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Fate of Facebook

After a decade of being the latest thing, social media is no longer seen as the savior of society. Since the Cambridge Analytica story broke last month, Facebook and its creator Mark Zuckerberg have gone from hero to zero. 

It’s taken us a while, but we are finally coming to terms with social media and Facebook in particular. It is not what we were promised.

I myself have mixed views about social media. One the one hand, I think social media has become a play where people can enter a sphere where everyone agrees with you. Especially when it comes to politics, there are groups on Facebook whose sole purpose is to take your political beliefs and make them become the most virtuous thing around while other views smell of the brimstone of hell. This rancor makes it a lot easier to demonize others that have a different viewpoint on things.

Social media also seems to bring out the ugliest part of ourselves. For some reason we seem willing to say things about others that we would never say in polite company. Social media is a place without filters and without manners.

Overall, I think Twitter and Facebook have made society coarser, meaner and less hospitable. It is threatening to democracy and not simply because of Russian bots, but because when we see those of another viewpoint as someone that needs to be destroyed instead of talked to, it makes for a politics of winner take all by any means necessary.

I can’t blame those who are tempted to leave Facebook if not all of social media. Life would be better without it.

Or, maybe not.

While the thought of leaving Facebook has crossed my mind, I can’t. Not because I’m addicted, though it is a big time suck, but because it is a part of my job. I work to make sure the nonprofit where I work part time has a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’ve done this for other nonprofits and churches, so social media is a way that I make money.

But the larger reason I can’t leave it is because of all the good people I’ve met over the years. I’ve been able to reconnect with dear friends with whom I’d previously lost contact. I’ve made new friends with other people. I’ve learned about various issues by asking questions of other followers. Through my work, I’ve helped people get to know about a group they never heard of and maybe find a way to get involved. It isn’t simply trivial.

Social media is not all that it is cracked up to be. But I don’t know if that’s a reason to shut down all of our accounts. Privacy concerns aside, I think we have to learn how to put social media in its place. Maybe not check Facebook every five minutes and take some time to read. Maybe we can do more with those people we’ve reconnected with, like write a letter or give them a call. Maybe we can start to learn that the manners we learned in the real world, apply in the virtual one as well. And maybe, just maybe, we can use social media to expand our understanding of the world instead of confirm our biases.

The Facebook scandal is an opportunity to re-examine our use of social media. But going cold turkey is the easy way out. Learning how to manage it? That’s an art. But I think at the end of the day, I’d rather learn how to use social media and not let it use me than to just give up.

So, I will take inventory of my social media usage. I might not be “on” as much, but I will be around. After all, I have to pay my bills.

{This piece was originally published on Medium}


Contributor

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis, MN.  You can follow Dennis through his blogs, The Clockwork Pastor and Big Tent Revue and on Twitter.  Feel free to contact him at dennis.sanders(at)gmail(dot)com.

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50 thoughts on “Fate of Facebook

  1. I think Facebooks record is mixed but Twitter is the network i wish had never been invented. I think all journalists, government figures and business actors should be barred by cosmic statute from participating on that network or even being aware that Twitter exists.

    Venting aside, I agree that the end solution won’t be quitting the networks, just balancing them and above all taking them less seriously.

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  2. Twitter is not only a cesspool, it’s a bot filled cesspool. The statistics I’ve been seeing indicate that if you’re a heavy twitter user, much of what you see and the topics that come up are driven by bot networks. I’ve seen numbers ranging up to half of Twitter being botnets.

    Facebook, on the other hand — it’s useful, but their business model (and Zuckerberg’s oft-stated goal) is to strip away privacy. Put your real name on it, your phone number, hide privacy options in 25 different places, make sure that you’re as exposed as you possibly can be. Make it difficult to impossible to curate how much you share.

    I accept the ads. I’m even okay with them scraping my posts and feeds for targeted ads. But selling un-anonymized data to third parties? Sending people out to hospitals to try to get more data so they match it internally? (yes they at least tried that. Yes, it’s a violation of HIPAA and each instance would be a felony. Congress is too far behind to even notice).

