Scary internet words like code, transparency & power (and also, a shout out to Mark Zuckerberg)

Eli Pariser’s “The Filter Bubble” demonstrated yet another wave of risks the internet is posing that I had not considered. And his views don’t leave as much room for hope as Carr‘s. He seems to be more of the opinion that sugar-coating won’t help catch the attention we need from people to avoid a crisis, to rework the faulty system we’ve created for ourselves.

Do I sound like I’m losing hope? Maybe I am. But it helped that he ended the book with some ideas and suggestions for changes. He also pointed out that one of the great things about the web is that it’s a plastic place. Much more able to change formats and content (in other words, code) than the mediums before it.

In the old days…

It’s amazing how limiting my own mind was when it was first learning about platforms like Facebook and Google. It seemed so clear to me that this was the generation where social good drove business. Where the little guys who weren’t out to make money were the ones building successful companies. I believed the people would support them financially without there being a need for consumption-driven corporate sponsorship. But alas, the people did not shell out their money to the two guys building super code for wonderfully clean and simple e-mail and friending systems.

And as Pariser pointed out, Google is a company. And at this point, even if they wanted to throw it all away and start fresh and take risks, they no longer are answering for just their own livelihoods. They have a responsibility to their staff and its families. Plus they have the users of their products.

A blessing in disguise?

Mark Zuckerburg basically said to lack transparency is to lack integrity. Well, more accurately he said having two identities lacks integrity. But you can see where the connection is. And Facebook, in my humble opinion, is the least transparent major social media platform available. As Pariser put it,

There’s more than a little irony in the fact that companies whose public ideologies revolve around openness and transparency are so opaque themselves.

That disconnection is a point I think most people could be upset by. Taking points or anecdotes like that and spreading them across social media (actually much like Pariser has done through I think is a great way to catch the attention of a large number of people. And if enough people are educated about these issues, presumably they will take issue with the status of their personal information and how it is being used.

How many people wouldn’t be bothered to hear that they might be turned down for a job because of a status update they posted on Facebook or sites they searched for on Google, but that they have no legal rights to request the same information for their own personal records? Or that they weren’t even told about certain opportunities because a filter bubble kept it from their search results?

These are simple things, but because they are indicative or representative of the larger issues, they are the important things. If they make people pay attention, then they are essential to education. If Mark Zuckerburg and his PR problems are what makes the difference in people taking note, then let’s catch hold of that.

In other words, if enough people are upset with Mark Zuckerburg, perhaps simply because he lacks the charisma of Google, then maybe people will start paying attention. And when we all pay attention, we can help reshape the Internet and code into a more good-centered and less neutral (or worse) place.

So thanks, Mark, for being your awkward self.


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