Imagine if you woke up to a news clip of Donald Trump holding up one of those little black folders with his jagged signature at the bottom announcing that the US government had now taken over exclusive ownership and moderation of the entire internet.
Well firstly, it wouldn’t probably surprise you. Shock you, yes. Outrage you, hopefully.
Secondly, he hasn’t.
But the disturbing fact is…. others are working on doing just this.
Here is an excerpt from a great article that I recommend you set aside 10 quiet minutes to go read in full: How Facebook is Killing Comedy. The author, Sarah Aswell, a freelance writer and standup comedian, looks (from an artists point of view) at how Facebook & Google and others are engineering the ecosystem of the internet, the very real impact that this has on peoples livelihoods, and the way we blindly consume their algorithmic reality.
I would add that the blame does not lay totally with Facebook. It is us who have allowed ourselves to continue this lazy, dopamine reward seeking, passive consumption habit that give these companies such deep power.
Facebook has created a centrally designed internet. It’s a lamer, shittier looking internet. It’s just not as cool as an internet that is a big, chaotic space filled with tons of independently operating websites who are able to make a living because they make something cool that people want to see.
Facebook is essentially running a payola scam where you have to pay them if you want your own fans to see your content. If you run a large publishing company and you make a big piece of content that you feel proud of, you put it up on Facebook. From there, their algorithm takes over, with no transparency. So, not only is the website not getting ad revenue they used to get, they have to pay Facebook to push it out to their own subscribers. So, Facebook gets the ad revenue from the eyeballs on the thing they are seeing, and they get revenue from the publisher. It’s like if The New York Times had their own subscriber base, but you had to pay the paperboy for every article you wanted to see.
The worst part is that as an artist, it feels like your own fault. We’re used to a world where if you put something out there that’s good, people see it and share it. But that’s just not true in this world. Someone can make something really good, and just because of some weird algorithmic reasons, or if it’s not designed specifically for Facebook, it doesn’t do well. And then it becomes impossible to know what a good thing to make is anymore.
Facebook is the great de-contextualizer. There’s no more feeling of jumping into a whole new world on the internet anymore — everything looks exactly the same.
Facebook is an absolutely fine repository for the names of people I’ve met in my life, and for photos I have of those people, and it would be a nice memorial to my life when I’m dead. But it has no business being a publisher, and they don’t even like to acknowledge that that’s what they are. Facebook hides behind all of this machinery, when what they’re doing is very human. Recommending things for people is a personal act, and there are people who are good at it. There are critics. There are blogs. It’s not beneficial to us to turn content recommendations over to an algorithm, especially one that’s been optimized for garbage.
In conclusion I will say that FaceBook is not all evil. There are many community groups and NGO’s that rely on facebook to connect and inform their followers. Many incredible humanitarian causes and social movements have been catalysed and grown within this platform.
Until recently I ran a facebook page for nurses (it is still very active here) that had over 100,000 followers. It connected nurses from all over Australia and the world and let them discuss and share information to promote evidence based practice as well as providing a platform to help give them voice and support. It continues to do much good.
It is just a shame that the very strengths of the big Social Media corporations to connect us and do good lay as a subset of algorithms within the dominating drive to make money, promote brand, gather information about us and (more sinisterly) socially engineer our behaviours.