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The facebook algorithm is teaching you what to want
June 26, 2014 1:49 PM   Subscribe


 
No, that's not possible. Technology only improves our lives!
posted by entropicamericana at 2:04 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Is everything culture now?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:09 PM on June 26


This actually explains a lot, like why on earth some of my friends would "like" AT&T or Comcast...I wonder what Facebook says that I "like"? Probably some completely evil shit.
posted by goethean at 2:14 PM on June 26 [4 favorites]


Is everything culture now?

No, everything we do has always (by definition) been "culture," what's new is that it's also advertising now.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:15 PM on June 26 [5 favorites]


The way this branch of Microsoft Research refers to itself as a "collective" is a great, creepy nutshell distillation of the Californian Ideology.
posted by RogerB at 2:15 PM on June 26


It seems to me the problem isn't algorithms, but more the way Facebook seems to fuck it up every single time they figure out a new way to maybe make an extra dollar.
posted by pwnguin at 2:15 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Is everything culture now?

You can't really opt out of culture in the anthropology sense.....even a hermit is engaged with it, if only by shunning it. The ways he is going to find to do that have a cultural history, too.
posted by thelonius at 2:25 PM on June 26


Soon we will have AOL!
posted by srboisvert at 2:29 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Having a Facebook account has become the effective equivalent of selling your social media self into prostitution-- except that the pimp gets all of the money.
posted by jamjam at 2:31 PM on June 26 [6 favorites]


This reminds me a lot of DFW. Reading the biography of him really drove home how he felt that we spent way way too much time being told what to love by the TV.
posted by macrael at 2:36 PM on June 26


Pruitt-Igoe: "Is everything culture now?"

I don't think technology has improved that much.
posted by boo_radley at 2:41 PM on June 26


What's with the constant use of boldface? Very distracting.

The article does make Facebook's strange habits a little clearer now. I wondered why I had to constantly change the wall from Top Stories to Most Recent. Top Stories must be the algorithm at work, busily trying to monetize the things my friends are talking about.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:43 PM on June 26


The first example of a "genuinely dangerous" phenomenon appears to amount to "some Facebook likes might not be real!!!" Is this really not completely obvious, that anyone needs a Microsoft researcher to tell them that?
posted by XMLicious at 2:51 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Also, I think that being taught to want something isn't necessarily the same as what he calls corrupt personalization, when done for its own sake rather than an intent to profit. MetaFilter has taught me to like a lot of things I never even imagined before.

But yes, it's a bit shady if Facebook trains you to think positively of Exon because all your friends seem to be big fans of the company.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:55 PM on June 26


You have legitimate interests that we’ll call “authentic.”

Erm, might be a bit of a problem here.

Also, given the whole thing is about Facebook, what's with the Google on fire stock footage?

. However, we are constructing something new and largely unprecedented here and it isn’t ideal. It isn’t that I think algorithms are inherently dangerous, or bad — quite the contrary. To me this seems like a case of squandered potential.

So, what's the alternative to Netflix's algorithm? One that fails to "includexs material I don’t want, and obscure material that I do want". This doesn't seem to be sole property of algorithms.
posted by zabuni at 3:05 PM on June 26


The first example of a "genuinely dangerous" phenomenon

If there is one thing the internet has contributed to, it's the rise of adverbs.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:05 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


I mostly find it weird how the enemy is just "algorithms" and not machine learning or something more specific, as though every algorithm was the Facebook news feed algorithm.
posted by unknownmosquito at 3:19 PM on June 26 [3 favorites]


Is there any possibility of creating a not creepy social networking site? I mean, understandably people who run such a thing would want to be paid for it, but of course not everyone could afford a monthly subscription meaning it would not have the same "everyone is on it" appeal that facebook does.

It would be great if people could have the same connectivity to people in their lives who may live far away but with less of the data mining and creepy advertising techniques.
posted by xarnop at 3:24 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


what's with the Google on fire stock footage?

