Everyone can be scientists

ThoughtsOne things scientists do is to perform experiments.

Some experiments are really technical. Measuring the position of atoms or the properties of a supernova. Determining what nutrients an amoeba needs to thrive and how to diagnose prostate cancer.

I don’t know how to do any of these. I know that there are people trained to find the answers. As experts in their field, they have experience and skills that are more trustworthy than my friends.

Even so, my friends and I can all do experiments. We don’t need to pick up a ruler or pencil. No paper, measuring cup or calculator needed. You can do the same.

The most powerful experiments are thought experiments. Human minds have intense abilities to imagine.

A thought experiment uses that imagination to reveal the truth.

What if ….

The Facebook Experience

I used to have a facebook account, but was very dissatisfied. I wasn’t comfortable with its addictive nature. Also, more often than not, I was self-conscious about adding information that didn’t fit social norms in times of stress.

It seemed that people preferred to submit clever graphics and people could leave the real “them” out. Just put up a facade–all is well. The last straw for me was when they suggested that I might be employed by a fellowship I belong to.

The reason the facebook topic came up with me again is that a course at IUPUI that I was thinking of taking included facebook postings as part of the coursework. I didn’t really want to get an account again. Hence the conflict.

 

Dr. BJ Fogg at Stanford University has studied persuasive technology. He calls it captology. His definition of persuasive is slightly different than the natural one. Persuasive means to cause a desired behavior. It isn’t about the cognitive persuasion to think about an issue a certain way. In his method, you pick a behavior you want to increase, make it easy to do and then prompt the behavior. The behaviors can be tiny such as to click a “Like” button or complex and have you to log in and update your content.

Facebook uses persuasive technology to increase income for the company. The users of facebook need to encourage people to advertise there. “Like” is a simple behavior. It seems to indicate that you’re engaged with a vendor’s products and services. On Veritasium, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVfHeWTKjag suggests that a “like” may not be what it seems.

The part where I get uncomfortable is that facebook has covert information that it can use to manipulate the interaction. People think of the website interacting solely with them, but with billions of users, facebook knows how people act in aggregate and can notice how to make a change with a tiny impact but is statistically significant. By combining these impacts, they can be manipulative and do it without being detected. They can manipulate the users and they can manipulate the advertisers.

One can’t be naive and think that facebook does things are solely for the benefit of its users. When one starts a post and then erases it, facebook’s software can notice. Since they know when this happens, they can find ways to encourage people add content more freely. They also target what you see to what they know you are more likely to attend to and not what you might value.

They knew that many of my friends belonged to a fellowship, so it was natural to blindly propose, to me who hadn’t listed an employer, that I might be employed in the same place.

With facebook they are capable of knowing more about you than you can imagine. They use that to make their shareholder’s wealthy. When I see an ad on YouTube, I know it is an advertisement. I can ignore it if I want. If you’re being persuaded to participate in advertising without knowing that you are being marketed to, that’s where the facebook experience is letting the smoke and mirrors conceal the real interaction. In “Captology and the Friendly Art of Persuasion” by Lynn Griener (*) comments “Advertisers may, for example, be able to get away with sneaky and intrusive tactics” and that “facebook must play it straight.” However, with huge data resources and insatiable stockholders, facebook’s straight can be pretty crooked.

(*) Greiner, Lynn. “Captology and the Friendly Art of Persuasion,” NetWorker, Fall 2009. doi: 10.1145/1600303.1600306