Facebook isn't Filtering Photos, but Thoughts
Published on 29 Oct 2021
| Updated on 02 Jun 2022
Written by Pranav Chakkarwar
13 min to read
Facebook is now Meta. It’s time to find Neo.
Years along, we fought wars purely to gain control of power and wealth. At some point, we decided to stop a person or a group of people to have the power to control and manipulate everyone else. With the birth of democracy, the power was distributed (perhaps unevenly) among the people. Centralized social media may be attempting to change this.
However, the important question is, “Are we attempting to rectify our wrongdoings? or are we heading towards a doomsday?”
Limiting the Discussion to Facebook
One of the reasons to limit this discussion to Facebook is due to a fact that other centralized platforms act in similar ways. But the major reason is Facebook’s user base.
With over 2.8 billion people actively using Facebook services, it has long led the social media business. As of 2021, Facebook alone has a market share of 72 percent, see StatCounter. The most popular social media platform also controls the second and third most popular social media platforms, Instagram and WhatsApp. When competitor social networking platforms WhatsApp and Instagram saw their user bases grow, they were purchased by Facebook in order to eliminate the competition. Facebook now has the power to convince those users as well. It is undeniable that Facebook has a significant impact on our lives.
After a survey of Indonesians, Quartz Media quoted -
“It seemed that in their minds, the Internet did not exist; only Facebook.”
Not only Indonesians, millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet.
Overlapping of Public and Private Interests
With the rise of social media, it was possible for most people to express themselves to the rest of the world. Similar to a parliament, but for ordinary people. But, Facebook is a privately held business and private corporations have their own goals, including increasing the shareholder value. Nothing’s compelling them to care for the entire community. Facebook can maximize its shareholder value by allowing people with money to get their voice to stand out from others, as Facebook is the one who deciding the engagement rate of your posts. To a certain extent, Facebook’s filtering maybe required to avoid hate speech, online bullying, and other similar issues. But, the Facebook algorithm isn’t publicly available. As a result, the mechanism that determines whose voice is heard and whose voice is silenced lacks transparency.
Facebook makes every effort to develop a relationship with the public that promotes a positive image. However, confidential papers recently obtained by Frances Haugen (a former Facebook employee) contradict Facebook’s policies and actions. Facebook was allegedly biased with misinformation, algorithm bias and promotion of violence in some countries.
Frances Haugen in her testimony stated,
The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.” She added that Facebook was “buying its profits with our safety”.
Facebook literally has a Wikipedia page titled Criticism of Facebook.
We have put our faith in Facebook’s transparency using mechanisms other than open-source code. However, revelations over the years have repeatedly demonstrated that Facebook’s algorithm requires more transparency for the public good.
Your Data has been Zucked
Facebook’s business model runs on collecting more and more data to profile people and show them highly personalized ads. This is totally contradicting to our right to privacy. You may think that regulations may stop Facebook from using the data from other purposes unless you know about like the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook collects data about you that includes, purchase history, what kind of content you engage in, your political beliefs, your financial status, your adverts’ engagement. Facebook deploys an excellent AI algorithm that may trick you into buying things that Facebook wants. And In the case of Cambridge Analytica leak, all the data was used to manipulate the elections. Data is changing the way how people control the world.
Promotion of Harmful Content Keeps People Engaged on Facebook
Internal Facebook research reveals how Instagram impacts teenage girls, exposing them vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
The Wall Street Journal looked at a slide presentation that was put on Facebook’s internal messaging board and discovered,
“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,”
In response to the charges, Mark stated that Instagram would never encourage dangerous content because advertisers would not want their ads next to it. This, in my opinion, is a stupid statement, because Instagram need not display ads next to hazardous content, and would instead leverage harmful content to keep you engaged before putting ads next to good content. Feel free to contact me if I am missing something.
Maybe it’s not only teenage girls, because every time I opened Instagram, all I saw were people with more money, knowledge, fame, fantastic looks, and flawless lifestyles. Everyone knows, no one’s life is as good as it seems on Instagram. As you close the app, your mind starts making social comparisons with incomparable lifestyles than yours. Many of your newly formed beliefs may not be shared by those around you. If they do, you will be friends and if they don’t, you will be pseudo proud enough to ignore their reality. Over time, you’ll want to emulate the fake influencers’ lifestyles and use the items they promote, even if that costs you a fortune. You are now a perfect fit for Facebook to trap you in a loop of social comparison delivered by Instagram.
Instagram is the one profiting handsomely from your choices. It will continue to show you advertising that meet your toxic lifestyle standards set by influencers and sell you items and services that you may not even need. And don’t forget that even if you spend thousands over thousands, you’ll still be a long way behind the folks you’re comparing yourself with. You are now deep inside a rabbit hole where Mark is waiting for you with an advert for a therapist.
