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Quendrith Johnson

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15 Tech Things to Know Before Watching THE GREAT HACK on Netflix

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

Maybe we need a creation myth for Social Media? Hey, don’t hashtag eyeroll: ’In the beginning was rumor and innuendo, but a hand swiped right across the metadata…’ Okay, before you WTF that, IRL consider “The Great Hack” coming from Netflix on July 24. It’s a documentary about how the Cambridge Analytica (CA) data hijinx not only took $30 B USD out of the stuffing of Facebook’s stock value, but created this new wobbly emotional climate of distrust in EmojiLand.

What does this have to do with me personally, you wonder?

For the sake of argument, let’s Devil-Wears-Prada it - take Meryl Streep’s “Cerulean Blue” sweater lecture, and apply it to data science. In other words, you may think you’re just clicking randomly in an organic cloud of memes and hashtags, but actually since the 486 (Google it!) in the early 90’s, this intricate interwebs of users experiences has been painstakingly laid out by wizard brains from Bell Labs coming out of WWII to the weaponized version of information technology that now holds our elections, search histories, and very persuadable tender minds at stake.

So, while filmmakers Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer, and Pedro Kos made Great Hack just to smack users upside the digital head to realize their online behavior and click history are a commodity, here’s a listicle of 15 technology *moments* that every American should know since the dawn of Facebook and Social Media in general.

1. DARPA powered up the worldwide web as we know it today based on early academic research pings across university servers that would go on to connect the globe and create the User Interface paradigm, meaning there would now be a “front end” (that’s you the User), and a “backend” (the blackbox servers that hide away your data).

2. “Everything is a system” thinking hits 80’s “computer engineering,” meaning ‘hey, these 1’s and 0’s can do wild stuff’ beyond Email;’ thus there’s Google and the search revolution, which is a way to funnel random behavior into a “knowledgebase.”

3. E-commerce is viable by ’99; creates commoditized click-triggered behavior by *affinity marketing* like you thought of Cyber Monday yourself.

4. Y2K is the time-clock glitch in the machine brain in 2000, that necessitates a whole revamp of scope and scale in the WWW.

5. Enter the Packets: suddenly this jam-packed “Information Superhighway” (ugh, Goreian) needs to become efficient, splitting up data.

6. Data centers, or housing for the vast once-organic, academic-owned big brains, pop-up (also see: parallel processing).

7. Linus Torvalds creates the Linux kernel, a streamlined take on clunky Unix from 80’s, that revolutionizes coding.

8. Open Source-seme: hive minds across the planet throw their brains at perfecting Open Source coding, as in non-corporation owned.

9. Proprietary languages are still in play by 2005, but Aaron Swartz & Digerati out there are coming up with Reddit, info platforms unheard-of.

10. Reddit, Quora, Stack Exchange are sub channels where Digerati live, but also 4chan, Anonymous, and the Dark Web emerges.

11. Weaponizing data takes hold when Zero Days and virus-production to do things like hack grids and nuclear centrifuges.

12. NSA and 3-letter government agencies get tipped to Dark Web actors, the rise of crypto-currency, and the blurring nation-state borders - but also give rise to a whistleblower climate of Snowden-types who question the role of consumer privacy and rights in the mix of Big Data.

13. Cyber Monday and other digital holidays are created to focus the flow of consumer spending and behavior, led by SEO AI.

14. MySpace is a dim memory as The Zuck’s Facebook expands its dominance as a social media platform with 2 BN (or so) users a day, including What’sApp, Insta, and other subsidiaries in the space.

15. Big data hacks become de facto consequences of the massive tsunami of key consumer data; and Social Engineering experiments, or persuading Users on targeted calls for action in politics, commerce, and public opinion, as data points are exposed and harvested by Cambridge Analytica for example. (See: Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew, architect of modern propaganda, a tool of the State in WWII.)


Updated from its Sundance debut in a new cut featuring additional interviews and footage, THE GREAT HACK uncovers the dark world of data exploitation, offering astounding access to the personal journeys of key players in the explosive Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data breach. Award-winning filmmakers Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim (The Square, Control Room, continue their tradition of exploring the seismic ripples of social media with this riveting, complex film. Data has surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable asset. It’s being weaponized to wage cultural and political warfare. People everywhere are in a battle for control of our most intimate personal details. THE GREAT HACK forces us to question the origin of the information we consume daily. What do we give up when we tap that phone or keyboard and share ourselves in the digital age? THE GREAT HACK premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and went on to screen at Sheffield Doc/Fest and AFI Docs. Directed by Amer and Noujaim, the film is produced by Geralyn Dreyfous, Judy Korin and Pedro Kos. - Courtesy Netflix

On Thursday July 11, THE GREAT HACK was screened at The Landmark Theatre in Los Angeles with filmmakers Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer and Pedro Kos, with a Q&A moderated by Anne Thompson. 

Just remember kids, it’s up to you not to post dick pics and cats-dressed-as-Hitler if you want a nice Interwebs out there in the world; same with clean elections, troll-free kid zones, and an end to fake news. (And stop blaming The Zuck for everything wrong in Social Media, that’s like blaming the asphalt for bad drivers on the road; meaning thousands of third-party developers create functionality for Facebook, and some of them should not have the keys to the kingdom data-wise.)

In sum, watch, learn, and be vigilant with your personal data; have the same reverence for it as you would your personal property.

“The Great Hack” will be in selected theaters and on Netflix July 24.

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