Social Web or Commercial Imperative?

Education and the Social Web. Connective Learning and the Commercial Imperative, recently posted by Norm Friesen, analyses the way in which some of the key structures of online social media are driven by  the needs of the advertisers that provide platforms such as Facebook with their income. Looking at Facebook in particular, he suggests that some of these commercially-driven features deliberately obstruct or even prevent some of the sorts of communication essential to educational and social processes.

It is nice to see him quoting from Raymond Williams’ Television: Technology and Cultural Form – written in 1974, Williams’ critique of commercial television can be applied almost word-for-word to the effect of commercial interests on the social web, both in terms of structure and content. An essential part of this process is the influence wielded by commerce over what we can or cannot see, or do, on online social platforms.

“The social Web realizes its control over users through informational design, architecture, and algorithm.”

“You are not Facebook’s customer. You are the product that they sell to their real customers ‐ advertisers. Forget this at your peril.” ‐ quoted from Steve Greenberg.

Friesen illustrates his argument with reference to a couple of Facebook features I have often scraped up against. What are ‘Friends’? How many ‘Friends’ can you have before the word begins to lose its meaning?? I bumped into a friend (small ‘f’) a couple of hours ago, in the local Food Market, and we had a chat for 5 minutes. I’ve just checked, and she has 579 Facebook ‘Friends’. I don’t even know 579 people :-).

Lots of my Facebook ‘Friends’ ‘Like’ something or other from time to time, and I do occasionally too. Sometimes someone comes up with something I definitely do not like, and I’m sure I must put things up that are not to the taste of some of my ‘Friends’, particularly in the ever-tricky areas of politics and religion. Yet whilst Facebook is keen to promote ‘Likes’, there is no button to ‘Dislike’, or ‘Disagree’ – although these are normal reactions, we have them all the time. Facebook definitely does not model the natural processes of human interaction, and there must be a reason. Friesen suggests the reason is money – advertisers’ money.

I use all the platforms displayed in the diagram above, and several others, both for personal and professional purposes, and actively encourage others to do so too. I am continually amazed and excited by the possibilities they open up. Friesen reminds us of the possibilities they close off, or hide away, at the same time, and of the commercial game we are are being sucked into as we use them.

NB: notice you have an opportunity to ‘Like’ this post below. But not to ‘Dislike’ it, of course.


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