Since Facebook launched and entered the influence industry, they have been running what sounds like a deal almost ‘too good to be true’. Using Facebook, you can have your own place on the web, completely for free. While there are many, many, organisations that will host your web site for a price, Facebook will host a website for you, completely for free. An internet presence for all, with no charge!
Or is it?
I have always felt uneasy about how all this works, but have previously not given the question sufficient attention to pin down the exact problem. Is there such a thing as a free lunch aftercall?
This exploration is a work in progress on a journey to answer: Facebook, a problem, or not? Currently becoming relatively cohesive at update no 3 as of March 2, with a possible further update March 8.
- Preface: The Economic Might.
- Introduction: What is the problem?
- Not A Conspiracy, nor Just Theory: Real And Present Danger.
- From Idealism to a soul that was sold for money:
- In The Beginning, There was Idealism.
- The Power of Tech: Persuasion, Manipulation and AI.
- Persuasion & Manipulation: What is the harm in companies having data if I have nothing to hide?
- Manipulation vs Advertising: Is Advertising like water?
- AI and the Power of Data: Terminator meets the Matrix?
- Why Fake News, Conspiracy Theories and the ‘Flat Earth’?
- What Facebook Does: Goals, and in Pursuit of Goals
- The Threats:
- Conclusion: There is no free lunch.
Preface: The Economic Might.
This something for ‘free’ has always made me uneasy. What happened to “there is no such thing as a free lunch“. Don’t you pay for everything one way or another, so ‘free’ just means it is not clear how, or how much, you are paying? Yet, I have watched broadcast television content for ‘free’ for years, so what is the difference? I will return to that question. When I raise the question with others they often say simply, “why not, just don’t worry, its free!”. But Facebook makes billions, how can it be free? The answer seems to be a belief in the Robin Hood principle that “the rich advertisers pay, people with pages get it free!”. I have never felt happy that in the end, people are not somehow paying more indirectly for their ‘free’ websites than if the paid for them directly in a competitively priced market. Facebook is currently (Feb 2021) valued at around 3/4 of a trillion dollars. Growth from 50billion to 750 billion over 8 years is an annual compound growth of just over 1.4 x (140%) per year. On trend, the valuation would be 20 billion within another decade.
The total world stock market was valued at 50 trillion when Facebook was valued at 50 billion, and is now valued at approximate 75 trillion (just under 1.052 annual growth). Facebook rose from 1/1,000 of the world market cap in 2013 to 1/100th of the market today, and if the trend was to continue, would reach around 1/6 of the world total market cap by 2030. Clearly such growth cannot continue forever, and Facebook is not even alone in the predicament. For each of these companies with hugh valuations that are on but there is a question as to how far it does go.
Think of this as meaning that right now, on average, $1 out of every $100 each individual on the planet spends is ending up in the ‘pocket’ of Facebook. That $1 in every $100, is heading towards $1 in every $6. Now, how do they get that money? A first step towards the explanation of how Facebook earns it money is to review how Facebook functions.
Introduction: What Is the Problem?
This is a summary of the points that I will set out to provide evidence to support in the following sections.
Facebook, and the people at Facebook, began with only good intentions, and were so lacking greed that they initially did not have a plan to make any money. Many of the problems are unintended side effects, but like previous money making machines of tobacco and oil, the industry continues well after the problems become apparent.
The most valuable companies in the history of humanity, generate share value and revenue by training as many of the human population to spend as much time as possible training themselves to be suggestible, pliable puppets who will spend their income as directed. Those directions will progressively move those products and services allocation the largest part of their price to marketing by Facebook, Google etc.
The unintended side effects, beyond a population spending so many hours on their phones, are the polarisation of society and the increased suggestibility and gullibility as a result of training for decreased intention span.
The threats are: a collapse of ability to trust news, all communication being monitored, a decrease in the standard of living, suicides, a lowering of future education outcomes, the potential failure of democracy, and a world where personal safety can be threatened by people convinced of conspiracies.
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival before being picked up by Netflix, and has relevant observation by social media and tech industry luminaries who have been part of building what the industry is today. Those speaking out, represent people who have become concerned about what the tech industry has become.
I myself lived in Silicon Valley during the first wave of “dot com” expansion, and experienced how venture capital worked, and although I was working in areas of technology not directly related to internet companies themselves, you cannot exist in that environment without gaining some feel for what is taking place. Almost all I have to say, is also echoed by those speaking in the documentary, so I use quotes from documentary to support the points I raise. These people include key, top level, founders, presidents and VPs, of the tech giants. The quotes I sourced from the film, all begin with a time in minutes in seconds into the documentary where the person made the relevant statement, enabling anyone to verify what is said.
The Social Dilemma is a 2020 American docudrama film directed by Jeff Orlowski and written by Orlowski, Davis Coombe, and Vickie Curtis. It explores the rise of social media and the damage it has caused to society, focusing on its exploitation and manipulation of its users for financial gain through surveillance capitalism and data mining. It goes into depth on how social media’s design is meant to nurture an addiction, manipulate its use in politics, and spread conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate and aiding groups such as flat-earthers.Wikipedia.
