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Monday, July 7, 2014

Manipulation by Facebook

The Guardian recently opined that we should expect Facebook to manipulate its users. It is a profit-seeking company after all and it wants effective advertising.

But this charge of manipulation hides a false, fixed  ideal: Autonomy, or the idea that individuals give their own law to themselves based upon rational decision-making regarding their circumstances. Whether that ideal ever held is one question. But it certainly does not hold now.

Facebook users expect to have their feelings changed, whether by their friends, responses to Likes, or their tailored newsfeeds. Facebook just happens to momentarily dominate that effect. But soon it will fade into one of many such feeders.

That researchers changed the feeds deliberately to test their effects only proves that users were not autonomous as according to the old model. This does not mean that users will accept any program. Luckily, there are too many incoming messages for any one message to predominate for long. Put another way, paradoxically, people can no longer be manipulated into being only autonomous.  

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