Does Facebook wield too much power over us?

On the face of it, this might be a dumb question. Of course Facebook has too much power of us. But I’m not interested in screen time, invasive apps, data harvesting or its continued insinuation into our lives. I’m more interested in two important but largely forgotten features, Instant Articles and chatbots.

Facebook Instant Articles

When Instant Articles were first announced, there was a huge hue and cry from the media, from commentators and from the internet at large. Why would respected news outlets like New York Times, The Guardian, BBC and National Geographic allow Facebook to control who sees what and when for their news content?

The answer? Because billions of people use Facebook and news outlets wanted a piece of that audience. The furore may have died down but Facebook Instant Articles are still a thing and still influencing too many readers. If the rise in fake news wasn’t enough to put outlets off, the power they hand to Facebook to control who sees what should be.

Facebook chatbots

Chat bots were never going to replace humans in communication. We all saw that failure coming. People don’t like ‘talking’ to a machine, they don’t like being fooled into thinking they are talking with an agent when it’s really a chat bot and they don’t like wasting time talking to something that cannot deliver what they want.

Some Facebook chat bots get it right. Those that pop up and offer a selection of multiple choices for you to choose from are one type that work. Most of us don’t mind those. But the bots that try to mimic human communication patterns haven’t gone down so well. In fact, they may have spoiled the future for more advanced chat bots.

‘In reviewing Facebook’s weather and news bots last year, for example, news sites Gizmodo and The Verge found them to be “the slowest way to use the internet,” and “frustrating and useless.”

Rollo Carpenter a designer of Cleverbot goes even further by saying; “It may well be that these [bot] services have been done way too early because of competition between these big companies,” he said. “In order to do these things properly, we need a truer form of [artificial intelligence] or at least a truer form of machine understanding of language, which is not a solved problem at the moment.”

Regardless of the success or failure of these ventures, any organization that buys into them just gives Facebook even more power to influence what we see, what we believe and how we communicate. When will it be too much?

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