From Marx to Mark: Philosophy of History in the Age of Facebook
- 02 Maggio 2017

From Marx to Mark: Philosophy of History in the Age of Facebook

Scritto da Raffaele Danna

9 minuti di lettura

Page 4 – Go back to the beginning

Facebook and Accountability

This happens, on the one hand, because Facebook is trying not to remind us that there still are a lot of issues with new high-tech global industries. The first example is the gigantic fiscal problem: Facebook and other high-tech giants are masters in the art of tax avoidance. Moreover, information collectors and providers like Facebook and Alphabet (Google) have been making ever easier profits after the advent of smartphones. Unlike some years ago, now a lot of information they collect does not need to be looked for. It is automatically generated and provided by the user. Facebook and Google are like geographers with self-designing maps. But they do not sell these maps for free. And a lot of the information these companies control can be extremely profitable. For example, it is possible to construct psychometric models from our likes, and to infer from them accurate estimates of our skin color, intelligence, sexual orientation, attitudes and political preferences. Some have even argued that such models have played a key role in bringing Trump to the White House. From here, the step is quite close to building a global ranking of users: from grade A to grade Z. Some rumors have come out about a great interest from Facebook in the Chinese government plan of designing a global ranking of the Chinese citizens, in order to be able to allocate resources more efficiently and to keep potentially dangerous individuals in check by denying them access to certain services and rights.

This brings us to the central point: the point of power and accountability. It is evident that despite his innocent babyface Zuck is in a very special position. He owns a network of tremendous power, which on average is collecting data, relationships, memories and emotions of more than 1.86 billion people every month. Actually, Pandora itself owes a lot to Facebook. You probably reached this article from a Facebook link to it. Events organized by Pandora are usually advertised on Facebook as well. We organize our editorial meetings and we coordinate many of our activities through Facebook. After that, what really constitutes the strength of our project are the actual people, ideas and real meetings which are substantiating our web space and paper space alike: Facebook remains a means (a medium) to us. But the question remains in the background: should we hope or not that Zuck will consider our pages and contents as «meaningful» for the development of a «supportive community»? Should we accept not to have any voice in how such a decision would eventually be taken?

More generally, should we accept the complete absence of accountability of these new organizations of growing power? Is it fair that the owner of a machine like Facebook is not responsible to the community of users if not through his good will? Zuck is right in saying that technology is opening unprecedented and spectacular opportunities, but that should be depicted in all of its dimensions. If this happened we would gradually realize the power that these organizations play in our daily life, we could wonder about how these organizations are making their profits and question whether we agree with that. Reflecting on these issues and putting them in context would develop a growing politicization of technology. Technology is making the building of global communities possible, and this opens new and unexplored possibilities. The path along the formation of modern states has almost always been contradictory, conflicting and violent. And most of the time it was the people to pay the consequences of these processes, because they did not know.[1] I’d rather not «leap» into a new age of fooled fools.

Wrapping up, philosophy of history is made by winners: by people and organizations who feel in the position of knowing, and in some cases controlling, the mechanisms of history. In his post, babyface Zuck places Facebook in a position very close to that of the Hegelian modern state: social networks (and Facebook more than anyone else) are the ultimate outcome of the historical progress of humankind. It is hard to tell whether he genuinely believes this or not, behind all the intermediation curtains with which he is trying to disguise himself. What his text shows is that people at Facebook are quite comfortable in presenting themselves as one of the frontiers of human development. But at the same time the very fact that they thought they needed to publish a text in which they tried to explain their program for their next steps is an interesting sign. It is impossible to tell whether this reflects the perception of an already changing attitude of users towards technology and the consequent need to address it, or simple good will.

Surely, taking technology as something problematic, and re-placing the narrative of the shaved babyface among its broader and intertwined network of power, lack of accountability and disguised mediation can be a way of raising some doubts. In a nutshell, we should not forget that the real look of a guy who attempts a philosophy of history should be close to this one:

 

Facebook

 


[1] Tilly, C., et al. (1975), The formation of national states in Western Europe, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 24.


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Scritto da
Raffaele Danna

Ha studiato filosofia a Bologna ed è dottorando in storia all'Università di Cambridge. Su twitter è @Raff_Danna

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