    The latest is that not only are your instant messages never actually deleted, third parties had full access to the contents. Cambridge Analytica, just so you know, has the full copy of every conversation you’ve ever had over Facebook.

    There’s “We need Data to sell adds” and then there’s this crap. Google serves me ads, even serves me ads based on scraping my email contents– but they’ve never sold the contents of my inbox to people.

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  3. Facebook and its creator Mark Zuckerberg have went from hero to zero.

    Then you contradict this, saying (in different words) something that’s absolutely true: two billion subscribers and the network effect that goes with that isn’t, and won’t be, zero. I have a friend who abandons Facebook every six months or so, because of private data concerns, or people who abuse her online, or something. After somewhere between two weeks and two months she’s back, with a thinned-down friends list, running fewer apps, paying more attention to her security settings. Network effect, every time — too many people that she wants to stay in touch with that won’t dump Facebook for something else.

    It’s 2018. So that’s 23 years since I was writing internal white papers at the giant telecom where I worked about the end of personal privacy. I’m surprised it’s taken this long. To be honest, these days I’m more concerned about the big telecoms bundling services to encourage everyone to put home security cameras, their thermostats, even their front door locks online.

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    • Michael Cain: To be honest, these days I’m more concerned about the big telecoms bundling services to encourage everyone to put home security cameras, their thermostats, even their front door locks online.

      ^This

      The battle over who owns your social data is mostly over. There will be some skirmishes around the edges. There may be at some point and battle between international titans, but that is some way off.

      The battle now is over who will own the telemetry and data streams surrounding your life. Lots of players at this point and the biggest players only have shard compared to the size and value of these data streams in a few years.

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    • The Internet of Stuff frankly scares me a little, given how many times I’ve had credit card numbers stolen in data breaches (I basically assume my credit cards are semi-disposable now). And also given that there are people out there who will sell anything they can hack to the highest criminal bidder, or who are big enough a-holes to do stuff like hack into people’s thermostats and turn the heat on with a temperature set at 90 degrees F or some other thing “for the lulz”

      Yes, I know those things allegedly have failsafes to prevent that. But chip-and-pin cards were also supposed to have “unstealable” numbers.

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  4. What is this Facebook, and why was my ballgame only on this Facebook today? In the good old days, there were four stations, if you count PBS, and a man didn’t need to look around beneath the cushions or on the bookshelf to watch a game. Why does Congress put up with this?

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      • Thank you, but if that was a fabulous comment, I must have been trying too hard before. Pressing even.

        (The underlying point was that as a non FB-user, I sense malignant forces at work trying different ways to capture me. Get thee behind me, FB.)

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        • Gotta work on your cliche’s… here, write this down.

          “We gotta play ’em one day at a time. I’m just happy to be here. Hope I can help the ballclub. I just want to give it my best shot, and the good Lord willing, things will work out. A good friend of mine used to say, ‘This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.’ Think about that for a while.”

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  5. I may have mentioned it here, but social media and the internet seems analogous to industry in the late turn of the 19th/ 20th century.
    In that age, modern civilizations had mastered the art of mass production to produce tremendous wealth and prosperity through various forms of extraction, refinement, and assembly of natural resources into finished goods.
    But they hadn’t grasped the side effects of pollution and the human cost of safety. Disposing of toxic waste was as simple as dumping the stuff in the nearest river or field, and no one thought about how humans interacted with these massive assemblies of sharp gears, slicing tools, stamping and crushing rollers and presses.
    As a consequence, the average city was dirty, choked with coal soot, the streets ran with sewage and if a single building caught fire, it was likely that a couple square blocks or more of the city would be destroyed.
    It took decades of effort and political work to enact the legal and regulatory safeguards that curbed all this.

    I think we are at that point with the internet.
    Back when the internet was a toy it was easy to take a laissez faire attitude about it.

    But it is now a main pillar of our banking system, commerce system, communications system.

