3 March saw this year’s annual schools debate, this time held at Brewin Dolphin in Newcastle. It was a fantastic event and we have asked some of the student participants to blog about the event. Here is the first from Alana Nicholson

“Are data and tech companies a threat to our livelihoods, democracy and our very existence?

This question proves particularly pertinent right now, as we watch the social networking app “Houseparty” (which has shot up in popularity since the pandemic) fight accusations of selling data to other companies and without consent, logging into users’ Spotify and Netflix accounts. All of the aforementioned scandal took place in the last two days, too, highlighting the capacity for destruction that these companies hold. Therefore, with scandals like this becoming all too common, 20 students from five different schools took it upon themselves to debate the prominent issue.

From filter bubbles to financial fraud, those debating for the notion upheld a fantastic argument. One company thrown into the mix a lot was Facebook, with the infamous Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal cropping up a few times. The data breach not only involved millions of people’s data being left exposed, but some data was used to fuel political advertising online during the 2016 American presidential election. Many argued that the results of the election would have differed if not for the vile acts of Facebook. So, as a result, Facebook were fined $5bn… justice, right? Well, when you look at Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth, you see that this accounts for less than 10% of his billions. For the almighty tech and data companies, financial consequence often isn’t a huge problem, making them all the more tempted to steal our data for selfish gains.

Of course, to claim that there aren’t two sides to the story would be preposterous, as the wonderful debaters arguing against the notion made clear. A point which I found extremely insightful was that the effect social media is having on the participation crisis is wholly positive. Activists and party leaders are able to spread their ideas and manifestos through the click of a button, meaning that getting young people interested in politics has never been easier. Furthermore, just look at the consequences social media and data companies have had on the environmental revolution! If a 16-year-old girl can bring together millions worldwide to march for our future, then should these companies and social medias really be villainized?

In the end, those arguing for the notion reigned as champions, but the strength of debate, paired with the confidence and clarity of the young people meant that the judges’ decision was not an easy one.