If you’re a Facebook user, think about what you signed up for. I suspect that most of you are like me, you thought the idea of a hub for keeping in touch with family and friends was a good one, and that’s what you wanted — something like that old newsletter your Aunt Matilda used to send out every Christmas, only shorter and more casual and spread out over the year. Or like a bar where you’d stroll in and see friends from the community, and a few strangers, and you could strike up a little conversation. That sounds wonderful! Only it hasn’t turned out that way, because the barkeep has decided to be intrusive and obnoxious. He wants to introduce you to new friends, all the time, and it doesn’t matter if they’re a bit skeevy. He’s trying to sell you stuff on the side. He keeps asking you questions about your personal life, all with the helpful intent of trying to match you with more compatible friends (only he doesn’t seem to actually understand human interactions, and he’s more than willing to connect you to any guy who’ll tip him a dollar), or to better understand what he might be able to sell to you. And then he turns up the television news real loud because it’ll give all of his patrons something to talk about.
The problem with Facebook isn’t the idea, it’s the Facebook executives, like Zuckerberg, who want to control and profit from the conversation. It’s gotten so bad that even avaricious robots like Zuckerberg have noticed, but they haven’t realized that what the users want is for Zuckerberg to shut the fuck up and quit intruding.
In his February letter, Zuckerberg essentially acknowledged what was obvious to anyone who had a Facebook account during the 2016 election: the social network has not exactly enhanced our democracy. The News Feed, the main scroll of posts that you see when you open Facebook, fueled hoaxes (which were overwhelmingly “tilted in favor” of Donald Trump, according to an analysis by Hunt Allcott of New York University and Matthew Gentzkow at Stanford), and it overfed people stories and memes that fit preconceived notions. On social media, “resonant messages get amplified many times,” Zuckerberg wrote. “This rewards simplicity and discourages nuance. At its best, this focuses messages and exposes people to different ideas. At its worst, it oversimplifies important topics and pushes us towards extremes.”
He talks as if he understands, but the wheels in his head are spinning, and he’s trying to figure out how to keep his hooks in his userbase while acknowledging that maybe sometimes he’s an obnoxious ass, a little bit, occasionally (really, it’s always, a lot). This is not an indication that Facebook is a good place to find genuine communication:
For example, by cross-referencing your behavior on Facebook with files maintained by third-party data brokers, the company gathers data on your income, your net worth, your home’s value, your lines of credit, whether you have donated to charity, whether you listen to the radio, and whether you buy over-the-counter allergy medicine. It does this so that it can give companies an unprecedented ability to post ads that are presumably likelier to appeal to you. (I asked Facebook whether anything has changed to make the Post’s report no longer accurate; the company had no comment.)
They have “algorithms” to figure out what ads you’d like to see. But their algorithms suck, and are easily gamed, and even more easily bought. Every time they glean some scrap of information, like that recently I’ve been looking up camera gear, they use a sledgehammer and start throwing buckets of ads in my face for inappropriate stuff grossly out of my price range or not at all related to my specific interests, but it has the words “photography” or “camera” somewhere in it. The bartender here has a motor-mouth and low intelligence and is prone to manic obsessions. How about if you back off and just let me chat with friends?
So I’m backing off from Facebook instead. I’m going to stop interacting with Facebook at all for a while; I’m still going to do blogpost links there, but even that will go away eventually. And after a while, no hurry, I’ll just close my account altogether. I might skim through it once a day to see what everyone is up to — in particular, I get grandbaby updates for Knut there, although my other grandbaby has a mother who is very tech savvy and has mostly abandoned Facebook already. If you want to have a conversation with me, though, Facebook ain’t the medium for that.
I’ve been looking for alternatives, and Diaspora looks promising. I signed up for Pluspora this morning, and it’s already better. Not perfect, though. I said on signup I’d like to see various #science-related hashtags, and first thing in my face is a bunch of anti-vaxx bullshit…so my first experience with it involved learning how to filter out the garbage. I guess even if you’ve got a nice bar with an unobtrusive barkeep who isn’t poking his nose into your business all the time, you still have to deal with other customers.