Facebook’s watching you Wazowski, ALWAYS watching.

Today, we live in a world where it takes seconds to connect with someone on the other side of the globe and this is in large part thanks to Facebook. Of course email and other forms of media were available for a time before the social media giant, however Facebook was the first to create a way to build relationships with strangers without ever meeting them in person. It would be difficult to find a person that doesn’t have a Facebook, even if they don’t use it often.

While Facebook still captivates the attention of billions (yes, billions) of people, most don’t know how much information the website holds on to. WIRED’s Mat Honen performed an experiment on the social networking site where he abused the “like” button on everything he saw on his feed throughout the span of 48 hours to see just how much Facebook tracks. After liking everything he saw for 2 days, except for things involving death or loss, Honen’s feed full of friends’ statuses was quickly replaced by what he calls the, “worst kind of tripe that [everyone] in the media is complicit in churning out yet should also be deeply ashamed of” (Honen I Liked Everything…I). Honen mentions that Facebook’s algorithm completely revolves around promoting things that you would “like” and tucking away things you rarely interact with.

In this way, Facebook can be described as a panopticon, which is the idea that a single individual or small group of individuals monitor the actions of the many. Of course, this may pose a problem for users who were not aware of the way Facebook sees everything they do. Facebook, however, presents their Terms of Service and Data Use Policy to every user and everybody is required to agree to their rules in order to use the site.

Snippet of Facebook's Terms of Service

Snippet of Facebook's Data Use Policy

Above are snippets of the rules everyone must agree to before they can use the website. It clearly states everything Facebook plans to do with the information you give them, tailoring ads and posts in order to personalize each user’s feed with things they may like. These rules perfectly embody Facebook as a digital enclosure, which can be described as a place where in order to use an interactive space like Facebook, users must agree to “freely” submit personal information that the owners of the space can use.

As a person who only uses Facebook as a backup emergency contact resource and a place to share notes and study guides with classmates, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I tried Mat Honen’s 48 hour “like” challenge. Mostly everything on my feed centered around college, showing me ads for other universities or showing me posts from friends who mentioned their school’s name in a status. So for 48 hours I liked every suggested page I saw and every status (mostly from people I haven’t seen in over 4 years). Much like Honen’s experiment, my feed devolved into chaos. Because of the content on my feed before my “liking” binge, Facebook seemed to believe that as a college student, I was looking for a new phone. Everything I saw was an ad for competing phone companies and statuses from people who just got new phones.

It seems as in both my case and Mat Honen’s, Facebook’s algorithm figured we needed to look at ads, even though we were being advertised completely different things. The truth of the fact is that by “liking” a specific thing, Facebook tried to help us find more things which would be interesting to us, which isn’t such a bad thing. People afraid of the fact that Facebook seems to be tracking every move they make have to realize that they are agreeing to the site’s rules and they have the free will to not use the social media page at all. In addition, Facebook’s policies are not as long and confusing as people make them out to be. I found all of the information for this assignment in only a few seconds because Facebook makes it easy to find out everything they plan on doing.

Sources:

Honan, Matt. “I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me | WIRED.”Wired. 2014. Web.

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