Best article yet on the Facebook research controversy
I thought I wrote a pretty good piece on the Facebook emotional manipulation research fiasco, but this piece by danah boyd, is much better. It’s long, but worth the read. It goes into a nuanced assessment of research practices today – an area that I know little about, so I found it interesting.
But the best part of this piece is that she also feels the focus on the research is misplaced, and that what the strong public pushback is really about is a growing uneasiness over big data and the use of opaque algorithms to mysteriously shaper our online experiences – and in ways that, first and foremost, support the commercial objectives of the service provider.
Note also that danah is concerned that Facebook is incorrectly interpreting the pushback as being about research, and that they will most likely curtail further disclosures of similar findings in the future, as the PR department of a publicly-traded corporation inevitably out-wrangle their small (and most likely politically weak) research group. These research disclosures offer some of the only visibility that we have into the way that Facebook manipulates us through its algorithms, and now this window is likely to close too.
Finally, I loved this particular paragraph, because it paints so very well my own experience on Facebook:
“I get the anger. I personally loathe Facebook and I have for a long time, even as I appreciate and study its importance in people’s lives. But on a personal level, I hate the fact that Facebook thinks it’s better than me at deciding which of my friends’ posts I should see. I hate that I have no meaningful mechanism of control on the site. And I am painfully aware of how my sporadic use of the site has confused their algorithms so much that what I see in my newsfeed is complete garbage. And I resent the fact that because I barely use the site, the only way that I could actually get a message out to friends is to pay to have it posted. My minimal use has made me an algorithmic pariah and if I weren’t technologically savvy enough to know better, I would feel as though I’ve been shunned by my friends rather than simply deemed unworthy by an algorithm. I also refuse to play the game to make myself look good before the altar of the algorithm. And every time I’m forced to deal with Facebook, I can’t help but resent its manipulations.”
I have around a thousand friends on Facebook. Several years ago, I was quite active, but I’m not today. The only way I can get any real attention from friends over there these days is to pay for a boost, or maybe do something really embarrassing that I’ll pay for in other ways. You’re either all in, or your algorithmic roadkill.
Anyway, I highly recommend this piece. Thanks to Alex Schleber for flagging it for me.
Oh, and if you’re still interested in my piece on this topic (yes, even though danah’s is better), well, here it is:
I include some speculations on why I think this stuff matters to the future of artificial intelligence and its emotional intelligence.