I’m back on Facebook

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 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.

Leaving Facebook

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.

What are Facebook’s responsibilities as an information gatekeeper?

 By Oliviu Stoian, RO (CC-BY)
By Oliviu Stoian, RO (CC-BY)

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?”

Facebook as a powerful, ubiquitous ‘utility’

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?

Continue reading “Facebook as a powerful, ubiquitous ‘utility’”

Why users need to control the means of communication

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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?

This all boils down to: these platforms seem cool and useful, but eventually we realise they’re not that great after all, and they slowly get corrupted by the need to make money. What would a better platform look like? Continue reading “Why users need to control the means of communication”