The Face of Evil

One of the themes of Evil Media is the inevitable grayness of digital media and its potential to be exploited and abused. As Fuller explains, some of these grayness is amplified the fact that we leave much control to the machines as we hand over difficult processing and calculation, not to mention all the technologies and services that surround us. If there’s one thing I’ve been following closer than ever recently is Facebook’s move to assert its presence in the media landscape, steps to which were taken in plain sight all under the name of improving user experience.

Just last week, Facebook announced plans to lower the reach of pages to end users in order to guarantee that users do not miss the most important updates from their best friends, which may be flooded by all the content and posts from pages they liked. On top of that, they argued that users have demanded that content from their friend’s engagement with another post, whether they liked a page or a post or commented on a post, given less priority and it was done. It is implied In the blog post and subsequent interviews that money was not the main motivation for this change but simply improving a user’s experience.

We are very familiar with the quote that “if it’s free then you are the product”. While knowing this expression and identifying the trend definitely helps one put his head around this idea, it’s difficult to tell how prevalent and the scale of this expression. What Facebook is doing is essentially putting itself between its users, or rather individuals, and its various business users. While this was always the case, now that Facebook has accumulated enough users, or rather products to sell, they are slowly and surely inserting themselves into the equation of how brands are going to reach them, and only input variable here that matters is money, or more specifically how much brands decided spend on their Facebook marketing campaign, to promote their content to make sure it reaches their target demographic, which is also possible courtesy of Facebook at extra cost.

I am not trying to argue that it is evil for Facebook to broaden or tweak their algorithms to drive business results, because, after all, this has been their business model and it’s nothing new. What seems evil to me is the amount of opacity this creates for both users and Facebook’s potential business partners and yet this clearly advantageous move for Facebook is labelled as means to improve user experience. While a user may never be sure how much Facebook is compensated for their specific news feed, whether its flooded with baking photos of a friend or 12 best travel locations promoted by JP Morgan, a brand may never know if they’re being unjustly penalized for not doing business the way Facebook wants them to. For the optimal user experience, perhaps Facebook should let each individual users tweak their own algorithm to reflect each of their own preferences. But of course, we don’t have much say since we’re only products after all. In Software studies, an author writes that programming gives programmers the sense of authority and power over what he creates, which is fully under his control, and for those at Facebook, that seems absolutely true. Their power is not felt just by those on Facebook, which is essentially anyone with access to the Internet, but also by the rest of the Internet and any business or entities that thrives on traffic just like Facebook does.

– Jeff C

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~ by yjc298 on April 26, 2015.

One Response to “The Face of Evil”

  1. I think that your post was most informative. I liked that you used Facebook as an example, because it is a site that we are all aware of. You definitely portrayed the evilness behind the configuration of the Facebook business model accurately, and I like how you depicted the obscureness and abstractness of what happens behind the scenes– we are never truly aware of where our information goes, who sees it, what is done with it, or how Facebook is compensated for giving us this “friendly” user experience.

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