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Facebook’s war on free will (theguardian.com)
411 points by kawera on Sept 19, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 268 comments

> The problem is that when we outsource thinking to machines, we are really outsourcing thinking to the organisations that run the machines.

This is the money quote of this article, and it's been on my mind quite a bit as of late.

More than ever, we live in a world where there are many forces ready to take full advantage of our laziness. It takes a bit of introspection to really understand the tradeoffs that are appropriate. When it comes to Facebook, I'm really getting the feeling that my friendships have been hacked (and tainted) for someone else's profit. Fortunately, there is a way around: share important stuff in person instead of on FB—heck, I'm finding myself using email more these days—and keep Facebook usage for the few things it does well, like planning get-togethers.

This, from Dune:

"Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them."


"The machines themselves condition the users to employ each other the way they employ machines."

- God Emperor of Dune

Frank Herbert was a genius.

We cannot forget Momo [1] by Michael Ende with greymen buying the time of people: why are you wasting your time talking with your neighbour when you can profit from it?

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momo_%28novel%29

I think the grey men in Momo are different; the grey men encourage people to save time by being more efficient (and thereby neglecting human relationships and the things that made them happy).

Facebook, on the other hand, encourages people to use their human relationships to waste time via superficial interactions with so that Facebook can profit directly from ad sales.

Some strategies work well against either threat; spend time with people away from the computer, don't go along with whatever everyone else is doing.

But they are exploiting different vices: the grey men exploit people's long term greed to entice them to accept an intolerable present, whereas Facebook exploits short-term procrastination and addiction psychology: "I wonder what's going on on Facebook right now... it'll just take a couple seconds to check." (This isn't unique to Facebook. I tend to waste a lot more time on Hacker News and Reddit than Facebook. At least HN doesn't have a profit motive, and I do learn a lot of interesting things here.)

edit: I'm not sure how this relates to the Dune quote, as it's been a long time since I read it and don't remember the context of that quote.

With the bozos running things in Dune, it might have been better with machines in charge.

Maybe that's just what you get after generations of royal and wealthy-elite inbreeding slowly but surely shrinks the available gene pool.

Which is exactly why Lynch was a brilliant choice to direct the first film adaptation: owing to his own artistic idiosyncrasies, he was able to convey how deeply strange such an inbred interstellar gentry might be, millennia into the future.

"Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind." OCB

Yet so many readers of sci-fi that I know seem willingly oblivious to the risks of modern surveillance and centralization of power.

I left Facebook about two years ago now. I nearly immediately lost contact with all of the people I'd spent my time with in the city (outside of work). I don't chase them down for other reasons, but it is striking how much it supplanted everything else.

After returning an old work phone I'd made the mistake of not copying all of their numbers over. I moved elsewhere within the city, and so I don't run into them in the neighbourhood anymore.

I really enjoy not getting sucked into checking it and getting 100 notices about people who are friends of friends of friends. Life feels more at a healthy pace, even if it feels like I have fewer friends. I didn't like the constant FOMO it generated -- that for some reason I needed to either be the most expressive person on FB, or always chase other people's posts and doings. It's not for me.

I think the happy medium here, where you can still keep in touch with people but not get sucked into checking it all the time, is deleting the app from your phone. It used to be habit for me to unlock my phone and if I didn't have anything to do, just open the app and begin scrolling. Once that wasn't easily accessible I stopped completely. Now I only go on Facebook if I have a reason to, like looking someone up or checking the only group (fantasy sports) that is active. I also can still use messenger for those few people that prefer it.

I deleted the app because of the FOMO feeling that I was getting and now it's basically gone. I can still access it, but I check Facebook a maximum of once a day, minimum around once a week.

Maybe that's the happy medium for you, but for others, the happy medium is emailing, calling, or texting your friends to set up a dinner party or a round of golf, making sure to call your folks every week or two, and not worrying too much about those whose only effort to spend time with you is having clicked a button months/years ago.

If you don't communicate with the people, you can unfriend them.

I'm only on there for messenger now - calling is expensive when your friends are in different countries, and while texting is mostly free these days, it costs money when traveling. Email... People just don't check it as much anymore. So you're left with messenger.

If you are going to unfriend them, you may as well not use FB at all.

My wife's happy medium is, basically, to not login until a close relative or friend (usually her mother) phones and tells her there's something there to check; and at that time to batch process the latest events in her wall. This way she still is in contact with everyone she cares about, but it only eats a couple of hours of her week, at well defined blocks of time.

>I think the happy medium here, where you can still keep in touch with people but not get sucked into checking it all the time, is deleting the app from your phone. It used to be habit for me to unlock my phone and if I didn't have anything to do, just open the app and begin scrolling. Once that wasn't easily accessible I stopped completely. Now I only go on Facebook if I have a reason to, like looking someone up or checking the only group (fantasy sports) that is active. I also can still use messenger for those few people that prefer it.

The service goes out of its way to make you install the app too, which I find annoying. The mobile site doesn't actually allow you to check your private messages without installing Messenger.

Really the only thing I use it for at this point is for invitations to events, notices when bands I like are performing, and the like. But every day it seems like they make it harder to just be an intermittent user of the site.

I too don't use the app, but I use https://mbasic.facebook.com, which allows messenger use without an app.

Good to know! I had just trusted them to redirect me to a non-gimped mobile site.

My happy medium was disabling notifications and putting the icon in a subfolder (iOS) so its not apparently visible.

The lack of visibility prevents me from opening the app out of habit, but its still there if I need to check a certain group or event.

I removed it from my phone, blocked it in my browser my only way to check it now is with my phone browser ... I still have the heinous facebook messenger app installed.

but much like you the FOMO is gone, but so is a lot of anxiety. I can focus on things that are more important ( reading is my new hobby) and spent more focused time with my family.

Lately, I am more and more going to free events in the "nearby events happening now" space. Somehow it's the ad-hoc nature of it that really fun.

Possibly tangential, but that's yet another reason we need to fight for control of our computers, instead of outsourcing everything to commercial vendors in the cloud, and making everything so dumb that everyone can "master" it within 5 seconds of seeing it. Things don't have to be this way, computers can be used to augment human thinking.

vendros - mind blown

A typo. Fixed. Thanks!

I don't think people outsource their thinking to machines.

I think the algorithms just work well at finding similar things to what people choose to consume or like. They aren't perfect, but there's this need to explain things by this great conspiracy of fake news and invisible influencers in a paranoid style.

I think this has gained traction due to a crisis of the knowledge class that happened due to the rise of populism via trump and brexit. They can't understand that those sentiments were chosen because people agreed with them; they had to have been influenced and their free will taken by "algorithms." This to me is like saying my free will is taken by the suggestions Amazon shows me on their site, or that my taste in movies is shaped by Netflix recommendations.

This gets annoying because it's so obviously a reaction in that particular style of contradicted elites. We see it in many forms, like the handwaving over internet comments and "civility." The knowledge elite hates to have its power or dominion challenged, and will try to explain the doing so via these systemic solutions.

it confuses what i liked in the past with what i might enjoy in the future. or what might feel familiar or what someone like me liked.

how am i ever supposed to have new foreign experiences if recommendations are based on past experiences or grouping me into demographics to make me more like others?

sure everyones a mimicry or pastiche of others, but its losing its randomness and becoming more uniform and standardized.

A perfect recommendation algorithm would be optimal in the exploration/exploitation tradeoff. Suggesting new things with some probability to see if you might like them or not. Most recommendation algorithms today are way too far on the exploitation side of the tradeoff, but it's not a requirement.

"The Verge: There are people who love the idea of our humanity being augmented. They think it's a good thing. More intelligent, stronger, and so on.

Author: They're living in a science fiction fantasy world. The problem is that we're not just merging with machines, we're merging with the companies that make these machines.

It might be one thing if we were gaining intellectual powers that we had full control over, but we don't. Right now, four or five big companies control the machines we're using. "

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2017/9/10/16263366/franklin-foer-bo...

Perhaps he might say there's nothing wrong with man letting himself be augmented by a machine, e.g., a "smartphone". But when the user does not have full control over the machine and she lets some third party control the machine for her then that's not really the same thing as simply "man augmented by machine".

In the model promoted by SV man grants some control over himself to some third party, a corporation.

Apparently the author was working at New Republic when one of the Facebook founders took it over, said he hated having to sell ads and then proceeded to institute a system of generating mindless clickbait headlines.

Perhaps he believed such headlines are so effective they rob a person of "free will", such as the decision not to click.

It is certainly possible to use machines we control to access information and otherwise supplement our intellect. But I guess SV still believes one needs to be a computer nerd to do it. And everyone else still needs SV's help.


This concept of human augmentation controlled by several large corporations was very well explored in the Deus Ex series. Consider watching the DE:HR cutscene compilation [1] to get a sense of the atmosphere.

In all of the games, the medication for preventing implant rejection is extremely expensive and strictly controlled by the manufacturer. Those who can no longer acquire it suffer a painful death brought on by the implant rejection.

While high class society members can pick and choose what augmentations they desire, low class workers are pressed into getting enhancements to improve work efficiency. Construction tools are melded to arms, and military personnel are subjected to experimental tech. One ex-mil NPC was forced to get an implant to wipe memories, so that their team could be used for inhumane purposes and have no recollection.