As I said, the people in the documentary are all voicing concerns, and I have found no counter side to the argument, no one believing “the effects of social media and related tech on balance positive”, other than those who have a clear financial interest in promoting the products. That said, perhaps more exploration of alternative view point is still justified.
Not a Conspiracy or just theory: but not hidden, real and evil.
While Facebook spreads conspiracy theories, that Facebook is making trillions while being harmful is not a conspiracy theory.
A conspiracy is plotted and carried out in secret. Firstly, many of the ways Facebook is damaging society were not planned at all. Secondly, many of those involved have now spoken out about what is taking place. Just because it is not a conspiracy does not mean there is nothing to be concerned about.
A conspiracy is defined as:
1: the act of conspiring. 2: an evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons; plot.a combination of persons for a secret, unlawful, or evil purpose: He joined the conspiracy to overthrow the government. 4: Law. an agreement by two or more persons to commit a crime, fraud, or other wrongful act. 5: any concurrence in action; combination in bringing about a given result.dictionary.com
There is no plan that is either “evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious” as in meaning (2) above, to have Facebook have ‘evil’ affects on society, because that which could qualify as “evil” was not originally planned. Rather than plotting in secret, the “perpetrators” have come out in a documentary and declared their dismay at what is happening.
(42:20) Its plain as day to me. These services are killing people… and causing people to kill themselves.Tim Kendall. Former Director of Monetization at Facebook, Former President Pinterest. CEO Moment.
This is not some secret plot where those responsible deny anything is happening. Something that might be real or might not. This something that many insiders are saying is having terrible effects on society, killing people, destroying education for many, resulting in the truth become elusive…the list goes on. Even the deaths child from suicide are beyond what would happening with something like ‘Pizzagate’ if it was real.
Despite that there are whistle-blowers speaking out in films that are promoted at film festivals about the evil taking place in the Facebook saga, there seems to be far less passion and outrage generated than is generated by conspiracy theories such as “pizza gate” or “flat-earth”. The conspiracy theories have no whistle-blowers who has spoken out and said “I was part of making it happen”, there is no source of the money money trail of the funds to finance they are suposedly conspriing to do, no . conspiracies with no money trail or whistle-blowers providing evidence.
Perhaps the ‘evil’ is seen as less of threat than ‘flat-earth’ believers see from people being convinced the world is round. Yet, the Facebook demonstrably does pose the threat of people being convinced by false and in some cases very dangerous ideas.
The people behind the threat, did not plot and plan evil, but many of them are now concerned that evil is the result.
So why is it that it feels like only the whistle-blowers are concerned? Why is it that former presidents and VPs of Facebook and other companies, are apologising, and are trying to warn us, even though in many cases it comes at a cost and has meant losing opportunities for increased wealth?
From Idealism to a Soul Sold for Money.
In the beginning, there was idealism…
(2:03) When I was there, I always felt like fundamentally it was a force for good. I don’t know if I feel that way anymore.Alex Roetter. Former VP Engineering at twitter.
2:21) It is easy today to lose sight of the fact that these tools actually have created some wonderful things in the world. They’ve reunited lost family members. They’ve found organ donors. I mean, there were meaningful systemic changes happening .Tim Kendall. Former Director of Monetization at Facebook, Former President Pinterest. CEO Moment.
In fact, Facebook started without even a plan as to how to make money. A director of Monetization stated:
Next the Money.
10:30) Everyone in 2005, including all of us at Facebook, just had total admiration for Google and what Google had build, which was this incredibly useful service that did, far as e could tell, lots of goodness for the world, and they built this parallel money machine. We had such envy for that, and it seemed so elegant to us…and so perfect. Facebook had been around for about two years, um, and I was hired to come in and figure out what the business model was gonna be for the company. I was the direct of monetization. The point was, like, “You’re the person who’s gonna figure out how this thing monetizes.” And there were a lot of people who did a lot of the work, but I was clearly one of the people who was pointing towards .. Well, we have to make money, and I think this advertising model is probably the most elegant way.Tim Kendall. Former Director of Monetization at Facebook, Former President Pinterest. CEO Moment.
Yes, Facebook really started without a plan as to how to make money. There was an expression in tech: “Growth first, profits later”. Facebook, and some other high profile players, even took this to the level of “Growth first, work out how to make money later!”.
The ‘Growth First’ approach requires being able to define and measure growth. The ‘size’ of Facebook is measured in number of ‘users’ and number of hours spent online to Facebook (or subsidiaries) each week. So ‘growth’ means, get more users, and get each user to spend the maximum amount of time online.
The product really was free. For a time. Like eating in a restaurant where food arrives without you paying, in the end, someone must pay.
