Running an algorithmic empire: The human fabric of Facebook
Facebook, the most popular social networking platform, has undoubtedly become one of the most influential entities in our networked world. As SHARE Lab and researchers previously explained, Facebook can be seen as a huge, global factory of immaterial labour in which its users have basically one role – churn out as much personal data as possible. However, Facebook Inc., the company which owns this huge immaterial factory, is (still) run by human beings. Those human beings’ connections both inside the company itself and with other parts of society, such as IT industry, government and civil society organisations, are the topic of the most recent research by SHARE Lab and Tactical Tech.
Facebook is understood as an “uber-collective” with non-transparent decision-making concerning the rules, data exploitation and privacy, development, user freedoms, and various kinds of censorship. This analysis helps us realise why this is the only way a company like Facebook can exist. In order to visualise the connections of Facebook’s management – its board of directors and advisors, and two executive levels – SHARE Lab used publicly available information provided by The Official Board and Crunchbase websites. Based on the official biographies, the educational and professional background of every person on these lists was analysed. Also, publicly accessible data from the LinkedIn network was used to find out more about the Facebook employees, for example their educational background, country of origin and employment history.
The results were quite interesting, as most people now working for Facebook, even at the executive level, previously worked for the competition – Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo. This could be seen as a risk for the “industry ecosystem” since these circles seem to be rather closed. The vast majority of them, as expected, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, while the second-largest city of importance to Facebook is London. One of the conclusions of the research was that Facebook as an employer mostly recruits people who graduated from US universities. This means that in spite of acting globally, this company does not see the need to represent the structure of its users around the world. The dominance of US-based education is also obvious both in the managing board and among the employees.
The task of sketching out the social structure of a large company such as Facebook is important for understanding the impact of this global social network on the society, local and global economy and civil freedoms. It is also crucial to understand how the development of high-end technology and communication infrastructures intertwines with the accumulation of capital and political power.
This article is also available in German at https://netzpolitik.org/2017/wie-man-ein-imperium-der-algorithmen-beherrscht/.
SHARE Lab: The Human Fabric of the Facebook Pyramid (03.05.2017)
SHARE Lab: Facebook research
(Contribution by Bojan Perkov, EDRi member SHARE Foundation, Serbia)