May 22, 2011 § 2 Comments
(Originally posted December 27 2010; original title “The Least Open-Source Platform on the Web”; where things start to get interesting in terms of my hatred)
First of all, a little disclaimer: I was recently banned from Facebook due to Terms of Service violations.
Technically, I had been in violation — in order to research Facebook trolls, I needed to see what Facebook trolls were up to. And the only way to do that was to create a number of alt/research profiles. In the last six months I’ve burned through a dozen or so alts, only to create new accounts as soon as I was banned. “b&,” as we say in the business. But then, suddenly, my actual real-life Facebook profile was disabled, along with the three alts I’d been using for research — presumably because the admins had somehow connected my real life account with my research/troll accounts. My research accounts were fake, so I get why they were banned, but my real-life account was not; this was the first time I experienced any RL backlash from my work.
As soon as I realized what had happened, I decided that, you know what, I’m actually sort of done with Facebook. Not the research stuff, I created a new fake profile within an hour of discovering the bannings (sorry Zuck, mama’s got a dissertation to write). My real-life account, on the other hand….all I can say is meh. Like many people I know (I’m looking at YOU, anonymous reader who knows who he is), I’d been complaining about Facebook for months — but hadn’t done anything about it because, I don’t know, doing something would have required effort. And then, like a little gift from heaven, Facebook made the decision for me.
In other words, I’m entirely biased. Then again who isn’t, so whatever.
Which brings me to the topic of this post — the concept of open source. As you may have gleaned from the above title, I regard Facebook as the hulking blue antipode to open source anything, from software to the creation of online (and/or real life) fantasy worlds. Open-source platforms encourage users to tweak data as they see fit, deliberately eschew hierarchy, and rely on collaborative, collective intelligence to build a bigger, cooler [whatever]. Things might not run so smoothly in practice, but in theory, open-source is predicated on an “us,” not on some singular proprietor or selective group of gatekeepers.
Facebook is very much not that. Not because Mark Zuckerberg is a bad guy, not because the company itself is evil, but -ironically- because it is such a well-designed, sturdy-ass platform. Data goes where the programmers want it to go. Users utilize products and services precisely as they were intended (with trolls being the major exception – xo). Most interestingly (and problematically, in my mind), the basic interpersonal orientation of users is preset — solipsism is built into the source code. The user is the subject of every sentence he or she utters, and is quite literally positioned as the center of his particular –and therefore the– universe. People constantly remark on the narcissism of their Facebook “friends” –from oversharing (“Jilly Josephson really hopes this brown spot on her nipple isn’t cancerous”) to constant observations about the weather (“Greg Gargleboil is just looked outside and noticed its raining lol!”) to the assumption that any of us are interested in the day-to-day goings-on of people we vaguely remember disliking in high school (“Allison H. Jenkem really needs another cup of coffee!”), not to mention the steady stream of unsolicited political “insights”–without acknowledging that, by posting anything on Facebook ever, we are all similarly guilty. Not because we’re real-life narcissists, but because Facebook requires us to be narcissists online. At least, whenever we’re on Facebook. We have no choice; our behavioral (read: data) pathways are predetermined.
There are other things to complain about, here (privacy stuff; being reduced to a commodified set of mineable data) — and other things to couch and parse (the overwhelming benefits of social networking; Facebook’s indisputable and often quite positive cultural influence) but space is limited, and I’m more interested in starting a fight (excuse me, discussion) than providing an airtight answer. Just earning my keep as one of Facebook’s Most Wanted.
May 15, 2011 § 3 Comments
I started watching this video because the link said something rude about Facebook, and I’d read anything that has something rude to say about Facebook. One of the earlier iterations of this blog had much more on my burning antipathy for Facebook; unfortunately those posts died in a 408 death-of-server fire. The basic gist is that Facebook decided I was a troll because I’d been researching trolls and was friends/interacted with some trolls on my research accounts. They disabled my research accounts, no big deal, but then around Christmastime did the same to my rl account because apparently I’m some sort of criminal cyberbully. At first I was like hey, but then I realized how much I didn’t care. I still needed access to RIP pages, though, so immediately set up a new, and this time totally legit, research account — I used my real name and gave my phone number and everything. For the last few months I used that account to observe and connect with some troll contacts, never posted a single thing to a single place save the research group I was admin’ing, yet recently was b& again because………no idea. In this particular case I was not in violation of their stupid TOS, so who knows what kinds of weird algorithms they were running and why my account was tangled in the tripwire.
tl;dr, I can’t stand Facebook as a company or a platform, and was like YOU GO GIRL when Pariser started talking about the ways in which FB limits the kinds and amount of information users encounter — an analysis based on Facebook’s recent push to magically edit users’ news feeds for them (and without asking first). As Zuckerberg explained to a reporter, “a squirrel dying in your front yard may be more relevant to your life than people dying in Africa,” implying that people shouldn’t have to deal with news that might challenge or undermine or even simply diverge from their chosen spheres of influence.
The fascinating (and unsettling) thing is that Facebook is hardly alone; Google is also guilty, as is Yahoo news, as is any company which, in the service of “personalization,” ends up cordoning users into their own respective echo-chambers. Pariser isn’t arguing that algorithms should be banished from the web or that they’re “bad,” but that developers need to give users more control and, in effect, embed some sort of social ethic into the code itself.
So I guess hating Facebook really does pay off, I learn all kinds of interesting things in the process.
May 6, 2011 § Leave a comment