Most social media platforms have followed a very similar business plan: concentrate on growth first and let revenue take care of itself. Despite not having a clear idea of where the money will eventually come from, some sites have still done very well – especially Facebook.The Guardian.
Currently the main revenue model is ‘advertising’, although Facebook ‘advertising’ can be very different from Television and newspaper advertising where a certain where displaying content has a set price. There is pay for click advertising, right through to market survey advertising where the goal is a campaign run to achieve a change in the results from market surveys.
…Then the doubts and ‘What have we done??’.
(2:06) I left Google in June in June 2017, uh, due to ethical concerns. And… And not just at Google, but within the industry at large.Joe Toscano: Ex Google Design Engineer.
2:16) I’m very concerned. I’m very concerned..Justin Rosenstein: Co-inventor of Google Drive, Gmail Chat, Facebook Pages and the Facebook like button. Founder: Asana
(13:48) Let’s figure out how to get as much of this person’s attention as we possibly can. How much time can we get you to spend? How much of your life can we get you to give to us?
(42:20) Its plain as day to me. These services are killing people… and causing people to kill themselves.Tim Kendall. Former Director of Monetization at Facebook, Former President Pinterest. CEO Moment.
Many of the original key team members left Facebook and Google over ethical concerns. It turns out the goals of Facebook and other tech companies can be problematic. All of the goals.
The Power of Tech: Persuasion, Manipulation and AI.
Persuasion & Manipulation: What is the harm in companies data if I have nothing to hide?
There is a myth that ‘monetizing data’ is selling data, and that the big tech companies sell their data on you. This is not true. It is also not true that people look at your data and if you had something to hide it might be exposed. It doesn’t matter if the data on you shows you cheat on your partner or watch porn. Tech companies have relatively few staff, and so much data on so many people, that statistically a person looking at your data is not going to happen. No person is looking at your data. The data is used by ‘algorithms’.
Only small scale operations sell data, big players don’t, because they are best placed to used the data in the most powerful way: manipulating people. If and organisation that collects lots of data says “we never sell data”, it means “we want to control you, not let others do it”.
The algorithms that use the data may do anything from the quite innocent act of targeting advertisements, through to predicting your behaviour and how you will react to content that is placed before you, through to manipulations designed to change who you are.
(15:00) This is what every business has always dreamt of, to have a guarantee that if it places an ad, it will be successful. That is their business. They sell certainty. In order to be successful in that business, you have to have great predictions. Great predictions begin with one imperative: you need a lot of data. (15:46) This is a new kind of marketplace now. It’s a marketplace that never existed before. And it’s a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures. Just like there are markets that trade in pork belly futures or oil futures. We now have markets that trade in human futures at scale, and those markets have produced the trillions of dollars that have made the internet companies the richest companies in the history of humanity.Shosahana Zuboff, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School.
Manipulation vs Advertising: Is Advertising like water?
A certain amount of water is essential for life, but too much water can even kill a person. Everything, even actions as seemingly harmless as drinking a glass of water, has a point where it becomes harmful. It is important to recognise where that point lies.
All advertising is designed to influence and manipulate. The idea that attending a presentation can change your outlook is not new. Clearly all advertisements are designed to change behaviour, to get people to buy more of the product as a result of seeing the advertising than, they would have bought if they had not seen the advertisement.
When does ‘persuading’ become manipulating. ‘Advertising on steroids’ does not really convey the concept. The goal of all advertising is to persuade. Think Cambridge Analytica as a case where persuasion becomes manipulation.
The world already has brands and products that demand a premium, not because their product is necessarily superior, but because their marketing is superior. Facebook creates a strong case for selling products at an increased price to provide a margin to fund marketing more marketing. Need a product to sell well regardless of the value equation? No problem. Need a government elected that will create the environment for your product to thrive? Perhaps even that is no problem.
Is this all someone else’s problem? Does marketing, and even conspiracy theories, only affect ‘other people’? I feel most of us feel “advertising may change what other people do, but it doesn’t change what I do!”. However if almost everyone things it is only affecting other people, who is being persuaded? Almost nobody? Are the richest companies in the history of humanity generating all that wealth simply because advertisers spend all that money to persuade and manipulate almost nobody?
The start reality is, we have reached the point where advertising can change which political party you and other people support, which causes you champion, and can even make some people believe the Earth, is flat and people have been lying to us, and we need to be outraged by this.
Is this past the point where advertising has become harmful?
(12:28) Companies like Google and Facebook are some of the wealthiest and most successful of all time. Uh, they have relatively few employees. They just have this giant computer that rakes in money, right? Uh…Now what are they being paid for? That’s a really important question.Jaron Lanier. “Founding Father of virtual reality”: Founder JPL Research.
(13:17) The classic saying is: “If you are not paying for the product, then you are the product.” A lot of people think, you know “Oh, well, Google’s just a search box, and Facebook’s just a place to see what my friends are doing and see their photos.” But what the don’t realise is their competing for your attention. So, you know, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube.. companies like this, their business model is to keep people engaged on the screen.
