What's Wrong about Facebook

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John F
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What's Wrong about Facebook

Post by John F » Tue Jun 26, 2018 5:41 am

This review, and the book it reviews, say there's a lot wrong about Facebook. The critique makes sense to me. The reviewer's proposed solutions aren't going to happen because they can't. You can get the book from Amazon if you like:

https://www.amazon.com/Antisocial-Media ... dhyanathan

(I've never joined Facebook and never will. Connecting online for discussions and information is fine - that's why we're here at Classical Music Guide - but substituting it for in-person social life is, well, antisocial, and the last election has shown vividly how the unwary can be secretly manipulated by the unscrupulous.)

Anti-Social Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy by Siva Vaidhyanathan – review
John Naughton
Mon 25 Jun 2018

The best metaphor for Facebook is the monster created by Dr Frankenstein. Mary Shelley’s story shows how, as Fiona Sampson put it in a recent Guardian article, “aspiration and progress are indistinguishable from hubris – until something goes wrong, when suddenly we see all too clearly what was reasonable endeavour and what overreaching”. There are clear echoes of this in the evolution of Facebook. “It’s a story”, writes Siva Vaidhyanathan in this excellent critique, “of the hubris of good intentions, a missionary spirit and an ideology that sees computer code as the universal solvent for all human problems. And it’s an indictment of how social media has fostered the deterioration of democratic and intellectual culture around the world.”

Facebook was founded by an undergraduate with good intentions but little understanding of human nature. He thought that by creating a machine for “connecting” people he might do some good for the world while also making himself some money. He wound up creating a corporate monster that is failing spectacularly at the former but succeeding brilliantly at the latter. Facebook is undermining democracy at the same time as it is making Mark Zuckerberg richer than Croesus. And it is now clear that this monster, like Dr Frankenstein’s, is beyond its creator’s control.

There are, says Vaidhyanathan, “two things wrong with Facebook: how it works and how people use it”. It works by monitoring its users – hoovering up their data trails and personal information in order to paint virtual targets on their back at which advertisers (Facebook’s real customers) can take aim. People use it for all kinds of things, many of them innocuous, but some of them absolutely pernicious: disseminating hate speech that leads to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, for example; spreading white supremacist propaganda in the US or Islamophobic or antisemitic messages in innumerable countries, and so on. People also use it to try to influence democratic elections, to threaten and harass others, to spread fake news, publish revenge porn and perform a host of other antisocial acts.

Vaidhyanathan argues that the central problem with Facebook is the pernicious symbiosis between its business model – surveillance capitalism – and the behaviour of its users. Because Facebook provides “free” services, it derives its revenues solely by monetising the data trails of its users – the photographs they upload, the status updates they post, the things they “like”, their friendship groups, the pages they follow, etc. This enables it to build detailed profiles of each user (containing 98 data points, according to one report), which can then be used for even more precisely targeted advertising.

Facebook “farms” its users for data: the more they produce – the more “user engagement” there is, in other words – the better. Consequently, there is an overriding commercial imperative to increase levels of engagement. And it turns out that some types of pernicious content are good for keeping user-engagement high: fake news and hate speech are pretty good triggers, for example. So the central problem with Facebook is its business model: the societal downsides we are experiencing are, as programmers say, a feature, not a bug.

What to do about this corporate monster is one of the great public policy questions of our day. The company has 2.2 bn users worldwide. While it may be good (or at least enjoyable) for individuals, we now have clear evidence that it’s not that good for democracy. It has no effective competitors, so it’s a monopoly – and a global one at that. And, given its business model, it has no incentive to reform itself. So what can be done about it?

One thing we already know for sure. Campaigns such as #deletefacebook won’t do the trick: the company has been largely unscathed by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The network effect of its 2.2 bn users is just too powerful: for many people, deleting their accounts would amount to cutting themselves off from their social lives. And this has engendered a feeling that resistance is futile.

It isn’t. Although Facebook has become a leviathan, that simply means that it can only be tamed by another leviathan, in this case, the state. Vaidhyanathan argues that the key places to start are privacy, data protection, antitrust and competition law. Facebook is now too big and should be broken up: there’s no reason why it should be allowed to own Instagram and WhatsApp, for example. Regulators should be crawling over the hidden auctions it runs for advertisers. All uses of its services for political campaigns should be inspected by regulators and it should be held editorially responsible for all the content published on its site.

What’s needed, in other words, is political will, informed by a clear analysis of the social harm that this corporation is fostering. For this we need good, informed critiques such as this book. Given Facebook’s dominance, it will be a long haul, but then, as the Chinese say, the longest journey begins with a single step. Professor Vaidhyanathan has just taken it.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/ ... han-review
John Francis

jbuck919
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Re: What's Wrong about Facebook

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 26, 2018 6:21 pm

What's wrong about Amazon? The same thing. :) What this boils down to is that people must find their own truly personal connections, which has always been the case. At worst, Facebook has shown how shallow almost all our supposed connections really are. Blood is still thicker than water.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Re: What's Wrong about Facebook

Post by John F » Wed Jun 27, 2018 12:08 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Tue Jun 26, 2018 6:21 pm
What's wrong about Amazon? The same thing.
Not at all. Amazon sells products, and the only personal information they require is the minimum needed to collect payments and ship purchases, which any online or mail order vendor needs to have since the Sears catalog and before. While customers can post and read comments about products, this is not social networking - it's not the reason people go to the Amazon site.

