This post will be updated regularly as I’m deciding on what to do about my Facebook presence. Thanks for all your votes btw – you can see the results up to this point here or below. For now, I have decided to dial back 95% as far as my Facebook usage goes, but will not delete my pages and profile quite yet. Stay tuned for updates.
Added 2/6/2016 via The Guardian: Five strategies for reclaiming our personal privacy online by Emily Taylor. Our privacy is being exploited commercially by the oligopoly of Silicon Valley, and in the name of national security by our governments. With so little control over our online lives, how can we reclaim the balance? Be sure to download Emily’s white-paper as well
Added Feb 13 2016: Facebook and the new colonialism (The Atlantic)
Added Feb 23 2016: If you use Facebook to get your news, please — for the love of democracy — read this first (WaPo)
Facebook now generates 35% of my traffic to this site and my Youtube channel, yet I am seriously thinking about ending my posts and contributions to Facebook, and may delete my profile and my pages altogether.
Here are is why I am getting worried about what I like to call the creeping ‘evilfication’ of Facebook:
- Facebook’s sophisticated tracking and systematic drag-netting of our personal data has become its main purpose, and it’s getting way out of hand. Facebook is really good at hoovering up and data-mining every piece of information about us, everywhere, and at least for me, it’s starting to feel increasingly creepy. And once FB really gets going with their artificial intelligence (AI) stuff then they will really start boiling their 1.6 Billion frogs (and yes, all those new Indian ‘free basics’ users that will join the party). FB monitors, knows and analyses everything I do while on FB and it also tracks my browsing habits across the entire internet using their ubiquitous ‘like’ button and its spy-ware-like code. FB knows which sites I visit and whatever else I do online unless I log out (and delete their cookies, and so on), use privacy-guarding browser extension or several different browsers (all of which I do already). And if I use FB on the mobile… OMG – let’s not even talk about that. I simply don’t trust FB with all that data because I know how tempting it is to use it for anything that promises to make serious money- and they are beholden to nobody. It is abundantly clear that FB will sell us out to the highest or most powerful bidders, whether advertisers, brands and datamining companies, or overnments and security agencies that may or may not have lawful (never mind ethical) reasons to zero in us at any given time. My bottom line: Facebook is selling us – and we have zero recourse, zero rights and zero control.
- Facebook is a master in algorithmic manipulation of what I see and and who I pay attention to. FB is using very powerful algorithms and intelligent, self-learning systems – and very soon, AI -, to figure out who I am, what I am like, what pushes my buttons, what floats my boat, what my opinions are, what I may want to purchase -and even worse, how I may act in the future. This is becoming a HellVen dilemma for us. Keep in mind that ‘predictive analytics’ are a very big deal (watch this keynote by IBM’s CEO at CES 2016 to understand why), and once FB has 2+ Billion users on mobile devices and gets data feeds from their wearables and various IoT streams… the sky is the limit. And this is dead-certain to make oodles of money for Facebook. In the meantime, we are being aptly played by Facebook to see this or not see that, and we have no idea as to why or how. If Facebook is indeed a leading global media company (and not just, as Jaron Lanier says, a mere ‘siren server‘), it must start acting like it, too. My bottom line: Facebook needs to accept the responsibilities that come with being a media company – and that includes safeguarding against errors, preventing automated manipulation and not furthering ever better ‘filter-bubbling’.
- Facebook’s Faustian bargain is increasingly tilting towards themselves (reminder: FB is a huge multinational corporation) – we, the users are becoming mere ‘data-engines’. The deal used to be that we, the users, get a powerful, free platform for connecting to each other, while FB gets to use our presence, our contributions and our connections to sell other things to us i.e. to use us ‘as content’. Bad enough but… at least somewhat reasonable. But now, because of its sheer size and its deep pockets, FB is actually building a ‘global brain’ – os shall we say, a kind of a Cloud-OS, based on our most personal data, all our digital breadcrumbs and our increasingly automated contributions. And because technology (and now, cognitive computing) is becoming exponentially better at slicing and dicing these oceans of data, the value of what we are supplying to FC is truly giganormous (for lack of a better word): data is indeed the new oil – and intelligent data is the new petrol. My bottom line: this business needs to be regulated, and until it is we should probably dial back on our involvement.
- Facebook is inadvertently (or by design?) turning friendship (and therefore, life) into an algorithm, a machine. FB’s technology-centric, data+algorithms+AI-laced worldview is becoming detrimental to our society because it feeds of, and then purposefully amplifies our natural laziness and desire for convenience. It facilitates the gradual erosion of our innate, more holistic communication capabilities, it nudges us to de-skill ourselves and our children, it leads to increasing abdication of our social and political responsibilities and it promises shortcuts (what I like call ‘wormholes‘) where none could possibly exist. Essentially, Facebook is slyly suggesting to us that what happens there is in fact more important than what happens in ‘real life’ or (more aptly) in meat-space. At the same time, 100s of studies keep telling us that “close relationships and social connections keep you happy and healthy…humans are wired for personal connections. We probably should not spend more time on building relationships with machines (or with strangers via machines) than we do with humans. My bottom line: Facebook is tempting us to replace real relationships with their algorithmic friends+news simulations – and that’s no longer just a game.
