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Wednesday, July 11, 2018


by Matt Witt

LONDON — Facebook was hit with the maximum possible fine in Britain for allowing the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to harvest the information of millions of people without their consent, in what amounts to the social network’s first financial penalty since the data leak was revealed. The fine of 500,000 pounds, or about $660,000, represents a tiny sum for Facebook, which brings in billions of dollars in revenue every year. But it is the largest fine that can be levied by the British Information Commissioner’s Office, an independent government agency that enforces the country’s data-protection laws. —The New York Times, July 10, 2018. Photo via MadhouseNews.

I asked Facebook
for the key words
they have been selling
to anyone who wanted to
target me
for any purpose.

There were 139 words or phrases.

This data about a person’s interests
is valuable
to help someone to
sell you a product,
decide whether to hire you,
rent to you,
accept you as a student,
or disrupt your community group
or social movement.

Many were accurate about me,
or I’d like them to be.

“Fine-art photography.”
“Community organizing.”
“Working families.”
“Racial equality.”
“Climate change.”

But bots are only human.
So Facebook was also selling
fake news
about me
with irrelevant words
out of the blue.

“Lotus Cars.”

And “Sarah.”

Maybe because I have 16 Facebook friends named Sarah.
A community organizer now on the city council.
A muckraking journalist.
A longtime neighbor.
A local painter.
And a dozen more.

Or maybe the same bot
that mistakenly included “Bible”
thought I might be a student of
Sarah, biblical wife of Abraham,
who at the age of 90
gave birth to Isaac,
and lived to be 127.

Last night I dreamed that
all two billion Facebook users
started occasionally “liking” things we don’t like,
commenting about topics of no interest,
inserting random words into posts,
forming strange sounding groups.

Since we were all doing it from time to time
our “friends” were not confused,
but, together,
we made Facebook’s data worthless
so no one would buy it.

In my dream, we called it “Operation Sarah.”

Matt Witt is a writer and photographer who lives in Talent, Oregon. He was recently selected a Writer in Residence at Mesa Refuge in California and has been selected an Artist in Residence at Crater Lake National Park, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and PLAYA in Summer Lake, Oregon. His writing has been published in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, the literary journal Cirque, and many other publications.