    I can’t see how it is possible to have a society where your refrigerator overhears your conversation about your kid’s upcoming birthday and then suggests 3 different kinds of cake to buy, without some agreed-upon set of boundaries of who is doing this listening and under what circumstances.

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  6. In my personal life, I have a tiny facebook presence. Mostly to see pics of my cousin’s daughter, have a chance at connecting with old lost friends, things like that. Mostly though, I left in ’09 when I was laid off. What I was experiencing was something that the majority of my… I hesitate to say friends, as they aren’t people I would go out of my way to contact offline. Now, I only use it for my business, as it wasn’t used in any real way by the old owner and my clients think it is wonderful. Then again, most of my clients are 65+ and have Hotmail accounts

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    • This is the thing. A lot of my friends/relatives ONLY want to share on FB. I don’t want to fool with FB. So I get (maybe) a Christmas card from them, and I send them a card, and that’s about the only contact we have in a year.

      it’s kind of sad. I’ve been as much as told, “If you’re not going to go through FB, we’re not going to bother to keep you up with our lives” – no calls, no letters, no -emails.

      Eh, whatever.

      I am on Twitter and spend too much time on there but my feed is pretty curated (ugh, I hate that word) and i have my account locked so people have to ask to follow me. I generally say yes if they seem to be a real person; I block the bots.

      I do find Twitter fills kind of an “instant messaging” function – I remember a couple years ago when my dad wound up in the ER (I live 700 miles from them) and I was worried until I could finally reach someone who knew what was up, a couple people who follow me on there “virtually sat with” me and I will never forget that.

      It’s a tool, like any tool. You can use it for good or for bad. I try to use it for good.

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  7. Tyler Cowen says:

    If you read a criticism of Facebook, try subbing in the word “printing press” and see if it still makes sense.

    That said, my problems with Facebook are more of the “how in the heck do they know that I’m friends with the typist behind Will Truman?” variety than the “Facebook is responsible for hundreds of people knowing that I’m holding a Pampered Chef party at six on Friday and you’re invited and please bring everyone you know I’m making lasagne and would you please buy some kitchen utensils, if I sell 200, I get to go on a cruise!” variety.

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  8. I never had any use for Twitter, but enjoyed Facebook, until a few months ago when I realized that some of the sites I was liking may have been actually Russian botfarms, and I realized that I was one of those people whose passions had been manipulated for other people’s ends. So I scrubbed my profile, deactivated my account and haven’t visited since.

    I think it is interesting, that I post here and everywhere under my actual name, and post paintings on Instagram, but other than that I have a minimal online existence.

    I’ve lost that sense of trust and bravery that came with imagining I was somehow in control of the online world. I assume that every word I type, every site I visit is logged and stored somewhere out of my control and easily traceable back to my name, physical address if someone were inclined to do so.

    And in one sense hasn’t it always been so?
    When I was a kid, the cashier at the local grocery store knew our family, what we liked to buy, who was working, or dating who or who which child could be trusted to buy cigarettes for their parents.

    Every time someone sent a physical check their name, address and phone number was printed on it.
    If you spent your evenings at the olde timey pub, everyone knew who you voted for, what your passions were.

    Maybe the difference is at the time when the 1st and 4th Amendment were written there was an understood sense of rules and boundaries such that the line between public and private speech and conduct was understood, and people could control their privacy accordingly.

    Now, when I write or speak words aloud, I honestly have no idea who is listening or why or how my words will be used or for whose benefit.

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    • I know who everyone voted for and what their passions are at my pub, but I don’t think that’s common. Even the resident a**hole saved somebody’s life one time by giving CPR. I can respect that, but I wouldn’t talk to him about politics.

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  9. I think the big issue is that FB has really integrated itself into meatspace. I originally joined FB in 2008 because I heard about parties after the fact. Everyone said they put the invited on FB. Once I joined, I got the party invites.

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  10. I both get what you are saying, Dennis, and am terrified by it.

    Facebook is not the printing press. Anybody with money could buy a printing press and set up their own newspaper. There is only one Facebook.

