Part I-C: The User (finale)
In the first two posts of this section, the user, we discussed how every new user that joins a Facebook platform (Instagram, WhatsApp, etc.) immediately becomes a raw material asset for the business. Over time, the user learns the software, but over the whole time, Facebook learns the user. In this final segment of Part I, we will discuss the various ways people have used this platform for both good and evil...how those actions have created real world consequences...and what we can do to gain control of the algorithm by adjusting our input.
The Good. I firmly believe that the early stage developers of Facebook only had the best of intentions in mind. Their vision of a social sharing platform was designated to offer a digital public square where you are able to catch up with several friends all in the click of a mouse. (Again, smart phones were not available back then). The concept, on paper, sounds great! Who wouldn't want to know about your friends graduation? Your cousin's new baby? Your coworker's trip of a lifetime? Why wouldn't you want to meet people who share the same interests, charities, sports teams and past times that you do? Isn't it nice to have a platform to explore new activities, clubs or social events? Facebook does have good in it! Please do not let any experience, criticism, or smear campaign tell you other wise. As in most cases...there are always two sides to every story...and then there's the truth!
So why hasn't the 'good' of Facebook been spotlighted...especially in the recent months? Simple...there is no news in 'good' any more. Think about the year of 2020 and the forced restrictions that Covid regulations have imposed on us. We were locked in our homes, away from family, friends, coworkers, etc...forced in isolation. While people dealt with this issue in their own way, many people turned to Facebook to keep their social channels alive. It was a way to keep in touch with the family that they couldn't see...a way to learn new tricks about dealing with the isolation...a way to get together with friends and create some sense of normalcy. Plugging in to the Matrix, in this case, helped a tremendous amount of people by feeling included. For this, I can argue that Facebook worked for the good! It doesn't matter what the emotions were...what the topics were (yes...even the election). The fact that people had a platform to socialize was good enough for some to help keep their sanity. But with the good...comes the bad. And just like everything we know about our existence...it is all a matter of perception!
"Perception and reality are two different things." - Tom Cruise
The Bad. With the good...comes the bad. But as any philosopher will argue, isn't the 'bad' for some....simply 'good' for others? In short, yes...as long as the consequences do not result in more 'bad'. Can Facebook be used for the greater bad...yes! Is that a common way that the platform is used? I argue that it is not...however, perception is everything. During the pre-internet days, any aggressive individual on a phone call was known as a 'telephone tough-guy'. The label suggested that the only reason why that individual was aggressive was because that person felt safe knowing that the person on the other end of the phone call could not cause physical harm through the phone. The phrase also suggests that if that person were in a face-to-face situation, they would not be aggressive because there is not a phone to hide behind. Translating that to today's world...we have the equivalent 'keyboard cyber-bully'. Again, I firmly believe that Facebook did not intend on creating a platform to breed cyber bullies...in fact, they purposefully did not create a 'dislike' button for that reason.
Swinging back to the correlation of the 'bad' to perception...let's use this past election as an example. Before I rattle this hornets nest, I want to be sure to separate any reports of suppression or censorship by Facebook on this topic...we'll save this for Part III of this series. For now, let's just focus on the input actions taken by the user. I personally don't care what your political views are...in my humble opinion, I believe that the entire thing is a circus. But if you scroll through your Facebook feed, you will see that others take it a little bit more seriously. Social media in general has become the modern 'town square'...a forum to share and express ideas, opinions, and debates. The ability to hide behind a phone/keyboard, however, minimizes the filters that would be in place had these discussions take place in person. That being said...any political post results in one of three outcomes:1. Agreement
2. Resentment3. Yeah, but-ment
Agreement comes in the form of a 'like', share, comment, or volume of reasons that either echo or validate your point. Resentment generally comes with an even longer volume of reasons why your point needs to be discredited. Yeah, but-ment is somewhere in between agreement and resentment. There are generally areas that are not disputed, but need tweaking on others. As the seed is planted (the post), every comment creates an opportunity for a branch to grow (Facebook calls this 'threads'). Echo-chambers form very quickly...for every comment agreeing with your viewpoint, there are several that disagree. For the several that disagree, there are several more that disagree with that disagreement...thus agreeing with the original post. This tree continues to grow until the next seed is planted. So why is this 'bad'? Isn't the ability to express different opinions something that makes this country great? Yes...(and here it comes)...BUT...once again, this constant interaction keeps the user engaged thus adding to the continuous stream of input data collection. The fact of needing to see how people replied to your reply results in you literally feeding into your own addiction. You replace your own reality with this digital one...hours of your day spent on a back-and-forth exchange with people you probably don't know. This defines the 'bad'.
Whether it is for the 'good' or 'bad', there is always a real life consequence that emerges from these engaging actions. Cyber bullying lead to physical harm. Controversial opinions shared lead to employment termination. Even the simple act of 'liking' someone's photo raises loyalty questions in a relationship. The bottom line is, Facebook has become a form of mindreading that perhaps we just weren't ready for. The good comes with the bad in every scenario...simply because there is no good without bad...the definition holds no merit. So how do we sift through the mess...avoid the garbage...and separate our social media lives from our actual lives? Simple (in theory)...use Facebook as a tool.
When you sit in front of your computer, do you automatically open Microsoft Word? Excel? The calculator app? ...I'm going to guess you don't. The reason is obvious...these softwares provide a specific purpose. If you are not in the need of the items they offer, then there is no point in opening them. Treat social media the same way. Facebook should be a tool to accomplish the goals you set out to achieve...keeping in touch with friends, sharing a photo here and there, or keeping up with some social events. Use it as a way to help you in your real life...don't let it run your life. If you must, limit your time spent...filter out the cancerous friends and pages that force your addiction. Take the necessary steps to separate your dependence on the Matrix world and focus on the real world! In doing so, we stop feeding this algorithm monster...we stop giving over free data points...we stop allowing ourselves to become a commodity to Facebook.