Futorosity #3

Facebook's perfect storm - the animated (gif) story

Maps, analysis and 50 shades of bad weather

This week we’re testing a brand new concept for the newsletter, and we’d very much appreciate your dead honest feedback. We got inspired by the weather report. It can happen.

Some of our beta readers have appreciated the longer in-depth pieces of previous letters. Others have said that they prefer the shorter nuggets more, as they rarely have the time to absorb a short essay. So we’ve tried to combine the two, using our How to Map the Future framework. This letter therefore contains a lot less text than last week, but does require more scrolling. Let’s see how it goes.

A storm is brewing around Facebook, the grand social network monopoly

Facebook is an empire. Apart from the core product (the one with the Newsfeed), the company owns Messenger and was allowed to buy both Instagram and Whatsapp. Additionally, they own Oculus - one of the few Virtual Reality hardware companies that exist. In total, that means that 2,6 billion people or so live their digital lives inside either Facebook or one of its subservient platforms. That’s more than what the Pope got.

Weaponised algorithms

The 2016 presidential election in the US was meaningfully impacted by Russian intelligence agencies using Facebook. They did not hack the system, they used it as intended but with a hitherto unseen intention, and arguably successfully so.

Russia is a threat to American democracy, with or without collusion, by Vox. Medium-long read, dealing with the recent Mueller report.

The outcome of the Brexit referendum was a similar instance where the Leave-side figured out how to trigger the Facebook algorithms to best serve their agenda. As it turns out, if you use the most surgical marketing tool ever created to sell not products but inflammatory opinions you can indeed change what people feel on a massive scale. They even made a film about it, with Benedict Cumberbatch.

Brexit: the Uncivil War (2019) on IMDB.

Recently, Facebook banned a number of right wing-oriented demagogs from their platform. These individuals had risen to prominence and gathered great followings by using the Facebook algorithms to great effect. In order to serve the most ads to the highest amount of people, Facebook seeks to retain the attention of its users above all other metrics. Content that a given individual finds provocative works wonders for keeping people not only logged on but also engaged in (often furious) conversation. This mechanic is apparently not difficult at all to master, and has led to the rise of many populist influencers. Facebook have now banned the most prominent, and we shall see if they remain vigilant about keeping them out.

Instagram and Facebook Ban Far-Right Extremists, by The Atlantic. A longish good read, no paywall.

Break it up!

Two weeks ago we mentioned how senator Elizabeth Warren is paving her way to the White House with declarations about how and why to break up the big tech companies on the grounds of them having too much monopoly power.

Break ‘ em up. Article by The Verge, short.

Last week, and to much fanfare, a co-founder and former Harvard room mate with Zuckerberg published a letter in the New York Times. Chris Hughes, who certainly has benefited greatly from the vast amounts of money he received for his stocks in Facebook, added his voice to the break-it-up choir. It is a long and well formulated text that you should make the time to read if this topic interests you at all. At its essence, Hughes declares that it’s simply not right that one person should wield that much power over so many people. Apparently, it’s even un-American. Very little new is said here, but it has a novel ring to it when it’s the co-founder of the empire that speaks. Winter just might be coming.

It’s time to break up Facebook, by Chris Hughes in New York Times. Long and paywalled.

Podcast interview by Kara Swisher with Chris Hughes. About an hour, free and worth listening to. Search for ‘Recode decode’ in your podcasting app.

Social media ban

We have written about why the government of Sri Lanka banned a number of social media platforms after recent suicide bombing incidents in their country. The authorities did this to halt the spread of misinformation that was making a bad situation worse. Whether it was an effective measure remains to be seen. However, it was the first time a country that isn’t China decided to use their biggest hammer when dealing with a tech giant that is at least indirectly responsible for what people do with and on their platforms.

Sri Lanka blocks social media again, by Al Jazeera. Short read.

It’s of course very likely that more tragedies like the ones in Sri Lanka and New Zealand will occur, and sadly so. These events will then go viral on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and elsewhere. We believe that more countries will follow the Sri Lankian example and decide to barr social media from their borders, temporarily at first and maybe less so in the long run. This would be a crude way of dealing with a complex problem, and not one we would recommend. However, we still think it highly likely. What do you believe?

The perfect storm

In summary, we guess you could say that it must be lonely at the top. From multiple directions and in different shapes, forces are tearing at the digital empire that has monopolised social networking. Its leadership are hard at work selling a vision of them having learned their lesson and are fixing it as we speak. That may be true, but will it be enough? Will we see the world’s largest melting pot of people, ideas, culture and advertisement revenue be broken up - either from within or by outside forces? What are the potential bad outcomes of this, and what new opportunities would this allow for? Hit reply to this email and let’s have a conversation.

How to Map the Future

10X Labs is a laboratory for experimenting with education. Specifically, how to enable eventually millions of people to thrive in these times of exponential change. That means providing the tools, and the mindset, for examining complex patterns of information where the outcome is uncertain at best. In order to help with that, we use the recognisable metaphor of maps to depict different of forces of change within a landscape. In an unapologetically analog fashion. Here are some past examples:

This one we made for Volvo Cars:
A strategic overview of the changes in the energy market, for the benefit of our local energy company Affärsverken:
This highly gamified map was created as a decision making tool for the benefit of logistics company Schenker:

We believe in letting information breathe, and allowing it to be touched and tinkered with as opposed to being locked down on paper or inside a screen. When dealing with complex challenges, simply getting everyone to share the same view of the problem may often prove impossible. Having a metaphor, with some simple rules of engagement, can greatly help with this by providing a more intuitive interface to the same information.

That is what the How to Map the Future framework is, and it powers most of our workshops and educational content. This week we decided to bring it into the newsletter, and see if we could add the additional metaphor of stormy weather to it in a meaningful way. Let us know if we did, and how we can make it better.

We live in complex, and equally exciting, times. See you all next week

- Sebastian & Fredrik