I was in my first year at a small liberal arts college in the US when I saw my first version of ‘Facebook’.
Admittedly, it was a very ‘primitive’ version.
In fact, there was nothing tech about it. The whole thing was a paper booklet, printed in black and white.
Though the college was small, my class still had about 450 students. The first days of freshmen orientation included myriad activities where you ended up meeting lots of people.
So, in the welcome pack, the college kindly provided a mini directory of the whole class. It included names, photos and where people were from. It may have even been called ‘Face Book’.
This book of faces was a great way to put a name to a face or to remind you of names.
I used to circle the people I had already met so I could look them up faster. Next to their photo, I also used to jot down anything we had in common as a reminder.
Of course, later on, Mark Zuckerberg took this idea much further.
On February 2004, Zuckerberg launched an online version of the ‘Face Book’. It was initially used as a way for the entire Harvard University community to connect.
Yet it has grown. According to Statista, as of the last quarter of 2017, Facebook had 2.2 billion users.
14 years on, and Facebook is in hot water.
What began as a way for students to connect has become an all-encompassing company. One that people use to connect, speak, get their news or entertainment, and even sell or buy.
It is also compiling massive amounts of data from its users.
On Tuesday, Zuckerberg testified in front of the US congress.
He faced hours of questioning about Russian propaganda during the US election and the fact that Cambridge Analytica accessed 87 million user’s private data without their consent.
Zuckerberg apologized. ‘We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility and that was a big mistake. And it was my mistake. I’m sorry.’
He also promised that Facebook will be ‘investigating many apps, tens of thousands of apps.’ Continuing:
‘If we find any suspicious activity, we’re going to conduct a full audit of those apps to understand how they’re using their data and if they’re doing anything improper. If we find that they’re doing anything improper, we’ll ban them from Facebook and we will tell everyone affected.’
The markets liked it.
Facebook’s stock has gone up 5% since Tuesday
I tuned in in what was apparently one of the most exciting segments in the interrogation, that of senator Ted Cruz.
There was something that Cruz said that got my attention.
‘There are a great many Americans who I would say are deeply concerned that Facebook and other tech companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship.’
He then cited a Gizmodo report from 2016 that said that Facebook routinely concealed news coming from conservatives in its trending stories.
Zuckerberg’s answer: ‘What I can say is that I’m very committed to making sure Facebook is a platform for all ideas. That is a very important founding principle of what we do.’
While Facebook is a platform for ideas, they are presented to you biased and personalised.
It’s not just Facebook either. Much of the information we get today comes from a handful of websites. That is, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Instagram.
These tech giants collect a lot of data from us to then display relevant advertisement. They use algorithms and artificial intelligence to connect us to what they know we are already interested in, based on our searches and likes.
The more information they collect, the less exposure we get to different or opposing ideas. And the more connected we are to like-minded people, themes and groups the more we end up listening and reading views that support our own.
The thing is, this can support confirmation bias. That is, the tendency to look at information in a way that confirms our beliefs.
While we technically have the whole world at our finger tips, our world can become one-dimensional and limited.
This is something really risky for investors.
Hearing one view, confirming what you already think, can be dangerous for your investments. You are not seeing new ideas or challenging your own.
Looking at an array of views can give you different perspectives, and the chance to decide which path to follow. It gives you the opportunity to consider different options and can help you anticipate change.
And things are constantly changing.
Editor, Markets & Money