Is Facebook a Hive Mind?

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, July 9, 2017

Science fiction has long predicted humans meeting alien races that belong to a hive mind. The most famous example is probably the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Currently Internet Live says there are 3.7 billion users on the internet, with over 2 billion on Facebook – that’s out of 7+ billion humans. What will it mean if humanity joins a singular bio-cyber-system that allows us to interconnect?

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Some people think of the hive mind in negative terms, with everyone thinking in lockstep fashion. Other people believe the hive mind could be positive, a worldwide communion of souls. I’m somewhat in the middle. Technology can produce an iPhone or an A-bomb. Also, the term hive mind is currently defined in different ways, so we need to work out a common definition.

But let’s compare Facebook to the past. The earliest forms of mass communication were the newspaper and journal, but it wasn’t until radio and television that we started talking about the impact of mass communication. 530 million people watched the moon landing. That’s a lot of people for one shared memory, especially when we were only 3+ billion. It’s not uncommon now to see a silly sentimental video on Facebook shared by tens of millions.

The difference with Facebook and older media technology is the mass audience replies. Facebook allows people to respond to what’s being broadcast to the masses. That should be good, right? We get our say. Unfortunately, what’s heard sometime is ugly.

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Humans aren’t like ants and bees. We don’t have rigid roles within our society. We don’t work together in unison for some common purpose. Humans are often in conflict. But that conflict can be anything from disagreement over a movie to starting another world war.

I’m not sure where Facebook will take us, but I have noticed one interesting trend. When I got my first modem back in the early 1980s I connected to services like CompuServe, Prodigy, GEnie, AOL and various Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In each case, I joined forums to discuss books. When I got on the internet I discussed books on Usenet News. After the web took hold I discussed books on Yahoo! Groups. At each technology stage, I was able to discuss books with more people around the world.

Via blogging and Twitter, I guessed there were just a few hundreds of fans of old pulp magazine still around. After I got on Facebook I discovered many thousands.

Lately, Yahoo! Groups, my favorite method for online book clubbing, has been dying. In one book club, we formed a Facebook group to support our Yahoo! Group. Then my co-moderator left the Yahoo! Group to manage the Facebook. His group currently has 3,617 members, whereas the Yahoo! Group membership has dwindled down to less than 12 active participants. The other day I joined a Facebook group for Western movie fans, it has over 25,000 members. They answered a question in minutes I’d been Googling for days to find.

Technology that allows thousands of people with a shared interest to connect is not a hive mind, but it’s something new. Mass communication has always been a misnomer because the conversation was always one-way. Facebook is creating two-way communication – true communication. Right now we share our minds over funny cat videos, get-togethers with friends, family events, pop culture tidbits, and polarize over political views. The potential of the Facebook technology is still unknown.

What if Donald Trump used Facebook instead of Twitter? Twitter can be two-way communication, but usually, it’s not. Twitter is a favorite tool of cyber bullies. Facebook can be more like virtual get-togethers. Facebook is more inclusive because it is family friendly. That is more of your entire family probably uses Facebook than Twitter.

I doubt Trump would read replies to his posts on Facebook, but wouldn’t both sides of our political divide have to reply in the same place? That would probably the largest flame war ever. A riot in cyberspace. However, what if the Like icons became an instant poll so Trump would have immediate feedback on his ideas. (We’d also need a dislike button icon added to the array.) Wouldn’t that be kind of hive mind like? A president could know rather quickly what voters thought. That’s a sharing of minds.

If Facebook became real-time Gallup Poll for global opinions wouldn’t that produce science fictional results that change our future? Whether we call it a hive mind or not doesn’t really matter. But we want to call it something. Our own individual minds work through a cooperation of many subfunctions. If we create technology that allows billions of humans minds to create gestalt functions we need to name and study them.

JWH

18 thoughts on “Is Facebook a Hive Mind?”

  1. If Trump could poll the American people he would only listen to his most ardent 30% believers. In other words for this particular President there would be no attention paid to the majority. There currently is no attention given to the majority of scientists regarding global warming. Hive minds have no purpose when your leader ignores the masses. But I agree with you, for a rational, sane President, it could be a powerful tool.

    1. I would think Trump’s ego would make him check his likes. If Facebook had both a thumbs up and thumbs down version of it’s like button, and Trump saw millions of thumbs down it might get to him that there are other Americans besides his Twitter fans.

      1. Anyone who condemns legitimate news media as fake, would have no qualms with condemning FaceBook as fake. I’m no fan of FB and even I would be hard pressed to disagree with that.

