I’ve been writing about Facebook recently. There’s lots more disturbing news about them, but it turns out some of the deeper issues are broader than one company. This is one that’s worth knowing, as we start to understand the values – and risks – of online patient communities.
During the increasingly contentious run-up to the 2016 election, several of us noticed (I know because they/you mentioned it on FB) that something had changed – the world seemed to be getting crazier, with people at both ends of the political spectrum unable to comprehend how the OTHER end could be so stupid, so ignorant, of what was blindingly apparent to them.
I’ve finished reading the book Zucked that I mentioned recently, and it’s terrific – probably the most informative, enlightening book I’ve ever read about technology. It’s dead-nuts accurate about the growth of tech companies (perfectly matches my experience since the ’80s, and matches what I’ve heard from people who worked there), and makes perfect sense in explaining what we heard and saw in recent years. So I trust the guy’s perspective.
The author says his first sign of things going weird was when he attended the big TED conference in 2011 and saw this talk. In short, companies whose business is to show you ads are dependent on how long you stay on their site, so their software is constantly trying to figure out what they think you would like, and show you more and more of that.
So, you and a good friend with very different political views started to see different news feeds from Facebook, Google, etc. And each of you thought your view was reflecting the same relatively balanced view you used to get.
Not surprisingly, if you get an increasingly personalized view of the world, you’ll be clicking on things from an increasingly limited view of the world – and their robots will develop an even more limited database of what you’ve clicked. So you and those different-view friends seem to be farther and farther apart, because what you click is getting farther apart.
Each of you ends up in a “filter bubble,” a filtered view that isolates you from the rest of the world. It all unfolds with no evil intent – “just sellin’ ads here” – but with a significant side effect: increasingly polarized society.
Please watch this talk and see what you think.
- If it works (i.e. increases how much time you spend on their site, making you more valuable to advertisers), is anything wrong with this?
- Is anyone anywhere accountable for any side effects?