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#29The Right to an Autonomous Future

“Autonomy” (in contrast to “heteronomy”) means the capacity to govern the self (rather than to be governed by others).

Autonomy allows us to think by ourselves and to make authentic decisions in full awareness of ourselves. It is one of the keys to self-accomplishment and to a fulfilling life.

Autonomy against surveillance capitalism

This keen awareness about ourselves, as well as our own agency, threatens the very commerce of surveillance capitalism, whose revenues rely precisely on the prediction of our behaviour. Operant conditioning and behavioural modification are only means to increase the certainty of its system, a condition to its own profitability.

Facebook’s apparatus, which knows more about us than our close ones, allows not only the prediction, but more importantly the continuous, secret, automatic and ubiquitous modification of our behaviour across nearly all areas of our lives.

What are “users” if not mere robots dedicated to feeding its system of data processing, scrolling through its addictive and lucrative platform, doomed to repeat everything over again through conditioning?

A mass-scale laboratory

Facebook constantly leads experiments on its users in order to determine what will make them spend more time on the platform, without them knowing (users are never informed about the tests presented to them) and are often run without oversight from an independent committee, which is normally required when doing institutional research.

Studies show that it is very easy to manipulate real-world emotions through the platform. Facebook has even shown the effective influence of social contagion in a 61-million-person experiment.

Autonomy in danger

The experimental authority which Facebook has captured in order to secretly modify, without external regulation, the behaviour of millions of users for the sake of increasing its own profits, puts the one of the most precious aspects of human nature in real danger: the right to self-determination.