Extending internet to the refugees: Facebook charity or marketing campaign?

In an announcement made over the weekend, Facebook claims to want to extend internet services to reach the hundreds of struggling refugees abroad. While some might be applauding the efforts made by the multi-billion dollar corporation for putting the smallest morsel of their time, energy, not to mention insurmountably large vat of expendable resources, into a charitable cause, the initiative seems to have an ulterior motive. Given the amount of money and people power it takes for broadband and technological resources to reach those within impoverished conditions – in this case the refugees – it would actually seem more reasonable, as well as considerate, to deal with the most fundamental, basic human needs first – such as food, water, shelter, ETC – over a superfluous resource such as internet connectivity. Granted, it is recognizable that in providing internet access to the refugees (the launch date for this service has still yet to be announced), it is intended be a tool for migrants to find ways to provide for themselves and locate resources on their own, better preparing them for living on the edges on western capitalism. However, there are a slew of euro-centric assumptions that are being made with the implementation of this initiative; not everyone across the globe can hop on the internet and understand how to take advantage of it, especially in a country that is not their own.

What might be more of service, Mark Zuckerberg, is to actually use your vat of financial resources to help foot the bill for more shelters to open, which could then become educational hubs for in-person workshops and lessons to provide refugees with information about survival within a different country. This would be preliminary. After food, shelter and a basic in-house survival training for the migrants is taken care of, only then would a resource, such as the internet, be of use; by this stage many of the refugees could understand more about their role in a new country, how they can contribute, what type of discrimination they will likely receive, as well as what organizations would provide aid and help for them, in addition to other information regarding next stages of the assimilation process. It would be at this point that the internet would become advantageous. Before this comprehensive understanding and basic needs are met, internet resources might actually cause a surge of chaos, at least initially, exacerbating a feeling of inadequacy, yielding more anarchy.

However, Mark Zuckerberg will not be providing survival tip workshops and lessons for refugees, let alone will he himself ever have an in-person encounter with these folks. In fact, Facebook might actually have little interest in helping with the refugee crisis at all. The globally reported migrant issue seems to be more of an opportunistic moment for Facebook to merge their Internet.org campaign with the highly politicized story, in effort to piggy-back off of the boarder-to-boarder media coverage. Simply put, the company seems to be exploiting a traumatic situation and co-opting it for their own financial gain.

Mark Zuckerberg is blatantly taking advantage of the refugee scene to advertise Internet.org, one of his newest projects released in 2013. Internet.org is a project that hopes to bring internet to some of the four billion people world-wide that do not have a voice online. While this might seem like a admirable initiative, it is rampant with cultural insensitivity, ethnocentrism, and concerns related to cultural relativism. However, I will refrain from divulging in a long-winded harangue about that here and instead, end this with a letter to Mark Zuckerberg:

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg, or Mark if I may,

While I acknowledge your enthusiasm in providing internet to the refugees is coming from a place of wanting to leverage some of your privilege for those without any resources, perhaps I can offer you some advice regarding your charity efforts. For one, it is important to be sensitive of the demographic you are attempting to help. Acknowledging that sitting down in a big plush chair with a $5 wet latte to dive into eight hours of internet research is not on the top of every citizens’ list. It is important to be considerate that time to utilize the internet as a resource is a privilege in itself. Two, if you really wanted to help out I would suggest you fly yourself over there (of course on your company’s tab) and actually become involved with the culture of individuals you are are seeking to extend your services to; this way you would be able to better tailor the technology for the specific demographic for which it is being offered. Lastly, be honest, are you using the refugee’s disadvantages to leverage your newest project – Internet.org? Yes, perhaps this is one way to reach the 4 billion people who currently don’t have an online voice (and have you ever thought to yourself that there are in fact communities out there that are vehemently opposed to adopting western technology), but don’t you think there are other demographics you could launch it to first? Maybe societies where people actually have a stationary place of residence? Just some thoughts. I respect that you want to give back to your global community, but may I suggest using a bit more discernment.



Eternalizing Our Identity Through Facebook

After one is deceased, their Facebook accounts can become an active memorial for friends, family and loved ones to collectively reminisce. Before a person passes, there is an option in the settings to effectively “immortalize” the account by assigning someone as a legacy contact – an individual who manages the page postmortem. This agreement is a social media “Will” of sorts, where a close family member or friend can be ascribed as the executor of the virtual “estate”.

