Today’s blackout should serve as a wake-up call to those with their lives tied to digital platforms and prompt us to think more about regulating social media giants in 2021, writes national media spokeswoman Melissa Lee.
Across New Zealand and around the world something remarkable happened this morning. For the longest time ever, Facebook’s platforms went down. No more Facebook app. The Messenger is over. No more Instagram and WhatsApp. Even the desktop website was broken. Pokémon Go and a myriad of other affiliated third-party apps have been affected by this sudden and dramatic disruption. Advertising flows and boosted posts for businesses have stopped. Community groups were suddenly unable to share immunization information or food bank updates. For a moment, several million people around the world found themselves cut off from their friends and family.
Facebook has become a primary medium for many people to communicate and share their ideas, whether those opinions are good or bad. Indeed, many see Facebook and similar platforms like YouTube as our new global forums, public places for debate and freedom of expression, with all the complex and controversial implications that raise, pitting the policies of private companies against local national laws and international rights. Facebook and its platforms are now an integral part of the shared international documentation of human history with its publications, videos and photo albums replacing the large collections bound in leather or wooden blocks from previous centuries. And whether they like it or not, they are charged with the responsibility of keeping this information, these records of human interactions and achievements safe.
The full implications of today’s outage remain unknown, but it’s amazing how much of our lives would be lost forever if Facebook were to dissolve overnight and its servers go down. It would be like destroying the Library of Alexandria, but with the added feeling of a family home on fire. In some cases, maybe even something approaching the death of a close friend. How many of us have saved our Facebook data? The data contained in your Facebook profile has become for so many people the new family archive, the chronicle of life; it’s a place where, regardless of your privacy settings, future genealogists, not to mention archaeologists, will learn a lot about your impact on the world.
Today’s event, I hope, is a quick wake-up call for those with their lives tied to digital platforms. It’s also a news flash for those who are no longer looking for information through a range of local and international media sources, but instead settle for a one-paragraph summary and head to the comments section. For me, this morning’s blackout provided an opportunity, albeit brief, to focus on returning phone calls at a more reasonable time of day instead of focusing on the flow of urgent messages from my constituency on my media accounts. The continued impact of Covid-19 and the difficulty that many in New Zealand have encountered navigate through the information they need to do business or protect themselves at level three rest.
The digital revolution has now impacted, shaped and expanded our lives, our opportunities to learn about the world and our communities. But while it gave us the tools to send messages in milliseconds to friends around the world, it also led to a decrease in our interactions with neighbors. As we become more expressive in a digital world, many are leaving their earthly lives, and the balance between physical reality and the ethereal cyber communities we inhabit is constantly threatened.
In the Age of sail before world travel became a normal activity that people did “wake up live “ for family members who decide to travel to distant foreign shores due to the virtual certainty that they would never return home due to the possibility of death en route and the massive cost of communications and travel . Indeed, with the more recent advent of commemorated Facebook pages, instead of visiting the grave of a loved one, we can now share a memory of them each year they pass away. A digital pink emoji to replace the peony purchased from the local florist.
The impact of the potential loss of such important digital information brings us to important questions around the regulation of large digital and technological platforms. This is an incredibly difficult and complex issue that many countries have grappled with over the past decade. We saw the regulatory conflict reach our friends on Tasman which ended in a Uncertain truce between Facebook and Australia on its information services. Around the world there are countless lawsuits, proposed legislative initiatives and regulatory fights, some authoritarian and others encouraging greater freedoms online. They encompass not only how these entities should be regulated, but who should be in charge, the person, the organization, the nation or the world.
I am a strong supporter of a multilateral approach regulation of large tech companies, especially with regard to taxation, given the feedback the regulation could have on similar innovative companies based in New Zealand. We must expect our best and brightest successful companies globally to pay their fair share overseas as well. I look forward to seeing the results of the final rounds of the OECD negotiations which will have an important role in defining the regulation of the sector.
Having had numerous discussions with the digital powers of the world during my tenure as National’s spokesperson for digital and communications, I know they want to be constructive – because, of course, if they aren’t. considered reasonable and doing all they can to be good citizens of the world, even where they falter, people will stop using their platforms in favor of the next innovative digital giant. You can see their thinking also in the many public submissions to recent content regulation discussions that took place in New Zealand around censorship and the way forward to tackle extremism online. I encourage you to take a moment to read their opinions.
While the damage online on social media is totally unacceptable, I think we need to remember how proactively these companies are already tackling the problem and how much we also need to play our part in telling them when something. thing is wrong. Report tools can be found here, here and here for larger companies and of course BSA and other New Zealand regulators also have a role to play in more local matters that we can control directly under our national sovereignty. If you’re concerned about your family’s online usage, check out DIA and Netsafe tools to ensure their security on the Internet.
The ever-changing and ever-changing way we inhabit our digital world raises countless questions of trust, privacy, rights over our own data, and the future impact of how existing information about ourselves might influence or interfere with the life of the next generation; at no other time in the history of the world has so much information about the individual been accessible and it will only grow without serious adult conversations about personal digital sovereignty in a world of social media.
For now, with the return of Facebook, our chat streams are filling up again and we’re learning what damage has been done beyond the immediate. stock market response, in the form of an investment of $ 8.5 billion dive in, it’s important to take stock, verify your passwords, make sure you have backups of those important moments in your life, and most importantly, stay confident that there will always be a way forward on the digital frontier.
Melissa Lee is an Auckland-based National List MP and party spokesperson for Broadcasting and Media, Digital Economy and Communications, and Ethnic Communities
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