Facebook sucks, and it’s too big to die easily


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.


Here’s an enthusiastic summary of the advantages of Diaspora.

Comments

  1. prostheticconscience says

    My experience with diaspora* is similar to yours. I subscribed to the #socialism tag when creating my account, and every time I log in to check it the first thing I’m confronted with is some white nationalist decrying the evils of socialism.

    There are some things diaspora* does well – notably the way aspects and sharing-with works (the reverse of Mastodon: someone following you does not automatically give them access to your private posts, only your public ones). There are other things it does very badly. Hashtag subscriptions being the main way of finding new people and content, rather than Facebook-style groups and pages is one. The other is community management. Unlike Mastodon, diaspora* was created pre-Gamergate, when the main perceived threat to online communities was censorship, not harassment. And over time, diaspora* has largely become a freeze peach zone with all the toxicity that entails.

    It also doesn’t cover some use cases Facebook does, like events and groups. I’m looking forward to a federated Facebook replacement that solves the problems with diaspora* and interconnects smartly with Mastodon/Pleroma, Pixelfed, and Peertube.

  2. Derek Vandivere says

    Deleted the app, but after four days my wife told me that a mutual friend of ours was trying to get in touch to buy tickets to my wind orchestra’s New Year’s concert. Not sure if I have the self-control to do FB in a read-only, ignore the horribleness mode…

  3. Dunc says

    From The Economist, Facebook should heed the lessons of internet history:

    “BIG TOBACCO” is what the bosses of several large technology firms have started calling Facebook in private and in public. The company has spent the past year fending off critics who claim it is addictive, bad for democracy and overdue for a regulatory reckoning. Being compared to the tobacco giants is one of the business world’s more toxic insults, but it is not the only unflattering analogy circulating. A lower blow is the suggestion that Facebook may become like Yahoo, the once high-flying internet firm that plunged.

    […]

    [T]he marketing industry has two principal complaints. One is that Facebook is not working as well for them as it used to in terms of users engaging with their ads (even though it is raising its prices). The second is that it misleads its customers. Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research in New York, for example, has pointed out to the company that it was incorrectly promising advertisers that it could reach more 18-34-year-olds in America than actually exist there. Facebook has still not removed the claim, despite a class-action lawsuit against the firm for allegedly padding its audience numbers.

    A senior marketer for a large American bank says Facebook has made mistakes on measuring engagement, reach, views and other data for no fewer than 43 products. All of the mistakes, he notes, worked in the social-networking giant’s favour. “If these were true errors, wouldn’t you expect at least half to benefit marketers?” he asks.

    Investors are also deeply unhappy with Zuckerberg’s dual role as both CEO and chairman – however, his Class B voting shares make it more-or-less impossible to get rid of him.

    I’ve long thought that the entire ad-supported model has problems, and that targeted advertising in particular is currently in a bubble. When the advertisers finally decide that the targeting isn’t actually worth what they’re paying for it, then FB and its ilk are in for a very hard time indeed.

  4. Dunc says

    Also, just half and hour ago from The Register, Facebook spooked after MPs seize documents for privacy breach probe:

    British MPs have made unprecedented use of Parliamentary powers to send a serjeant at arms to the hotel where the boss of a US software biz was staying to seize potentially damaging documents on Facebook.

    The cache allegedly shows internal messages – including from Mark Zuckerberg – that demonstrate the social network actively exploited a loophole in its policies on access to users’ friends’ data that allowed Cambridge Analytica to walk away with info on 87 million people.

    […]

    If true, it would mean Facebook was not just aware of the data hose used by Cambridge Analytica to extract 87 million people’s information, but also that it actively flagged up this loophole to developers for its own benefit.

    I would not want to be heavily invested in FB right now…

  5. weylguy says

    My early experience with Facebook was quite different. Several high school friends from long ago contacted me seemingly for the sole purpose of impressing me with how financially successful they had become — the “lake house,” the Tahoe “chalet” and summers in the south of France particularly irked me. I quickly dropped out of Facebook, and the subsequent horror stories about the social media giant convinced me that I would never sign on to Twitter or any other such service as well.