    Facebook bothered me right from the time it said to me “Fred would like to be your friend”. That stunk like fraud to me. Fred was already my friend, and nothing I did or didn’t do on Facebook’s website would change that.

    Facebook’s business plan entails injecting themselves into our most intimate relationships and using those relationships to promote commercial messages. Can you imagine having a meatspace conversation with a friend which was periodically interrupted by a commercial message? Especially one that makes it seem like everyone in the world is listening to what you thought was a private conversation?

    Me: Little Timmy is struggling with math class.
    Dennis: Oh, that’s too bad. Susie had some trouble once, but she pulled through.
    Voice from out of the ether: Have you tried “Brainiac Tutoring”? Brainiac produces smart kids!

    The issue is the interruption model. The problem with the internet is that it is structured to allow anyone to interrupt and inject themselves into any conversation at any time. Including, but not limited to, commercial interests.

    We can’t easily walk away from this, either.

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    • Voice from out of the ether: Have you tried “Brainiac Tutoring”? Brainiac produces smart kids!

      Or not. It is somewhat surprising, at least to me, that Facebook never complains that I’m running an ad blocker. Or that I have Firefox’s anti-tracking option enabled. Or that I restrict sharing to friends and family. Or that I never run apps. They never bitch that I’m screwing up their revenue model, or that I’m going to put them out of business.

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      • They know that your presence is part of what keeps some of their other users around (mostly your FB friends, but it also has a tangential effect on their FOFs and those people’s FOFs etc), and those other users are likely (statistically) to be easier sources of data than you are. Not worth their trouble to try and control your behavior. Would probably be minorly counterproductive of them to do so.

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  11. The fundamental problem with social media as it currently exists is the incentives are not structured to produce a healthy set of relationships.

    The media company owner has an incentive to get people to give up more data than they might otherwise be willing to give up. They sell this data, either directly or through their curation of it, to folks who want to make money off of the folks in the community.

    The successful movers in social media are those who get shares, retweets, likes, etc., which provides incentives for producers to value outrageous garbage over thoughtful content.

    All of this is predictable given the structure. We could change that, but it would require the underpinnings of the system to enable users to build communities for the sake of building communities that are useful to the user rather than only enabling users to build communities that are useful to the folks that buy access to the community from the social media platform.

    What we have: monolithic, monodirectional trust, opt-out functionality, community building leveraged by users on top of the platform that isn’t designed for it.

    What we need: distributed, transitive trust, opt-in functionality, community building based upon common interest.

    Ranking systems should have feedback loops that rank the rankers. When you give negative (or positive) responses, that should be a clear presence in your accessible profile, so that users can adjudicate whether or not they should trust your rankings as authoritative or not.

    Right now, Facebook/Twitter demand that folks who produce content get rankings from a lot of people, and the rankings are based more on how many people are ranking them (likes/retweets) rather than whether or not folks actually *find the content good*. This is one thing Twitter is actually better at than Facebook because the ratio is a proxy measurement for community quality… but the ratio isn’t leveraged by the platform, only by the users.

    Trust mechanisms are hard to build. It’s even harder to build them when the right way to build them is not to make money off of them.

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  12. There has been lots of ink-spelled on whether social media helps or hinders social interaction in the real world. Since my social life really blossomed with social media, I can’t really tell from personal experiences. I vaguely remember that getting a bunch and definitely many people together to do something was a lot harder without the Internet because you couldn’t reach out to a bunch of people and coordinate. You had to do it by the phone and one by one or in real life. The difficulty of setting up social plans online might have made people invest more in a plan once it was settled. I’ve heard conflicting reports about this. Social media makes connections easier to forge but shallower at the same time.

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  13. I don’t understand why so many people are concerned with Facebook privacy. That’s not what Facebook is for.. If I don’t want to share something with the world, I don’t put it on Facebook. If I don’t want the world to know that I like something, I don’t click the Like button.

    I can see the other stuff, about how it affects social interaction, but feeling betrayed by Facebook not keeping your data private strikes me as a category error.