15:34 Many people call this surveillance capitalism, capitalism profiting off of the infinite tracking of everywhere everyone goes by large technology companies whose business model is to make sure that advertisers are as successful as possible.
16:50) They know when people are lonely , they know when people are depressed. They know when people are looking at photos of your ex-romantic partners. They know what you’re doing late at night. They know the entire thing. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, or what kind of neuroses you have, what your personality type is like.
18:10) On the other side of the screen, it is almost as if they had this avatar voodoo doll-lie model of us. All of the things we have ever done, all the clicks we’ve ever made, all the videos we’ve watched, all the likes, that all gets brought back into building a more and more accurate model. The model once you have it, you can predict the kinds of things the person does. Where you’ll go. I can predict what kind of videos will keep you watching. I can predict what kinds of emotions tend to trigger you. At a lot of these technology companies there is three main goals, There’s the engagement goal: to drive up your usage, to keep you scrolling. There’s the growth goal: to keep you coming back and inviting as many friends and getting them to invite more friends. And then there is the advertising goal: to make sure that as all that is happening, we’re making as much money as possible from advertising. Each of these goals are power by algorithms whose job is to figure out what to show you to keep those number going up.Tristan Harris. Former Google Design Ethicist, Co-Founder, Centre for Humane Technology.
(14:00) When you think about how some of these companies work, it starts to make sense. There are all these services on the internet that we think of as free, but they’re not free. They’re paid for by advertisers. Why do advertisers pay those companies? They pay in exchange for showing their ads to us. We’re the product. Our attention is the product being sold to advertisers.Justin Rosenstein: Co-inventor of Google Drive, Gmail Chat, Facebook Pages and the Facebook like button. Founder: Asana
(14:21) That [our attention is being sold to advertisers] is a little too simplistic. It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product. And that is the product. It’s the only possible product. There’s nothing else on the table that could possibly be called the product. That is the only thing there is for them to make money from. Changing how you think, what you do, who you are. It’s a gradual change. It’s slight. If you can go to somebody and you say “Give me $10 million, and I will change the world one percent in the direction you want it to change..” It’s the world! That can be incredible, and that’s worth a lot of money.Jaron Lanier. “Founding Father of virtual reality”: Founder JPL Research.
AI and the Power of Data: Terminator meets the Matrix?
The next concept to contemplate, is that all this data is used by self learning programs, that are programmed to try everything possible to achieve goals set in the program. So if the goal of self learning program is to get you to like a certain product, then the system will try all possibilities of feeding people data, until it learns who it can convince, and how it can convince them. This is computers controlling people, and the people who wrote the programs do not even know what the programs will end up doing to control people, just as the people who wrote ‘big blue’ cannot beat the computer at chess.
(53:40) We were all looking for the moment when technology would overwhelm human strengths and intelligence. When is it gonna cross the singularity, replace our jobs, be smarter than humans? But there’s this much earlier moment… when technology exceeds and overwhelms human weaknesses. This point being crossed is at the root of addiction, polarisation, radicalization, outrage-ification, vanity-ification, the entire thing. This is overpowering human nature, and this is checkmate on humanity.Tristan Harris. Former Google Design Ethicist, Co-Founder, Centre for Humane Technology.
(52:22) So, Imagine you’re on Facebook…and you’re effectively playing against this artificial intelligence that knows everything about you, can anticipate your next move and you know literally nothing about it, except that there are cat videos and birthdays on it. That’s not a fair fight.Roger McNamee: Venture Capitalist (founding partner Elevation Partners) and early investor in Facebook.
(48:06) You are giving the computer the goal state, “I want this outcome”, and then the computer itself is learning how to do it. That is where the term machine learning comes from. And, so every day, it gets slightly better at picking the right posts in the right order so that you spend longer and longer in that product. And no one really understands what they’re doing in order to achieve that goal.Jeff Seibert. Co-Founder Crashlytics, and Executive at Twitter following acquisition. Serial Entrepreneur.
Why Fake News, Conspiracies and the ‘Flat Earth’?
Strangely, propagating conspiracy theories, works well as self promotion for social media.
(58:41) At YouTube, I was working on YouTube Recommendations. It worries me that an algorithm I worked on is actually increasing polarisation in society. But from the point of view of watch time, this polarization is extremely efficient at keeping people online.
(59:43) People think that the algorithm is designed to give them what they really want, only it is not. The algorithm is actually trying to find a few rabbit holes that are very powerful, trying to find which algorithm is closest to your interest. And then if you start watching one of those videos, then it will recommend it over and over again….
(1:00:33) The flat-Earth conspiracy theory was recommended hundreds of millions of times by the algorithm. It is easy to think that it is just a few stupid people who get convinced, but the algorithm is getting smarter and smarter every day. So today they are convincing [some other] people that the Earth is flat, but tomorrow they will be convincing you of something that’s false.Guillaume Chaslot, at former engineer at “YouTube”, CEO at “Intuitive AI” and Founder of “AlgoTransparency” (from The Social Dilemma)
When watching television, you may notice some of the advertisements are for other program on the same channel. These are advertisements, which cost money to make, and are not funded by a sponsor. This is the television channel allocating resources to persuade, or change behaviour, in order to generate future revenue.