  6. raven says

    I like the idea of Facebook.
    Everybody gets their own website.

    I really don’t like the way Facebook is run.
    They don’t allow pseudonymous accounts.
    That puts me in serious life ending harm’s way.
    I’ve gotten countless death threats over the last 15 years.
    It’s less common but I got two from xians just a few days ago.
    I suppose that is their way of celebrating the year end holidays.
    I haven’t had an internet presence under my own name in 15 years and will never have one again.

    I know I’m not the only one.
    Any number of people aren’t too enthusiastic about appearing on the internet.
    There are many reasons, fear of persecution from religious fanatics, stalking by an ex, and so on.

    Facebook is aware of this problem.
    They absolutely don’t care.
    If they can’t sell your personal information for money, they have no use for you and you can get lost.
    OK Facebook I’m lost, you aren’t valuable enough to me to risk my life.

  7. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    Waitwaitwait… Diaspora, ok, nonprofit FB alternative. But I am confuzzled,
    * Why are there two identical-looking pages, pluspora and diaspora?
    * How do they relate to https://diasporafoundation.org/ ? Are they “pods” of it?
    * Why the gorram asterisk?!? I keep looking at the bottom of the page…

  8. Onamission5 says

    I created my first FB account for employment search purposes over the summer and it’s every bit as creepy as I’d suspected– and then some. I figured it would try to put me in contact with estranged family members I’d rather not know the details of my life, and it has to a point, but do middle aged adults really track the on line lives of their teenagers’ former elementary school friends, people they deliberately lost contact with two decades ago, and the cousin of their partner’s ex girlfriend? If so, why?

  9. microraptor says

    I had a Facebook account for only a couple of months. I put no personal information on it and kept the privacy settings to maximum. The only purpose of the account was to follow a single newsletter that quickly fizzled, and I shut my account and never looked back.

  10. says

    Want to add a bit of even sicker to facebook? Some freak decided to “auction” his 16 year old daughter off to the highest bidder, over facebook. They failed to notice, or remove, the post, until 15 days after the fact, and well after the “auction” was already over.

    https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/20/africa/south-sudan-child-bride-facebook-auction-intl/index.html

    Even if you allow that they somehow just didn’t freaking know it was going on until too late, its just one more nail in the coffin of the idea that they give a damn about making sure their platform is actually used for positive purposes, instead of just any damn thing people please (at least until someone bothers to notice, and then bothers to actually do something about it).

  11. zetopan says

    It is absolutely best to avoid social media sites like facebook. since YOU are the product for such sites and they make their money by selling details about YOU. Also recall when Zuckerberg claimed that there was no evidence that Russians were using facebook to interfere in the 2016 election? Facebook was actually being paid in rubles to host Russian propaganda at that same time. Zuckerberg is yet another greedy sociopath.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/business/russian-ads-facebook-targeting/?utm_term=.eb051d2d1b81

  12. consciousness razor says

    It is absolutely best to avoid social media sites like facebook. since YOU are the product for such sites and they make their money by selling details about YOU.

    Exactly.

    And I don’t buy the arguments that it lets you keep in touch with friends and family, etc. Cut the shit and be fucking serious for a minute, people. You could already do that. Never mind that throughout history, people have somehow managed to get by just fine without fucking Facebook (and many still do). In the modern world, we have telephones. I’m talking about those strange gadgets that practically everyone has, which fit in your pocket and let you talk to people all over the world…. did you know that you can make calls with them? And you can text and email and videochat and whatever else. It’s true. They still have that functionality. That is one of many technological solutions to your supposed problem which already exist, if you think you’ve got that sort of problem and that it might be solvable with technology.

    Meanwhile, Facebook’s function is to sell you, your friends, family, and anything you might care about, up to and including the democracy that you live in, to anybody who’s willing to pay. If you say you get something out of this deal, then sure maybe there is something, although it’s very hard to say to what…. But what makes you think it’s worth all of that?