      2. But how do we solve the problem of fake news? We all have news sources we believe are fake or false.

        To me, one solution is statistics. How many people agree one way or another. Science is based on a statistical agreement. Trump doesn’t believe science. Politicians do believe voters. If they propose a law and 75% of Americans are against it, they should consider that. Of course, Republicans often go against 90% of public opinion. That’s not fair. That statistically shows how the political system is corrupt.

      3. It doesn’t seem unfair to me. I don’t think I’d vote for him though. But the election of Donald Trump sets a precedent, anyone with no experience can run the country. I hope next time we do pick someone with political experience, which would leave Zuckerberg out.

      4. I trust Zuckerberg about as much as I trust Trump, which is to say, not at all. If FB were to be used in the manner you suggest, it would be a conflict of interest, which again, is apparently no problem at all anymore in this country. I think the only lesson of the Trump administration is going to be how poor a decision it is to have a non-politician for President. I am surprised though at how quickly he’s going down in flames. Perhaps the next celebrity President won’t be a Russian stooge.

      5. I hope the presidency doesn’t become an ego badge for billionaires.

        People pick their politicians the same way they voted for class officers in high school.

        Would Apple or Exxon have hired Trump? Or any other large corporation? Electing Trump was like picking your brain surgeon from your favorite contestants on The Voice.

        Jim

  2. The fact you suggested that Facebook should have a dislike button is genius and its also something most people have suggested or spoken about yet, it was an interesting post! well done

    1. A dislike button would be so useful. If Facebook becomes the common denominator of online hangouts it would be the perfect place to conduct opinion polls.

      Likes are a great way to know how some people feel, but understand the statistical mix we need both likes and dislikes.

  3. Facebook groups can be amazing in terms of sheer numbers, a pal of mine is the founder of two massive groups dedicated to headphones, and he shared a post of mine in one of them. My blog is on the slow lane so watching 500 visits in the space of an hour is a bit overwhelming. This only shows the true power of Facebook because on his groups only 50 +/- users actually post stuff daily, the silent majority interacts but doesn’t write.
    As a platform Facebook can be used for good or for evil, I think people in general are decent thus Facebook will be a tool for good.
    Sadly right now it lacks the authority of a book or a newspaper because anyone can post fake stuff, but the day will come when a algorithm will confirm the veracity of the news . I’m sure the deslike button will be used a lot after that.

    1. Rafael, what are your friend’s groups on Facebook? I have a slight curiosity about headphones. I have a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-50x headphones and sometimes think about stepping up. I read your review of BeyerDynamic headphones and was looking at the DT-990-Pros.

      I’ve read your blog some. I’m intrigued by audiophile technology, but I don’t want to get addicted.

      I’m thinking blogging has limited appeal. That the general internet user seldom reads or writes blogs. And Facebook is becoming the universal hang out on the internet.

      1. The groups are in Portuguese but here are the links: https://www.facebook.com/groups/foneslowend/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/foneshighend/.
        The DT-990 Pro can clamp a bit on the head but it’s fun to hear. Ken Rockwell site has a really nice reviews about some Beyerdynamic headphones, it might help you a bit: http://kenrockwell.com/audio/beyer/index.htm
        Audiophile tech serves your love for music, just remember that often and you will not fall into the rabbit hole. Sadly I can’t guarantee the safety of your wallet when you start seeing the prices and hearing the quality of some Chinese brands.
        I love blogging but I do understand your point.

  4. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, Facebook is less “family friendly” than corporate friendly. It isn’t just a communication tool that happens to be provided by a corporation, like a telephone line. Facebook is actively shaped by it’s owners. If there are to be algorithms to determine what is “factual”, they can’t be expected to provide impartial results. Also, your hive mind will naturally exclude those of us who refuse to buy into such a platform.

    1. PJ, I think of Facebook being family friendly because its users range from children to great grandparents. Most people I know use Facebook to keep up with their families. I wouldn’t know what’s happening with my distant cousins without it.

      I assume Facebook as a corporation will do everything to please the majority, just like other corporations do. They don’t want bad press.

      Regarding fake news. That’s a different battle. I think the public as a whole has to come to grips with it.

      1. James, if corporations actually worked like that, the world would be a very different place. For a very current and very obvious example, I give you the US healthcare industry.

      2. But don’t you think health insurers are a different kind of corporation from the ones that must please the public publically? Most people don’t pick BCBS as their insurer, their workplace does. If you don’t like the way Cigna handles things you can’t just dump them and choose another company. If Amazon pisses you off, you can go to Walmart or Target or Barnes & Nobel. Most people can’t do that with their health insurer.

        We can still refuse to use Facebook, but since it’s becoming a monopoly of social media that’s getting harder. Still, if Zuckerberg does something really offensive I believe millions would quit. If Blue Cross does something offensive, how many people could quit it in protest?

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