You may have seen articles recently about the Australian proposal to create a code requiring Facebook and Google to bargain with the news media to pay for links to news articles.
The code will require parties (tech giants on one side, and the media on the other) to undertake commercial negotiations about how much should be paid to the media for these links. In the event they’re unable to agree then the code will punt it to an independent arbiter who will choose between two final offers from each side. The code will also require Facebook and Google to give 14 days advance notice of deliberate algorithm changes that impact news media businesses.
Given I wrote a proud blog post about how I had left Facebook, the honest thing to do would be to admit I have rejoined it.
One reason why I succumbed is that I am planning a wedding, and Facebook is handy list of friends, acquaintances and family (I don’t even know many of my friend’s emails).
Another reason is my book club is organised through a group on Facebook and someone had to send me a message every month with the details. A minor thing, but probably annoying for them.
I also couldn’t help have a nagging feeling that I was missing out on a fun party invite. (As a side note, the way Facebook treats deactivated profiles is quite annoying — it’s not that easy to see someone is deactivated unless you click on their profile. So my deactivated account was probably being invited to stuff and the person inviting me wouldn’t know I wasn’t actually there.)
Was I really making any difference by leaving Facebook? They still had all my data, and were probably collecting more via cookies and other tracking methods all throughout the web. Without an account I couldn’t even use the Facebook privacy settings (such as they are).
As Charlie Warzel at the New York Times put it: “The idea that you have control is an insidious illusion.” Much like with climate change, individuals can only do so much — what we really need is systematic change driven by governments regulating in the public interest.
So I will continue to begrudgingly be a Facebook user.
I’ve decided to deactivate my Facebook account. The straw that broke the camel’s back was this article in the New York Times which suggested Facebook isn’t taking its privacy problems seriously, and is in fact actively working to dig dirt on its opponents instead of changing its business model.
I want to see how difficult life is without it.
I’ve been feeling uncomfortable keeping my account for a while now, but whenever I thought about the stuff I use Facebook for it keep me there. For example, my book club is a Facebook group so I’ve had to ask them to text me whenever they organise a new meeting.
Even though I’ve deactivated my account I’m still deeply enmeshed in their ecosystem. I’m still on Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, and I’m sure Facebook’s ad system is still following me around the web (despite my best efforts).
I’m glad I’ve done this and I hope I won’t be back.
I’ve previously written about how Facebook is a sort of quasi monopolistic utility. Part of Facebook’s status as a dominant player is that it has a huge rule in determining what news people see. A few developments in the past few months have raised interesting questions about how Facebook deals with its role as an information gatekeeper.
Humans = bad, robots = good
You have read a while ago that Facebook was in trouble for supposedly showing a left-wing bias in an obscure part of its platform which was curated by human employees. This was not the main newsfeed but a small section called ‘Trending Topics’. In response to the controversy, Facebook switched from having humans curate the topics to using a supposedly more neutral and fundamentally workable algorithm (in other words moving to a newsfeed-like model). Continue reading “What are Facebook’s responsibilities as an information gatekeeper?”
Kwame Opam wrote an interesting piece on The Verge a few months ago about Facebook’s responsibilities in the modern world (in the context of the Paris terror attacks). I thought his point that Facebook has become so ubiquitous that it’s akin to a ‘utility’ is a particularly interesting one:
Facebook is both a utility and an immensely powerful media company. The social network wields more influence than any single news outlet on the planet, serving as both a wire service and forum for 1.01 billion daily users. That means readers in search of a narrative will often turn to Facebook first. That’s an enormous responsibility, especially as the company acts out its ambitions of becoming a global portal to the internet at large. We need to ask ourselves: what should Facebook’s role be in determining the narratives that people follow?
I have this feeling at the moment that every good platform for communication is getting ruined by commercial pressures and a lack of user control.
A run-down of the problem
When web 2.0 services were just taking off, the big change was that users were actively contributing to the liveliness of a given site. However, as time has gone on, it’s become clear that big companies have taken all that value created by users with little regard for what users want.
I’ve seen a huge number of complaints on my Twitter timeline about the decision by the company to move from a chronological timeline to a model where tweets are sorted according to a relevance algorithm (like Facebook). I’ve also noticed that both Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook seems to full of more ads than ever. The ratio of content you care about to ads seems to be getting worse by the day.
Another problem with all these platforms is that they’re closed systems. Twitter, Facebook etc. might provide a limited API which enable people to make some services incorporating parts of their platforms, but it seems these spin-offs will always be limited in some way. The closed aspect of these social media platforms also means they’re not indexable or archivable – everything is on the platform owners’ terms. The platform might enable you to embed a tweet or a post on another website, but what assurances do you have that it’s still going to work in a few years’ time?
I’ve recently become swamped by social networking – I’m drowning in a torrent of status updates and news to read. I use Bebo, Facebook, Twitter and now Virb (2.0 has just been launched!). Keeping up with the endless stream of things popping up in my RSS reader and on TweetDeck and checking social sites is becoming too much. I think I’m going to have to cull a few feeds from Google Reader.
I ask myself: why do I maintain all these social networking sites? And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because I have a -somewhat closeted- desire to become popular. I think social networking sites (ie Facebook) have facilitated and stimulated an already present desire in people (me included) to have a lot of friends, be very social and to generally flaunt their popularity. By maintaining all these social networking profiles I think I am attempting to become as popular as I can. But when you think about it properly, the number of friendships doesn’t matter at all, it’s the quality that is important. Internet popularity runs on a quantitative model which is deeply flawed. The most intriguing thing though is why I feel a desire to become more popular, to improve my social status. It certainly doesn’t reflect well on me.
I think my motives for writing a blog are the same as frequenting social networking sites. Writing for a blog that next to no one reads, I can’t help but entertain the fantasy that one day I will wake up and overnight the entire internet will have come to recognize that this is worth reading. A scenario that is perhaps a tad unrealistic, but if I didn’t think more people might read this blog at some point in the future, why would I still blogging? To entertain the handful of people who do read my incoherent ramblings? I also can’t help but feel that my situation is shared by countless numbers of bloggers around the world who want nothing more than for a few people to hear what they have to say. With the advent of easy accessible blogging websites, creating a website can take only a few minutes and as a result the internet is veritably flooded with people voicing their opinions regardless of whether anyone is listening. And I think at the end of the day most people blog because they want to become famous. They want to make it big.
Also, the image for this post is from Nexus friend grapher – a tool that creates a picture out of your network of friends on Facebook. It’s fascinating to see how my different groups of friends and family relate to each other.