  13. says

    The weird thing is, the only reason for me to use FB is that all the protests I go to are organized there. In Germany, its the only at least partly reliable way to be informed about protests in your region.

    So I am stuck with FB, because my anti-capitalistic, LGBT activism -.-*

  14. says

    Welcome to the Federation, Dr. Myers!

    @#8 Just an Organic Regular Expression:

    I can’t explain the asterisk, unfortunately, but yes, Pluspora is just one of hundreds of Diaspora pods (that I know of). It’s unfortunately one of those cases where the name is overloaded: “Diaspora” refers to the network, the protocol, the software, the foundation, and sometimes the foundation’s main pods as well.

    Instead of thinking of Diaspora as a single service like Facebook or Twitter, it might help to think of it as something more like email: Diaspora is a protocol (like email is a protocol), and anyone can set up their own instance (aka pod, which may or may not be running the actual Diaspora software) and they can connect with anyone else who’s using the protocol. Myers is on Pluspora, I’m on JoinDiaspora (the test pod), but each of us can “see” each other’s posts as if we were on the same site. (In fact, I just checked my social justice aspect and saw over 40 different pods represented before I stopped counting, including Pluspora.)

    In an ideal future, setting up a Diaspora pod will be as easy as setting up a WordPress site, which would mean – for example – a site like Freethoughtblogs could create their own pod, and give each of their bloggers an account, so Myers could be something like pharyngula@freethoughtblogs.com (note: that’s not an email address, it’s a Diaspora ID: {user}@{pod URI}). For now, most people will probably just sign up to a pod that is open, like Pluspora. (Myself, I joined the test site in the early days when it was still in beta, and have just never bothered to move.)

    If anyone else is interested in joining the Diaspora network, all you need to do is find a pod that you like – one whose policies suit you, and that will allow you to join (perhaps Pluspora?) – and sign up! Once you do, ping me at Diaspora ID indi@joindiaspora.com (or via https://joindiaspora.com/u/indi ), and we can start sharing with each other.

  15. ck, the Irate Lump says

    zetopan wrote:

    It is absolutely best to avoid social media sites like facebook. since YOU are the product for such sites and they make their money by selling details about YOU.

    The only companies that don’t do this have been prohibited by law to do so. Facebook is more transparent about this, but unless you’re going to retreat from society entirely, it’s impossible to avoid. Even if we limit it entirely to the web, Facebook (and other “social” networks) have rather complete profiles for non-subscribers, as well as their subscribers.

    In the non-web world, selling and transferring customer lists between companies isn’t uncommon. Here’s the credit card companies selling your data to advertisers (and the only reason they aren’t doing more is limits imposed on them by law): https://www.businessinsider.com/credit-cards-sell-purchase-data-to-advertisers-2013-4

    There’s no escape without actually getting effective laws passed to prevent this. Self regulation has failed, as it almost always does. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that avoiding Facebook is changing much.

  16. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Meanwhile I’ve avoided making a Fecesbook account for 7 years and counting now, but the number of (nominally progressive) local social groups, that I’d otherwise be very interested in, that petulantly refuse to organize events and communicate plans using any other platform is perpetually but increasingly teetering on the edge of critical mass.. :(

  17. Dunc says

    zetopan, @ #13:

    It is absolutely best to avoid social media sites like facebook. since YOU are the product for such sites

    This is also true of absolutely everywhere that relies on advertising, such as this very blog network. They’re selling your eyeballs to advertisers. Welcome to the internet. (And commercial TV, radio, and pretty much everywhere else too…)

    consciousness razor, @ #15: Why exactly do you think you can dictate to other people what our social relationships are worth and how we should be maintaining them? If you don’t personally have any relationships that you’d like to maintain that aren’t with friends or family close enough that you’d want to call them up to talk to them, that’s fine, but I certainly have a lot of acquaintances that fall into that category, and I don’t think I’m at all unusual in that. Just enjoy your smug sense of superiority and be happy with that.