(54:40) On of the ways I try to get people to understand just how wrong feeds from places like Facebook are is to think about the Wikipedia. When you go to a page, you’re seeing the same thing as other people. So, it’s one of the few things online that we at least hold in common. Now, just imagine for a second that Wikipedia said, “We’re gonna give each person a different customized definition, and we’re gonna be paid by people for that.” So, Wikipedia would be spying on you. Wikipedia would calculate, “What’s the thing I can do to get this person to change a little bit on behalf of commercial interest?” Right? And then it would change the entry. Can you imagine that? Well, you should be able to, ’cause that’s exactly what’s happening on Facebook. It’s exactly what’s happening in your YouTube feed.Jaron Lanier. “Founding Father of virtual reality”: Founder JPL Research.
The one comment I would add to the comments by Jaron, is to remember that Facebook itself is one of those commercial interests. Not all the little prods and pokes to change how people think are necessarily paid for by outside commercial interests. Sometimes, the changes are the help Facebook itself, in the same way a TV channel may also advertise its own programs. That is important is because the most dangerous changes to people, are those to further Facebooks own goals.
Driving belief in conspiracy theories makes often is an unfunded activity for Facebook, just like the television advertisements for other programs on the same channel. Just like those television advertisements exist to increase viewers, given people motivated by conspiracies will only have those theories vindicated online, conspiracy theories attract more future views, or in industry speak, ‘engagement’. Further, the more people have been manipulated, the more effective future manipulation may be, increasing people as effective advertising targets.
What Facebook Does: Goals, and in Pursuit of those Goals
The goals can be expressed simply and clearly. The first two goals drive the valuation of the company, and were relevant even before Facebook had revenue.
- Engagement: Maximise the amount of time each person spends on Facebook.
- Growth: Get each person to generate as many signups as possible.
- Monetization: Be able to influence ‘users’, as the ability to influence is the product for adverisers.
In Pursuit of the Goals.
Facebook seeks algorithms and A.I that can achieve the goals. It is not always obvious what is going to help deliver those goals, and the evil lies not in the goals themselves, but what it turns out helps achieve those goals
Engagement: Key Drivers of Increased Facebook time.
Engagement starts of innocent enough, How can I get people to use the product? But as engagement, or length of time online grows, the innocence fades. Time on Facebook begins to compete with time spend engaging in person. “How can we ensure the people with shared views can increasingly only be found online?”. Competing activities include time with family and real life friends, time studying, or (the least worrying) time watching screens for other reasons.
- reduction self esteem
31:00) Rewind a few years ago, I was the president of Pinterest . I was coming home, and I couldn’t get off my phone once I got home, despite having two young kids who needed my love and attention. I was in the pantry, you know, typing away on an email or sometimes looking at Pinterest. I thought this is classic irony. I am going to work during the day and building something that I am falling prey to.” And I couldn’t … I mean, some of those moments, I couldn’t help myself.
31:56) It is interesting that knowing what was going on behind the curtain, I still wasn’t able to control my usage. So, that is a little scary.
32:22) I tried through willpower, just pure willpower…”I’ll put down my phone, I’ll leave my phone in the car when I get home.” I think I told myself a thousand times, a thousand different days, I am not going to bring my phone to the bedroom and then 9:00 pm rolls around. “Well, I wanna bring my phone in the bedroom.” Will power was kind of attempt one, and then attempt two was, you know, brute force.”Tim Kendall. Former Director of Monetization at Facebook, Former President Pinterest. CEO Moment.
33: 22) So here the thing, social media is a drug. I mean, we have a basic biologic imperative to connect with other people. That directly affect the release of dopamine in the reward pathway. Millions of years of evolution are behind that system tog et us to come together and live in communities, to find mates, to propagate our species. So there’s no doubt that a vehicle like social media, which optimizes the connection between people, is going to have the potential for addiction. I’m worried about my kids, and if you have kids I’m worried about your kids. Armed with all the knowledge that I have and all the experience, I am fighting my kids about the time that they spend on phones and on the computer.
I will say to my son, “How many hours do you think you’re spending on your phone?” He ‘ll be like, “It’s like half an hour. It’s half an hour tops”.. [In the video it is revealed to actually be 3 hours per day]
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t remind my kids about the pleasure pain balance, about dopamine deficit states, about the risk of addiction.Dr. Anna Lembke. Medical Director of Addiction Medicine, Associate Professor: Stanford University.
