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Meta … mucil?

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Back in computing pre-history, Apple (Computer) claimed ownership of the Satanic fruit that got us humans tossed out of paradise 6+ millennia ago. Trendiness wasn’t part of the plan.

In the 1990s, Microsoft claimed ownership of the architectural element that lets the sun shine in while keeping the bad weather out. Trendiness wasn’t part of its plan either.

Which brings us to Meta, facebook’s 180 degree out-of-phase attempt at trendiness.

Here at IS Survivor Publishing we take trendiness seriously. We also take nonsensical half-donkeyed (figure it out) outrage-factory-driven commentary seriously.

“Meta” is slang for ironic self-awareness, which I guess would make it trendy, except that if Mark Zuckerberg is capable of ironic self-awareness he’s kept it well-hidden.

If corporations have personality traits, few would accuse Meta, nee facebook, of ironic self-awareness either. “Meta” is like someone past their prime saying “I’m hip! Trust me! I’m still hip!”

Then there’s the infinity half of Meta’s logo. There is a certain disturbing honesty to it, implying as it does that with the name change Zuckerberg is claiming ownership of everything in the virtual universe.

Which would be less disconcerting if his vision … that we’ll all spend most of our lives in his “metaverse” … weren’t so troublingly reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s masterpiece, The Naked Sun.

The name change to Meta is the former facebook’s response to the outrage over how it’s fanned the flames of misinformation and disinformation by knowingly spreading it to those most likely to (1) believe conspiracy theories so inane they make flat-earther-enthusiasm seem sane by comparison; (2) read and like (sorry, “Like”) the next conspiracy theory to reach their inboxes, and (3) be so inflamed by these conspiracy theories that they’ll take action on them, with “action” running the gamut from voting for lunatics to invading Congress.

Regular readers here will know I’ve been railing against intellectual relativism in all its forms for more than 15 years now (“Political Science,” 10/3/2005) and the ease with which the Internet can be subverted to spread misinformation starting 10 years before that, in the World Wide Web’s earliest days (“Trusted Information Providers,” 3/17/1997). So I have little sympathy for facebook as it attempts to deal with all the criticism.

But I think the criticism mostly misses the root cause.

One complaint is that facebook was motivated by a desire to maximize profits using all legal means at its disposal.

In the wise words of Mom, “What if everyone did that?”

Oh, wait. That’s what every corporation is supposed to do. Some do more harm than others, and where many pollute the physical world, facebook pollutes the virtual.

But where critics have completely missed the mark is the complaint about facebook being (allegedly) most likely to recommend the most inflammatory posts to those most likely to Like them.

Assume for a moment that facebook is guilty as charged. What it’s guilty of isn’t deliberately spreading misinformation and disinformation to the gullible. It’s guilty of a practice successful retailers have engaged in since retailing supplanted bartering all those millennia ago: cross-selling.

Amazon suggests that if you read Book A you’re likely to enjoy Book B. facebook, in contrast, suggests that if you believe in Jewish space lasers and Like reading posts about them, you’re also likely to believe the entire universe and all of your memories were created last Thursday.

What facebook and Amazon are doing is equivalent.

Except, of course, that in Amazon’s product and service space cross-selling is, if annoying, harmless. In facebook’s marketplace it’s toxic.

Bob’s last word: In 1990 Republicans proposed a superior approach to environmental regulation. They called it cap-and-trade. How it worked: To reduce the sulfur dioxide emissions that were causing acid rain, polluters could, instead of reducing their own emissions, buy pollution credits from another company that already had.

It worked and worked well.

And so I propose Congress pass the Keep the Joint Running Toxic Meme Reduction Act. It would set an overall industry cap on the number of toxic memes that can be posted on social media. When that limit has been reached, any entity that hasn’t yet posted its share could trade them to another that wants to post another toxic meme of its own.

Write your elected officials.

Bob’s sales pitch: The Archives are back!

Okay, that probably didn’t warrant an exclamation point, especially as Search never went away. With both now working you now have full access (at no additional charge) to 26 years of Keep the Joint Running and its InfoWorld-published predecessor, the “IS Survival Guide.”

There’s good stuff in there, most of it still relevant today.

Comments (5)

  • You wrote “One complaint is that facebook was motivated by a desire to maximize profits using all legal means at its disposal.
    Oh, wait. That’s what every corporation is supposed to do.”

    True, only insofar as the dominant theory of corporate behavior holds – that the sole obligation of a corporation is to enhance its value to stockholders. There are plenty of people, of course, who agree with this.

    But there are competing schools of thought: that corporations, as creations of society that are granted special privileges (limiting liability of their owners, principally) owe something back to society. That point is driven home even more clearly when we look at the enormous breaks given to corporations vis a vis taxation.

    Granted, how to implement this as a policy is a problem that will be difficult to solve: how much do corporations owe, to whom, and in what form? But it’s worth noting that there are other approaches than “corporations should maximize profit in any legal way possible”.

    • Yes, there are competing theories as to how things ought to be. In the meantime, companies attempt to “maximize shareholder value,” with profitability playing a starring role.

      And, I’d say, we’d be better off if profitability ranked as a higher priority than shareholder value. But that’s a different rant for a different week.

  • Your ManagementSpeak at the beginning of this one really resonated with me — it reminded me of events at a company that I used to work at in the late 1990s. The company (among other things) provided contractual programming services to other companies. I joined the company in another capacity entirely. A woman who had worked for years for our company providing the contractual programming services shared office space with me. She complained vociferously about how awful it was to deal with a particular company that she was required to deal with due to the contractual relationship. Since I was new and not involved in that area, I tried not to get involved — however, it deeply impressed me at the time that she had been there for years and complained like crazy about this company, but yet the company’s president would not deal with it or even sound sympathetic. Well, she retired or quit (I no longer remember which) and there was no one else to handle the particular customer except the company’s president. I still vividly remember that he sat at her (former) desk, took a call from the contracting company, got very frustrated, and (I think) hung up on them… and that was an end to the contract. Nothing happened to that end of the business from then on. She was never replaced. She had been right and he could not admit it. Deeply impressed me. No surprise, but I gradually learned that the company was AWFUL with customer support (which I had been hired to do on a product unrelated to the contractual programming business) and I left after only a year. (Surprise.)

  • An interesting idea, BUT… How would one enumerate said memes? It seems to me you have multiple metrics that would/should be balanced: Number of posts; Number of subjects posted about; Word count; ‘Toxicity’ (how would we define that?!) & etc…

    The “cap and trade” analogy is food for thought but absolutely fails without well defined accounting. And, as we (society) can’t seem to agree on ANYTHING right now, I don’t see anyone agreeing on the medium of trade. NO TRADE = NO CAP

    • I trust you realized my proposal was satirical – just establishing criteria for what constitutes a toxic post is probably insurmountable.

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