I’ve been arguing for a long time that Facebook is not neutral. Here’s what I said in the introduction to the January 2015 (rejected) version of My Closest Strangers (the oft mentioned unfinished book).
“While I won’t declare a positive or negative stand, I will argue that Facebook is in no way neutral. Many people have asserted in the course of this project that the technology is neutral; the question is what we do with it. I disagree. When it comes to Facebook, the technology itself has power: the constant invitation to share your life, the Friend Suggestions unearthing people and with them memories we might prefer remain buried, the Edgerank algorithm that decides what you do and don’t see, the size and shape of the way information and images are presented, the positive messaging, and the habit-forming feature set. This technology has power, as do the humans who use it. While the experience of Facebook feels individual, it isn’t. This is a social tool. It is built on a series of existing human relationships being brought together in a different context. It’s not just about what you do with it; it’s what we all do with it– and that’s something we need to start talking about together.”
I’m glad to see the New York Times addressing this with a thoughtful piece from Zeynep Tufekci, the “technosociologist” looking at the intersection of technology and social change. It’s important for all of use to understand. It’s important for all of us to realize there are invisible forces in the middle of our online relationships with each other. Sometimes that’s the algorithm, sometimes it’s the influence that other relationships have over how we behave in public and semi-public settings, sometimes it’s the design of the user interface and the feature set. You never know what is shaping or reshaping how you experience someone in this newish dimension so tread carefully, judge lightly, and be willing to have your assumptions tested by actual experiences.