Tea with a Thought Leader

Superpowers: iLoveback, the Land and your Data.

By Fumbatha May

Welcome to the second edition of Tea With A Thought Leader. The aim of this campaign is to connect Activators with thought leaders and their opinions through rounding up the global highlights of each month.

Fumbatha May is a data scientist and writer. He is a fellow of the (unofficial) Extended Youth Programme for Over 35s.

Gather around everyone, we have much to discuss and very little time to do it. First up is of course the land issue. If you haven’t heard already, we are now in the middle of a process towards finalising expropriation of land without compensation. The process kicked off on March 3 with the overzealous wooing of the ANC, desperate for iloveback from the EFF, supporting the EFF’s parliamentary motion to establish a constitutional review committee to investigate implementing Section 25 of the Constitution of South Africa (please read up on it for yourself, it’s available online).

“I’m leaving Mary – I’m going to Australia… they’re gonna eat us Mary!” has been the typical refrain from those with the land, as noted by Trevor Noah in a stand-up routine from 10 years go. So let’s dispel the misinformation. First of all, no one’s gonna eat you Mary. VAT may be going up and incomes might be depressed but nobody is outchea tryna eat you Mary, calm down.

Expropriation of land without compensation has always been part of our post-apartheid Constitution – that’s exactly what Section 25 is about. It’s just that the government, attempting not to scare Mary and her friends off to Australia, didn’t really have a clear plan of when and how to invoke it. The March 3 parliamentary motion set the ball rolling for government to come back to us – the citizens of this country, of every race – to ask for suggestions on how best to apply Section 25. It’s an opportunity for us to take all those suggestions we’ve been making to each other in our social circles, churches, schools, shebeens, on social media; and make them part of government policy. As citizens, one of our rights and responsibilities is to make submissions on important matters to give the government an idea of what we want. Calls for submissions are data collection exercises that aid decision-making. So I implore you all to keep an eye on your local press for announcements of dates for hearings in your area which will begin on May 8, 2018 in Limpopo and will travel throughout the country until the final one on June 22, 2018.

Another story dominating the news at the moment is the scandal involving Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Trump. Quick recap: a former Cambridge Analytica employee sent shockwaves throughout the world when he blew the whistle on how data from 50 million Facebook users was used to target people with pro-Trump messaging in the run up to the American presidential election which Trump won (on a technicality).

This story is important in for two reasons: 1) we don’t really understand how social media works; and 2) we need to take more responsibility for what we consume online.

Data mining isn’t inherently wrong. It’s a bit like having superpowers which can be used for good or evil. For instance, mining social media for personal health info could provide much-needed data to medical researchers to illuminate rare/misunderstood conditions or co-morbidities (illnesses that arise as in relation to others, like diabetes and heart disease). In the Cambridge Analytica case, these powers were used for evil, breaking the cardinal rule of having superpowers.

How do we protect ourselves from this evil? One way is by verifying the news we consume online. By now those of us who have been closely following the Trump-Breitbart-Cambridge Analytica saga know that fake news has been an indispensable weapon in Trump’s election campaign. For fake news to be effective, its intended audience must either be wilfully ignorant or just lazy to verify the source and content of the news they consume. The idea that the data of 50 million users could have shown a high probability for this campaign tactic to be effective is alarming. We need to be vigilant and stay woke to the BS always. Google is free and for now still the best tool we have to fight back against being lied to.

So the next time you read something that makes you sit up and pay attention enough to want to share it with your friends, STOP and GOOGLE first. Check if you can find the story or information on another credible site. Check what other info/stories you can find from the original source. If something in you makes you doubt the truth of what you are reading, it’s better to err on the side of caution and not share it. You will not get a prize for being the first in your crew to share info. You will earn more credibility if you choose to wait and share only those things you are absolutely sure about. Knowledge is hard work but the wisdom you gain in return is worth it, almost like a superpower.

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