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    • Yes, but…

      What we seem to be increasingly learning is that Facebook was gathering data through a variety of means and that it was available to 3rd parties through a variety of means, some of which users never interacted with. For instance, I believe much of the data that Cambridge Analytica was not through users directly but through friends of users. So maybe I took some dumb quiz but in doing so I gave the quiz developer permission to mine all my stuff and in doing so, they found things out about you because we’re friends and then sold it to CA. you never interacted with the quiz or CA but your data still got there.

      Now, it still seems that the answer is you can avoid Facebook issues by avoiding Facebook. But there is some murky gray areas there, too.

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      • “so I gave the quiz developer permission to mine all my stuff and in doing so”

        Yep… and depending on their settings, friends of friends. The app on your phone is, I think, much more invasive… with your permission, of course.

        Its pretty clear that there’s a TOS breach between the app firm (Dr. Kogan) and CA… which, I suppose, technically constitutes a “Data breach” but only in the sense of, “hey, all that stuff I gave you … I totally told you not to give it to Ted.” There are a bajillion Ted’s out there… CA just captured the ire of the moment. But in very important ways, the data wasn’t breached…it was properly harvested according to the standards of Facebook circa 2011-15.

        Facebook offers a number of technology tools for software developers, and one of the most popular is Facebook Login, which lets people simply log in to a website or app using their Facebook account instead of creating new credentials. People use it because it’s easy — usually one or two taps — and eliminates the need for people to remember a bunch of unique username and password combinations.

        When people use Facebook Login, though, they grant the app’s developer a range of information from their Facebook profile — things like their name, location, email or friends list. This is what happened in 2015, when a Cambridge University professor named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that utilized Facebook’s login feature. Some 270,000 people used Facebook Login to create accounts and thus opted in to share personal profile data with Kogan.

        Back in 2015, though, Facebook also allowed developers to collect some information on the friend networks of people who used Facebook Login. That means that while a single user may have agreed to hand over their data, developers could also access some data about their friends. This was not a secret — Facebook says it was documented in their terms of service — but it has since been updated so that this is no longer possible, at least not at the same level of detail.

        Emphases added.

        In my reading, the TOS violation is that CA did not own the app “thisisyourdigitallife” and thus buying the data from Dr. Kogan is [IANAL] the violation. And there’s certainly a sort of duplicity that we should want protected… its not clear how “thisisyourdigitallife” should connect to Cruz, Trump or anything else. It is different for that reason from what you may have (unknowingly) shared with causes you perhaps approve of… but unwittingly shared we have.

        I’ll also add that we are naive if we think that the data mined under the TOS hasn’t been incorporated and disseminated in uncountable ways by, say, Delta or Hertz or Sears or Candycrush or any other company that has harvested and merged that data with their “legitimate” data. There’s no such thing as Facebook data once its inside the org… there might be a facebook data-set (or source), but that data is merged and used to update “good” data and is effectively laundered.

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    • Brandon,
      Millions of dollars, man. Billions of dollars.
      When people are making money off your data, don’t you deserve to know?

      Oh, and Wisconsin. But that just brings me back to BILLIONS of dollars.

      Betting on elections is worth boku bucks.

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  14. Morat20
    There’s “We need Data to sell adds” and then there’s this crap. Google serves me ads, even serves me ads based on scraping my email contents– but they’ve never sold the contents of my inbox to people.

    Except that time that they launched Google Plus and suggested that everyone you’ve ever emailed should all be friends. So suddenly a therapist found himself with ALL of his clients now connected in a google circle and wondering who they all were.

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      • One thing to note about HIPAA, in this instance Google is not the violator. The user that stored PHI and released it to Google is. In this scenario, Google is not a health care provider, and is therefore not bound by HIPAA.

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        • I suspect, can’t quite remember but suspect, Google was running off people’s gmail histories on that one. Emailing people from a gmail account is probably a HIPAA violation for the therapist (it would depend on the TOS, I think), although Google (like Microsoft) is also in the business of providing corporate accounts, so perhaps not…

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