- Facebook is quietly building a giant, deep-learning mouse-trap for the automation of human relationships. FB allows us to craft our own identities online, to present ourselves in an entirely new and often manufactured way. Sure, it’s somewhat me, but only to the extend that my FB contributions make me look good… so that I can be liked. For some of us, this might be liberating or serve as an interesting role-play – but when we actually drink our own Kool-Aid and start to believe our own conjectures about who we are, virtually, we are in deep trouble. Let’s remember that FB must turn everything into algorithms, it must enforce ‘machine thinking’ because that is the only way FB can mine all that data-oil – anything that cannot be expressed as an algorithm is useless to them. And that happens to be 95% of what makes us human. It is close relationships and real (i.e. embodied) social connections that keep us happy- humans are wired for personal connections. My bottom line: I am fed up with inadvertently pleasing Facebook’s algorithms because someone out there may ‘like’ my bait, and discover me- it’s corrosive to building real relationships.
- I recently realised that my online behaviour is being manipulated by the fact that I enjoy being ‘liked’ on Facebook. You know the story: every time someone hits that ‘like’ button next to your post, the endorphins start rolling, and you feel appreciated. I am wondering if, like a humanoid edition of a Skinner pigeon or a Pavlovian dog, we are being slowly ‘programmed’ to do pretty much whatever it takes to keep getting those positive affirmations? This has become a driving force of what I do on Facebook (see what Zygmunt Bauman says about ‘the pleasure trap’, below – and it’s kinda pathetic. My bottom line: Facebook really knows how to exploit human weaknesses to the fullest – but merely chasing likes should not be the future of social networking.
- To me, Facebook has become ‘just marketing’, plain and simple – and I’m getting tired of it. There’s more to life (professionally and otherwise) than marketing yourself (even as a professional futurist and keynote speaker:) Sure, there’s nothing wrong with ‘using Facebook as marketing’, per se, but at least for me this constant hamster-wheel has taken over way too much of my attention. Technology should not be what we seek but how we seek! FB is getting very good at making themselves utterly indispensable as a ‘social marketing’ platform, especially on mobile platforms (which are, of course, the future), and I really don’t like the idea of getting hooked on yet another dominant aggregation platform that I need to feed (the Google keywords game is bad enough). FB’s blend of whacko friend requests, fake profiles and spin-pages, bots that decide what content goes where, and brands doing the most bizarre things to get more ‘likes’ is becoming a bizarre parody of what ‘friendship’ actually means. The bottom line: Facebook is in the process of creating a global ‘Social OS’, an artificial intelligence-powered framework for communication that will be more dominant and manipulative than any other media platform we’ve ever known- and ‘human flourishing’ will be an afterthought.
- Facebook’s lack of transparency, and its general unwillingness to give any real control to the users is getting seriously annoying. FB is a now typical ‘data-oil’ enterprise, and it’s generating huge profits from that position. As mentioned above, FB is the Exxon-Mobil of personal data – yet it is completely unregulated. FB is operating so deep in the shadows of our data-clouds that we don’t even have a clue about what they are capable of doing with our data – and it seems that they intend to keep it that way. User empowerment is fine – as long as it all happens on the FB platform, and if does not deflate the importance of FB. My bottom line: I find FB’s desire to control our digital breadcrumbs and assets more and more distasteful – how and when did FB get permission to act like ‘mission control’ over my digital life?
- Facebooks’s techno-imperalistic stance on net neutrality, and their feudalistic approach to the internet in general, is becoming a real problem. Sure, providing ‘poor Internet for poor people’ might be better than nothing, in India, but the result will be that those ‘free users’ will think of Facebook as the Internet, period. That is just plain wrong and creates dependency and it distorts what those users think about the world. What FB wants to do in India (‘free basics’ access) is not going to mean empowerment for those users – it will just bring them into a fancier prison and lull them into a false sense of connectivity. My bottom line: Facebook is not doing the right thing for the future of the Internet, and FB execs need to get that message, loud and clear.
- Facebook’s power is growing ‘gradually then suddenly’. I think it is important to note that while Facebook’s power and reach is already enormous, today, I think we often fail to understand that we are indeed at the pivot point of exponential technological change: ‘we ain’t seen nothing yet’ as far as the evilfication of Facebook is concerned. My bottom line: on a scale of 0-100, most of the issues listed below are currently only at 7 or 8 – this is only the beginning!
So what about LinkedIn, Twitter et al? Well, LinkedIn is a professional platform (which I pay for), and marketing yourself is front and center when it’s about jobs or business development. Even though many of their recent changes are not making me very happy, either (such as removing the ability to email select groups of people), LI’s faustian bargain is still much sustainable for me.
Twitter is more like short-form blogging and P2P/Group messaging – yes, similar concerns about tracking and profiling may arise, but compared to Facebook it’s a minor issue.
So, if you are currently following me mostly on Facebook and want to continue stay in-touch with me, be prepared for my Facebook switch-off, read ‘how to connect to Gerd Leonhard without entering Facebook’s walled garden’ and follow me on my other channels and newsletters.
Download this page as PDF: The evilfication of Facebook Gerd Leonhard
I’d really like to know what you think about these arguments – please kindly contribute to my poll below, or contact me anytime via email or better yet, use the comment tool below!
My GerdFeed items on Facebook (stuff I have highlighted while reading)
Update January 30th
ElPais Interview with Zygmunt Baumann – with some very timely comments on social networks 🙂
Q: You are skeptical of the way people protest through social media, of so-called “armchair activism,” and say that the internet is dumbing us down with cheap entertainment. So would you say that the social networks are the new opium of the people? Answer: The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.
Some related videos from my recent keynotes and video projects: