The recent moral panic around the Death of MR and the involvement of Instagram and Facebook in her death and maybe that of others is intriguing. Worthy of John Le Carre – at his Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy best.
This may be a cynical attempt by the old media – the BBC or NBC, the New York Times or the Guardian to put pressure on new media like Facebook and Google. There are appearances of concern for the Russell family but no evidence of real concern about anything other than getting a story – or making a point. If there was real concern for the families of any of these teenage girls a lot more would have been done about the hazards of antidepressants before this.
Despite the appearances, it’s entirely possible that this crisis has been engineered by Facebook to gain an advantage. It brings to our attention the possibilities that Facebook or Google might be able to flag up people who are actively suicidal and be able to intervene.
Shortly before the Russell brouhaha began unfolding in the UK, the New York Times reported that Facebook and other media companies have been using their surveillance methods to pick up people who may be actively suicidal and intervening – Minority Report like – for instance sending Tom Cruise around to save a life .
An article by Mason Marks in the Yale Journal of Health Policy Law and Ethics recently – HERE – outlined a number of the hazards involved in this, ranging from compromising peoples credit records to detention and forced medication or triggering death by cop. Forcing Facebook to delete images in the Molly Russell case helps make a case for using the technology to intervene in other cases and making it even more of a policeman in all of our lives.
The latest big thing are Home Hubs, Personal Assistants like Alexa, intelligence units aimed at making homes smart. These units will register every emotional nuance we have, all our contacts and activities. We could drift very quickly into an uncomfortable position. Not just those of who buy them but those who don’t – what have you to hide then?
If the Police can…
As things stand, as an expert witness in cases where a drug may have played a part in triggering a suicide or homicide, I have for years been presented with police searches on their computers showing the sites people have visited before and after going on an antidepressant. This is a powerful aid in working out whether the homicidal or suicidal thinking began before or after treatment – or whether it changed in character. If the police using old tech have been able to do this for years, its unquestionably the case that Facebook and Google and other companies can do it.
They unquestionably could contribute evidence as to the rates at which people going on antidepressants become suicidal or have a malignant change in their thinking. They can easily establish whether the kind of imagery Molly Russell may have viewed was provided by people who had gone on an antidepressant and become suicidal even if she hadn’t.
But were not hearing about this. Why not?
What we’re getting is a confected fuss that looks like it suits the interest of government for greater surveillance capabilities and the new media – no one is particularly worried about the old media these days, except putting them to some good use before saying adieu.
One more aspect to this story though is the indifference of Facebook and Google to whether any of us lives or dies. Their argument is that it’s not their brief to worry about things like this. This would be an invasion of our sacred privacy.
The links we make and the traces we leave provide material that can be put to use (and they can make money from) but it’s exactly to same traces and links that are on the one side being blamed for MRs death but on the other side could be used to help save her. The argument is we cannot get one without the other.
Of course you can – you might respond. It’s a matter of making a judgement, a diagnosis, coming to a verdict. But judgements and verdicts are exactly what Google and Facebook do not do. For them everything is equivalent – there is no evil – there is no good. They operate like a thermostat that will turn off the heating at a certain temperature and on at another but do so without making a judgement about whether a higher or a lower temperature is good or not. It’s a function.
But still we set our thermostats as Google and Facebook set theirs with theirs designed to avoid making any changes that reduce their revenue stream.
And the money always comes from the herd rather than any individuals within it.
This is the scenario Lily, Pfizer and Merck depend on when they claim that anecdotes are not data and that whether clinical trials show a problem or not is the only thing that counts. An individual making a good case for a connection between an antidepressant and suicide is a voice crying in the wilderness.
Curious that a business that depends on the plural of anecdote being data doesn’t disrupt that.
All Muslim Now
The image above shows an outfit designed to avoid surveillance – to avoid being tracked around town. There is a growth industry in people buying anti-surveillance gadgets like shields to block their webcams on computer and phones – they can be bought on amazon.
It seems a younger generation are much more savvy and already taking steps to create ways of living with some freedom in our new surveillance states.
One of the cute things about the outfit above is it offers us all a chance to look Muslim, or perhaps the way Catholic nuns used to look 50 years ago. We may be all KKKing yet or Hijabbing. There’ll be a premium on a good pair of ankles, for men as well as women.