Memorializing a Facebook page fixes a person’s place in the world, a simulated gravesite that allots a continuous space for solemn commemoration. The page can quickly go from a platform for dialogue between the living person and the world, to an outlet for loved ones of the deceased to grieve together. It becomes a living, breathing, active board of remembrance. In some ways, when one passes, the character and personality of that individual remains intact with the collective reliving and continuous re-cultivation of that person through memories, pictures and quotes. This generally is an effort to depict who that person was when alive and to forever keep him/her in memory. Giving someone legal responsibility of managing one’s Facebook is a form of immortalization, at least on a virtual dimension. Perhaps, this is the preliminary step to what science and technology have been attempting to craft for decades – immortalizing the human body. The incessant desire to grip and grasp onto the human form to the bitter end – until there is no end. Over population? Pay no concern, viruses and warfare will take care of such issues. The zombie apocalypse might be well on its way.

All jokes aside, memorializing one’s page is Facebook’s effort to assist families in their grieving process. The designated legacy contact for a person’s account has only slightly stricter page oversight parameters than the original page holder. Once Facebook is notified that a person has passed, the page will be “memorialized” and the legal heir is able to internally post of the timeline anything regarding times for the memorial services or heartfelt stories. They also have the liberty to post photos and make new connections with friends of the deceased who desire to share their condolences on the page. The company has confirmed, however, that this legacy contact is unable to look into any previously private messages that were exchanged on the account to continue to respect and protect their privacy. The reason for allowing a person to absorb an individual’s account after passing is for Facebook to ensure that a person’s identity is forever protected. For those who are not interested in keeping their account active can always request for it to be permanently deleted after death.

Privacy Concerns, The Increase in “Smart” Tech & The Irony

In one of our last posts ( written by the lovely Kayleigh Stack ) we talked about Samsung Smart TVs and the privacy they lack when speaking in front of them ( their voice command feature constantly listens whether the TV is on or not ). Having a company listening to what you say 24-7 is horrible, but this issue doesn’t end there. In fact, it’s much worse than what most people know, or at least are willing to know. No, I don’t wear a hat made out of foil paper and no, I’m not talking about crazy government conspiracies. I’m simply speaking of all the companies that constantly keep an eye on you, that you might not even notice anymore.

Sure, showing a picture of how awesome your meal is, while you are on vacation is of great importance. And I certainly appreciate all the check-ins to let me know where you are at all times. Let us not forget about all those lovely selfies, tweets and Facebook posts that keep me inform about your entire life, minute-by-minute. Unfortunately, like I already mentioned, it doesn’t end there. It seems that, knowing who the picture is, ( I’m talking about the very creepy and scary face recognition feature ) is not enough.

Smart Tech

Nowadays, you walk into your house and your very slick Nest thermostat knows you are there. Your TV listens to every word you say, and your “Smart” bed ( yes those actually exist, and I’m not sure why you need a bed to be “Smart” ) is informed of all your sleeping (and perhaps, none-sleeping) habits. Oh but please wait, because there is more…

For the very small price of $199, you can buy your  your own personal Big Brother show. And guess who’s the main star of the show? That is right- you! You can buy cameras to stream HD footage of everything happening in your house, to any computer, phone or tablet.

Have we lost a sense of privacy?

So where do we stop? Have we simply lost a sense of privacy? Think about this: If you have a kid today, by the time your kid is 20, Facebook will probably know more about your son, or daughter, than you. The problem is not in only what they know, but what they do with what they know. Once again, no crazy conspiracy theories here, seeing that all this information collection is currently used for the purpose of… wait for it… selling you stuff.

If you are like me, dyslexic, sort of ADD, and with little interest for most material things, you probably never pay attention to web advertisement.  However, surprisingly, quite often, an ad will catch my attention. Needless to say, whatever it may be on the ad, it is always tailored to my interests. Witchcraft you say? Perhaps voodoo, or black magic? That’s what I used to think. Turns out, they are just using all that information they have about me, that supposedly I  “willingly” give up, to position ads ever-so-appropriately on the webpages I browse. Funny how we all keep a secondary email account to use when we don’t want to give our email out, yet we dump our entire life’s story into the hands of those evil genius advertisers. Oh the sweet taste of irony!

I can only help to think that maybe, and just maybe, it is time to become more conscious about this subject. Now if you excuse me, I need to go tell Facebook what’s in my mind…

Fede Pisani

Tech Blogger