Surveillance Capitalism is radically indifferent to the truth— unpacking Shoshana Zuboff’s very important NYTimes editorial -part 5 of many

Mera Granberg Paul
3 min readMar 5, 2021

Surveillance Capitalism is agnostic about the quality of information. What it serves up doesn’t need to be even just a little bit truthy to be very, very useful to the surveillance capitalist’s mission. What it does need to do is keep you clicking.

The goal is to continually extract data about you. In order to do that, they need to keep you on their sites. They don’t care if you are served fact or fiction as long as you stay. If the information served makes you stay, it’s good. Fake news, real news: it’s all good… as long as you keep reading and clicking and supporting their goal to “ceaselessly escalate the scale of engagement.”

Thru your engagement you are building these companies an ever more valuable picture of, well, you. Zuboff might argue that you are building them not a picture of you, but actually you in a digital form that they can sell to the highest bidder.

Side bar: They’re not compensating you for this work you do for them, a couple posts from now we’ll talk about how pursuing compensation for this work would be at best, agreeing to Chamberlain-level appeasement.

So, here we find ourselves transformed into serfs of the surveillance capitalist, creating a treasure trove of data about us with our clicks and views and you know what they’re doing? They’re using the information against us. The machine doesn’t just serve up ads for us to consider… why yes, I am shopping for a new hammer. The machine alters the information in our feed to woo us into staying and informing on ourselves and our network. That feed is altered to cater to our baser whims. It creates echo chambers that repeat information regardless of its veracity. This is not awesome.

A study in Germany found 64% of people who joined extremist groups found them because the algorithm steered them there. A myopic commitment to keep up the clicks opened the door to increasingly extreme and radicalized isolation for users.

Seems like there should be an accessory charge in there somewhere. It’s a long telecom story why there’s not.

Some complaints about social media trafficking lies have surfaced. Politicians finger wag bandying half-baked ideas about rescinding certain Telecom Act protections or breaking up monopolies. The companies have responded with the politics of appeasement. And a wild game of ‘not it’.

Zuboff uses Facebook for the example. First the company simply refused to weigh in, committed to the bystander role Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership kept Facebook from accepting any accountability for the chaos and isolation that emerged as we moved our civic dialogue into his virtual world. Then leaders repeatedly refused accountability when amoral political leaders used the social media platform’s unprecedented scale to repeatedly lie.

They did make some efforts at content moderation, largely outsourcing an effort which Zuboff writes was meant to, “…to avoid users withdrawing or to avoid political sanctions.” Content moderation was always more about protecting the company than it was the users.

It was in this climate of knowledge chaos that in early 2020 plague appeared.

Tomorrow: What Happened When Chaos Met Covid.