Lucy’s alarm went off at 6am, but she had already been awake for hours. Her smart bed had sensed that she couldn’t sleep, played her favorite music in an attempt to get her to drift off again, but today the music hadn’t helped. Today was different: it was Recommendation Day.
Lucy swung her feet out of the bed and stumbled into the bathroom. As she passed through the threshold, a cool voice emanating from above her head said, Your biodata indicates that stress levels are high today. Would you like me to play some cat videos?
“No,” Lucy replied sharply, squirting toothpaste onto her toothbrush. “Talk to me about Recommendation Day.”
There was a brief pause before the cool voice spoke again. Recommendation Day is the day when a human becomes of age, and the Feed decides their role in society. It takes data collected from the human’s eighteen years of life– their personal preferences, heritage, and medical history–and compares it with data collected from other humans throughout history to predict the best path forward.
Lucy spit the toothpaste into the sink. “Okay,” she said, her voice garbled as she rinsed her mouth. “And what happens if the human doesn’t like the decision you’ve made?”
This time, the silence was even longer. Lucy could’ve sworn the voice was rolling its eyes at her. The Feed doesn’t make mistakes. It is built on data, and data can’t be biased.
“But what about Amazonia’s Alexa algorithm?” Lucy stared at herself in the mirror, trying to find something to focus on as she spoke. “Does it make mistakes or—”
I’m sorry, I can’t provide that information, the voice said, neutral as ever. I can tell you more about the history of Faceland. Would you like me to do that?
Lucy groaned as she turned back towards her bed, contemplating hiding under the covers until the day was over. “Definitely not.”
Everyone knew the history of Faceland. They were taught it as soon as they could understand words—which, based on their biodata, could be as young as one or as old as five. In the year 2025, the Information Wars began. The country formerly known as the United States had attempted to set laws to break up the largest technology companies, but the companies were too powerful. They had already begun using algorithms to track their workers’ performance, mood, and potential for success; once they made the algorithms available to the general population, people decided they preferred that an algorithm make decisions for them. The United States government folded since the algorithms ran better than politicans did anyway.
Faceland, Zooble, Amazonia, and Macrocroft launched a great war against each other, drafting hundreds of thousands of people into their personal militaries. Amazonia used its influence on the economy: since so many small businesses relied on them, it was easy to produce and gather materials for war. Zooble utilized its vast troves of data to suppress ads from the other companies to recruit people to its cause. Macrocroft tried its old tactics of monopolization, successful thirty years prior, to force malware to enemies’ computers through Internet Explorer. And Faceland, who already had the power to influence political elections worldwide, simply used emotional manipulation to turn its users against everyone else.
After four years of conflict, Faceland and Amazonia emerged victorious. In their negotiations for peace, they agreed to split the old United States into two nations. Amazonia claimed the East, with their capital set in New York City. Faceland took the West, with theirs in San Francisco. For the past fifty years, there had been peace. Society was better with the algorithms runningeverything. They could predict where crime might happen, and stop it before it began. They could detect natural disasters, and evacuate areas before hurricanes or wildfires struck. They knew when you were about to get sick, what school was the best fit for you, and what kind of house you should live in. With everything predetermined, life was easy.
Lucy had doubts about the stories she’d been told when she was young. She tried to be careful about questioning it too much, although sometimes she slipped and did it anyway. In Faceland, anything it heard you say would be used to serve you more and more content, and its ears were everywhere. That content was being monitored by Moderators, who would flag if you seemed to be looking at questionable material. If you went too far down a content recommendation hole, you would be warned; and if you were warned too many times, you were deplatformed from Faceland. No more smart bed, no more Feed, no more Recommendations. You were on your own.
The Full Circle Cafe was buzzing with anticipation at breakfast—at least, that’s how it seemed to Lucy. In reality, everyone was the same as ever: relaxed, chipper, content. That was life under the Feed, with unlimited Recommendations tailored to your personality. As she walked to her usual table with her tray full of all her favorite breakfast foods, Lucy tried to name the roles of all the people she passed. Builder. Medic. Server maintenance worker. Recommendation Day had come and gone for them, and they seemed satisfied with the results.
