We must admit that writing an article about the correlation between the digital world and the real world against the backdrop of climate change is an extremely difficult challenge, especially at a time when it is essential to mobilise on the physical plane to avoid the worst (you will therefore find many in-depth links that we invite you to explore).
However, today as never before in the history of mankind, we believe it is essential to become aware of the fact that the tools we use have serious political, social, economic and therefore also ecological repercussions (since the time of the wheel).We can no longer afford to lower our guard just because certain issues seem too complex or disconnected from each other: freedom of information is the basis of the very perception of our reality.
We live in a complex reality where seemingly unrelated events have intrinsic relationships whose consequences we often ignore.
History repeats itself
Although ecological movements have been around since the 1970s, it is precisely the generations of those years that have contributed most to polluting planet Earth through the adoption of a consumerist lifestyle dependent on oil (petrol, plastic, chemicals…). Have you ever wondered how such a rapid, extensive and radical change of society was possible?
We owe this in large part to decades (the 1930s) of hammering disinformation campaigns and to the unregulated use of a revolutionary new system of communication and indoctrination of the masses: commercial television.
Although the history and effects of propaganda are well known, even today most people are convinced that they make ‘free choices according to their personal tastes‘, as they are reluctant to accept the idea that their choice can be manipulated by others through everyday tools.
This is why it is so difficult to break habits such as the use of ‘disposable’ products: these are behaviours that have taken root and settled in the minds of billions of people, becoming an integral part of their individual identities and a symbol of belonging to a social group.
TODAY we eat plastic because
YESTERDAY we watched too much commercial television
In just a few decades, human history has been rewritten on the basis of an unsustainable economy for the benefit of a very few people, forgetting the healthy habits of the past, as if under the effect of a ‘progressive mental contagion’.
The worst thing is that we have allowed it to happen, quite unconsciously.
Today we can finally say that the correlation between disposable plastic and pollution is finally cleared, but there are still very few actions aimed at limiting the hammering action of advertising, the real catalyst of the consumerist model.
Advertising has distorted the Internet
The advent of the Internet, despite its free and democratic foundations, has certainly not stopped this process. On the contrary, it has accelerated it, putting in the hands of capitalism the perfect channel to build ever more effective and devious tools to enter our lives and shape our minds.
We use daily commercial platforms such as Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Google, YouTube, Amazon, Bing, LinkedIn, Twitter… convinced (by the system itself) that “there is nothing wrong with some advertising“, but in reality we are making the same mistake as past generations, letting even more power end up in the hands of a few.
In 2019, the US ad market
is expected to reach $129 billion in revenue:
Advertising is the engine of most of the Internet services we use on a daily basis and our money combined with our data provides the mixture that feeds it: by using these ‘deceptively free‘ services we unwittingly feed the fire of capitalism that is overheating the planet.
Likes stole our democracy
In March 2018, the Cambridge Analytica scandal exploded (5 years after Snowden’s revelations about the NSA): Mark Zuckemberg ended up personally apologising to the US Congress and Facebook lost 150 billion in value in a few hours. Following all this, Europe responded with the GDPR law, but the damage was done: the political puppets have been cleverly positioned and will continue to push the planet towards collapse.
And don’t think that this is only happening abroad: it is a well-rooted phenomenon also in Italian politics.
Yet, despite the seriousness of what happened to our democracy, we have not changed our habits and most of us still use Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and/or WhatsApp (all owned by Facebook Inc.).
Unfortunately, the problem will not go away on its own. On the contrary, the company has made official (despite having previously denied it) the merger of its apps: Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram will become a single network.
This confirms what many had already suspected: Facebook is in possession of the personal profiles and private conversations of at least 1/3 of the world’s population. Knowing everything about our past and present habits, it is in fact able to pilot our future: unfortunately George Orwell was right.
Fridays For Future itself and other environmental movements are ‘forced’ to have and manage Facebook and Instagram profiles: these platforms are currently the only way to reach certain segments of the population. It’s a dog biting its own tail.
Data is the ‘new oil
Once we surrender (for free or even paying) our data to these digital platforms, it can be sold to the usual lobbies that have turned us into materialistic and individualistic consumers over the past decades and used to manipulate us.
A company will hardly invest in both advertising and product quality, let alone ethics and sustainability: the more a company invests in advertising (Ads), the more likely it is to have a negative impact on the environment and our health.
The problem is precisely this: it is one thing to cite capitalism and consumerism as the causes of pollution, quite another to realise that it is our daily choices, without exception, from the food we eat to the App we use to write to our friends, that all together create, directly and indirectly, our “ecological footprint”. So let’s talk about the foundations of the social, economic and political system we live in: the combination of these choices is the real political vote that determines our future.
It is not just a question of energy consumption in data centres: big data is now worth more than oil, and AI is considered by governments as a weapon to control the masses.
