Saturday 20 August 2016

The Annoying Necessity of Facebook

In the recent past, Facebook has advertised Britain First to me. It has dangled anti-semitic conspiracy sites before my eyes. I've had adverts for Nazi memorabilia and militaria. On occasion, it has even alerted me to Gary Barlow products. Imagine my surprise when, on Wednesday, I found this peddler of dodgy politics and suspect pastimes had banned me from posting links to this here blog. That's right, because - apparently - someone had made a complaint about my content, the site was on the naughty step before the ban was lifted this evening. Perhaps the fashions in the previous musical posting were too offensive for someone's snowflakish disposition.

Unfortunately, Facebook has come to matter. Social media-wise, I've always been into Twitter more, even though micro-blogging has tended to displace proper blogging, effectively leaving the field of extended political comment the preserve of professional journos. For me, Facebook has always been for snarky comments away from the public eye, sharing cat and retro game photos, and the things not entirely suitable for here. Only slowly have I woken up to the potential of Facebook as a platform for driving a larger audience this way. Probably because I'm a rubbish accelerationist and, well, you don't know despair until you've seen a Facebook group. Anyway, despite knowing for a while that a punter is more likely to follow a link from Facebook than practically any other social media platform, including Twitter, it was only last year I started taking it semi-seriously by setting up a dedicated page for the blog (give it a like if you haven't already!). And as you can see from the side bar, 223 likes isn't much to shout about. Yet in the last few months it has started paying dividends.

Blog traffic has shot up to just over 100,000 page views these last couple of months, and August is all set to be busier still. Chicken feed for the big boys, but a big deal for what is essentially a hobbyist's obsession. Obviously, recent events have suddenly made my wares more compelling to larger numbers, but the analytics show the sharing on Facebook is driving a not insignificant audience in this direction. And lo, for the four days it had banned links to here, readers dropped by about a quarter. This internet and social media lark is a funny old game.

Naturally, as a private network owned and operated for profit, Facebook can do what it likes. It is no more obliged to carry my content than I am the sundry ravings of assorted conspiracy theorists. Well, that is if you subscribe to an archaic notion of property completely unsuited to the internet age. There are two dimensions to Facebook that demand there be proper accountability and democratic say over what it can and can't do. In the 21st century, the platform is part of the global infrastructure. Business opportunities are scoped out and realised. Friendships are won and lost. Ideas are shared and debated. Had Facebook not emerged when it did, something very similar would have had to have been invented. Therefore to have such a key piece of infrastructure not only in private ownership, but ultimately under the sole, virtually unaccountable command of Mark Zuckerberg and his senior management team is not very zeitgeisty, at the very least.

Second, I've been on Facebook a long time. I got my account sorted in 2007 when it was a plaything for postgrad students looking for new procrastination opportunities. Instead of moaning about Facebook inconveniencing me, some might suggest I should be grateful for them providing me bandwidth for nine years' worth of status updates. Huh, pity the fools. Facebook's core business is data, masses of it. Every time they "do me a favour" by moaning about my age or a night out with the comrades, each utterance is mined for tiny packets of data about where I am and what I'm doing. Aggregated together, this data builds up a digital doppleganger about my preferences, behaviours, and so on. They do this with me. They do this with their 1.7bn active monthly users. All their big data is chopped and changed in any number of ways, and allows Facebook to sell targeted advertising to folks who want to flog their wares to particular demographics. The Tories, for example, used this to good effect in their social media campaign last year by funneling messages to key mosaic groups in key marginals. I don't know how much my data is worth, but as Facebook's profits were $1bn last year, they make more money from me, you, and everyone else on the site than the funds expended maintaining the network. There's an argument that all social media users should be paid directly for their data, but until such a time there is a relationship of unequal reciprocity, and this applies to Facebook and its users. Like the formal equality of employer and employee in a job contract, the relationship is mutually dependent but one profits more from it than the other, usually without the latter's knowledge. Therefore, as they profit from my data we should feel perfectly entitled to moan, gripe, and demand they be transparent and responsive.

As the networks continue to proliferate and social media becomes even more fundamental to the infrastructure of our globalising civilisation, so the democratic pressure on the tech giants and their business models will build. Until then, this small corner of the internet relies on those networks for making its mark on the world, much to my annoyance.


asquith said...

You might enjoy it more if you accepted my fruend request! Get the benefit of my wisdom and that.

jim mclean said...

gradually built up amazing contact with the immediate and extended family through Facebook, would not have happened without the internet. Never set out to do it, just happened. As ex railway it was nice to see a picture of my great niece, who I have never met, on the picket line last month.

James Semple said...

So, why we're you excluded from Facebook.?