    Meanwhile, Facebook’s function is to sell you, your friends, family, and anything you might care about, up to and including the democracy that you live in, to anybody who’s willing to pay.

    I hope they remembered to keep the receipts… Especially for the “democracy”, because that was completely fucked already.

  18. Jazzlet says

    Good luck trying to abandon facebook if you have been on there a while. Facebook chucked me off about six years ago, because someone reported me for using a pseudonym, and the only way they were going to let me on again was if I proved I was using my real name by sending them my passport. No thanks facebook, no thanks. However I am still getting notifications about facebook friends on that throwaway account despite repeatedly unsubscribing. They will not let a potential money bag go.

  19. consciousness razor says

    Dunc:

    Why exactly do you think you can dictate to other people what our social relationships are worth and how we should be maintaining them?

    I said that people have many other ways of maintaining their relationships. If you (not me) say those have some value, and you (not me) say this is supposed to suffice as an explanation for why you use Facebook despite all its flaws, then I want to know why Facebook instead of some alternative. I don’t have to dictate anything to anybody, because it’s simply a fact that I can report to you: many people (myself included) successfully maintain their relationships without Facebook. That means your excuse isn’t very good, but once you ditch that idea, maybe you can come up with a better one.

    If it were a cure for a disease, it would be like I’m telling you that there are other cures, which definitely work and don’t have the same side effects. So why would I tell you? Because I think that if you genuinely understand that there is a choice, that using Facebook was not the only way to accomplish what you say you’re trying to accomplish, then you might make a different choice, one which doesn’t involve so much other shit that you don’t (or shouldn’t) want.

    It’s not exactly like a disease, because I’m not even a Facebook user, yet I still have to put up with the (social) side effects of choices that you and others make. So I do actually have an interest in trying to reduce the bad stuff for myself as well. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that simply talking to you about it is not crossing the line. If that’s unacceptable to you, then maybe I should be asking you why you think you can dictate to me what I simply talk about.

    If you don’t personally have any relationships that you’d like to maintain that aren’t with friends or family close enough that you’d want to call them up to talk to them, that’s fine, but I certainly have a lot of acquaintances that fall into that category, and I don’t think I’m at all unusual in that.

    Like you said, welcome to the internet. Calling people on the phone is just one example. But there are many non-Facebook ways of staying in touch with acquaintances that go into whatever category, both online and offline. This website is an example. And there are lots of others, obviously.

    It’s pretty simple: try not looking at everything through your Facebook-goggles for a minute. I know you’ve done it before, so just do something like that again. It really wouldn’t be the end of the world if there were no such thing.

  20. Dunc says

    No, it really wouldn’t be the end of the world – it would just be mildly inconvenient, and I don’t see why I should be mildly inconvenienced because some rando on the internet has a bug up his ass about FB for reasons which I personally find entirely unconvincing.

    Sure, of course you can talk about it, but the way you’re going about it is not coming across well (in fact it’s coming across extremely badly) and is very unlikely to persuade anyone. You might want to modify your approach so that you don’t seem like quite as much of a condescending dick.

  21. kerriet says

    I joined Facebook back in 2005 when it was only for college students. By the time I graduated it had evolved so much but I stopped using it since it was always primarily for school in my mind.

    Reactivated my account a few years later for grad school and couldn’t believe how much it had changed. Quickly downloaded and exlusively used Facebook Paper which was amazing – no ads, friend suggestions, or posts from people with whom you weren’t friends. Again primarily using facebook because that was how my grad class communicated everything. Naturally that Paper app died after a couple years since it wasn’t making Facebook any money and I swiftly deleted my entire Facebook account and havent looked back.

    I feel we are better without Facebook as it exists now and even if you “need” it for your business, how effective is it really at reaching potential customers amongst all the noise? I know I’m not completely alone because only 2 members in my extended family uses Facebook and several close friends deleted it completely after the breach.

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