Facebook needs to share gains if it wishes to go further

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Published: October 14, 2019 2:33:58 AM

Facebook can start compensating its users for monetisation of their data by paying them back in Libra.

Facebook privacy, Facebook practices, Facebook personal data, cryptocurrency, facebook Libra, Amazon pay, Amazon cashback, amazon wallet users, Facebook currencyFacebook and the likes have been successful in getting you to stay logged in always; it has also opened them up for more extensive scrutiny.

In the early 20th century, scientists trying to find new ways to study animals latched onto a field called behaviourism. BF Skinner, who was at the forefront of this research, introduced a new concept called operant conditioning, which involved using stimulus to produce meaningful consequences. Monkeys were able to learn the language; mice were able to perform certain tasks and more critical, pigeons could guide missiles and rockets. Although pigeons were not used in any of the two World Wars to bomb any cities or enemy installations, BF Skinner did show this all was possible.

While behaviourism fell out of vogue after the World War owing to Noam Chomsky and his findings, operant conditioning did carry on. Social media firms and gaming enterprises have latched onto the approach to involve people on a larger scale.

In a world, where apps are competing with each other for space on your mobile phone or your play station, the operant condition is working wonders to make you come back for more and play more. Not just gaming, even learning is based on such exercises. DuoLingo is a classic example. The app rewards you each time you log in and solve a quiz; it keeps you engaged with the idea of competition, but also punishes you for bad behaviour. Social media is the best example of this. The more engaged you are, the more likes, upvotes, retweets you get. The longer you are on the platform, the more friends you make, increasing your social currency, and ultimately, likeability. Influencers reinforce the belief that social is good.

Facebook and the likes have been successful in getting you to stay logged in always; it has also opened them up for more extensive scrutiny. People and privacy advocates have started criticising Facebook for various practices, and the greater good has become the big bad. Facebook has minted millions and billions from users’ personal data. Governments are no different. Facebook has escaped scrutiny of most governments as far as issues of taxation or sharing of data are concerned. Thus, it was no surprise that the leaders of the UK, US and Australia had penned an open letter to the company demanding more accountability and greater access.

What Facebook has rather forgot is that operant conditions and positive reinforcement can only work if you keep changing the reward. While most people are still transfixed with the company’s offering, there is a demand for a greater reward by a few. Facebook needs to share gains if it wishes to go further. It becomes a necessity if Facebook wants its currency experiment to work.

The company has done well to form a consortium and dissociate itself from the crypto-currency (Libra) initiative, but it would need legislative support from most governments to run. And, not many may be willing to grant that. This is also the reason that a few big partners have threatened to quit the Libra initiative.

Although there is no pulling back for Facebook, the stakes are too high, one way to go ahead is to agree with the likes of all government’s or better yet Facebook can go back to Skinner’s approach; only, this time, the reward can be Libra.

Facebook can start compensating its users for monetisation of their data by paying them back in Libra. As it engages more small-scale sellers on its platforms, the services or goods sold by them via messenger can be done using its currency. Amazon is increasingly doing this in terms of cashback for its wallet users. Facebook can do this for its currency. This way not only would it urge users to increase Libra transactions, and it would also create new operant conditions for users to monetise their Facebook use. Most likely, others will follow.

(ishaan.gera@expressindia.com)

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