Facebook Is A Black Box

I read about this today on Tech Crunch, and supposedly it is supposed to give me more control over my Facebook feed. The thing is I keep trying to set the damned thing to most recent rather than Top Stories, so that I get more than the same ten stories for day’s on end, or some tiresome thing that is trending.

I have a fair few friends in my friend list, and I signed up for something that rides on top of Facebook and strips out certain unnecessaries, while telling me about interactions that remain below the surface. I see a regular trickle of friends leaving the party, and if I compare it to the posts that I see on my wall – these guys were buried and got no interaction, so I can’t blame them for bidding me farewell.

The whole idea, I thought, of the wall, was to provide a better signal to noise ratio, but that seems to be deteriorating as an algorithm bypasses the settings I keep insisting on, and keeps floating me stuff I am not interested in, despite my constant refrain.

Also, another thing I don’t get – Facebook has some of the best facial recognition software around – it knows which of my cats pictures I am posting. So, why isn’t some of that processing power dedicated to preventing the sex bots who plague my friend requests? What, nothing can be tweaked to weed them out? Isn’t there some kind of heuristic machine churning away in the background of the site logging all the reports of thinly veiled and blatant solicitations for porn sites? It reminds me of how Murdoch’s takeover of Myspace signaled the presence of sex spam on the site – not the uptick, but the start of it; date coincident. It has to be something that is being allowed.

Occasionally I will write right into my update box – a rant, a poem, something or other, to rally or psychically bolster my echo chamber orchestra, but more often than not it has become a feed dump for output from places I find more engaging. Facebook is a web held together by loose threads strung between people who have no other real way of connecting, but sometimes it can be very depressing. When people panic click clickbait fake news about a subject it trends and gets more clicks and your disappear up the rear-end of  a self-perpetuating feedback loop. You can dig in, maybe engage with the mix of attempted reasonableness and outright trolling, or you can step away.

I read about an app that strips comment threads out of sites so you don’t have to get involved in all the negativity, and I wonder how much of Facebook would be left.

As with anything, there are positive aspects to the whole enterprise – I like Safety Check (except I was sheltering in a school with a Facebook blocking protocol during Irma), but some things about the site are starting to concern me.

For something that snakes its way into so many people’s lives and collects so much data on people, there is pretty much zero transparency about where that data goes or who is using it, and for what. Facebook is a black box.

Sure, it has a captive audience; a market – it disguises itself as a useful tool for marketers and social connection. People have expressed concern about Donald Trump’s connections with Cambridge Analytica and the way in which his campaign may have manipulated data on voters to its own ends, but what about when  a president started off as a social media maven and has more data on a person than the FBI, the NSA and the CIA (this may be an exaggeration)? Think that’s unlikely? Well, Zuckerberg might apparently be kicking around the idea of making a run for the White House. and he would have his media locked down tight, and you’ve already volunteered a metric ton of data about yourself. I have written before about some of the things I like about Facebook, but things may be changing in the way I and others interact with it – in the way we interact with and through any medium. Why? Because where does the control really lie?

It is a genius way of capturing data.

It appears to be free, like Google, but we know that they both generate a lot of capital, and a significant chunk of that comes directly from the data we provide and generate for them.

So, snooze, sure – it might cut down the amount of posts you get from that irritating friend, but does that mean you’re going to be able to dial down the commercial presence on your wall? Probably not, right? But how else are you going to connect with those people who live half a world away?

It is a genius way of capturing data. It is a genius way of controlling the way that people interact. It is an excellent way to be almost invisible, yet ever-present. In many ways Facebook is instantly recognizable and instantly forgettable – by becoming the infrastructure and life support system for so many, it became the landscape so much that people forgot to look at what they were doing.

I won’t cast aspersions on Zuckerberg because I don’t know him. I watched The Social Network which purports to be about him, but it probably just the cracked mirror held up to truth that most biopics are, but even if there is a grain of truth, and some news stories IRL suggest there might be – that should give you pause; that should provide you with some reasonable doubt.

Of course, you can just snooze stories like that, and going on using that ubiquitous tool you used to collate all your pictures, that you use to sign into different websites, that you pour data into through the filter of harmless little quizzes, which suggests the perfect products to you, which through certain technologies can follow you around the web, which regularly asks for control of all your contacts and their data too.

Give away a little of your liberty for security … nothing bad ever happened because of that.

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