(40:00) There had been a gigantic increase in depression and anxiety for American teenagers, which began right around 2011 and 2013 [when social media became available on phones]. The number of teenage girls out of 100,000 in this country who were admitted to a hospital every year because they cut themselves or otherwise harmed themselves, that number was pretty stable until around 2020, 2011, and then it beings going way up. It’s up 62 percent for older teen girls. It’s up 189 percent for preteen girls. That’s nearly triple. Even more horrifying, we see the same pattern with suicide. The older teen girls, 15 to 19 years old, they’re up 70 percent, compared to the first decade of this century. The preteen girls, who have very low rates to being with, they are up 151%. An that pattern points to social media (being available on mobile) . GenZ, the kids born after 1996 or so, those kids are the first generation in history that got on social media in middle school. How do they spend their time? They come home from school, and they’re on their devices. A whole generation is more anxious, more fragile, more depressed. They’re much less comfortable taking risks. The number who have ever gone out on a date or had any kind of romantic interaction is dropping rapidly. This is a real change in a generation. And, remember for every one of these hospital admissions, there is a family traumatized and horrified. “My god what is happening to our kids”.Jonathan Haidt, PhD. NYU Stern School of Business, Social Psychologist.
Not only does depression and anxiety get people away from others and spending time alone that they can spend on Facebook, it also prepares them for ‘retail therapy’ and makes them more likely to purchase the products pushed to them.
Now, what if you could also have people feel the only version of their appearance that is socially acceptable, is the version that appears after applying the effects of filters such as those used in Facebook/Instagram photos? Then unless people actually manage through plastic surgery to look like their images, they are again more likely to only connect online. More engagement.
Growth: Feeding Viral Recruiting.
Getting more people on to Facebook, (or Instagram, or WhatsApp) may be the least troublesome goal. The main drivers are finding ways that make Facebook an appealing mechanism to connect. This includes making it appealing to host a web presence on Facebook, encouraging, (or requiring as is the case with WhatsApp) access to a persons contacts in order enable driving the system through to contacts. Any group requiring membership that can be hosted on Facebook, can force those needing to be members to join Facebook.
- Attract Businesses, Groups, Clubs and Associations with Free Web Hosting
- Leverages electronic contacts
Monetization is the combination of Engagement, covered above, and the ability to persuade.
The ability to persuade is grounded in the psychology necessary to persuade, and the psychology bring people on a journey to being persuaded.
(52:22) So, Imagine you’re on Facebook…and you’re effectively playing against this artificial intelligence that knows everything about you, can anticipate your next move and you know literally nothing about it, except that there are cat videos and birthdays on it. That’s not a fair fight.
(56:20) The way to think about it is 2.7 billion Truman shows. Each person has their own reality with their own facts.
Over time, you have the false sense that everyone agrees with you, because everyone in your news feed sounds just like you. And that once you’re in that state, it turns out you’re easily manipulated, the same way you would be manipulated by a magician. A magician shows you a card trick and says, “Pick a card, any card.” What you don’t realize was that they’ve done a set-up, so you pick the card they want you to pick. And that’s how Facebook works. Facebook sits that and says, “Hey, you pick your friends. You pick the links that you follow.” But that’s all nonsense. It’s just like the magician. Facebook is in charge of your news feed.Roger McNamee: Venture Capitalist (founding partner Elevation Partners) and early investor in Facebook.
- take people down ‘rabbit holes’ into a world that slightly different from the real world, to make people easier to manipulate
- damage self esteem to drive ‘retail therapy’
- deliver message the suggestion only way to be happy is to spend
Why Facebook Could See News Journalists as the Enemy.
Consider 1984 where the government controlled all information, only this time, it is the tech corporations that want to control all information.
(55:55) Even two friends who are so close to each other, who have almost the exact same set of friends, they think, you know “I’m going to see the news feeds on Facebook. I’ll see the exact same set of updates.” But it is not like that at all. They see completely different worlds because they’re based on these computers calculating what’s perfect for each of them.Tristan Harris. Former Google Design Ethicist, Co-Founder, Centre for Humane Technology..
(55:30) When you go to Google and type in “Climate change is,” you’re going to see different result depending on where you live and the data on you .. In certain cases you’re gonna see it autocomplete with “climate change is a hoax.” In other cases, your gonna see “climate change is causing the destruction of nature.” And that’s a function of not what the truth is about climate change, but where you happen to be Googling from and the particular things Google knows about your interests.Justin Rosenstein: Co-inventor of Google Drive, Gmail Chat, Facebook Pages and the Facebook like button. Founder: Asana
For the software of Facebook to achieve its objectives, two things are required:
- Information for Facebook users must be able to be selected, individually by Facebook, to enable feeding each individual content that pushes the buttons necessary to bring that individual down a rabbit-hole.
- Facebook needs to have a wide variety of views or ‘facts’ for each news story in order to offer news tailored to the viewer
- Facebook needs ‘fake news’ as this news is watched 6x more than real news.
- The content should be available to Facebook at no charge, or the lowest possible charge.
