The concept, “Walled Garden” refers to an online environment or ‘space’ separate from the rest of the Internet, in which a user’s access to online content and services is controlled. While one may think they are free in a particular online space, the fact is that the “Walled Garden” controls your navigation in the online space. It essentially directs what you should see and what you shouldn’t see. Hmm sounds a bit like ‘Big Brother’ or a totalitarian online space right? Well believe it or not, but Facebook is an example of a “Walled Garden”.
If you think about it, we give Facebook a lot of information about ourselves. From our names, date of birth, sexual orientation, relationship status, city of residence to what we do on a daily basis, Facebook knows it all. So it should come as no surprise that by ‘walling’ us in, Facebook is able to monitor and control our interaction through itsretention of cross-device user data. Whether we are on our phones, our laptops or ipads, Facebook knows everything and through the use of algorithms can dictate what users can see and have access to. In fact, Facebook’s content personalisation is so selective that it can essentially influence and reaffirm our worldwide perception. As Emily Neuberger wrote:
“Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm is designed to focus on stories that will interest each individual user based on the friends they interact with and the links they click on. In a way, this system mimics life outside the internet, where we get to choose who we spend time with and where we focus our attention.” But that’s the problem. On the internet, which is stocked full of new information every day, users only get exposed to such a small fraction of all the content out there.”
Regardless of whether your content is private or public, Facebook confines you in its invisible algorithmic walls and retains information about you and your online activity. This information is also used to advertise products and ideas that will appeal to you and reinforce your interests. As Sonja Kroll wrote:
“While the rest of the industry relies on limited cookie-based tracking or unreliable statistical approaches for device matching, walled gardens offer an accurate view of user identity and interests across devices that can significantly enhance the success of cross-screen advertising campaigns.”
For example, last week I fell in love with this beautiful dress on Hello Molly. But I decided I would hold off and save my money. However, ever since that day, that one dress keeps appearing as an advertisement on my newsfeed! It’s like Facebook keeps telling me every time I open my newsfeed, ‘Come on just buy it. You know you want it”.
In fact, in some instances, Facebook will determine what you can’t see because it is considered inappropriate. For example, Facebook bans pictures of women breastfeeding their children – something that is completely natural and part of the human condition – because it is deemed inappropriate. So Facebook essentially controls the way we interact and if we breach their guidelines, then we face the consequences.
Thus such Walled Gardens have the power to decide how we use their sites, what content we can upload and how much access we are granted to the whole site. This is concerning because the Internet is meant to be a free, open, democratic space in which users can do as they will. So perhaps next time you use social media, reflect on how it may be controlling you. Do you think we live in a new era of Big Brother?