Even though the vast majority of Facebook’s 2.38 billion users are seemingly impervious or apathetic to many of the company’s many controversies, the social networking giant remains a popular target for scorn from the tech elite. Most recently, Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger blasted Facebook and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a wide array of reasons. The gist of Sanger’s argument is nothing new, namely that the company abuses its power and that Facebook users are merely cogs in the corporate machine that is Facebook.
Speaking to CNBC earlier this week, Sanger articulated that companies like Facebook and Twitter use customer data to make profits. I suppose it’s a factual statement, but is it really any different from what Google dpes? It’s all a part of the game, really. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter provide users with a suite of helpful services, and in exchange, the company leverages user data — which can’t be traced back to identify any single user — to sell ads and make money. In theory, this seems fair enough, but the range of privacy scandals that have rocked Facebook in recent years is why some folks like Sanger are up in arms.
Additionally, Sanger is none too pleased that Facebook’s algorithm can directly impact the psyche of its users.
“They can shape your experience, they can control what you see, when you see it and you become essentially a cog in their machine,” Sanger said. Indeed, you may recall a 2014 experiment Facebook ran where it tried to see if it could influence the mood of its user base by highlighting more negative posts in its newsfeed.
The study at the time noted: “Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks.”
Sanger, though, saved some of his harsher critiques for Zuckerberg.
“The internet wouldn’t have been created by people like Mark Zuckerberg, or any of the sort of corporate executives in Silicon Valley today,” Sanger explained. “They wouldn’t be capable, they don’t have the temperament, they’re too controlling. They don’t understand the whole idea of bottom up.”
You could make the same type of argument about Steve Jobs. You could also argue that the folks who helped create the internet wouldn’t have been able to come up with Facebook. Truth be told, I’m not sure what point Sanger is trying to make here.
For those interested in Sanger’s point of view — and it is interesting, though I tend to disagree with his position — you can check out his recent post dubbed Declaration of Digital Independence where he argues that we must replace digital empires like Facebook and Twitter with “decentralized networks of independent individuals.”