What Could Possibly Go Wrong.

September 27, 2011 § 7 Comments

Yes, F8 was last week; 4 day-old video is old. But I’ve been BUSY, and have been waiting for the dust to settle regarding Zuck’s handful of proposed changes. The rundown can be found here, and makes for some pretty scary reading. I’m not talking about the redesign or any of the surface shit (YO DAWG I HERD U LIKE FACEBOOK) — I’m talking about what these changes mean, at least in terms of the open Web. Or what currently passes as the open Web.

Because ultimately that’s what we’re talking about — the tl;dr version of Zuck’s presentation is that Facebook wants to become an internet. No, I take that back. Facebook doesn’t want to become an internet, they already are something of an internet. They want to fortify their borders to such an extent that they become THE internet. Everything you could possibly want, it’ll all be there. You’ll be able to read what your friends are reading or listen to what your friends are listening to or, hell, even think what your friends are thinking, in one convenient location. And what fun it will be, you’ll now be able to know everything there is to know about their boring asses, and they’ll be able to know everything there is to know about your boring ass. Even better, it’ll be archived dating back TO WHEN YOU WERE FUCKING BORN, and even better than that, it’ll all be monetized so you’ll be fed the appropriate advertisements for every click you ever make, isn’t that great???

I’m going to say no, SO MUCH NO, I could not possibly convey the degree of no in my heart. My first objection is summarized here, a response to Eli Pariser’s discussion of “filter bubbles” — online slop-troughs where content is provided for you, based on whatever the nice algorithm thinks you might like next. This is what Facebook is shooting for, except from fifteen different angles including news, music, movies and real-world activities. Counterargument: The same sort of thing happens when users are allowed to roam free, are you saying that having interests is BAD?  Response: Yes, obviously, we go to websites that reflect our existing interests, aesthetic and political affiliation, thereby ensconcing ourselves in an online echo-chamber in which we’re the greatest and they (whoever the “they” is) are all ass-face Philistines. But these echo-chambers are metaphorical, not literal — our respective solar system is comprised of a number of different planets, at least could be.

On New Facebook, the echo chamber will be an actual walled place where unseen overlords can –and not just can but will, per the giddy promise of better and more targeted advertising– monitor all on-site activities (not that they aren’t already doing this, but with much less fanfare), with the unintended side effect that Facebook will have access to, and will therefore be able to control, all flows of information. Due to. If they control the walls. They’ll necessarily control the plumbing. And the faucets. And the water. Counterargument: You’re assuming Facebook has malicious intentions. Just because they could shut off certain faucets doesn’t mean they will. Response: Even if Facebook remains politically neutral and commits itself to protecting free expression evenly, without arbitrarily (/strategically) picking sides (i.e. DEATH TO TROLLS but the KKK’s cool), they’ll still be mining users’ data and farting out press releases praising how awesome it is to be shamelessly commoditized. In other words, what they’re admitting to is bad enough.

Also, and this is VERY important, that fucking dog is in violation of Facebook’s terms of service and should be put down immediately.

Which is another thing — everything Facebook does comes back to “authentic online identity,” which first of all assumes that “authentic identity” is a thing that exists, either online or in real life, and secondly, that it’s something people would want or should strive for. Personally, and besides being technologically verifiable (I blog, and therefore I’m an idiot), I don’t know what my particular “I” means, authentically or otherwise, and I’m not sure anyone else does either. But that’s Waking Life metaphysical shit. The fact that Facebook has such a strong –let’s say– vested interest in the existence “authentic identity,” at least in terms of its user-base, strikes me as somewhat significant. I mean I don’t know about you, but when someone else stands to make billions off my investment in a particular series of abstract nouns, I tend to get a little suspicious.

I’m reminded here of Jonathan Zittrain’s analysis of hardware lockdown, which he argues threatens the vitality and possibly even existence of an open Web. And consequently is something we should seriously guard against — a conclusion I’d argue is every bit as applicable to software.

