Anthony Beavers, a professor of philosophy at the University of Evansville, took the floor for the second time at Cal Poly to discuss the ethics of Facebook last week for the Technology, Policy and Ethics lecture series.
Beavers first came to Cal Poly in 2009 when Facebook first began to boom in popularity, but many things have changed since then, including Beavers’ opinion on the social media site.
While introducing Beavers at the event, assistant philosophy professor Patrick Lin said there are many things going on at Facebook that the general public is not quite aware of.
“A lot has happened with Facebook since (2009), giving rise to policy concerns and introducing a power struggle between Facebook and Google,” Lin said.
Facebook has become the largest social science database compiled in the history of the world, Beavers said.
Now, Beavers said Facebook is a network profiling machine. Facebook can identify anything about anyone using what he calls network cluster analysis.
“Facebook can potentially tell the political leanings of the 600 million person dataset,” Beavers said. “What is concerning is that then Facebook can promise to put in an ad for a certain candidate on the page for someone who is deemed a swing voter.”
Beavers also said Facebook could potentially predict the outcome of an election before it even happens based on information that they can access from users.
As websites such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and even Apple battle for power, Beavers said he is concerned with how friendships are beging defined by Facebook.
“Facebook’s algorithm for determining what goes into a user’s newsfeed influences which friendships will develop and which will not,” Beavers said. “What I see in my newsfeed determines who I am going to interact with, which parties I go to, et cetera.”
Nick Alereza, a computer science sophomore, said he came to the event for participation credit for a class, but came out of the event with a new awareness.
“It encouraged me to think about what (Facebook) could do with all of that information,” Alereza said. ”The whole topic is interesting and the fact that it affects so many people is what makes everything so serious.”
Another concern Beavers said he has with Facebook is that the mechanisms of the program may in fact know more about people than they know about themselves.
“The people at Facebook know the degree from which I sit at the norm or where I’m at on the fringe on different subjects,” Beavers said. “I want Facebook to show me the information that you’ve aggregated about me.”
Beavers showed a plot that Facebook was able to produce of peak break up times for Facebook users based on status updates — the most popular times to break up are right before Christmas and couples got back together after Valentine’s Day.
“(The break up plot) was crazy to me because I did not know that Facebook had the ability to plot certain things like that,” Alereza said.
Facebook has the ability to do things that many people did not expect, which is why Beavers said he came back to Cal Poly for a second discussion on the subject.
“(Zuckerberg) is holding a lot of power and he doesn’t know how to deal with it responsibly yet,” Beavers said. “Facebook is bigger than almost every country except for two and it is not governed by law.”
With Facebook even adopting currency that users can buy in stores, Beavers said Facebook is like a political unit with an emerging and growing economy.
“(I’m afraid) but I can’t do anything about it,” Beavers said. “It doesn’t matter (if you quit) because if I watch a trajectory of your past actions while on Facebook, and compare it to others, I can make predictions about what you do even after you quit (using the network profiling machine).”