So why did she feel such unease?
“Little goose!” called a voice behind her. Lucy turned and broke into a grin. A tall, broad-shouldered man in his early twenties beamed at her as he approached with his own tray, setting it down carefully before pulling her into a hug.
“Jordan! I didn’t know if you’d make it back in time!” She hadn’t seen her big brother in over a year. The Feed had recommended he join the Faceland Navy force three years ago, so he spent most of his time abroad. Whenever he came back on leave, he would bring Lucy the best spices from the places he had traveled: Myanmar. Nigeria. Venezuela. His latest tour had been in Pakistan, where he’d been promoted to serve as an executive officer, and Lucy couldn’t wait to see what he’d brought.
“You think I’d miss my sister’s Recommendation Day?” Jordan shoved her shoulder lightly. “Finally, the day has come for you to become the stand up comedian you were always meant to be!”
Jordan had always been the more talented of the two of them. His biodata had tagged him for success at a young age, so he played three sports, was appointed president of multiple school clubs, and placed in honors classes. So it was a surprise when he was recommended into the military, since everyone thought he would become an executive at Faceland itself. But even though Jordan rarely talked about his work, he seemed to enjoy it. “Faceland’s content makes the world a better place,” he told her every time he came back from a mission. “I just help enforce it.”
Their parents were both retired (their mother was an architect for Faceland’s main campus; their father, a medical researcher for the Chin Tuckerball Initiative) and the Feed had recommended an international cruise around the world, which they had left for six months ago. “We’re so sad to miss your Recommendation Day, Lucy,” her father told her. “But we know that whatever it is, it’ll be the best fit.”
Lucy blinked back tears as she smiled at her brother. “I’m just so glad you’re here,” she said softly. “I’ve been pretty nervous and—”
The Feed chimed into the speaker directly above their cafeteria table. Lucille Santos, please report to the nearest smart car. Lucille Santos, please report for your Recommendation Ceremony.
Jordan nudged her shoulder again. “There’s nothing to be nervous about,” he told her encouragingly. “It’s going to be great, and when you get back, we can celebrate.”
Lucy nodded hesitantly. “But what if I—”
“Go, go, go!” Jordan pushed her out of her chair. “Get out of here, Goose!”
So Lucy went, glancing back all the way down the cafeteria hallway.
The TuckCar waiting for her outside was a sleek black Nikola. The company’s CEO had tried to fight during the Information Wars, but the timeline for his armored electric vehicles took too long, so he eventually had to ally with Faceland in order to survive. Faceland bought Nikola, folding them inside their growing company conglomerate. In return, all of Faceland’s official cars were Nikolas.
She got in, settling into the plush leather interior. The door shut behind her and the car began to slowly move. Your next destination is 42 Haxx0r Drive. Faceland’s original headquarters, and the location of the Recommendation Ceremony.
About twenty minutes later, the car slowly glided to a stop. They were in front of a run-down looking sign with a large graphic of a hand with a thumbs up. Please proceed.
“Proceed where?” Lucy looked around. The actual headquarters building was about a mile away.
“What do you mean, proceed? This isn’t the right place, I have to get to the Recommendation Ceremony!”
Lucy tried opening the door, but it was locked. She groaned and sank back into her seat. What was she supposed to do? She didn’t actually know where the old building was, much less where the actual ceremony was supposed to be. The TuckCars wouldn’t let you drive them, and anyway, this one seemed to be broken.
What if she missed the ceremony? Her anxiety and frustration swirled around her head like a tornado gathering speed. Would she still be recommended somewhere? Or would she be deplatformed? Would she be able to live without the Feed constantly available to her, or would something terrible happen?
She let out a scream she didn’t know she had in her, balling her hand into a fist, rearing her arm back, and slamming her elbow into the door handle. The plastic cracked in two, the door popping open gently, anticlimactically. She kicked it the rest of the way open, peering out at her surroundings.
She was in the middle of a vast field, with overgrown grass creeping up in patches. The thumbs up sign, which looked like the Yes button she’d seen in her history textbooks, had paint peeling off the sides. The road lay in front and behind her, with no buildings in sight.