All the most widely used social networks on the planet operate on the basis of a business model based on profiling, with the exception of Telegram.
|Company||Platform||Active users||Business Model|
|Facebook Inc||2 miliardi e|
|Alphabet Inc (Google)||YouTube||2 miliardi|
|Facebook Inc||2 miliardi||Invio di dati a Facebook|
Integrazione di Servizi
|Facebook Inc||1 miliardo e|
|Facebook Inc||Messenger||1 miliardo|
|Tencent Inc||WeChat / Weixin||1 miliardo|
Dati al Governo
|ByteDance||Tik Tok||732 milioni||TikTok Ads|
|Tencent Inc||606 milioni||QQ Ads|
|ByteDance||Douyin||600 milioni||Douyin Ads|
|Telegram LLC||Telegram||550 milioni||Nessun profitto (come guadagna?)|
|Sina Corporation||530 milioni||Weibo Ads|
|Snap Inc||Snapchat||514 milioni||Snap Ads|
|Beijing Kuaishou Technology Ltd||Kuaishou||481 milioni||Live Streaming|
Ads e marketing
E-commerce e giochi
|Pinterest Inc||478 milioni||Pinterest Ads|
|Reddit Inc||430 milioni||Reddit Ads|
|Twitter Inc||397 milioni||Twitter Ads|
|Microsoft Corporation||310 milioni||LinkedIn Ads|
Pollution of our psyche
Moreover, the harmfulness of likes and shares is invisible, like radiation or PM10, but the effects on our psyche are well known.
The results of using these technologies are there for all to see: political leaders are becoming increasingly anti-ecological and extremist, causing catastrophes on a global scale. The Amazon rainforest is once again being cleared at an unsustainable rate and left to burn, and this summer we lost millions of hectares of forest on several continents.
Yet we are still convinced that “we are free to choose”: unfortunately this is not the case.
“Living with this disinformation propaganda every single day…Brittany Kaiser (former Cambridge Analytica development director) in The Great Hack.
it does work! It does have an impact on real life,
whether people believe it or not.”
Our choices are constantly manipulated because no one is psychologically immune to such a bombardment of disinformation: we have officially entered the post-truth era.
If we don’t start choosing carefully the tools to manage our digital lives, our fate in the real world is sealed.
So what can we do?
How can we react in our own small way to create a wider change?
The good news is that small choices can lead to
to big and immediate improvements in our lives and in the lives
and in those of the people we associate with.
Let’s reflect on the epoch-making shift from SMS to instant messaging: no one would go back because the functional advantages are undeniable, but at the time an open protocol for messaging apps was not adopted and this led WhatsApp to dominate the sector. The same happened to Facebook and other platforms that challenged each other to create their own walled garden on which to build their business: the mistake was not to impose a standard protocol for interoperability and leave these companies free to wage war on each other, at the end of which the one with the biggest wallet always wins: it is from this ‘little oversight’ that Mark Zuckerberg’s monopoly was born.
The more people use a closed platform, the more they are forced to do so, on pain of social and commercial exclusion: hence the vicious circle in which we still live today!
It is essential to always choose interoperable protocols, open source software and ethical services: our democracy is at stake and with it the future of the human species.
It is above all for these reasons that more than 70 organisations are fighting to “make the giants of the web interoperable“: one of the most important actions to safeguard our possibility of choice and consequently our future, but which unfortunately almost nobody talks about.
Using and spreading open source and non-profit (even better FOSS) apps is a political action: it is a simple and immediate way to break the vicious circle that forces the people we hang out with to use Facebook to keep in touch with us or our projects. Having alternative channels is crucial both at private and public level: even many companies are starting to realise this.
We at Fridays For Future are trying to find a balance between “don’t use Facebook” and “only use Facebook”, trying to prioritise the use of open-source and ethical tools wherever possible, gradually widening the channels in which we follow ourselves and reducing dependence on Big Tech.
In conclusion, we give 3 tips that we think everyone should follow and spread:
1. USE BOTH TELEGRAM AND SIGNAL
- Telegram is extremely popular and functional, so you’ll have no trouble finding friends and family who use it, move as many conversations as you can here and above all try to convert as many WhatsApp and Facebook groups as possible into Telegram groups.
- Thanks to Telegram channels, you can also follow the updates you are interested in without relying on an algorithm, we suggest for example the channels @FFFitalia and @XRitaly (the channel of Extinction Rebellion Italy), but there are many others!
- Signal is undoubtedly the most secure, but it is still not very widespread, use it in particular when you need to communicate confidential information and you don’t want any trace of it to remain.
- this way anyone who has your phone number can contact you securely and you will help break the collective dependence on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram’s private messages, reducing Facebook Inc.’s monopoly.
2. USE BRAVE AND/OR FIREFOX
- Brave is the easiest and most painless way to browse the web without being profiled (it’s almost identical to Chrome), automatically hiding advertising on the sites you browse and removing buttons and other elements that track your web activities
- thanks to Brave Search, you can also carry out searches without manipulation (be aware that Ecosia earns money through Bing Ads, which leads us not to recommend it)
- Mozilla FireFox is a good option for the more experienced user, as it needs a number of steps to be really effective
- by reducing Google’s monopoly and eliminating tracking systems, you will help divest a large part of the business model that feeds the toxic system we live in
3. USE PROTONMAIL AND/OR TUTANOTA
- both Protonmail and Tutanota are excellent private alternatives to Gmail and other mail services that constantly analyse our conversations
To explore these issues in more detail, we would like to suggest some Italian projects that we consider worthy of note and trust:
Written by Francesco Marino for Sostenibilità Digitale