Commercial News organisations meet none of these criteria. How can people remain polarised if a whole group of people are seeing the same news, and it is out of the control of Facebook which news individuals see. Further, many commercial news organisations are traditionally funded by advertising revenue, and in direct competition with Facebook for that revenue. For Facebook, at least from a purely economic perspective, the sooner all balanced and researched news sources can be eliminated, the faster Facebook can grow.
The question: How much Net should Facebook to own?
Facebook owning the entire Internet may not seem likely but it is one possibility of nothing stops it. I believe something will stop it at some point, as there are some major obstacles, but it is hard to say what will be the stopping point and what will be the fallout from the run stopping.
Facebook already owns Instagram and WhatsApp. To ‘own the internet’, they would need to outcompete or buy twitter, reddit and TikTok, and YouTube. Merging with Google would be a huge step, but if they can get services within Facebook the seriously compete with YouTube, then just outcompeting becomes possible, especially as more and more searches would just be within Facebook. Apple is another problem. Could they be persuaded to quite ‘Facetime’, ‘Siri’ and other tech initiatives that play in the same space and concentrate on hardware? Not if given a choice.
The reality is that Facebook owns only part of the internet, since many Facebook pages serve as home pages for individuals and organisations. Facebook is the ‘internet presence’ of many organisations, and it turns out, the only way some people receive critical health and safety information, since if it is not on Facebook, many people won’t find it.
Many other charities, including the 1800Respect domestic violence support line and a range of health organizations working with Indigenous Australians, also found their pages blocked Thursday.Cnn
Perhaps the question should really be how much of the internet is it ok for Facebook to own? For far can the process go before intervention is essential?
In a sense the concept is a free market dream. Facebook can commercialise humanities access to the internet, and in return provide a world where there is free internet access, a free website for anyone who wants one, and at the same time Facebook gets even richer.
There is in reality a sub-internet, a Facebook internet that is all some people ever visit. Plus for many organisations and individuals, a Facebook page is their only web presence.
Some statistics are available here, but I will keep looking.
For people who only, or almost only, visit Facebook, Facebook is their gateway to the world.
In fact Facebook wants to provide internet access to the so far unconnected world, as it believes the returns for Facebook justifies the cost. This initiative is called internet.org. There may be dangers in the form of the power of Facebook, but surely there are also wins?
Even providing internet access to the poorest people on earth is a moneymaking prospect for Facebook.
An Uneasy Experience.
One catch to these ‘free web sites’, is that visitors to the web sites must join Facebook. Effectively, a condition of the ‘deal’ for a free website is the Facebook must be able to gain data on visitors. So when a school I interact with hosted content on Facebook, to access the content, it became necessary to be a member of Facebook. Further, the same school group hosting the website, decided some interaction with students could be enabled by the Facebook subsidiary ‘WhatsApp’, and saw no problem requiring young school students to use WhatsApp. I questioned “but this means enabled building a database on all these children!”, but was met with “that is modern life”. No one seem to see the harm. It left me very uneasy, but at this time I have yet to clearly identify that harm, but this page is about the search.
Australia 2021: A wakeup call?
The Australian government is current in the midst of negotiating new rules how how digital platforms such as Facebook and google can make use of content provided by journalists. Facebook sees the proposed new rules as threat to that 1.4 annual compound value growth and decided to ‘flex its muscle’ by closing down all ‘free web sites’ hosted on Facebook in Australia that Facebook deemed, although outside the definition of journalist content proposed by the Australian government, Facebook decided could be declared ‘news’. So Facebook has banned all news in Australia, except the most profitable news for Facebook, fake news.
It makes you wonder: what if Facebook feared showing fake news to its users in Australia as as much as it fears displaying the real stuff right now?Gizmodo
Government and non-profit and charitable organisations who felt immune to the discussion, were reminded their ‘free web sites’, are actually the property of Facebook. Presence on the web, can be at the discretion of Facebook.
Facebook is saying “we have a hostage”. The problem with using a hostage, is that if you carry out your threat and kill the hostage, the bargaining power is gone. A hostage is bargaining power that expires once the power is exercised.
Facebook could be making that very mistake, and through its actions, has actually invited more governments to pay attention to the issue. Interestingly, I have seen Australian politicians condemning the actions of Facebook, but none so far have pointed out that the actions of Facebook highlight the risks for organisations relying on Facebook for their web presence.
In the introduction I listed ‘the threats’. Now to examine them:
A collapse of an Effective Free press.
(57:12) We all simply are operating on a different set of facts. When that happens at scale, you’re no longer able to reckon with or even consume information the contradicts with that world view that you’ve created. That means we aren’t being objective, constructive individuals.Rashida Richardson. Adjunct Professor: NYU School of Law. Director of Policy Research: A.I. Institute.
A free press delivers news without bias, and is considered essential to democracy. Yet, news from social media is selected by A.I. for the bias appropriate for the viewer.
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”—Thomas Jefferson (1786)American Bar Association Journal.
All communication and activity being monitored.