The protagonist in Human Revolution is head of security for a biotech giant who becomes augmented after a corporate espionage attack. The attack is part of a larger attempt by a Chinese company to monopolize the market, under the direction of external forces. To avoid ruining the ending I will just say, you really don't want a tech company pushing bad updates to hardware your life depends on.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPuNh2stwvw&list=PL1030EE10C...

" I'm really getting the feeling that my friendships have been hacked (and tainted) for someone else's profit."

Your comment makes me remember the concept of commodification.

I didn't think before about this in this way, but it seems that Facebook (and relates services) could be though as the commodification of our friendships.

Have you seen Adam Curtis's documentary, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace? A lot of it is about that

Previously we had outsourced thinking to:

- village elders and tribal leaders

- educators at all levels with various agendas

- workplace superiors with party lines and biases

- etc etc

People were never individual free-thinking agents like they think they were. Ever. In fact, I'd much rather have machines recommending me what to read next, even as a side effect of a company making money by showing me ads in the process.

This is probably the main reasoning behind the "crazy" valuation of some companies that have seemingly simple business model of selling ad views.

People who talk about some kind of tech bubble often dismiss the indirect value, the value beyond the basic economics of their business models.

It's not $10B worth of tech or business model. It's $10M worth of tech, and $9.99B worth of minds with your foot in the door already.


Moreover, the machines in question becomes more and more capex intensive, therefore they are less and less reachable for organizations which don't have the financial resources. The winners-takes-it-all means that the winner gets a lot of control...

Like everyone using Amazon AWS just makes them (Amazon) bigger.

Of course, in the pre-internet age we were forced to outsource our thinking to the press instead, it's just that you're less likely to see them running articles about how they themselves are waging a war on our free will.

I didn't really entrust my personal information, my friendships, my CV or anything else to the press. In fact, there was no institution comparable to social media that so intimately, on a personal and individual level interfered with my life.

Sure, reading certain newspapers or others was and is a way for people to shape their views of the world, but it is very much a one way relationship. I can read what I want or I don't, but there is no intimate connection.

Also the press at least is in part a civic institution, it's held responsible to at least some common standard. Social media, which is entirely private and corporate operates in opaque fashion bound to basically nothing but their own interest.

> Social media, which is entirely private and corporate operates in opaque fashion bound to basically nothing but their own interest.

There is a small glimmer of pressure on Twitter and Facebook from the public since last year. Things are changing. Glacially slowly, as always, but they are changing. I suppose that's the same development that happened with newspapers a few centuries ago. (I would be very surprised to hear that newspapers were held responsible to some sort of common standard from the very beginning.)

But Facebook is more internationally widespread and free of charge. And in the pre-internet age I assume that attention span was at least a bit longer than today.

Also then it was the authority of press that supposed to do the thinking, but now I feel it's echo chamber and social pressure.

And before the press it was the church, the community and the family.

Back then it was the passed down wisdom and morals of the elders that guided society. Now it's a bunch of 20- and 30-somethings who haven't experienced enough to develop morals, let alone wisdom. But that's OK, because they've farmed it out to an algorithm. And when that fails, they shrug their shoulders and declare themselves blameless for the damage they've done.

The public cries out because of the way its treated by Facebook. There's a simple solution: stop hiring children. Or at least stop putting them in positions of power.

It's a mistake for FB users to consider themselves employers who have any effect on hiring. That's like a pig with an opinion about work habits at the slaughterhouse.

> > The problem is that when we outsource thinking to machines, we are really outsourcing thinking to the organisations that run the machines.

Ah, there we go. The writer was taking me around the real garden path, and I bounced. It's a stupendously important point, and really doesn't require most of the build up to get there.

>when we outsource thinking to machines, we are really outsourcing thinking to the organisations that run the machines.

And the people who run the organisations.

Likewise, when we outsource our reality to machines:


every person should read this Adam Curtis article.


Facebook is very useful to me - as an address book. There has never been a better tool to get in touch with folks not talked to in years.

As for the 99% of the profit-making garbage on that site, I haven't bothered since the Snowden disclosures.

I'll just leave this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVGINIsLnqU

Honestly, I think the right company with the right marketing could make Facebook completely irrelevant. All you'd need is a basic address book/profile functionality + basic messaging + event planning. Perhaps a use as a universal login, as many do like that.

They would lose a ton of users if the network effect would catch on, which is obviously the big hurdle.

It would also be a curious case of brands being left with few Facebook users, and likely no way into the disrupting service if it was funded by basic ads. That requires the disrupting company to not be greedy, but I think they could make a viable business out of it.

Please, someone make this for the greater good.

FB's tentacles are so deeply embedded in everything that I'm not sure a classic tech death from a disruptor is possible. Only a long and slow decline over a period of 5, maybe even 10 years.

If Zuck does end up making a Presidential run, I think that'd have a very good chance of triggering a sizeable decline in its US userbase.

I'd be stunned if he did. The man has the personality of a lizard. No way is he an appealing candidate for the general public.

> “I’m visiting small towns in Iowa” is a normal sentence, said by many a billionaire who wants nothing.


Many said the same about Trump.

Take a closer look the next time a State of the Union speech is broadcast. They're all reptiles.

Honest question: Would Zuck be running for the GOP or the Dems?

Well, I suppose that, in 2020, only the Dem ticket is up for grabs since Trump will be running for a second term, but if Zuck got to choose, would he go with the Republicans instead?

> I'm not sure a classic tech death from a disruptor is possible

Well, FB's brand itself is super toxic these days, so you could probably build something on the whole "we're not FB" premise

(disclosure: I worked at FB for 3 years)

I don't agree that it's "super toxic." Any company that gets this big and is also a utility will get its fair share of complaints, and this fair share will seem huge because the base is huge. Think about Comcast, for example. For the most part, people will still use it b/c it's embedded in so many parts of our lives. It has a monopoly on the social graph. Heck, growth has been exceedingly strong even though its been around for over a decade.

Just building another company and saying "we're not FB" is not enough. For most people, FB is good enough, just like a utility. It will be exceedingly difficult for a company to just come in this one angle and win. In order to win, they need to play to a strength that isn't dependent on the existing social graph, because you are not going to win taking FB head on. It has to be guerilla warfare.

diaspora tried that.... it has next to 0 adoption

The investment to get going with Diaspora is too high.

Facebook is simple. You sign up, your friends sign up, and then you connect (possibly automatically since Facebook can often determine you know each other).

My (possibly incorrect) recollection is that Diaspora requires figuring it out for yourself (I recall them spending too much time on selling how great it is up front when they should just shut up and get you settled first). Then you have to sell it to your friends.

Start with the name. It sounds like an intestinal disease.

I remember when they said the same thing about Microsoft.

So, contacts + email + calendar? I mean, the only difference here is how contacts are handled -- remotely-managed profiles in a singular remote registry instead of locally-managed profiles in plural local registries.

It's the Internet that enables communication. Families and friends would be able to communicate once the Internet became possible whether Facebook exists or not. People would be able to use and get value from the Internet whether Google exists or not.

These companies add value but they are not the Internet. If they didn't exist the Internet will continue being useful.

What they have been able to do is inject themselves into communication pathways, provide a network effect in the case of facebook to leverage social curiosity about others which in the larger scheme of things is not important, and now sit on tons of data which has zero value to users and thus does not enhance communication in any way, but helps advertisers.

> These companies add value but they are not the Internet.

Even more importantly, they are not people. By that I mean that (marketing departments in) so many companies just love to take credit for the things people bring to the table. Which is a pet peeve of mine, so this rant is probably a bit besides the point.

It's people, friends or otherwise, who can make simple things like communicating via ASCII fun. In school we exchanged pieces of paper when the teacher wasn't looking, in forums we came up with things, and so on. It's great to have better tools, of course, but it's not like this "enables" us in some fundamental or even very meaningful way - if you don't give us tools, we make our own, if you only make tools to make communication harder we find ways around them. If we don't have decent search engines we use things like web rings or word of mouth. The internet with its routing around faults is a mere shadow of human ingenuity, and the reasons why we do that are also what makes the communication interesting in the first place.

A lot of people seem to be making kind of a cult around completely forgetting that, putting the horse before the cart. The internet isn't that special, we already were a network. Everything is, and scale and speed matter most to people pulling fast ones. The rest want to live in integrity and dignity first and foremost, and then "add value" or numbers.

So the internet isn't special, and the way it's going, since commercial interests came to the forefront, it's becoming kind of a shit show. So if we're going to call that a great achievement of humanity, that's kind of depressing. Maybe it could have been one, but right now we have what we actually have and do what we actually do. Sorry for ranting, but I'm so sick of the hybris over things that are so mediocre in such large parts, that are just becoming more bloated without ever having been good.

A few days ago someone posted this in a comment.. I can't find the comment, and the whole thing is worth watching, but since apparently a lot of people share this sentiment, maybe they too can have some of their faith restored a bit by this rant; and it's why the idea of "integrity first" was floating in my head: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNfAAQUQ_54&t=42m43s

I hate to defend Facebook, but I'm not sure about their data having no value for the users. One such example would be that they've connected people who were otherwise unknowing of each other. People have found long lost relatives due to the big data that Facebook has. I'd say that's value.