Google also manipulates search results and no doubt many other things in the interests of serving advertisers.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:28 PM on June 26


I hate to be all Gen X cynical about things, but the only thing that surprises me in the "corrupt" algorithms and display choices Facebook makes, and particularly those where they tell your friends what you like, is that anybody thought it was going to be any other way.

You are not only the product, you are the ad.
posted by immlass at 4:14 PM on June 26


The danger seems, to me, not to be in algorithms but in multibillion dollar publicly traded companies owning unprecedented amounts of information and using this information in a way that would not strike most people as ethical. Search algorithms and the like are peripheral to this at best.
posted by graymouser at 4:14 PM on June 26


The first example of a "genuinely dangerous" phenomenon appears to amount to "some Facebook likes might not be real!!!" Is this really not completely obvious, that anyone needs a Microsoft researcher to tell them that?

Uh, yes? Maybe not anyone with "XML" in their user name, as that suggests a certain familiarity with technology and its abuses, but probably the vast majority of non-tech folk would assume that "X likes Y" should mean that X looked at Y, thought "I like this!", and clicked a "Like" button. And this doesn't make them stupid - everything about the design of the "Like" button user experience is crafted to instill that belief in users. Otherwise the button text would be "Unconditionally endorse everything associated with this item."
posted by No-sword at 4:49 PM on June 26 [7 favorites]


Image posts are definitely weighted higher than plain text ones, all the better to confuse ad and friend content.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 4:53 PM on June 26


Its teaching us to think about what we want because wanting has consequences. Which sounds to me like a good thing. I actually think it would be pretty easy to turn the info back against them, it only exists through the cooperation of citizens. Theres lots of everyday leakage as part of the system, the grift in the system, but if things go too far I think its easy to imagine ways to throw this all off and make it useless.
posted by sfts2 at 5:13 PM on June 26


Its an incredibly rich tapestry you can weave with data. The good news is, there really is only one way it gets used. To try to sell you trinkets. Humanity isn't substantial enough to really abuse this.
posted by sfts2 at 5:15 PM on June 26


Uh, yes? Maybe not anyone with "XML" in their user name, as that suggests a certain familiarity with technology and its abuses, but probably the vast majority of non-tech folk would assume that "X likes Y" should mean that X looked at Y, thought "I like this!", and clicked a "Like" button. And this doesn't make them stupid - everything about the design of the "Like" button user experience is crafted to instill that belief in users. Otherwise the button text would be "Unconditionally endorse everything associated with this item."

Huh. If you say so, but I would not have thought that realizing this is dependent on a familiarity with technology... it isn't my knowledge of video editing and production that tells me most of the people who appear on television endorsing a company's products aren't just average members of the public giving their candid opinions.

Nor, for example, is knowing a fair amount about how telephones and the telephone system works the thing that clues me in to the fact that the supposedly-solicited telemarketing calls I get weren't actually solicited and aren't actually offering me products and services because my neighbors and friends and everyone else value the same products and services so much.
posted by XMLicious at 5:18 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


(Or for another one that's perhaps a better parallel to the personal nature of likes, I know how to sew because my mother was a seamstress and taught me, but that's not the reason I know that brand logos and slogans appearing on other peoples' clothing doesn't say anything meaningful about the brand.)
posted by XMLicious at 5:20 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


(I'm still in my Philip Mirowski phase...) He's not talking about algorithms so much, but about the effects of Facebook as an engine of marketing within the social sphere:

"Facebook teaches you how to be a neoliberal agent. You learn to be an entrepreneur of yourself” (from estudiosdelaeconomia)

Here's my summarized transcript of the part about fb:
There are whole parts of modern life that exist to teach people to see themselves as Neoliberal agents. One example is Facebook. Everyone gets all excited about social media. It's something new, it's a different way of people expressing themselves. But if you look at the actual structure of Facebook, the structure of Facebook is to teach you how to be a Neoliberal agent.