Communication by Facetime, Instagram, Messenger and posts all cost money. The ‘pay nothing now’ offer is all based on the communication service having access to the data in order to managed to find a way to later be paid. Some services promote their security, but that security protects against 3rd parties, but never prevents the provider themselves from being able to build profiles and influence the people using the service. If it did, the service would be based on subscription revenue, and not be ‘free’. The entire engagement model applies because the more using online rather than other communication, the more complete your picture of the people communicating, the more you can influence those people.
The entire engagement model is based on you spending as much of your life online as possible, communicating online as much as possible, and when not online, sharing what you do and where you are online, and tracked through your mobile device.
If you were to asks Facebook where an individual is right now, through the combination of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram on device and tracking, they would have the correct answer for a significant percentage of the world population.
(16:30) What I want people to know is that everything they’re doing online is being watched, is being tracked, is being measured. Every single action you take is being carefully monitored and recorded. Exactly what image you stop and look at, for how long you look at it. Oh, yeah, seriously for how long you look at it.Jeff Seibert. Co-Founder Crashlytics, and Executive at Twitter following acquisition. Serial Entrepreneur.
A decrease in the standard of living.
There is an argument that, so far the revenue of Facebook, Google etc is revenue that was previously going to newspapers and television etc for advertising. But when you look at charts these organisations already have half the revenue, and their revenue is still expected to more than double over coming years. This means the spend on advertising must increase. Advertising can be like a race, if your competitor spends, then you must also spend or lose. The more effective advertising becomes, the more you must spend to stay in the game. As companies spend more on advertising, prices must rise to cover those costs. An increasing percentage of everything we buy must as a result be paid to tech companies for the advertising. This reduces what we can buy, lowering our standard of living.
Increased Levels of Anxiety and Depression.
That these are effects of social media and polarised information sources is measured and well documented. Try your own search (hopefully on duckduckgo or another relatively safe alternative) and you will find more data. We may not follow add links, but even the suggestions offered to us on autocomplete or ‘recommended for you’ are designed to drive polarisation and as a result discord and disharmony.
Suicides, including child suicides.
(42:20) Its plain as day to me. These services are killing people… and causing people to kill themselves.Tim Kendall. Former Director of Monetization at Facebook, Former President Pinterest. CEO Moment.
Again, this data is well documented and researched, it is killing people. The Nashville bomber at least didn’t kill anyone else, but it was still suicide.
A lowering of future education outcomes.
Students cannot spend, 2,3 or even 4 hours a day on social media and other tech sites without it taking some time from their studies. Will an A.I. programming trying everything to produce greater ability to influence people, find people introduced to academic topic, or to lizard people theories and cat videos, are easier to influence. Not everyone will have a reduced academic outcome, but overall society, it must have an impact.
The potential failure of democracy.
Look little further than the US election of 2020. This is the logical outcome of the loss of a free press. News services that deliver only one slant of the news are the realm of dictatorships, yet that is exactly what ‘free’ technology news services deliver.
Rupert Murdoch has long been considered a threat to democracy, but the potential threat from a media baron pales in comparison with the potential threat from a ‘tech media baron’. At the outset of this exploration, it is noted how tech started with idealism. But then, power has been known to corrupt.
A world where personal safety can be threatened by people convinced of conspiracies.
I already mentioned the Nashville bomber, although he did not kill anyone else, there was a threat to the safety of others. How many mass shootings are the result of people being polarised online? If online companies are still growing, logically online polarisation must also grow.
There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Every ‘free’ service, from the messaging engines, to the phone and video calls, to the videos available to be watched, all cost money, and are not provided by benevolent charitable organisations, but the richest companies in human history. To get so rich, these companies generate a lot of revenue for each dollar they spend, which means, in effect we are paying a significant mark-up and inflated price on every service they provide. In reality, we would all be paying far less if how much we were paying was transparent, but in the end, these huge fortunes can only be generated us paying.
It is like eating in a restaurant where the prices are not on the menu. You need to be prepared to pay at some point.
There are variation on the monetization. Both Apple and Amazon have the ultimate optimization where in place of advertisement revenue that is accepting payment to manipulate you into spending on other products, their manipulation is designed to ensure you spend your money with them. Apple benefits by polarising the world into ‘Apple people’, who will purchase an expanding range of Apply products and ‘non-Apple people’, with less communication between the two groups to increase polarisation. Amazon wants you to buy everything from Amazon, and earn sales margins in place of advertising fees.
But in the end, every ‘free’ service, game, online forum, messenger etc, has some path to money that the people using the service will overall pay, and possibly at great cost. We may feel we are immune and only others are affected, or we will still be caught by the costs of marketing that are reflected in what we buy, but like climate change, it takes everyone to act, so my individual actions do not matter, but we should at least be aware. Aware that we are progressing in the direction of a world of dumbed down, less educated wage slaves only seeing the information provide by our technology overlords who collect a percentage of everything we earn. How far should we allow this to progress?