Is there really value in an online connection to a distant person who you didn't know existed, at the expense of time you could be spending on face-to-face local relationships?

> Is there really value in an online connection to a distant person who you didn't know existed, at the expense of time you could be spending on face-to-face local relationships?

If you travel, yes. I know many people who have stayed with distant relatives while traveling the world. The same thing happened before Facebook but at least now people have some insight into the person/family before they turn up on the doorstep and also have the ability to keep in touch afterwards.

My immediate family is spread across three continents and Facebook is an essential tool for keeping in contact with them. We still talk on the phone/video chat, exchange emails/letters/postcards, and visit in person but it's difficult to beat the convenience and frequency of Facebook.

Potentially, yes. Happiness is a huge value, as is learning.

And I've seen friendships and families destroyed by arguments on FaceBook.

We've also seen how much of it is truly fake, curated by foreign companies and political groups to push agendas.

That doesn't actually negate my point. I don't actually have a Facebook account, but their big data does provide some value to some people. The question of it being worth the overall harm is a different question altogether.

Like it or not, it provides value to some. Which is, coincidentally, about the nicest thing I've ever said about them. Please don't make me defend them again, I feel dirty.

> Like it or not, it provides value to some.

I don't think that ntsplnkv2 disputed that. He points out that benefits should not be considered in isolation, and instead argues for a cost-benefit analysis.

And my response was to the claim that their large data set created no value to users. Thus, it remains the point.

We can probably all agree that they are sinister bastards who don't have your interests in mind. That's not really up for debate.

Alas, they do create value. Seriously, stop making me defend Facebook! LOL

This happened before facebook as well; it just wasn't so... public.

How many of those relationships only survived before due to lies? They could simply be lies of omission, never really saying to family and friends that their opinions are bonkers. In some sense this is at least more honest. Whether that is better overall could be argued either way I think.

In some sense those relationships were fake. How can you call someone a friend if you aren't willing to have a discussion, even argument, with them and respect them afterwards?

Personally I don't discuss politics or religion with most of my family. I know that my views are in strong opposition to theirs. Things may be more harmonious this way, but it does mean that no one challenges anyone's ideas.

Move fast and break social ties.

I'm not sure if you remember the internet before Google, but finding stuff was significantly more difficult. Other search engines were either based off of manually curated indexes or were simple keyword searches and you'd often need to scroll pages of results to find a match that was actually relevant to what you wanted.

People used to buy printed books with lists of useful websites to help find things.

So yes, the internet existed before Google and would exist without it, but Google Search was a game-changer in making it useful to the average person.

A better search was inevitable. Google achieved it first and snowballed into a monopoly. Same with Facebook – many social networks went extinct just because it was spreading faster.

These companies appropriated the natural course of evolution of information exchange between humans.

I don't understand how mp3.com declined. It seemed to be going very strong and then withered. Does anyone know?

"A better search was inevitable."

I see it this way too.

As usual, most of this confused brain dump by yet another technology-challenged journalist could be reduced, per the "engineering mindset", to few lines: Facebook is a website protected by a password. There is a backend database. It contains photos, among other things. (Including personal data no web user would have shared with some random website in the 1990's.)

How to explain a website's popularity? Not easily. Do not be fooled by ex post facto "explanations" by those pontificating about already popular websites. If we knew the reasons why before the fact then we would not be having these discussions about the perplexity of network effects.

Does every web user really want to visit the same website, all day, every day? Do they set out to do that? ("Where do you want to go today?") If they do, then why even have a "web" of different sites? Why not stay on the same site and just visit its many pages (e.g. "profiles")?

For example, as a technical matter, do all web users need to log in to the same college drop out's website in order to share photos, or send messages to each other? The engineering mindset says no. The engineering mindset says there are many ways to accomplish this using a variety of methods. The most popular method may not be the best method, from an engineering perspective.

According to the journalist the engineering mindset yearns for a mathematical formula that proves why and how things become popular (cf. became or stay popular). But there is none.

The Google employee states that "web search" was cumbersome and slow back in the early 1990's. True.

Today, thanks to networking and hardware advances it is much faster.

But today's "search" is also manipulated to an extent not seen in the early 1990's. And increasingly, the web of "different" sites are (not obviously) owned by the same company, perhaps the same one providing the "search". Users are in some cases literally searching from among a selection of websites all part of the same enity, though it does not appear to them that way.

Indeed, in some aspects we have come a long way from the web of the 1990's.

How to explain a website's continued popularity? Manipulation of existing users and acquiring all potential competition. The list of methods is too long for an HN comment.

Needless to say, copying all the web's data and allowing access only by slow, small scale querying (with each query being recorded and used for advertising purposes) is not clearly an advance for users. It is just a tradeoff.

No technical barriers exist to opening up the web's data in bulk to every web user, and that would certainly be an advance for users.

Does every web user really want to visit the same website, all day, every day?

Actually in the 90's the theory was that people did want this, they were called portals and various companies competed to build the ultimate portal that would have your news and stock quotes and weather and whatever else all on your browser's start page.

we have come a long way from the web of the 1990's

In some ways yes, but in others we've come full circle. Facebook is AOL.

> But today's "search" is also manipulated to an extent not seen in the early 1990's

Exactly, it's so spammy for many keywords that more and more curated resources appear, i.e. Link Directories 2.0.

For example, if I need some software then I'm going to check Hacker News, Product Hunt, AlternativeTo but not Google's results.

Yes, you're right, BUT finding stuff wasn't always the primary use case in the internet before google.

Many people traversed around from Links section to Links section, or around web rings as their primary use case.

Web sites were connected as trees and rings as opposed to a few central hubs.

This is why the term "surfing the web" used to be much more germane. Today, we don't surf much: we simply target information and acquire it. Or we check daily aggregators/social networks.

whats interesting is i communicated more with my family when we only had a phone to communicate than when facebook came along. I'm not sure how or why it does it, but i believe it actually thwarts communication.

The argument I've heard in favor of this is that in 1995 if you wanted to talk to Aunt Sylvia in Indiana you had to pick up the phone and call her. More often than not, this resulted in a 20-30 minute conversation where you talked about something. This would happen, what, once every few weeks or months? Now, you see her in your news feed, and you might like it or fire off a one-sentence [fragment] comment. This mini-interaction happens on a weekly or daily basis, so you feel like you're more in touch with what Aunt Sylvia's doing now, when in reality it's much more superficial.

Facebooks whole shtick is making you feel like your being social. In reality you are partaking in the most superficial 'fast food' social needs scratching imaginable. This causes people to become addicted to a constant stream of ultimately unsatisfying validation at the cost of spending time on meaningful relationships.

Facebook being social 'fast food' (or junk food) is the best analogy I've seen. Great thought!

That's a good pull quote to keep up your sleeve: Facebook is the McDonald's of the internet. It's unhealthy and kinda crap but everybody consumes it, and the ones who don't seem stuck up for some reason.

So, in this thread, I already learned that Facebook is AOL 2.0, and also the McDonald's of the Internet. Does anyone have other good analogies for Facebook that they want to share? :)

Maybe you were just younger? I noticed my interactions with family generally lowered over the years, as me & my siblings all went to build their own lives.

> Families and friends would be able to communicate once the Internet became possible whether Facebook exists or not.

Have you tried using Livejournal to communicate with friends and family? It was certainly possible, but had tremendously worse usability. You know, that thing that HN readers care about much less than actual users.

This was written so disrespectfully and dismissively of programmers, hackers and engineers that I have a hard time reading it, despite my extreme distaste for Facebook.

>In the labs of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) during the 60s and 70s, they broke any rule that interfered with building the stuff of early computing, such marvels as the first video games and word processors.

Also, Calling a 33 year old billionaire that has helmed the construction of one of the largest companies the world has ever seen a (paraphrasing) 'good boy that wanted to be a bit naughty' is just stupid. I understand why Foer did it - he hates Silicon Valley for ruining his life at the helm of a magazine formerly supported by more hands-off rich patrons. It makes his arguments worse, though.

>>In the labs of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) during the 60s and 70s, they broke any rule that interfered with building the stuff of early computing, such marvels as the first video games and word processors.

Surely this is part of tech's own, positive, legend of itself? Is it "disrespectful" when it's part of HAKMEM or the Jargon file? Isn't this where all the "disruption" ideology comes from?

In context, it doesn't appear that he actually believes the first video games, for example, to be a marvel - he's deliberately describing the programmers at MIT in a way to make them seem childish and naive. This makes his point that Zuckerberg is both childish and exploitative an easier one to support.

Immediately preceding sentence: "The heroes of his adolescence were the original hackers. These weren’t malevolent data thieves or cyberterrorists. Zuckerberg’s hacker heroes were disrespectful of authority. They were technically virtuosic, infinitely resourceful nerd cowboys, unbound by conventional thinking."

I think you're reading a sarcasm into it that I'm not seeing?

> "Plenty of companies have similarly appropriated hacker culture – hackers are the ur-disrupters – but none have gone as far as Facebook."

I think it's actually painting Zuckerberg as a "wannabe" and in some way not a real hacker?

>I think you're reading a sarcasm into it that I'm not seeing?