How does that work? First, you've got to to think about yourself not as somebody who has this inner true nature that you have to come to realise. What happens instead is you find that you can pretend you're various things, and you become a kind of a mix and match persona - you can mess with your photos, you can do all kinds of stuff. What you can learn is to be an entrepreneur of yourself.

And then it teaches you a bunch of other things. It teaches you to respond to the market, in being this entrepreneur of yourself. There are all these rules, like if you don't update the pages you're following often enough, they degrade. So it has this weird feedback that you have to keep constantly building yourself. And then you *believe* these measures, like how many Likes do I have, as though it represents something. When in fact it doesn't represent anything. It doesn't represent *your* place among your friends.

And then people say things like "look at all these rebellions breaking out in the world due to social media". That's a poor analysis of what's going on. What these social media tools do is make people misunderstand what they're unhappy with. That's the effect of the tools, and that's why so many of these rebellions, like Occupy, are ineffective.
posted by sneebler at 5:37 PM on June 26 [4 favorites]


I really enjoyed the article-- thank you for posting it. Also, I have to give a shout out to the hilarious tweet that is linked to in the article.
posted by toofuture at 8:18 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


I have solved this difficult modern conundrum with this groundbreaking advice: from now on, don't assign any particular importance to what is or isn't on Facebook.
posted by signal at 8:30 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


How is this different from false consciousness + computers?
posted by PMdixon at 9:03 PM on June 26


Marketing has always been about teaching you want to want.
posted by Billiken at 6:31 AM on June 27


Its teaching us to think about what we want because wanting has consequences. Which sounds to me like a good thing.

Except that lots of internet users aren't fully-developed adults with enough of a stable identity core to have an authentic identity that's morally responsible for or even capable of distinguishing authentic wants from desires that are imposed by peer and other forms of social pressure.

At various times in their lives, people are at different stages of emotional and psychological development and may be going through developmental phases on their way to becoming more mature or just plain different people.

This idiotic conservative idea that people have a fixed, innate nature that can't really change beyond the level of window dressing is going to end up destroying us all...
posted by saulgoodman at 7:11 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


This stuff is potentially very important because, at least as far as current psychological theory goes, the absence of a stable, authentic/true self identity is closely correlated with and believed to be a causal factor in borderline and antisocial personality disorders.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:28 AM on June 27


This was news to me:
What does this “like” statement mean? Welcome to the strange world of “like” recycling. Facebook has defined “like” in ways that depart from English usage. For instance, in the past Facebook has determined that:

Anyone who clicks on a “like” button is considered to have “liked” all future content from that source. So if you clicked a “like” button because someone shared a “Fashion Don’t” from Vice magazine, you may be surprised when your dad logs into Facebook three years later and is shown a current sponsored story from Vice.com like “Happy Masturbation Month!” or “How to Make it in Porn” with the endorsement that you like it. (Vice.com example is from Craig Condon [NSFW].)

Anyone who “likes” a comment on a shared link is considered to “like” wherever that link points to. a.k.a. “‘liking a share.” So if you see a (real) FB status update from a (real) friend and it says: “Yuck! The McLobster is a disgusting product idea!” and your (real) friend include a (real) link like this one – that means if you clicked “like” your friends may see McDonald’s ads in the future that include the phrase “(Your Name) likes McDonalds.” (This example is from ReadWriteWeb.)
posted by stoneweaver at 8:41 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


Ah, finally realized the appropriate metaphor:

It's the cuckoo. We have these foreign ideas and wants and whatever snuck in in such a way that we will protect them as strongly as, and even at the expense of, our "authentic" ideas and wants and whatever.

If I think about it that way the "dangerous" commentary seems less hyperbolic: How strongly do people tend to react when something they consider an aspect of themselves is at risk? What if you could point that reaction to your own gain?
posted by PMdixon at 10:52 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


The Atlantic: Data Doppelgängers and the Uncanny Valley of Personalization - "Why customized ads are so creepy, even when they miss their target"
The New Republic: Facebook Could Decide an Election Without Anyone Ever Finding Out - "The scary future of digital gerrymandering—and how to prevent it"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:42 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


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