In conclusion, I’m going back to Friendster. Also. THIS WHOLE THING. I need to go watch X-Files.

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§ 7 Responses to What Could Possibly Go Wrong.

  • Every paragraph of this is the best thing I’ve read on new media lately. I’m going to wait to tweet the link till morning – *everybody* needs to read this.

    I think the “authentic identity” thing is worse, though: it goes beyond their financial interest in a highly ideological view of the self: over the past 5 years, and vastly more from now on, they’ve reshaped our views, much as the far right has shifted the center of American politics.

    I do much of my work in Second Life, built on pseudonymity and identity exploration, and it’s been moved from the Next Big Thing to a marginal joke, by Facebook’s pulling our notions of identity to the “real” and monetizable.

    We’re not just screwed by Facebook, we’re screwed *everywhere* by the dominance of the Facebook ideology of identity.

    So I’ll log in with my Facebook ID to comment….😛

    • Oh man, I’ve been out of the Facebook game since last Christmas — at least in an above-board capacity, due to they banned my ass. I’d lost a bunch of fake profiles before, but this time they killed my actual real life account, for violations of their terms of service — namely, you have to be the person you say you are. And the fact that I had “inauthentic” research profiles meant I did not deserve to live. Because how can you make money off people who don’t exist? This was something of a shock at first, at the time I still subscribed to the idea that Facebook sucked but was necessary to my social survival — and then realized, you know what, Facebook just SUCKS, and isn’t worth the three additional chat conversations I might have in a week. I can’t imagine going back, as it turns out not having Facebook doesn’t actually make any difference in my ability to connect with the people I choose to connect with. tl;dr WE DO NOT NEED FACEBOOK, it’s a TRAP.

      • Good on you: I’m still addicted, though I know what it’s doing to me.

        The identity thing was one of the factors that had kept me there, though: Google+ was actively targeting accounts tied to Second Life avatars, and I run pretty much everything but work stuff through Google stuff in that name. I didn’t want to risk losing my login to, well, pretty much everything, where FB hasn’t gotten my alt account.

        Ahh, life in the identity-freedom ghetto – it’s all about who’s persecuting us most *this week*!

      • It wasn’t much of a sacrifice, I was never addicted — have always been wary of conspicuous personal displays (online and in real life), even before I made my mind up about FB’s particular suck. It’s not that I dislike social networking generally, it’s just that I’ve never been particularly attached to my “I” — alt/multiple accounts just feel more natural. Even this blog feels a bit weird sometimes, I resisted forever but finally caved for professional reasons. Like, it’s cool to have ideas, but if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, who gives a shit. In this case, unless the ideas are attached to my actual government name, said government name wouldn’t get credit so what would be the point. Still, I’m not always comfortable having my actual name on the things I do, for better or worse.

      • *nods*

        Though I’m share-y to the point of exhibitionism (well, ok, maybe past that point), I’ve worked to keep some separation between my vast social footprint and my tiny professional one. My academic blog is probably one of my darkest secrets – I really don’t think I’m anywhere near good enough to draw attention to it yet.

        Which is one of the reasons I applied to be a HASTAC scholar – it’s really time for me to do all the career stuff, which includes writing, a lot, and vaguely professionally.

        You’re really inspirational, writing about interesting stuff, keeping a human voice, and still being intellectually strong – thank you!

      • Oh lol I’ve never been called inspirational in my entire life. Thanks, but half the time I don’t even realize I’m working. Mostly it’s just dick jokes and stuff I’d talk about with my friends, for fun.

        And yeah, am doing HASTAC again this year for the same reasons — have been working in a cave for many years. I prefer it there, actually, but thats not how one gets jobs. And jobs is a thing I need to start thinking about.

  • […] there are issues here; see every post I’ve ever written about Facebook. But let’s table that shit for fifteen minutes and consider what it means to perform meat via […]

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