It's possible - I've also read his book and some other work of his. He's a very good writer, though, so if it's there, it's almost certainly intentional.

If you follow that paragraph, 'With their free time, they played epic pranks, which happened to draw further attention to their own cleverness – ' is then followed up by Foer's description of them as the enemy of suited bureaucracy. It makes you imagine young people going against a paternal figure, but the examples he chooses both cut their credibility and show that their fight was ultimately useless. It also provides better juxtaposition for his ultimate point about Zuckerberg's perversion of the hacker ethos.

You're right, he is painting Zuckerberg as a wannabe. A boy who wants to emulate naive heroes but doesn't have the 'technical virtuosity' and ends up exploiting the culture he's almost but not quite a part of, turning it from something fairly harmless into something that Foer believes is extremely dangerous for society.

but it's a valid point too. The 'hacker ethos' is inherently childish in a way that can be both seen negatively and positively.

The disregard for rules, the commons and so forth is what makes it so easy for Zuckerberg to turn it into a pseudo-subversive marketing reel. It's easy to twist it that way, and Zuckerberg is not the only guy doing it.

> This was written so disrespectfully and dismissively of programmers, hackers and engineers that I have a hard time reading it, despite my extreme distaste for Facebook.

It's the Guardian, that's pretty much to be expected.

Yeah, he couldn't, for whatever reason, bring up advertisers but instead chose "those early hackers" pushed for this.

Get used to it. The tech backlash is just beginning.

There are two forces. One is the series of gaffs by Google, FB, and Amazon and the resultant public awareness of their power. The second is Trump's election. When he set up his initial meetings with business leaders at the beginning of his administration, the tech giants were notably not invited. He sent the signal that they were not part of the real economy.

Say what you want about Trump's morals or ineffectiveness, but things like that send signals across a society whether we like it or not. "Greed is good" came from Reagan's election in the 80s. Tech is losing its shine in our culture.

> When he set up his initial meetings with business leaders at the beginning of his administration, the tech giants were notably not invited.

Hmm? https://techcrunch.com/2016/12/14/donald-trump-meets-with-te...

"President-elect Donald Trump met with some of the most prominent executives from the tech industry today at Trump Tower, with investor Peter Thiel and Vice President-elect Mike Pence at his side. Trump opened the meeting with CEOs from Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and others by thanking Thiel for his support."

"Attendees included Eric Schmidt and Larry Page of Google, Tim Cook of Apple, Satya Nadella and Brad Smith of Microsoft, Jeff Bezos of Amazon (who expressed his excitement that Trump’s administration could be “the innovations administration“), Safra Catz of Oracle, Chuck Robbins of Cisco and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. Thiel’s business partner, Palantir CEO Alex Karp, attended as well."

Seems like different sectors just had different meetings? Which meeting specifically were you thinking of?

This one. It was the first one as president.


> When he set up his initial meetings with business leaders at the beginning of his administration, the tech giants were notably not invited.



Your supreme leader will find it difficult forcibly seizing the hundreds of billions of dollars from the current biggest drivers of the economy to get them out of "his" economy.

I am out of the loop. How did Silicon Valley ruin his life?

Ascribing ulterior motives to the author and thus constructing a straw man argument makes it difficult for me to take your comment at face value.

That's not an example of a straw man argument.

I'll clarify, for the downvoters: I don't think the statement I made is an example of any common fallacy, but it is definitely not a straw man. If I were to say that he was arguing something he was not and then attacked that argument, or if I used him as a representation of all people making his arguments that would be a straw man. Maybe you could argue that it is ad hominem, but I'm not really attacking his character, merely his choice of words.

I, too, like precision.

You are attacking him, by projecting your opinion of his motivations for writing the article, imaginary motivations rooted in "his" dislike for an industry.

Ascribing motivations to someone else I associate with straw man fallacy. And, you're correct -- attacking him for these instead of addressing his arguments can be defined as ad hominem.

>You are attacking him, by projecting your opinion of his motivations for writing the article, imaginary motivations rooted in "his" dislike for an industry.

They aren't actually imaginary - this article is right in line with his book, which he wrote after being fired by one of the founders of Facebook. He's written and spoken quite extensively on this. Further, I didn't say those were his motivations for writing the article. I said that those were his motivations for writing it in the manner that he did.

>Ascribing motivations to someone else I associate with straw man fallacy.

That isn't what a straw man is, though.

As for ad hominem - I'm not actually attacking him, I'm taking issue with the way he wrote the article and is characterizing a 33 year old man that has achieved immense and improbable success, married and with children as a 'good boy.'

Thank you for clarifying. I stand corrected :)

> This was written so disrespectfully and dismissively of programmers, hackers and engineers that I have a hard time reading

I did not read anything there that was openly hostile to us. Critic of unintended consequences, yes; but that reflects more on our collective disregard for such than on then author's biases.

If you had a hard time reading through it, that reflects positivelly on your character: It means you are not a self-serving cynic yet. The question is how to channel that emotional energy into making our profession one that serves the public as it claims to be, instead of preying on the public as more often than not we end up being.

You could take a year-long class on the psychological influence (some call it social engineering) of Facebook and you'd barely scratch the surface.

One example I find particularly interesting is how Facebook slowly expanded what would trigger a notification, keeping people fixated on that red box like rats to sugar water.

It had the opposite effect for me -- now that everything gives me a notification, half the time I see the red dot on the corner I assune it's something stupid.

I'm not sure, but I feel that the less I engage with Facebook the more trivial the notifications become - as though the threshold were being lowered to get me back on board.

So if I have no posts garnering likes / reactions, I start seeing "Susan is interested in an event near London!" and "Alan is now on Instagram!!" - until I begin posting again.

Yes. This recent thread and screenshot complained about 36 red notifications from Facebook instead of real human beings: https://www.reddit.com/r/mildlyinfuriating/comments/6zjzge/n...

Facebook is diluting its red alert into meaningless nagging.

The worst is if you turn off notifications from Messenger, it flashes up the red number to tell you you need to turn them back on.

I found it very, very annoying at first... now it's just taught me to ignore the red numbers entirely.

Same problem at LinkedIn. Most notifications are "We've found someone you might know" or "We've found a job you might like".

Cry wolf, why don't you.

It's the same for me, but I'm sure they have all the analytics they need to know what increases engagement and what doesn't...

I suspect it's a question of goals. Facebook talks a lot about increasing usage time and interaction count.

The changes drove me away, but I was a low-time, low-activity user to begin with. Trading me for expanding the value of a 'whale' is probably a sensible move for them.

Disabled all that social media shit way back. Didn't look back once. People who mattered reached out, those who didn't, didn't. Life moved on. So much for all their "psychological influence".

Yeah, it seems like there's a thread on HN every week where half of us jump in to share our story. I haven't been on FB in over 5 years and am much happier without it.

That said, I have other more tolerable addictions (like reddit).

Thankfully Reddit lets you tailor your subscriptions very narrowly, even allowing you to disable notifications altogether. Even if you take a machete to your friends list on a weekly basis, Facebook has a lot of noise.

Yep. I'm worried that reddit is going to abandon that user-friendliness though, under the typical SV pressure to "grow". Fingers crossed it never happens.

It's already beginning. They just introduced "Pages" and Just yesterday I saw a bunch of new users tagging their friends in the posts to "share" with them.

Is reddit even in the black yet? At the end of it the day, we have to make money for our software. All of that infrastructure and developers aren't free or cheap. Let's be honest with ourselves, people are never going to pay for software again like they used to in the 90s and 00s. Kind of in a way, I miss that. I wish you could pop in a CD of "reddit" with your subscription and that would be it.

Same here. I did use it often in college when it was still .edu only and got a lot out of it so I understand why people like it.

On the flip side, shortly after I graduated I realized it was my default "thing to do" online (i.e. when I open my browser it was muscle memory to type in facebook.com). Yet when I opened it up I cared less and less about what I would actually see. Anything worthwhile I would have gotten a text/call about, everything else was just attention-grabbing noise.

After I disabled my account honestly I can't say parting with it had any negative effect on my life whatsoever. Anyone who would have invited me to something on FB just sent me a message on something else, or text/called. Any friends I wanted to stay in touch with did so any way in other ways. Anyone that I lost touch with wasn't someone I was trying to stay in touch with in the first place.

It's amazing how often I hear people complaining about Facebook or the people they have "connections" with on there, but just not using the platform is almost a foreign concept for them at this point.

My only issue with Reddit the amount of astroturfing that takes place.

Take a look at a community like /r/fitness, and you get a lot of people recommending a lifting program that requires you purchase a book.

The worst part is, once it's been brought up enough (read: astroturfed enough), users naturally start to parrot it to fit in.

I'm not saying there's definitely no astroturfing there, but that doesn't sound like strong evidence of it.

Probably we (as in Facebook users) are part of the largest psychological experience in history. With the billion users and trillions of actions, the computers at Facebook have an unprecedented opportunity to make experiments on us to see what makes us tick.

Take notifications as an example. Not that hard to think that there could be some machine learning system trying to find the best possible notification pattern to lure back a user who has not visited Facebook for a while. On Facebook scale you can run large number of tests in reasonable small time frame and still get pretty good number of observations for each test.

