The surveillance state has been on steroids ever since. My money is that the slide into chaos on both sides of the Atlantic has been exacerbated by urbane executives selling the virtues of predictive tech—like Palantir—at the expense of good old baton-policing and human intelligence. Take Evident, for example. This cute bit of software emerged from that blameless purveyor of bacon and clean energy, Denmark—and has since been bought by British defense silverback BAE Systems. Its purpose is to warehouse mobile data for later perusal by our Olders and Betters. Classified as military technology, it is presumably subject to the same end-user certificates as hardware. But that didn’t stop those silky-voiced Brits from selling it to every oppressive regime they could find—including, presumably, our own.
But the deeper eddies of social media are not only about what governments see; they also concern what we don’t see. You need not be a neuroscientist to know that digital echo chambers are acting as a pressure cooker on the strained nerves of the younger generation. So it was with a young firebrand I accidentally dated a few years ago. She worked herself into a fury reading every piece of HuffPo agitprop served up by Facebook’s algorithms—while the still, small voice of conservatism was never heard. Liberals—not known for their empathy at the best of times—are now ever more willing to burst forth into the real world armed with steel and lead. Might the Charleston Church Massacre have been prevented if young Dylann Roof had been supplied with a few soothing articles from my good friend Roger Scruton each week? Let us hope so. Yet on this topic the committee appeared strangely silent. Facebook’s role in reducing people to “perpetual childhood” (de Tocqueville again)—complete with state-supplied baby monitors—was quietly overlooked. Instead we were told to care about a few glorified Mad Men fashioning from our digital dust a likeness into which the corporate world can stick its pins to earn a few extra dollars. No wonder Zuckerberg was blinking like a gopher at midday; dragged into such a solar wind of hypocrisy, I would have been too.