thinking about facebook

This is a follow up on my post about the convenience of platforms like Facebook, which dominates online social networking. That one company has such global influence should be of concern to all of us. Our social networks define us, as Christakis & Fowler clearly showed in their 2011 book, Connected.

“Most of us are already aware of the direct effect we have on our friends and family; our actions can make them happy or sad, healthy or sick, even rich or poor. But we rarely consider that everything we think, feel, do, or say can spread far beyond the people we know. Conversely, our friends and family serve as conduits for us to be influenced by hundreds or even thousands of other people. In a kind of social chain reaction, we can be deeply affected by events we do not witness that happen to people we do not know. It is as if we can feel the pulse of the social world around us and respond to its persistent rhythms. As part of a social network, we transcend ourselves, for good or ill, and become a part of something much larger. We are connected.” —Connected

This is not the same situation as when companies once dominated TV advertising, as today even ad-driven Google has less influence on us than Facebook does.

“The reason Facebook is important, in a way that TV ads are not, is that it’s a place that you interact with your social networks and information from your own information sources, plus pay-for-play stuff. They all mix together in this very flat interface, and that really matters.

You see something for a year, and it’s coming from an environment where your social networks are sharing it. I think it has an effect. Otherwise you’d have to argue that human cultures never change, and humans never change. They clearly do.”  —Zeynep Tufekci‏ speaking with Isaac Chotiner, Slate

But it seems that the whizz-kids in silicon valley don’t even understand how their technology (AKA algorithms, AI, etc.) works. They have let loose Frankenstein’s monster with no concept of the consequences. These industry titans have such little cultural or educational diversity amongst themselves that they only see the world from their techno-centric perspective. Their own social networks are echo chambers.

“Should Zuckerberg or Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey be summoned to Congress and peppered with questions about the inner workings of their companies, they may well be ill-equipped to answer them. Because while they might be in control of the broader operations of their respective companies, they do not appear to be fully in control of the automated algorithmic systems calibrated to drive engagement on Facebook and Twitter. And they have demonstrably proven that they lacked the foresight to imagine and understand the now clear real-world repercussions of those systems — fake news, propaganda, and dark targeted advertising linked to foreign interference in a US presidential election.” —Charlie Warzel, Buzzfeed

We may be heading toward a platform-dominated global social network, that will not only shape our behaviour but narrow the scope of our humanity. This is truly scary.

“The REAL danger facing a world interconnected by social networking isn’t disruption … This danger is an all encompassing online orthodoxy.  A sameness of thought and approach enforced by hundreds of millions of socially internetworked adherents.  A global orthodoxy that ruthless narrows public thought down to a single, barren, ideological framework. A ruling network that prevents dissent and locks us into stagnation and inevitable failure as it runs afoul of reality and human nature.”  —John Robb, Global Guerrillas

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