Similar thing could be applied to quite many things on Facebook. Most of the things they want to optimize are easy to measure. Like how often we check the site, how much time we spend there, how many times we click ads and so on.

Hysterical notifications are why I deleted the app from my phone. I was getting notified about stuff that I didn't care about, that no sane person would ever care about, and I lost patience with their whack-a-mole settings system.

James Hamblin at The Atlantic experimented with putting his phone in grayscale mode to combat the power of brightly-colored notifications.


I see a similarity between food corporations pouring money into making food addictive and cheap, and corporations competing for our attention by making their digital products addictive.

I highly recommend this TED talk by Tristan Harriss on the topic: How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day


It's a war for our attention and the first step of taking it back is admitting that we are easy to distract and persuad-able.

Just avoid it... don't try to outsmart it, accept that it's poison and move on. The complexity of the issue is belied by the simplicity of the available solutions.

> By the time Zuckerberg began extolling the virtues of hacking, he had stripped the name of most of its original meaning and distilled it into a managerial philosophy that contains barely a hint of rebelliousness. Hackers, he told one interviewer, were “just this group of computer scientists who were trying to quickly prototype and see what was possible."

No, Zuckerberg did not somehow give the word "hacking" new meaning - those meanings have been around for a long time.

> Facebook would never put it this way, but algorithms are meant to erode free will, to relieve humans of the burden of choosing, to nudge them in the right direction.

Again, no. The whole article is full of grandiose statements like this that are either flat-out wrong or distorted to fit the author's narrative. Maybe if "algorithms" were replaced with "their algorithms", this argument (which seems to be the thesis) would be slightly more credible. The problems described in the article are not products of algorithms or the "engineering mindset". Those things are just manifestations of the real problem: Facebook's current strategic mission.

I agree with a lot of what the article is saying, but unfortunately it comes across as blaming the use of technology and engineering. Like civil laws, those things can be helpful or detrimental to people (as most tools can), and sometimes they have unintended consequences. Ultimately, the responsibility still lies 100% with the organization creating those algorithms, not in the use of algorithms per se.

Question: If you take an organization with the goal to make money, and you execute well on social media with the help of capable engineers, will the end result have been drastically different than what Zuckerberg came up with?

If the aims and initial circumstances are similar, and the methods of engineering people & data with code are known, and few errors are made to get there, how much is really left to the individual as opposed to the system itself?

Would there have been any way that Facebook did not become its evil current self, without accepting that it would eventually be replaced by an equivalent organization that did decide to "listen to the data" and let algorithms decide what's most effective in getting us to be a potent tool for shareholder enrichment?

It might have been Facebook's set of algorithms and engineering prowess that got us to the point we're at now, but I wouldn't refute the statement that the use of those methods would cause better long-term results in someone else's hands.

“In a lot of ways Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company,” Zuckerberg has said. “We have this large community of people, and more than other technology companies we’re really setting policies.”

And this is why I am arguing for a serious revamping of regulation on these companies. As they collect more and more data, build shadow profiles of non-users, conduct "experiments" on their users, attacking individualism and rights to privacy, they are operating much more like a government than a corporation. Combine this with the massive financial clout they have and we are having our actual constitutional rights violated, while being told our Bill of rights don't apply to them because they are a corporation, not the government.

“The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly,” Zuckerberg has said. “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Mark Zuckerberg lecturing us about integrity is quite a hoot -- particularly when his argument is completely self-serving. What's next, lessons in Gandhian pacifism from Kim Jong-un? Anyway, he's flat wrong. Having multiple identities, in the sense that we adapt our behavior and interests somewhat to the people we're interacting with, is inevitable, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. Integrity is something deeper.

I wish people would stop contributing to the Facebook mythos that elevates a social media platform into some kind of software based deity. It's just a website, it's not a threat to "free will" any more than a cigarette or coke addiction is a threat to "free will". People recite grand expositions regarding how "I stopped using facebook and it changed my life forever! I've never looked back!"... wonderful, but I want to suggest that it's just not that big of a deal either way, it's a website where people post selfies, memes, and uninformed political opinions, it really isn't that life-altering. If you truly despise Facebook, stop feeding its delusions of grandeur.

Strictly speaking, Facebook is a screen ('screen' being a technical term for the physicality of a digital experience). We can say that, to a good approximation, the sum total of our experience of the world beyond our immediate experience comes through screens. In this way, we say that all media is a screen.

So, there is your first order experience - your apartment, your car, the road on the way to work, your office, the restaurants and cafes you like, your friends; and there is everything else, ALL mediated by a screen. The world at large, how it looks to you, what you know about it, all mediated by a screen.

Facebook is not just a website to millions (billions?) of people. It is THE screen that represents THE most valuable, pleasurable part of their life - their friendly and familial relationships. What makes FB so potent is that it makes these relationships more efficient, and in some sense safer, and erodes that first-order offline experience of relationship, which makes ALL participants more dependent on the screen experience!

When you see a group of kids at a cafe hunched over their phones, or a couple on a date hunched over their phones, what do you think they are looking at? What first-order experience are they giving up? Is a thing that can literally steal your real, first-order life away from you, and in such vast numbers, really "just a website"?

> It is THE screen that represents THE most valuable, pleasurable part of their life - their friendly and familial relationships.

I disagree. Millions of people use Facebook, but not nearly as many people rely on Facebook as "THE" preeminent gateway to their loved ones. Most people use Facebook on a spectrum somewhere between "post a few times a day" and "lurk when I'm bored". People who centralize their entire lives around Facebook are pretty rare and are usually regarded as somewhat unhealthy in that regard unless they engage Facebook as part of their business or something similar. If Facebook disappeared tomorrow, people would groan for a few days but rapidly switch to SMS/Hangouts/WhatsApp/Snapchat or any of the other myriad communication services. The worst case scenario is that some people would lose some valuable contacts that they didn't already have backed up through iCloud or Google, but this isn't a life-changing event as anyone who has ever lost a cell-phone prior to 2007 can attest to.

> When you see a group of kids at a cafe hunched over their phones, or a couple on a date hunched over their phones, what do you think they are looking at?

People browse a variety of applications on their phone of which Facebook is only one fraction, especially among "kids" who are much more active on networks other than Facebook. Beyond that, "being haunched over" one's phone is more a sign of accessibility than necessity; if people could only access Facebook on a PC they'd just open up some other crap on their phone.

Seriously... it really is just a website.

It's not a website, it's a complex and sophisticated media and marketing platform with many, many different features and all of that comes with a bunch of pros and cons.

...that you can choose whether or not to use.

Thats not entirely true. Facebook will build a profile on you through like buttons and information shared from family/friends/acquaintances whether you choose to or not.

I can't wait for GDPR.

Then facebook/google/whatever can't process data from me without consent (which they do not have without an account)..

"Under GDPR organizations in breach of GDPR can be fined up to 4% of annual global turnover or €20 Million (whichever is greater). This is the maximum fine that can be imposed for the most serious infringements e.g._not having sufficient customer consent to process data_ or violating the core of Privacy by Design concepts."


> can be fined up to 4% of annual global turnover

I'm not overly familar with the English terms for all these economic stats, but I think "turnover" is "revenue", and that's $27.638E9 [1] according to Wikipedia. So the fine would be about $1.1E9. On the same Wikipedia page, I see that their net income is some $10.217E9. Is "net income" the same as "profit"? If so, does that mean that even this massive fine would only be 10% of their profit?

If so, I can easily see "annual GDPR fine" becoming a standard bulletpoint in their earnings report, as long as Facebook thinks that the data collected is worth more than the fine.

[1] 1E9 = 1 billion

The fine is "pr incident" afaik.

Not once a year

That sounds more like a tax than a fine.

This is not unique to Facebook; Amazon, Google, Equifax and many other businesses build a profile on you regardless of whether you want them to or not.

Right, just in the same sense that Google and Equifax are not just websites, Facebook is not something you can entirely ignore without consequence.

> just in the same sense that Google and Equifax are not just websites

My argument is that Google and Equifax are fundamentally different from Facebook, which amounts to pretty much just a website. Equifax obviously has immense impact on one's life because of the nature of the data they collect and their role in determining one's creditworthiness. Google also has a huge impact because of how critical their search product is to so many individuals and businesses. Facebook isn't really that important by comparison, it's just popular. For most people, Facebook is a silly addiction and time waster, using the site let's you view some photos and comments or maybe chat. That's it. It's just not a big deal.

Sure, but so what? How can some "profile" Facebook has on me affect my life in any way? I'm not going to be denied a loan because Facebook might know who some of my friends are. I've been ignoring Facebook without consequence for a decade.

[citation needed]

How can you even know if it doesn't affect you (either positively or negatively)?

I think the burden is on the person claiming bad effects to name examples of those bad effects. It’s silly to have to prove the non-existence of something you see no evidence of.

Why would I care about that if I don't use the product? How would anything that Facebook does affect someone who does not use it?

Well, someone could certainly take your photo and post it on Facebook without your knowledge and that could lead to serious consequences, however, one's photo could just as easily end up on reddit, imgur, HN or any other internet community. Incidentally, the photo posted on Facebook would at least not be indexed by google.

