It is March 28th 2018. In the past month, it was revealed that a major data breach of the popular social media platform Facebook, had leaked profile information of 50 million Facebook users to a data collecting firm called Cambridge Analytica.
Importantly, this information is said to have been used to target voters in the 2016 United States presidential election and the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom that same year. This has resulted in the hashtag #DeleteFacebook; a call for people to delete their profiles on the platform, in an expression of distrust.
Admist all of the chaos, this news prompted James Temple, senior editor of Technology Review at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to express concern at the publication of their bold 2013 cover story: “Big data will save politics”. Temple tweeted “It’s possible we called this one wrong”, enclosing the cover image of the January issue.
It’s possible we called this one wrong pic.twitter.com/kMLXosfqDn
— James Temple (@jtemple) 23 mars 2018
Unsurprisingly, given the context of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the tweet went viral. However, it also wrongly generated criticism directed at the person represented on the cover: Bono.
The U2 singer’s contribution to the theme of big data was not with regards to elections – and certainly not that of Trump or Brexit years later. Given the cover story title, and layout of the cover, it is easy enough to attribute that opinion to Bonostradamus.
Rather, Bono was interviewed on how big data can be used for fighting poverty. When you go to read the very same article, Bono’s actual opinions emerge:
“In Africa, things are changing so rapidly. What’s been a slow march is suddenly picking up pace in ways we could not have imagined even 10 years ago. Innovations like farmers using mobile phones to check seed prices, for banking, for sending payments … to the macro effect we saw with the Arab Spring thanks to Facebook and Twitter.” – Bono in MIT Tech Review, January 2013.
Crucially, he goes on to make the following point, which clearly questions the portrayal of big data as a “silver bullet”:
“But people can use technology for bad as well as good. The social systems and the social capital within networks must be strong and positive to nurture a progressive use of technology. Let’s be honest.” – Bono, in MIT Tech Review January 2013
So yes, let’s be honest; Technology offers invention. Inventions are discoveries that have the inherent potential to shape our everyday lives. That’s it. The keyword here being potential.
This is where we need to hold on a moment and reflect on where we may have gone wrong. Let’s gain some perspective.
Alfred Nobel’s invention of dynamite (1867), that has potential to blast stone to render space for construction, is the same dynamite that could blast human bone to render people disabled in war (1870-1871).
The same theories that gave rise to nuclear physics (1896) with the potential to heat up our home environment, are the same theories that gave rise to the production of nuclear warheads (1945) with potential to heat up the political environment.
This past weekend, March For Our Lives electrified 1.2 million people across the United States of America led by Emma González and the youth of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, people marched for Civil Rights led by the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. In America, people elected Donald Trump. People also elected Barack Obama. People. People. People.
People inspire change. Before the internet, groups like Amnesty International encouraged its members (people!) to send letters and postcards to say “we are watching you”. Before the internet, word spread between like-minded individuals, or with the news provided by the traditional media (TV, radio and the press).
Today, mailbags have become hashtags. Today, letterboxes have become inboxes. Today, the messengers have changed but the message remains the same.
The Good Voice has always survived and continues to survive, because it belongs to the people. It has survived because it has spoken truth to power. It has survived because it has spoken a message of love. A message of inclusion and not exclusion. A message of tolerance and equality. It has survived because it has carried and delivered the message with a capital M: The Message of Humanity.
In the most Darwinian of ways, humanity thrives when it makes the choice that allows space for change and sustains its existence. It is always the people who are left with that choice to be made: The choice to stand up for human rights where they see human wrongs. The choice to act and to react. The choice to unlock the very potential of a better tomorrow.
To be opinionated, to make decisions and to ultimately change things are dangerous things. But they are also very powerful. We are reminded time and again that the potential is there, and we see how the Good Voice will always fight back.
For every Bin Laden there is a Malala, in Pakistan.
For every Al-Assad there is an Abu Ward, in Syria.
For every truck attack there is a love manifestation, in Stockholm.
For every Cambridge Analytica there is a March for Our Lives, in America.
Behind every change we see, behind every streak of darkness and every ray of light, there is always people. Always remember that you have a choice to make, in order to preserve this most precious resource, this ultimate invention that is humanity.
Often, History informs the Future. History tells us that The Good Choice is what sustains the The Good Voice: The Good Choice allows The Good Voice to enter the Future.
In a time where mailbags have become hashtags, will the invention of “people” become trashbags? The choice is yours.