It’s Not You, Or Me!

Pop quiz: What do climate change and social media privacy have in common?

“Stop Global Warming” by Piera Zuliani is licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0

If you said, “a distracting and inaccurate focus on individual actions” you’re correct! Congratulations! Pat yourself on the back and pour yourself a congratulatory beer, glass of wine, coffee, or soda.

I’ve noticed some similarities in the way these two issues are communicated to the public. In the case of climate change, the public is told that if they recycled more often, used energy saving light bulbs or chose to drive less, they would help fix the climate change problem.

Similarly, when it comes to privacy on social media platforms, people are regularly told, that they have control over their privacy settings, it’s up to each individual to read the terms of service, and set the (ever changing) privacy settings so that they keep their own information private. If they don’t like the (often opaque) ways that their information is handled by the social media companies, they can just walk away from social media platforms. “You don’t HAVE to use these tools” the refrain goes – “It’s your choice”.

While both of these claims are partially true, they actually leave out important parts of the picture in such a way as to be functionally misleading.

In the case of climate change, the truth is that 71% of all global emissions actually come from 100 companies. Industrial emissions dwarf anything made by individual citizens.

In the case of social media privacy, even the tightest privacy settings don’t protect individuals from having their data used by social media platforms to target advertising that has proven, in the past, to have devastating democratic outcomes. And furthermore, even those who do not use social media still have shadow profiles – information captured about them without their knowledge or permission.

These narratives are not just deceptive, they’re dangerous because they distract people from the fact that tough decisions, government regulation, and industry-related limits are what we really need to combat these issues. By shifting the conversation to what individuals can and/or should do to combat climate change or protect their online privacy, the real deliberation about the need for regulation gets de-emphasized. The truth is, like the chemical companies of decades ago, industrial emitters, and social media platform data leeches will not stop their problematic behaviors unless made to do so by regulation. Zuckerberg has all but admitted this is the case – business as usual is just too profitable.

But if we believe that individual action is the key, we can’t have conversations about the type of collective actions that are needed most.

The solution to these issues is not about you, or me! It’s about ensuring that actions that put society and the environment at risk are regulated the way any potentially dangerous activity should be.

It’s Not You, Or Me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.