Not only post your picture, but friends can tag it with a name along with time and location, and now association with certain circles of friends. You are probably not going to get that kind of context with a picture on reddit or imgur.

What specific serious consequences could it lead to? Maybe Facebook has my photo through a friend, maybe it doesn't. I have no idea and have never needed to care.

I'm speaking generally, maybe you don't have to care, but that might not always necessarily be the case and certainly isn't the case for many people. For example, maybe you're supposed to be at work but a photo is taken of you at the beach. Maybe you're not supposed to be drinking (for legal or marital or personal reasons) but someone takes a photo of you at the bar. Maybe you told someone something that's not true but a photo ends up showing that to be a lie. I'm not saying these or similar scenarios will ever apply to you, but it's easy to see how someone who doesn't use Facebook could face serious consequences for a photo that they did not upload.

That sounds like marketing speak. It's a website; yes it's a very sophisticated one, but the crux of all that sophistication (for the user) comes down to a web page with posts on it. There are pros and cons to everything so I'm not sure that's a very useful observation, but, once again, Facebook is nothing special compared to e.g. services provided by google, microsoft or amazon. I think that is the reason you see so many claims of "I quit Facebook and it was the best decision I ever made" and very few "I quit using Amazon and I've never looked back!"

facebook is as much just a website as the catholic church is just some buildings with a book. there is a lot behind it.

I suppose that makes Zuckerberg god in your analogy.

This is a terrible comparison. A decade old tech company is not at all comparable to one of the oldest and most powerful and influential institutions in history.

> This is a terrible comparison. A decade old tech company is not at all comparable to one of the oldest and most powerful and influential institutions in history.

Actually it's rather apt given that there are more Facebook users (2B) than Catholics (1.2B).

The reality is that Facebook has a disturbing amount of influence on what a quarter of the worlds population see and hear on any given day. No, Facebook can't directly give orders but as a mechanism for propaganda it has unparalleled reach.

> I suppose that makes Zuckerberg god in your analogy.

Closer to the Pope.

> Actually it's rather apt given that there are more Facebook users (2B) than Catholics (1.2B).

I apologize for sounding like a jerk, but have you ever read a history book? The impact of the Catholic church on human history completely eclipses Facebook's entire existence, the comparison is completely absurd. Comparing Facebook's monthly active users to the global population of Catholics is like comparing the total number of World of Warcraft subscribers to the total number of active duty U.S. soldiers; the difference in numbers is categorically meaningless.

> The reality is that Facebook has a disturbing amount of influence on what a quarter of the worlds population see and hear on any given day.

I don't really think it does. As I stated, the majority of people use Facebook for pretty standard social behavior like photo-sharing, messaging and comments. People go to Facebook because they can see what's going on with their friends and family or they subscribe to content providers that they already like and explicitly hide content they don't want to see. Don't misunderstand, this isn't to say that Facebook couldn't potentially abuse it's power for the purpose of spreading propaganda, but the reality is that this isn't really happening because people don't look to Facebook to form their opinions, they look to the echo chambers that Facebook allows them to curate at their own discretion. Facebook is a mirror of their users and that is by design because Facebook only care about eyeballs. Of course, whenever Facebook filters or deletes something people get up in arms and complain about censorship and blah blah blah, but 99% of the time this is just sour grapes from the community that favored the removed content.

I suppose that makes Zuckerberg god in your analogy.

Zuckerberg with the strip of tape over his own laptop's camera is like the Pope, living in a palace wearing a gold hat while claiming to be all about the poor.

FB's mobile app is used way more than their website. Intended to be left on and active 24x7, that's probably how most people use it -- so they're never out of touch.

If not a software deity, that's at least a 'daemon on my shoulder'.

Well facebook does attempt to track you on other websites though.


I find the "I deleted Facebook" meme incredibly odd. It's a website, you don't have to visit. You don't have to check/install the app. Do you really have no free will of your own?

Yes, the feed can be annoying, so just fill it up with things you like. Unfollow annoying people, like pages and groups that interest you, and suddenly your feed changes entirely.

If you have to delete Facebook to stop checking it, the issue is with you, not with Facebook. Facebook rapidly gets pretty bland and monotonous. It's useful, but not that interesting. Facebook wish it had as much power over you as some people seem to think it has.

Yes, I'm sure I'll be downvoted into oblivion, but honestly I've given up with this site. If you're not anti Facebook, pro libertarian, anti Microsoft, anti advertising...etc. you're not part of the 20 something know-it-all SV echo chamber and so get downvoted.

Yes, I know it's redundant but I think this is the last time I'll log in here. The echo chamber and shocking lack of pragmatism and common sense displayed on this website makes me think I'm living in a different world to the opinions displayed here.

I agree that the title of the article is hyperbole. I believe what people are reacting to is an increased recognition of the how effective advertising in general and social media in particular is at persuasion and how it affects our behavior. Free will or no, advertising is effective or companies wouldn't pay for it and Facebook wouldn't have the revenue stream it does.

You can choose to handle this a number of ways. One is to modify one's use of Facebook as you recommend. Another is to decide there's not enough value in Facebook to justify that effort. A reaction to the idea that you're having your buttons pushed can also weight one's decision to break off entirely. How long would you choose to stay in a relationship if you feel like you're being manipulated? On reflection you might behave rationally, but I can sympathize with some level of emotional response. It might be over the top, but I understand where it's coming from.

You seem to be choosing the latter with respect to HN: you'd rather leave than put in the effort to make it worthwhile for you. That's completely your choice. If HN notified you of content it thought you'd be interested in or reminded you to check on updates, you'd probably disable those as well. That's effectively what people are doing when they delete the app.

People also recognize that Facebook's utility is inherent in having as many people as possible on the platform, and that they may miss out on some events and information when people post only via Facebook (crikey, there's a meme for that too: FOMO). Part of "I deleted Facebook" is reminding people that not everyone is on Facebook.

One could uncharitably argue recursively that they find your type of post incredibly odd, that one doesn't have to respond to such memes, that one should exercise their free will (and self-restraint) to just let it slide. That would also fall into the same trap: it fails to recognize that you're responding in a similar way for the same reasons: you've had your buttons pushed in a way you yourself recognize as unconstructive. And you're taking action on it, exercising your free will.

Slight tangent - since the image of the 1 Hacker Way FB sign is invariably used in FB pieces, its amusing to note that the back of this sign still shows the Sun Microsystems logo that they cheaply painted over when they took the space over:


Actually they keep this to remind themselves every day that one day they could be dust too. There are also a few other relics from the Sun era deliberately left over in the campus for the same reason.

Source: worked there

>"Actually they keep this to remind themselves every day that one day they could be dust too."

How is it a reminder if it isn't at all visible to anyone there? The back of the sign is obscured by woods. The only way to see it is to walk around to the back of it. I'm not surprised that company propaganda would spin this into some nonsense about 'this is a reminder ..." though.

Just get off facebook.

While it was "easy" for me to drop Facebook, I realize that for others it's harder. And not because "it's addicting" but rather for practical reasons.

My wife, who is still on Facebook uses it as a tool to coordinate social events, message teachers, stay in touch with family and even ask useful questions to specific groups. You can't force everyone in your life to communicate on your terms, unless you want to A) piss people off and B) reduce your socialization dramatically. If I didn't have her, I'd probably be forced to be on Facebook, if only to support my kids social activities, and stay in touch with my immediate family.

Some content shared on Facebook still annoys her - stay-at-home moms posting about their purchases and political posts are her least favorite - but I have those same issues on Twitter and remain because she and I derive value from the service(s) despite this.

"You can't force everyone in your life to communicate on your terms..."

Isn't that what many people and groups on Facebook have done? Why feed that mentality?

People who will only communicate with you through Facebook are likely not worth communicating with, as that signals that they don't think you're worth the extra effort. Email and telephone are still quite valid and effective means of communication.

It's not that they force you to use Facebook, you find that it's simply the most optimal way to communicate - to use Mark's own words it's "friction-less". Some people you will text, call, email and no response - message them on FB and bam, instant reply. I realize that's pretty f*cked up but it's useless to scold or hound them to respond to your other inquiries.

"People who will only communicate with you through Facebook are likely not worth communicating with"

Really? You're suggesting I cut people out of my life who want to communicate via Facebook over other mediums? Pretty harsh.

"Really? You're suggesting I cut people out of my life who want to communicate via Facebook over other mediums? Pretty harsh."

True. But I think Facebook's usefulness is outweighed by its disadvantages. It's an ever-watching anxiety machine: look at this latest atrocious news story, react to the asinine post an acquaintance has made about their life, respond to this event, post more because you haven't in a little while, watch this video about somebody having a life better than yours (or somebody having a horrible time, which may also happen to you, so watch out!), share your contact information for others so we may increase the webbing to keep you in our walled garden!

It's a need machine. It's the worst enabler-friend. It's not in a symbiotic relationship with you; it's parasitic. And IMO Facebook doesn't improve ones life; it merely facilitates using Facebook more and more often to do things that otherwise we either wouldn't do or wouldn't consider a real hassle.

Just like we stopped using AOL, myspace, yahoo and napster, facebook will go the way of the dodo sooner or later. People have short term memories. If there's one thing true of the internet, it's that everything slides into obsolesce at some point.. gopher, FTP, icq, geocities, irc and a long list of one massive sites and technologies that are now dead.

