Living as I do fairly near Facebook I’ve watched the company grow and develop. Can’t say Mark Z comes out looking good around here. He’s not considered the visionary Steve Jobs was, nor is he beloved in any way despite many big charitable donations in the Bay area. People around these parts are wary of him.
With good reason.
A little voice in the back of my head constantly points out how powerful and controlling the social media giant has become. Because so many of us are heavy users of the site, it’s been easy for us not to notice what has become very clear: We don’t control much of what we see–they do. And here’s how:
The problem with curation
It began, I think, when we went from a newsfeed that rolled by with all our friends’ posts to one that Facebook “curated.” That’s a dangerous word to me–“curated.” It means that they pick whose posts we see.
They do this with an algorithm that rates how people respond and interact with your posts and how you respond and interact with theirs. Facebook will show you posts that they believe you are more emotionally engaged with–that is, that you “react” to with a emoticon or a comment. If you read something and don’t stop to “react” in some way, you are unlikely to see those persons’ posts in your feed. Because FB has determined you aren’t interested.
And the same with your friends. If they do not respond, if they just read, they may not see your posts again unless they look for them.
Staying on the site shows engagement
It used to be that a “like” counted as engagement. But now, that’s not enough. You must do something stronger than a like: love, wow, sad, angry–FB decided that those show more engagement. It meant we want to see more from that person.
I’m not sure I agree.
Even better is a comment–but only 4 words or more show engagement. So if you comment “agree”–one word– it means you aren’t very engaged and won’t see much of what the poster puts out. Four words or more is the advice we’re given if we want to see that person’s posts in the future..
Also, if you post a link to an outside source–a news article, a blog post–again, few will see it. Because that takes you off FB and Zuck doesn’t want us off the site. Head spinning yet?
It’s all about selling ads
Obviously, his goal with these changes is to keep us on the site longer so we consume more advertising.
Those of us with business pages are also being told to change from a business page to a GROUP. And to engage with our group constantly. If we do not, our view count will suffer. People will not see our posts. Because a group is more engaging, FB has decided.
Now all sorts of consultants exhort us “Form a group!” If we do not, then only a couple percent of our followers (a couple percent!) will see our posts organically.
For more, we have to BUY ADS.
The goal here is to get small businesses to buy FB advertising. So they hold “views” hostage unless we do. Get the picture?
More control than we might realize
Most of us are so involved in day-to-day use of the site we don’t stop to question how little of the experience we control. And how much they want us to stay on the site all day and all night. For their own reasons. I just don’t think that’s a good thing for me or for anyone.
My nature is to question. I question the morality of a social media giant controlling what I see. “Curating.” I don’t want FB or anyone to curate for me. To dictate what I see. I want to choose my own content.
I’m glad forces are afoot to look at the amount of power FB wields and at the possibility of breaking it up. Because it also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, it’s slowly worked its way into our daily lives in a big way. But not in a positive way.
When I assess whether FB uses their power for good or evil, it’s clear that’s not how they use it. They use it for profit. And as a business they must make a profit. No problem with that. The problem I have is that they do this by manipulation and control. And we have all seen how their profit motive allowed Russians to interfere in our election and they are still interfering.
I don’t have a good feeling about any of this.
So what to do?
I’m spending less and less time on the site. My activities are largely devoted to following a few writers and people I admire or know, fundraisers I may want to contribute to and to posting a few things that go on in my world. More and more, though, I resent the amount of time FB requires me to spend on its site to get any traction for business or personal reasons.
I think it’s wrong. Unethical. Immoral.
I do, however, think FB an interesting place in a social psychology (behavior of groups) way. And it also reveals some of the huge issues in our society. How hateful and uncivilized people can be. I’m not sure people realize how much they reveal of themselves unintentionally and how poorly it reflects on them.
I have to laugh at all the dramatic “unfriending” people announce–punishment for having a different view or a more nuanced take that they don’t get. It says a lot–and also reveals how social media users were so easily manipulated in 2016. So from a social psych research standpoint, it serves a purpose.
But that doesn’t outweigh the danger of having a social media giant subtly control the information we receive. So for me, I’ll be traveling more, hanging with people I love more and of course, spending quality time with my rescue dogs. All of which is far more healthy than being manipulated by a social media company.