« Facebook is engineering relationships » − Joanne Mcneil


We kind of know this, because this is the main reason why people get (and stay) on Facebook: to get in touch with people. But how far is this “engineering” carried on by Facebook and how long are we going to be, if not comfortable, at least under the influence of it.

Thanks to a series of tweets, my attention was brought to this recent talk by Joanne Mcneil about “Facebook and Algorithmic culture” done at the Lift Conference earlier this week.

In the video recording above and her online notes, she is reminding us that Facebook knows more about us than our families. That THE social network has a 60% chance of knowing who is our romantic lover even if we haven’t disclosed this information and can also tell if this relationship will last at all (*). The site also knows your sexual preferences before you had a chance to talk to your family about it (*) or whether you are a drug user and which is your preferred trip (*). And one might say it is not that important until you realize they sell this information to who ever ask for it.

Then she’s also pointing to the fact that we feel so much like robots using Facebook. We all recognize that Facebook is “great” to remind us about friends birthdays. But what choices does it give us than just copy paste a “happy birthday” message on the person’s timeline. And that person to have to “like back” all these comments.

Matthew Plummer Fernandez (@m_pf) has pointed out that Google has recently patented an application that would assist users in replying to these social interactions by auto-generating responses and suggesting it to the user. You can already get a Romantimatic app for your iP(hone|ad) that will periodically remind you to send a “I love you” message to your lover, the recipe for a long lasting relation. The question is when these type of applications will send these messages on their own. Who’s playing robot here?

As you can see, the [loveMachine] project, I’m working on right now, is somehow a next step (dumbed down version) of all this. “Why not already like all what your friends do on Facebook” is a statement, a social and artistic experience, to question all these social engineering practices we are brought into.

I want to conclude this post with a citation from this article “I Didn’t Tell Facebook I’m Engaged, So Why Is It Asking About My Fiancé?” by Sara Marie Watson.

Our programs and their programmers are making design and engineering choices that have the potential to influence how we think of and define ourselves on a broader scale. […] But how did Facebook insert itself into our most personal relationships like this? As I think my writing this article makes clear, for me, this isn’t even a privacy issue. It’s more about my relationship to the machine, and the scary glimpse I just got of where design decisions and algorithmic assumptions are heading.