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Facebook And Free Will

Traditionally, “hackers” are those who defy order for the means of harming others. Facebook has utilized this primitive connotation of “hacker” to defy order, but for a different purpose. A purpose that still rises against the binding order of society, but with the motive to create a new frontier of programming and thinking. Mark Zuckerberg has contributed massively to the connotation of the word “hacker.” He transformed the term using his companies power from one that was malicious and threatening to one that is progressive and beneficial. Zuckerberg made hacking a desirable trait in his own employees, giving it productive value. Facebook itself is meant to spread individualism in Zuckerberg’s mind, yet it may be doing the opposite. With the huge publicity one’s information can have on a social media platform such as Facebook, users may behave differently, even without realizing it. Users can be tempted to change their expressions into the societal norm. With the integration of algorithms that “hackers” have created, Facebook’s users may be losing their freedom of choice to their own computers.

Although Facebook’s progressive vision of hackers allows people to express themselves and create new and original ideas, it is slowly creating a platform that facilitates mass conformity by the nature of algorithms and the publicity of their users’ information. Defining the term “hacker” in the mind of Zuckerberg reveals the intentions he intended to have with Facebook, to revolutionize the world, advancing without the burdens of rules and limitations. This new term he had created would be seen in not only his team of engineers, but also every user of his company. In his chapter “Mark Zuckerberg’s War on Free Will”, Foer remarks, “To hack is to be a good worker, a responsible Facebook citizen a microcosm of the way in which the company has taken the language of radical individualism and deployed it in the service of conformism” (60). This “radical individualism” that Foer refers to suggests that a hacker, in Zuckerberg’s terms, is meant to be able to make their own decisions without the influence of outside sources. This can allow the company to instill its value onto many of our everyday lives as it gains massive information about all its users and to that extent, the ways that they think. Facebook itself begins to turn this rebellious essence into one that promotes compliance between individuals. Being given the chance to share opinions that can be viewed by anyone can be off-putting and may paradoxically lead to a conformist mindset.

Foer states, “With the looming threat that our embarrassing information will be broadcast, we’ll behave better” (60). In this case, fear is the catalyst for those who stick to social norms. Fear of their personal or embarrassing information being shown around the world restricts the information that they post, molded by social pressures. Users may take advantage of this phenomenon by making posts directed other people, perhaps incriminating, and may change the way such people behave after viewing it, not only online but in real life as well. These occurrences happen quite often for those who use Facebook on a consistent basis and ultimately add to the plague of conformism that strikes every user on Facebook. Hacking became a prevalent term regarding Zuckerberg and Facebook, especially when considering the field of computer science. Using the ideal that was given by “hacker,” Zuckerberg’s team strived to create complex algorithms that could help the users more quickly process the information of their friends and family. Algorithms that are created by such hackers have infinite potential. They can achieve almost anything thanks to the fact that an algorithm in and of itself is simply a list of operations that a computer can follow. While it is true that computer scientists must push boundaries and be resourceful when creating these tools for users, they take away some of the thinking that users had to do and therefore strip users of their privilege of choice.

Algorithms control nearly everything in the infrastructure of Facebook as a website. They control the posts users see on their feed, the user is given access to recommended friends, and are shown advertisements that are personalized to their interests. All of these are decided by algorithms. Reducing element of human choice leads to additional conformity as algorithms decide much of your experience on the Facebook for you. It is important to remember that algorithms are human artifacts in that they are manmade and can be influenced by others. The very same hackers are whose mission is to push the boundaries of thinking are responsible for these operations and, in reality, reduce the human thinking by making the users’ decisions for them. Although algorithms may influence some user’s choices, some argue that this only helps the users and that taking away some element of human choice just increases efficiency. While this may be true to a certain extent, it is important to relate the matter of transparency to this concept. Foer argues that “Though Facebook will occasionally talk about the transparency of governments and corporations, what it really wants to advance is the transparency of individuals or what it has called, at various moments, “radical transparency” or “ultimate transparency”” (60).

Transparency refers to the revelation of all true information of the user. “Radical transparency” contributes to the mass conformity of user information by using a combination of Facebook’s algorithms as well as the influence onto user posts. Transparency of the individual means that Facebook, as a company, can use all their information to fuel algorithms. These algorithms are often utilized in similar ways in regard to most users, as they group users based on their interests. This grouping of users can be justified by computer scientists as increasing the efficiency of algorithms and therefore the efficiency of every user who interacts with these algorithms. However, the very principle of grouping the population based on their interests acts as a restriction to the creative and changing minds of the individuals and population as the users are only able to interact with the same ideas which are decided by and paralleled to their interest groups. Facebook likes to believe it has taken initiative in a world of uncertainty and instead of giving its users a platform to be free discussing their individuality, it grasps efficiency in a rather unfulfilling way. By categorizing its users into groups as well as providing algorithms that eliminate the element of human thought, Facebook is truly setting the stage for a world that is completely technological and perfectly efficient. One where society is oversimplified to the point that mass conformity cannot be avoided, where praising a new resilient definition of hacking that Zuckerberg has created helps these oversimplifications grow into the very algorithms that Facebook strives to create. What is thought of as pushing boundaries is the seed for what it is actually meant to oppose. Facebook uses their image of non-controlling “hackers” to control users by forcing an image of transparency among them. The “crackers” (57) may be those who steal information, but Facebook takes information directly from its users and gives its algorithms full control to distribute it as it seems fit. Mass conformity is but a byproduct of this algorithmic process, pressuring users to act differently, similarly to those in their interest groups, mimicking the social norms that the website creates.

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