She whipped around. A frail man was leaning against the old Like sign, having seemingly appeared out of nowhere. While he couldn’t have been younger than seventy, there was still a boyish quality to his face. Lucy recognized him immediately. “P-P-President Tuckerball?”
She had only seen him once before, when he gave an address at the Capitol in San Francisco when she was eight years old. Her parents had brought her, wanting her to witness history. “It’s amazing that you’re alive at the same time as him!” her mother had exclaimed. “After all, his content saved democracy!”
He had given a speech about Faceland’s success around the world. According to the Feed, all personal interactions were meaningful now—because that was what the Feed prioritized. As a result, the world was more connected than ever. Lucy had cheered with the rest of the crowd, marveling at how powerful he had appeared.
The man standing in front of her now looked much more feeble. He smiled slightly at her hesitation. “I don’t look like you thought I would.”
“It’s not that,” Lucy said. “Well, it is, but—I didn’t know you went to Recommendation Ceremonies.”
Tuckerball shrugged. “I don’t, normally. But we have a special task for you, and I wanted to tell you myself.”
Lucy gaped at him. A special task that only Tuckerball could tell her? Clearly, she was in trouble. She hadn’t been careful enough about her questioning of Faceland’s history, and now they would cast her out. “If I’ve done something wrong, I—”
“Something wrong!” Tuckerball laughed. “On the contrary, you’ve only helped us. You’ve clearly been careful, but you’ve been asking the Feed about the history of our nation, yes?”
“That’s exactly the kind of person we need as an Anger Manipulator! You’ll be perfect!” Tuckerball exclaimed, bouncing on the balls of his feet as if he wished he could jump with glee.
Lucy had never heard of such a thing. It didn’t sound like a normal role people were recommended, not like her parents or brother. And they weren’t ever taught it in school. “What’s an Anger Manipulator?”
Tuckerball took a deep breath, and leaned further back onto the Yes sign for support. “Well, Lucy, they drive popular content to the Feed. And they help us in the Second Information War.”
For fifty years, we have told the people of Faceland that there has been peace. That hasn’t been true—not entirely, anyway. Within our borders, people are content. They’re recommended for a role and they do what they’re told. For the most part, the Feed serves them content that they like, love, and laugh at. And that’s enough.
But sometimes people go astray. They want to know what else is happening in the world, what’s outside of this Faceland bubble. So we serve them content about how other places are doing terrible things, and what some of those things might be. Maybe in Europe they’re abusing animals. Maybe in Africa they’re lying about science. It doesn’t matter because it’s not true. We want them to get angry, so they hate everyone else.
And then there are people in other places. They still have governments and aren’t run by companies. They use Faceland, but it’s just a website. It’s not their whole world. We want to change that. We’re making them angry about their leaders, feeding them content that radicalizes them to join us. And right now we’re focused on taking Amazonia. Their leader, Steph Reysis, has been treating his people terribly for far too long.
That’s why the Feed recommended this role for you, Lucy. It knew this is what you were meant to do.You already have an idea of how we work, and you clearly understand anger—otherwise you wouldn’t have busted your way out of that Nikola earlier.
You’ll find the darkest type of content on the internet, and you’ll ensure that news gets in the Feeds of a select few people. You’ll help us craft the messages that get us the most clicks. You’ll help Faceland thrive. And isn’t that what you want, after all?
It was too much for Lucy to process at once. There was so much she didn’t know, so much she had only an inkling of in her covert investigating. She knew the Feed tried to make people as happy as possible, but she didn’t know it could also make them angry. And she didn’t like that Tuckerball thought she would be good at helping make people angry. That she would be good at manipulating people.
But if she wanted to know how Faceland really worked, what was going on in Amazonia, and what the rest of the world looked like, this was her way in. Once she figured out what was really going on, then maybe she could figure out what a world outside of Faceland looked like.
But for now, she knew what she had to do.
“Yes, President Tuckerball,” said Lucy. “I’m ready to fulfill my Recommendation.”