Tag: Facebook (page 1 of 15)

Should teenagers be using social media? We probably already know the answer

While I’m not a fan of Nicholas Carr’s approach to technology (“is Google making us stupid?”) I do have sympathy with Cal Newport’s more nuanced and considered approach.

Writing in The New Yorker, Newport considers whether we should be allowing teenagers to use social media at all. By this, he doesn’t mean the ‘social internet’, which I explore further in this post.

Our son turns 15 soon and while we’ve grudgingly allowed him to use WhatsApp (I don’t use any Facebook Meta products) he isn’t allowed an Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok account. Digital parenting is a thing.

I’m not sure, however, that we should be so quick to give up on interrogating the necessity of these technologies in our lives, especially when they impact the well-being of our children. In an attempt to keep this part of the conversation alive, I reached out to four academic experts—selected from both sides of the ongoing debate about the harm caused by these platforms—and asked them, with little preamble or instruction, the question missing from so much of the recent coverage of the Facebook revelations: Should teen-agers use social media? I wasn’t expecting a consensus response, but I thought it was important, at the very least, to define the boundaries of the current landscape of expert opinion on this critical issue.

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For a particularly dispiriting case study of how long it sometimes takes to establish definitive causation between behaviors and negative outcomes, consider the effort involved in connecting smoking to lung cancer. The first major study showing a statistical correlation between cigarettes and cancer, authored by Herbert Lombard and Carl Doering of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health, was published in 1928. I recently came across an article in the archives of The Atlantic from 1956—nearly thirty years later—in which the author was still trying to convince skeptics who were unhappy with the types of confounding factors that are unavoidable in scientific studies. “If it has not been proved that tobacco is guilty of causing cancer of the lung,” the article pleads, “it has certainly been shown to have been on the scene of the crime.”

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What is obvious, however, is that regardless of what answers we end up with, we need to keep debating these fundamental questions. As Zuckerberg emphasized in his defensive post, he wants us to concede that his products are inevitable, and that we have no choice but to move on to discussing their features and safeguards. We might think we’re really sticking it to these social-media giants when we skewer their leaders in congressional hearings, or write scathing commentary pieces about the shortcomings of their moderation policies, but, in some sense, this response provides a reprieve because it sidesteps the conversation that these companies are trying hardest to avoid: the conversation about whether, in the end, the buzzy, digital baubles they offer are really worth all the trouble they’re creating.

Source: The Question We’ve Stopped Asking About Teen-Agers and Social Media | The New Yorker

Big Tech companies may change their names but they will not voluntarily change their economics

I based a good deal of Truth, Lies, and Digital Fluency, a talk I gave in NYC in December 2019, on the work of Shoshana Zuboff. Writing in The New York Times, she starts to get a bit more practical as to what we do about surveillance capitalism.

As Zuboff points out, Big Tech didn’t set out to cause the harms it has any more than fossil fuel companies set out to destroy the earth. The problem is that they are following economic incentives. They’ve found a metaphorical goldmine in hoovering up and selling personal data to advertisers.

Legislating for that core issue looks like it could be more fruitful in terms of long-term consequences. Other calls like “breaking up Big Tech” are the equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Democratic societies riven by economic inequality, climate crisis, social exclusion, racism, public health emergency, and weakened institutions have a long climb toward healing. We can’t fix all our problems at once, but we won’t fix any of them, ever, unless we reclaim the sanctity of information integrity and trustworthy communications. The abdication of our information and communication spaces to surveillance capitalism has become the meta-crisis of every republic, because it obstructs solutions to all other crises.

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We can’t rid ourselves of later-stage social harms unless we outlaw their foundational economic causes. This means we move beyond the current focus on downstream issues such as content moderation and policing illegal content. Such “remedies” only treat the symptoms without challenging the illegitimacy of the human data extraction that funds private control over society’s information spaces. Similarly, structural solutions like “breaking up” the tech giants may be valuable in some cases, but they will not affect the underlying economic operations of surveillance capitalism.

Instead, discussions about regulating big tech should focus on the bedrock of surveillance economics: the secret extraction of human data from realms of life once called “private.” Remedies that focus on regulating extraction are content neutral. They do not threaten freedom of expression. Instead, they liberate social discourse and information flows from the “artificial selection” of profit-maximizing commercial operations that favor information corruption over integrity. They restore the sanctity of social communications and individual expression.

No secret extraction means no illegitimate concentrations of knowledge about people. No concentrations of knowledge means no targeting algorithms. No targeting means that corporations can no longer control and curate information flows and social speech or shape human behavior to favor their interests. Regulating extraction would eliminate the surveillance dividend and with it the financial incentives for surveillance.

Source: You Are the Object of Facebook’s Secret Extraction Operation | The New York Times

Facebook isn’t just anti-competitive, it’s anti-consumer

I can’t quite understand why people still use Facebook’s services, other than vendor lock-in?

The tool I created, a browser extension called Unfollow Everything, allowed users to delete their News Feed by unfollowing their friends, groups, and pages. The News Feed, as users of Facebook know, is that never-ending page that greets you when you log in. It’s the central hub of Facebook. It’s also a major source of revenue. As a Facebook whistleblower observed on 60 Minutes on Sunday, time spent on the platform translates to ads viewed and clicked on, which in turn translates to billions of dollars for Facebook. The News Feed is the thing that keeps people glued to the platform for hours on end, often on a daily basis; without it, time spent on the network would drop considerably.

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Facebook’s behavior isn’t just anti-competitive; it’s anti-consumer. We are being locked into platforms by virtue of their undeniable usefulness, and then prevented from making legitimate choices over how we use them—not just through the squashing of tools like Unfollow Everything, but through the highly manipulative designs and features platforms adopt in the first place. The loser here is the user, and the cost is counted in billions of wasted hours spent on Facebook.

Source: Facebook banned me for life because I created the tool Unfollow Everything | Slate