Perspective Red Letters Technology Words


Face­book is still your class ene­my.
Mark Fuck’s tra­di­tion of pub­licly announc­ing his annu­al per­son­al goal” yield­ed a sur­pris­ing result for 2018: Facebook’s CEO intends to… do his job. Wad­ing through his vague, cringe-laden lan­guage remains a tor­tur­ous tri­al, but - per­haps just this once - it is worth fin­ish­ing if one has the for­ti­tude, all the while remem­ber­ing, of course, that its author holds the keys to the sin­gle most intel­lec­tu­al­ly pow­er­ful prop­er­ty in human his­to­ry.
A lot of us got into tech­nol­o­gy because we believe it can be a decen­tral­iz­ing force that puts more pow­er in people’s hands. (The first four words of Facebook’s mis­sion have always been “give peo­ple the pow­er”.)
If it were ever appro­pri­ate for Mark to use us” in this sen­tence, it was years ago - decades, even. What­ev­er his orig­i­nal inten­tions, he has become the most pow­er­ful cen­tral­iz­er who’s ever lived, direct­ly empow­er­ing him over vir­tu­al­ly all peo­ple.” At the risk of echo­ing a dozen old men in your life, Face­book is a busi­ness, and so exists pri­mar­i­ly to make mon­ey. Con­nect­ing peo­ple” has been, is now, and will for­ev­er remain lit­tle more than a most­ly-pleas­ant side-effect of the service’s oper­a­tion as long as it main­tains a form at all resem­bling its cur­rent one. Some­how, the impor­tant names in tech jour­nal­ism have spent the past year acknowl­edg­ing that Mr. Fuck deals pri­mar­i­ly in atten­tion - direct­ing his company’s resources into devel­op­ing and opti­miz­ing meth­ods of keep­ing you present as long and as often as pos­si­ble - while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly express­ing that they like” him. Grant­ed, many know him per­son­al­ly (and most are paid with adver­tis­ing dol­lars them­selves.) I do not.
Last week, Face­book announced with a morsel more speci­fici­ty its upcom­ing changes to its News Feed in keep­ing with Mark’s direc­tive, this time rely­ing on mean­ing­ful inter­ac­tions” as their new key­word.
By mak­ing these changes, I expect the time peo­ple spend on Face­book and some mea­sures of engage­ment will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Face­book will be more valu­able.
Oh, bless you, Fuck! How noble of you to show such gen­eros­i­ty in this dif­fi­cult time!
The truth is, mean­ing­ful engage­ment” is not a rev­o­lu­tion­ary new con­ces­sion in the indus­try - it is a rel­a­tive­ly rudi­men­ta­ry strat­e­gy as old as the adver­tis­ing busi­ness itself, deployed as per SOP when your data says your audi­ence needs more rea­son to… actu­al­ly engage with your ads. Of course, it would be unrea­son­able to expect the pub­lic faces of a mod­ern media com­pa­ny to be hap­py dis­cussing blunt­ly all the ways it intends to prof­it off of its users, but the pur­ple cloud of prox­im­i­ty to priv­i­lege hang­ing about the heads of those who should be hold­ing them account­able has left the details cat­a­stroph­i­cal­ly under­re­port­ed. Last Fall, much of the gen­er­al dis­course sur­round­ing Face­book was fueled by the dis­con­cert­ing sup­po­si­tion that Mes­sen­ger was using its access to smart­phone micro­phones to lis­ten” in on day-to-day con­ver­sa­tions in the inter­est of sell­ing your most inti­mate & imme­di­ate wants and needs to its adver­tis­ers. Thou­sands of users expe­ri­enced and doc­u­ment­ed bizarrely spe­cif­ic ads that were per­ceived to be far too time­ly to be coin­ci­dence, but adver­tis­ing is any­thing but ran­dom. When Reply All inves­ti­gat­ed, they arrived - after dis­cus­sions with ex-employ­ees, con­cerned users, and indus­try author­i­ties - at a dis­put­ed, but even more ter­ri­fy­ing con­clu­sion - the pro­fil­ing tech­niques the ser­vice prac­tices on its users are so thor­ough and com­plex, they super­sede any need to actu­al­ly over­hear what’s being spo­ken. At any giv­en moment, Facebook’s algo­rithms know more about the nuances of your con­sumerism than you could pos­si­bly state.
Nobody out­side of the com­pa­ny knows the pre­cise extent of this unfath­omably pow­er­ful col­lec­tion of infor­ma­tion and that’s fuck­ing dan­ger­ous before any con­sid­er­a­tion of the company’s sus­pect­ed role in the out­come of the 2016 elec­tion. Regard­less of trans­paren­cy or motive - even if Mark Fuck has hap­pened upon some kind of guilt-cat­alyz­ing cru­cible and come away with a new­found com­mit­ment to sac­ri­fic­ing a por­tion of his company’s prof­it and/or influ­ence for the sake of our well­ness” - it is, as always, way too fuck­ing late. If you could devise a method of sum­ming up entire­ly Facebook’s cul­tur­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal con­se­quences thus far in a col­lec­tion of images - a slide show, let’s say - and project them behind him as he read his posts and press releas­es aloud on stage, he’d be swift­ly decked in the face. His dis­tance from the real­i­ties of his two bil­lion dai­ly cus­tomers is enabled by the sil­i­con val­ley groupieism all too preva­lent among those voic­es in place to be crit­i­cal.