Idk about that. I used to say that, and some days still do, but Facebook is pretty exceptional in scope and how normalized it is.

It will eventually become something else or be replaced, but that may take awhile.

Yes. I'm getting tired of these articles complaining about Facebook when you can stop using it literally any minute.

Also, Grauniad is a terrible source of tech news: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14179497

The point is not about "you" the HN reader, or you the poster, or me. The point is about all of the millions of users who are unaware, haven't read this article, are tech-illiterate, don't understand the psychology, etc.

You and I are completely insignificant in the face of this horde of people who are becoming increasingly vulnerable to subtle manipulation. That's the point of this article. A rising tide lifts all boats.

We're past the point where telling people to stop using the services would have any measurable effect.

That's actually a pretty dismissive comment. It may not have been your intention, but it reads like: "Oh, those poor commoners, who aren't as intelligent as us and can't see the truth that we can see! Why, they're using this terrible thing and they don't even know any better! The masses must be saved from themselves."

No, you're pretty close. I will nitpick that awareness has nothing to do with intelligence and I mentioned nothing about anyone's intelligence level. However, awareness doesn't guarantee compliance.

People were made aware that smoking causes cancer, vaccines do not cause autism, and that man-made production of CO2 was causing accelerated climate change. In each of those cases, there are experts in the field warning common people of the danger. In each of those cases, the experts observed that people didn't know about the dangers beforehand. In each of those cases, there are people who refute the claims of the experts or flat out do not care (I should note that plenty of intelligent people fall into this last category).

I expect this scenario will be no different.

I agree but wish the article was better written. This is for a general audience address those readers dont need huge digressions into zucks well known personal life, nor the etymology of the term algorithm and hacker.

This is an excerpt from a book. And it's not that the author dislikes having to use Facebook, but rather it's complex and nefarious interaction with society and the behaviours of its many willing users that is being decried. I'm all for grumbling, but I think a more specific directed kind of grumbling is appropriate for these comments.

You can, your friends/family won't, then you can be indirectly tracked.

Anyone who's not on Facebook has demonstrated their antisocial tendencies and needs to be even more carefully monitored.

I wonder if this will be seen as when people say "Just stop using drugs" to drug addicts. Facebook for those who use it can have immense real or imaginary utility; it's not as simple as telling someone not to use it, unless they are a very casual user and do not rely on it for things like organising group events.

Stopping the use of Facebook and transitioning to another method of organizing group events does not cause physical illness or death.

Gambling can be an addiction, but does not result in physical illness or death upon termination. Still, it can be highly addictive. Same goes for Facebook.

You're pigeonholing. Facebook is only part of the tapestry of social media poison.

Honestly, the sooner we can have a real discussion of the pros and cons of using Facebook and not using Facebook while everyone else around you continues, without ridiculous hyperbolic bullshit like "social media poison," the better.

You're right but I still wonder what will ever become of the idea of a "true" online social network.

Why do we have to hand over so much of ourselves in order to obtain social connection as a "side-effect" of the true business of social media operators like Facebook and Google? Are these companies the only way to have meaningful online social networks? I don't think it has to be that way, but I also can't fathom how a non-toxic social network can keep the lights on without selling stuff.

I see the big 4 as robber barons[1]. They see opportunity in millions and billions of dollars. The company doesn't care about the individual.


Of course they don't care about people. The social network that the members enjoy is merely a side-effect of the true business. Sort of like the fact that a cow pasture is not really about the cows' enjoyment but, when you get down to it, hamburgers. Amazingly most people are still as oblivious to this concept as cows are before becoming hamburgers.

What I am wondering about is the possibility of a social network that is deliberately and intentionally about being JUST a social network and NOT some kind of complex mechanism for market research and exploitation.

I think the obstacle there is momentum and critical mass. Nobody uses askjeeves.com because Google has mindshare.

If you were to build this hypothetical pure social media communication platform we'd still have to find it, it'd have to be funded, maintained, and improved. Even then it's useful only if you can get your network on it.

Money is the root of all evil and will pervade into whatever is next. It's only human nature.

You can see examples of this with https://diasporafoundation.org/ and https://gab.ai/ -> these platforms and ideas exist but they have a raindrop in a bucket of usershare.

I'm not an expert in this field but I think about it a lot. Thanks for discussion, HN.

Maybe we're all thinking about this in a way that's too constrained?

The theoretical dream of cyberspace, back in the 60-80's, before "the web" (as we know it) was that merely being "online" automatically put you in a global community: a place where distance no longer mattered, and where _all_ text is part of one giant hypertext. This was roughly the idea as described by Ted Nelson (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Nelson).

I think there's a way for this theoretical concept to be realized without dependence on exploitative commerce-oriented websites, and perhaps, without dependence on websites period. Unfortunately, I have no idea what that will be like in reality.

I've been thinking about this sort of thing for a couple of months now. I really like the idea of an open-source social network, maybe supported in part or in full by crowdfunding via something like Patreon. If the intention is connection rather than profit, you'd mostly just need to cover server/hosting fees. Of course, that's still not a cheap proposition.

But I'd rather have a small network focused on good connections than a large network focused on invading and selling user data, and maybe a smaller network could be managed by user contributions over investments that lead to treating users as the product.

Open source social networks already exist, for example GNU Social and Mastodon which form part of the Fediverse.

I'll look those two up - thanks for the tip!

You're thinking of physical dependency. Addiction is compulsive behavior despite adverse consequences.

Neither does stopping gambling.

Neither does the cessation of many addictive drugs, notably nicotine.

Some people are probably addicted to facebook, but for the vast majority I don't think your comparison is very good. In almost all cases you can switch to something different than facebook.

If all your friends are on Facebook: no, you really can't.

I haven't had a Facebook account for five years. I get by just fine by emailing or texting a friend when I want to get a hold of them.

Yes you can, I have friends whom for various reason don't have a Facebook or stopped using it/deleted it. People will adjust and instead we contact them by mail or phone. Perhaps it's a bit of a annoyance, but you are not kept prisoner.

I often get invited to events through Facebook. Without Facebook, I would miss out on a lot of events.

For this reason I'm basically stuck with Facebook, but I've unfollowed most of my friends, so this reduces the burden to some extent.

Are we talking about friends or acquaintances?

Because if ones friends forget to invite them to events because they are not on FB, then it’s time to find new friends.

While I tend to agree, it's a little like telling someone to just "find a better job"; it's not always so easy. Maybe some people are unfortunate enough to not have real friends, and shallow Facebook connections are all they have.

Even though the shallow connections take up time that could be spent forging more meaningful connections with those around them, not everyone is self-confident enough to go cold-turkey.

Definitely, for some people it’s easier said than done, but I think that’s a very small minority and not your average FB user?

Ask one of your friends to text you if there is an event going on. As an added bonus, you might get some honest interaction with your friend.

Just like you're not caught up in a literal prison when your proverbial student loan debt prison is due every month.

If your friends don't want to expend the effort to communicate with you via email, phone or other, non-Facebook means: they're not really your friends.

Depends on your definition of "friend", for sure!

When it comes to messaging I prefer XMPP with Omemo these days. There is Gajim for PC, Conversations for Android and ChatSecure for Apple.

Of course, many people don't want to change their habits and I think there is no need to push too hard. However, I convinced a friend of mine to try Gajim on PC and to my surprise he sticked with it and installed the Conversations App a few months later on his smartphone.

Of course, the network effect of FB is very real. So overall this anecdote doesn't really change anything. But I think it is import to remind ourselves every once in a while that there are people out there who are willing to change their habits. And some of these people, in turn, influence other people. It's unlikely that you start a trend but I think we should keep trying.

No it's pretty simple.

Getting off facebook will not suit everyone, mostly because a lot of users will use messenger or need facebook to beventa in the loop of some social events.

There is way to empty one's Facebook feed and remove all notifications that are not related to messenger. The solution is to unfollow everyone, until the facebook feed displays "no more posts to show". One can then enjoy the messaging features of facebook without the bad. One can also view some profiles or groups occasionally but this prevents the passive consumption of feeds.

Or just install 'Kill news feed' -> https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/kill-news-feed/hjo...

(no affiliation)

Replacing Facebook with a Google product isn't the bargain you think it is.

What do you mean?

It's a chrome extension that hides the news feed part of facebook, leaving the chat/group/event stuff without the endless scrolling.

or just use messenger.com. I haven't checked my Facebook wall in forever, but I use messenger almost daily to communicate with friends and family.

Sure, but then you lose the group/event functionality (which is great, if you don't need it)

> Data, like victims of torture, tells its interrogator what it wants to hear

That is a great analogy and something that bit more than a few scientists and engineers over the years

This implies that there is such a thing as 'free will'.

So, you making this comment has been inevitable?

Modern mainstream science does not allow for the existence of free will. Materialism (everything is physical) and Determinism (everything that ever happens is an inevitable and ultimately predictable consequence of The Big Bang) reign in contemporary thought. Free will is largely considered to be an illusion or psychological trick (see eg. Daniel C. Dennett 'Freedom Evolves') and several studies have shown that decisions happen before we become aware of them and believe ourselves to have consciously decided (see Benjamin Libet's experiments amongst many others).

