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.