizarre that the Code does not apply during elections and indeed this very point was made in remarks by Lady Paton in the case “Timothy Morrison and others v Alistair Carmichael MP and Alistair Buchan”. Is there any other profession where this would be allowed ? And these are people who are representing us.
The 2014 first Scottish Referendum campaign resulted in the Scottish public becoming better informed than they had ever been before. And they did this themselves. It was empowering.
People went online and found things out. They did their own research because they did not trust what they were being told by newspapers, the TV and by political organisations. Social media sites played an important role in this with pages erupting all over Facebook for Yes and No. Having interacted with the pages, or used them to find links to further information people then decided, for themselves, what to believe. They used their own intelligence to make the decision on which way to vote. Of course many did not and relied solely on what they were allowed to see and read. What had been chosen for them.
Facebook and social media is what you want it to be. You can allow it to determine what you see or you can take control. What is deeply concerning is allowing the same politicians who find it perfectly acceptable to misinform and smear others to decide what we can and cannot see on Facebook –
– To control our data when we can easily control it ourselves.