Facebook Uses the Main Feed to Keep You Online
Facebook has displayed news feed items in reverse chronological order since its early beginnings. That means the most recent posts from your followers will appear first. However, in 2011, a new sorting algorithm launched, displaying posts that the users were most likely to engage with. The algorithm decided what to present first based on previous interactions, engagement and more.
Unfortunately today we don’t really have the knowledge of where AI takes us. And It may be possible to verify and improve the algorithm if Facebook makes it open source. But, again, it is best in Facebook private interest to keep it close sourced and, maybe, use dark patterns to keep users engaged while making more money by promoting a culture and brands that pay its bills.
Polarization and Isolation Between Communities
People apparently refuse to listen to anything that contradicts their presumptions. Today, Facebook has made it easier to do just that. For example, if a message or image does not correspond to your values, Facebook allows you to hide similar content from being shown to you again. Perhaps this is a good thing. However, the AI will eventually catch up to you and will only serve you information that is entirely skewed towards a particular topic. Slowly, you’ll feel that your assumptions were correct all along and never listen to any other opinion.
Consider this: You are a flat earth believer (Yes, such people exist). In real life, people may make fun of you and explain more and better logical principles. At some point, you will have to accept some opinions that are against your thinking. This process of adjusting your opinions over time will help you develop a sensible thought process. However, in the social media era, if people don’t agree with you, you don’t have to discuss it with them or try to decipher their reasoning. You can join a Facebook group where someone else continues to highlight what you already believe in. You keep feeling good and keep engaging with people on Facebook thousands of miles away, while ignoring every other opinion, only to fall into a perfectly constructed loop by Facebook. Facebook can easily examine your interactions with posts and videos to establish that you believe the earth is flat and will keep you engaged and make more money. Such isolated communities may eventually drive you away from your closed ones, leaving you with mental health issues.
Facebook Engagages in Unethical Censorship
Censorship is when a state’s government decides to restrict access to information for everyone or a group of people. Censorship can be challenged and exposed by independent media, but only if people allow them to exist. In the earlier times, traditional media could only convince a fraction of the population with common interests. Welcome to 2021, where advanced machine learning algorithms anticipate your every action and learn new strategies to select content curated for you each time you open the app, giving it great ability to control your ideas. The centralized social media is engaging in a different type of censorship that cripples control of the people. User uploaded content is inspected by Facebook to ensure that it is safe and harmless. This could be an excellent first step towards preventing abuse. However, the same scanning may be used to determine the level of engagement it will receive from other users. For example, Facebook may easily tamper with the algorithm that favours posts that encourage unethical articles, images or videos. Again, it appears that Facebook’s problem is a lack of transparency regarding its filtering process.
#DeleteFacebook isn’t Easy - But Not Impossible
Businesses are on Facebook, and whether you like it or not, businesses must thrive in order for a society to exist, as they not only give jobs but also help advance us scientifically and improve our quality of life. You will always require products or services from a business to continue your daily life. With its advertising business, Facebook has positioned itself in a unique position that helps growth of a wide range of businesses all over the world. Facebook’s users are encouraged to use products, services, that pays Facebook’s advert fees. The centralized social media is dependent on the business model of Surveillance capitalism.
It’s difficult to delete Facebook because all of your friends, relatives, and co-workers are already there. And, No one will switch to signal or another app to chat to you, unless you’re Elon Musk. You may also face other problems while switching services. Perhaps your employer requires you to use applications and services that violate your privacy. That’s OK. Everyone wants to make a living, but not everyone is aware of or savvy enough to comprehend the invisible risks of closed source software and ecosystems. Your personal accounts are probably a good place to start a pro-privacy life. Read my article — a simple and effective guide to online privacy, if you need a list of tools that respect your privacy.
Facebook also makes the process of deleting an account more difficult by employing dark patterns, such as making the procedure lengthy or sending frequent account recovery emails. Don’t fall for that.
Why is Everyone Pointing Fingers at Mark?
Shareholders of a publicly traded firm have the right to vote on the company’s choices. As you can anticipate, the more money you put into the company, the more power you have over it. This is not the case with Facebook and many corporations. There are three categories of Facebook shares currently available: Class A, Class B, and Class C. Class A shareholders have one vote per share, Class B shareholders have ten, and Class C shareholders have no voting rights. The Class A shares listed on the stock exchange available for ordinary people are under the name “FB.” Mark’s entire holding in Facebook is less than 51 percent, but he owns the class B shares. This practically gives him control of the corporation to the tune of 51%. Even if the entire board disapproves to his decision, his one vote has the power to overturn it.
Welcome to the Fediverse - where Social Media is Owned by Everyone
To provide a strong solution that is unaffected by censoring platform providers or governments, the most recent decentralized alternatives are being built upon open technologies like activity pub. This is beyond the scope of this article, but watch for a follow-up on fediverse technologies like Mastodon, Peertube, Pixelfed, and more in the near future.