So what is wrong about Amazon, in your view?
John Francis

jbuck919
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Re: What's Wrong about Facebook

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Jun 27, 2018 3:38 pm

John F wrote:
Wed Jun 27, 2018 12:08 am
jbuck919 wrote:
Tue Jun 26, 2018 6:21 pm
What's wrong about Amazon? The same thing.
Not at all. Amazon sells products, and the only personal information they require is the minimum needed to collect payments and ship purchases, which any online or mail order vendor needs to have since the Sears catalog and before. While customers can post and read comments about products, this is not social networking - it's not the reason people go to the Amazon site.

So what is wrong about Amazon, in your view?
It was a rhetorical question. Also, there are many people who contribute and read user reviews of books and other products, and while this does not initiate a "thread," it is social interaction of sorts.

Personally, I have never had a bad experience with Facebook (that I am aware of, anyway). In the pretty broad context in which I post and read the posts of others, it has been far more civil than CMG was when I first joined, and that's without the need to banish any offenders that I have been aware of. Maybe I've just been lucky, but it has been an enhancement to my mental life, as CMG is, because locally I have so few possibilities for intelligent discourse and shared interests. Incidentally, I do respect people who are not interested in FB or any social media site, and it would never occur to me to ask them to explain themselves. There are some professions (doctors, lawyers, full-time teachers) where a social media presence is undesirable and unwise even if the individual would enjoy the opportunity to share thoughts this way.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Holden Fourth
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Re: What's Wrong about Facebook

Post by Holden Fourth » Thu Jun 28, 2018 2:32 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Wed Jun 27, 2018 3:38 pm
John F wrote:
Wed Jun 27, 2018 12:08 am
jbuck919 wrote:
Tue Jun 26, 2018 6:21 pm
What's wrong about Amazon? The same thing.
Not at all. Amazon sells products, and the only personal information they require is the minimum needed to collect payments and ship purchases, which any online or mail order vendor needs to have since the Sears catalog and before. While customers can post and read comments about products, this is not social networking - it's not the reason people go to the Amazon site.

So what is wrong about Amazon, in your view?
It was a rhetorical question. Also, there are many people who contribute and read user reviews of books and other products, and while this does not initiate a "thread," it is social interaction of sorts.

Personally, I have never had a bad experience with Facebook (that I am aware of, anyway). In the pretty broad context in which I post and read the posts of others, it has been far more civil than CMG was when I first joined, and that's without the need to banish any offenders that I have been aware of. Maybe I've just been lucky, but it has been an enhancement to my mental life, as CMG is, because locally I have so few possibilities for intelligent discourse and shared interests. Incidentally, I do respect people who are not interested in FB or any social media site, and it would never occur to me to ask them to explain themselves. There are some professions (doctors, lawyers, full-time teachers) where a social media presence is undesirable and unwise even if the individual would enjoy the opportunity to share thoughts this way.
As a teacher I know that the last part of this statement is correct. I have to be very careful about what I post or share. I have seen my fair share of posts that vilify others and of course I don’t share them. What saddens me also is the amount of obviously fake news shared by supposedly intelligent people. This is technically the online equivalent of malicious gossip, something we also have in our face to face relationships. I have taken the step of challenging the veracityof what is being shared and I suspect that I’ve probably been unfriended by some as a result.

The one plus of FB for me, as an expat, is keeping up with friends and family who are far away. For the majority of FB users this was their primary reason for joining. It’s still my main reason and I haven’t strayed from it. A pity that this is not universal.

John F
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Location: Brooklyn, NY

Re: What's Wrong about Facebook

Post by John F » Thu Jun 28, 2018 4:20 pm

Facebook's membership is so large that many businesses and organizations put as much emphasis on it as on their web sites for publicity and customer relations. It's important to their business plans - but not to me.
John Francis

Ricordanza
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Re: What's Wrong about Facebook

Post by Ricordanza » Fri Jun 29, 2018 6:55 am

My experience with Facebook has been positive as well. The main benefit has been the opportunity to keep up with friends, family members, and classmates who live in other states, and even other countries. Last year's highly successful 50th reunion of my high school class was essentially organized through Facebook, and many of us continue to stay in touch through a Facebook group.

Are there negatives? Of course. I've had a handful of Facebook "friends" (including a cousin or two) who post vile stuff; I've either "unfriended" or "unfollowed" them. And, yes, there are the targeted ads. There's a simple answer to that--I ignore all ads on Facebook.

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