For free will to exist the question of what is doing the willing has to be answered. The classic (René Descartes) explanation was that of the Cartesian Theatre, the idea that somewhere inside our heads there is some kind of entity that is separate from the physical substance that makes up our bodies. As far as I can see modern science's answer to that is 'nah - neurons' (I'm oversimplifying, people go into lots of detail about electrochemical processes which happen in the brain).

I'm not necessarily saying I agree with/believe all of this (although Dennett's books are quite persuasive) but I'm not aware of any 'respectable' current theories that allow for any kind of 'ghost in the machine' - and without that, there's nowhere for free will to come from (and with that all that happens is you then need to answer what is driving the free will of the ghost/spirit/agent and where it comes from - which is similar to how The Big Bang doesn't explain why something could spontaneously appear out of nothing, only that it did and what happened next. Soap Bubble Universes, Multiverses etc just push the question one step further away... one turtle further down the stack).

The world has a serious problem to resolve here because if there truly is no free will then there is no justification for punishing people for their actions - they had no choice in the matter... in which case the criminal justice system is barbaric and unfounded.

I realise a lot of people here will already know this stuff but it plays on my mind quite a lot so please excuse the essay :)

> Modern mainstream science does not allow for the existence of free will.

Physics and math do allow it. I'm not in the least bit worried about those who disagree, they will give some excuse when they are shown to be wrong (maybe something about underpowered studies). Though I suspect the choice not as free as people think.

> everything that ever happens is an inevitable and ultimately predictable consequence of The Big Bang

No. By quantum physics. Most things are not predictable. Add to this non-linear effects and you get a really non-predictable universe (some part of this is Chaos theory).

> and several studies have shown that decisions happen before we become aware of them and believe ourselves to have consciously decided

This means exactly what it means and nothing else, that is, the brain decides before it is aware of that fact (and it can be argued most decisions are "hardware accelerated" and automatic: nothing wrong with that). No further conclusions can be taken out of that

The non-existence of free will has no direct policy implication. Since people are deterministic, the knowledge of punishments would create different behaviors.

The non-existence of free has huge policy implications. There are many discussions of this. For example the top result on Google for me looking for "free will justice punishment" was this:


If a criminal has no free will, then they are not responsible for their actions since responsibility is dependent on moral agency. I disagree with that author's conclusion though, that you have to let every criminal go. I think that when someone is apprehended and determined to have committed the crime the decision to be made now comes from a different perspective. What treatment of this person will produce the best (or least bad) outcome for society on the whole? In one case that could mean letting the person go if every indication is that they will not commit another crime regardless of any punishment. In another case it could be locking them up and never letting them out, even on a first offence, if it is very likely that they will commit serious crimes if freed.

Of course there are still discussions to be had weighing the impact of the sentencing decision on the victim, the perpetrator, and the rest of society. There's also how much trust to place in the scientific models of likelihood for recidivism. But accepting that people have no moral agency undercuts the most basic premise of laws and the justice system.

The direct participants in the justice system are not the whole picture. Society is not just affected by the judgement against the defendant, but by the logical precedent of the judgement. Making fair and consistent rules has widespread impact, allowing other people to understand the consequences of their actions and respond accordingly.

A deterministic universe does not mean people do not have moral agency. It just means some people are predetermined to behave immorally. That does not mean we should not do what we can to prevent that behavior.

I agree with everything you've written except this:

> The world has a serious problem to resolve here because if there truly is no free will then there is no justification for punishing people for their actions - they had no choice in the matter... in which case the criminal justice system is barbaric and unfounded.

"Free will" has no impact on the role of the justice system. Punishment is based on the circumstances surrounding intent and behavior, it doesn't matter if one "willingly" (in the free will sense) commits a premeditated homicide or one was "determined" to be the type of person that commits a premeditated homicide, either way, deterring and punishing that behavior is the intended goal of the justice system. The faculties of mind that we regard as possible mitigating factors in the administration of justice are unaffected by any philosophical conclusions regarding the nature of free will.

Even if you are right, your comment is pointless.

Let's assume Buddism was the ultimate truth of how the Universe work. Would it be Ok for a Buddist to interrupt a debate about criminal law with the remark that, given reincarnation, all murders are an illusion???

People feel inside like they have free will, and they are not going to change that opinion because of your argument. If a men in a white labcoat tells them to disregard their own feelings and surrender to the BigBadCompany, they are not going to do so... they are going to label people in white coats as "manipulative enemy". Furthermore, they are going to label everyone that oppose people in white coats, - antivaxers, prolifers, climate change deniers, etc, - as "potential ally".

So, you want to stop Donald Trump from taking over the world??? Why don't you stop preaching to the choir while alienating everyone else?

>Would it be Ok for a Buddist to interrupt a debate about criminal law with the remark that, given reincarnation, all murders are an illusion???

Maybe not but would it be ok for a Buddhist to interrupt a thread to point out that Buddhists don't believe in reincarnation?



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It is


Despite how much I dislike Facebook, this article started off decent, but took a strange (and disrepectful) turn into hacker culture and algorithms that was completely unfounded. Facebook addiction and the centralization of the Internet has literally nothing to do with the concept of algorithms. Sure, machine learning ventures at Facebook contribute to the need to track users and invade privacy, but that's not the fault of computer scientists working on these algorithms. That's the fault of Facebook's business model.

Its because its an excerpt from a book, I think. I totally agree, I'm on board with the point of the article but its written like an amateur Adam Curtis.

>"At a White House dinner in 2015, Mr. Zuckerberg had even asked the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, whether Mr. Xi might offer a Chinese name for his soon-to-be-born first child — usually a privilege reserved for older relatives, or sometimes a fortune teller. Mr. Xi declined, according to a person briefed on the matter."

Does getting FB into China mean so much to this person that he's willing to consider a name suggested by a complete stranger for his own child?

The picture of Mark Zuckerberg running though Tiananmen Square is also quite telling. It's completely stage-managed so that it's taken while Mark is smiling and Chairman Mao's picture is clearly in the frame behind him. I wonder how many attempts this "spontaneous" picture required.

I happened to be in Beijing that same weekend as this photo op. The local reaction to that picture wasn't one of celebrity adulation because people recognized Mark Zuckerberg founder of FB as he's not a household name there. The reaction was one of complete consternation that someone would be out jogging in such hazardous air quality. That's not an early morning fog in the background it's air pollution. It seemed like most people were donning air pollution masks that weekend because the particulate in the was so heavy.

I mention this only because it seems to the same awkward and obsequious behavior as asking the President of China to offer a name for your unborn child.

The real problem with Facebook is "sharing". I want to see what my friends are doing, and have zero interest in their "sharing". Sharing is spamming.

The author mischaracterizes algorithms and ridiculously attributes their importance in computer science to a desire by programmers to polish their own images. He reveals ignorance of one of the biggest motivations for the earliest computers, which was to solve differential equations in several domains. Eigenvalue estimation algorithms existed long before Page Rank.

Exactly. To me he mistakes concepts like page ranking (which I think are much more akin to heuristics) with the purely mathematical concept of computation.

Probably there are a lot of heuristics in page ranking now, but it began life as an eigenvalue problem [1].


Humans are social primates. Being willfully unaware of how the other tribes of primates perceive your own tribe is both naive and stupid.

And given the fact that the other tribes are more numerous, have bigger and hairier and angrier primates with longer and sharper sticks, this particular stupidity may turn out to be of the suicidal kind...

Baffled how you get "willfully unaware" out of my comment, and how I earned "naive and stupid" epithets from you.

At least I know how to find an eigenvalue. Can't be all that stupid.

Yeah, sorry about that. It is not really you, it is that I have had this conversation over with more people before, and my tolerance have grown thin.

But other than the epithets, my point stands. Knowing what an eigenvalue is, or how to calculate it, is not the only type of intelligence there is around, and not necessarily the most important one. You can tell that is a fact and not an opinion by checking what percentage of the world leaders (both of government and of industry) are engineers or scientists. Furthermore, if you look at people like Angela Merkel, who is a trained scientist and a world leader, you will notice they did not reach that state in life by knowing lots of math and science, but by noticing conventional politicians have a different type of cunning, and by applying their very big brains to outsmart those politicians in their own game.

In other words, your complain about lack of scientific awareness in the article is a red herring. It may be accurate, but it is not useful because the political purpose of the article does not depend on that. You could tell it even is a feature because the intended audience of the piece also lack scientific awareness.

So, you can freely choose to feel loathing and to disregard the artice, or you can choose to acknowledge it as an attempt to shape public perception in a way that harms the interest of your industry/profession. If you put it in those terms, calling "fault, unfair!!!" in a game with no referee and no explicit rules is a strong indicator that you are loosing and cannot cope.

But I didn't express loathing. I criticized the article, for an audience of peers who understand the criticism. I'm not trying to "shape public perception".

There's a time and venue for shaping public perception. But not every thought we express has to be directed as if addressing the readership of The Guardian. We need to preserve free and frank discussion among experts.

"Losing and cannot cope"... jesus, lighten up. I'm not trying to win one for our side. Just having a discussion among peers.


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