My love-hate (but mostly hate) relationship with Facebook

Many of you would have received the request from some business or organization to “Like us on Facebook!” If you have a Facebook account, you also get email alerts that promise updates on the ‘status’ of friends and if you click on them you will find that rather than being a significant change in their lives (new job, moved to new city, major relationship changes, etc.), it is often something really trivial, such as that they are ordering pizza. As a result of several such updates, I now don’t bother to click on them. And yet, they seem to garner a lot of ‘likes’ by their friends.

I have concluded that I am a bad Facebook friend. I have a Facebook account but I never post anything to it. I ignore all the notices I get from Facebook. I also never click ‘like’ on the numerous things that people post. If I get a friend request from someone I know, I accept because it seems rude not to, but the requests to be friends with people I do not know leave me conflicted. It seems churlish to not accept an offer of friendship but a borderline misanthrope like me does not seek new friends so I end up ignoring those requests, though I feel guilty about doing so. The constant emails from Facebook telling me that a lot of things have happened since I last checked Facebook are annoying too. Facebook has become a source of irritation to me.

I have frequently thought of eliminating my account but as of yet have not done so. I started the account back in the earliest days of Facebook when it was just starting and was not the huge social phenomenon it now is. Back then I wondered whether it was something that might help the students at my university, especially first year students more prone to feeling lonely and homesick, better get acquainted with their fellow students and so checked it out to see if the university should recommended to them that they use it. Of course, Facebook now has a life of its own and does not need any institutional support.

Despite my later many irritations with it, I have not canceled my account mainly because since now pretty much the entire world seems to be on Facebook, on rare occasions, old friends with whom I have lost touch use it to contact me. This one useful feature keeps me hooked.

But I am intrigued by the phenomenon of clicking ‘like’ on other people’s posts. Why does it matter? Each post seems to garner plenty of likes. Where do people find the time to read all their friends’ posts to like and even comment on them? I just checked and currently have 207 friends, a pathetically low number I am told, and yet I find the number of Facebook notices too many. How do people whose Facebook friends number in the thousands and even tens of thousands manage?

In particular I am puzzled that businesses value being ‘liked’ so much that some threaten their customers if they don’t ‘like’ them, and that there are actually people who are employed at so-called ‘click farms’ and paid around $15 per thousand ‘likes’ in order to generate a fake sense of popularity for some site. Apparently this makes some kind of business sense.

The importance of likes is considerable with consumers: 31% will check ratings and reviews, including likes and Twitter followers, before they choose to buy something, research suggests. That means click farms could play a significant role in potentially misleading consumers.

Click farms have become a growing challenge for companies which rely on social media measurements – meant to indicate approval by real users – to estimate the popularity of their products.

For the workers, though, it is miserable work, sitting at screens in dingy rooms facing a blank wall, with windows covered by bars, and sometimes working through the night. For that, they could have to generate 1,000 likes or follow 1,000 people on Twitter to earn a single US dollar.

I never check the number of likes before using any product but it looks like I may be in the minority and that this is considered a valuable measure of quality. But as click farms proliferate, that may cease to be so.

Clearly the brave new world of social networking is not designed for people like me, who are comfortable having just a few good friends made the old-fashioned way.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    Caveat: I’m quite old. But for me, Facebook is just a tool. For what I need it to do (mostly planning and coordinating paragliding trips), it works well. It does other things (e.g. keeping in touch with friends who don’t fly) less well, and there are some annoyances to using it (some emails which go straight in my spam folder). If something else came along that offered similar functionality with fewer annoyances, I’d use that instead. Until then, Facebook is fine. Whenever I’m slightly annoyed with it, I remind myself how much I pay to use it.

  2. says

    I never check the number of likes before using any product but it looks like I may be in the minority and that this is considered a valuable measure of quality

    It may be a measure of popularity. But marketers have now established that they are willing to outright manipulate customers with fake ‘like’ bots. Not that anyone with any sense trusted marketing to begin with.

    The number of “likes” something has on facebook is a valid indicator of how many facebook accounts “like” something. That’s about it.

    I’m still waiting for anti-social media. I believe it’s called a “spam filter” … I do like the way facebook has been soaking up the efforts of spammers. My email is noticeably quieter and I “like” that.

  3. anat says

    Not a fan of Facebook either. I avoided it until recently, when a certain cause I care about moved to a private Facebook group. My activity is limited to that particular group, I don’t have any ‘friends’, yet I still get plenty of useless email notifications.

  4. says

    I remind myself how much I pay to use it.

    PS -- Since I don’t like to support sites that shove marketing at me as their revenue source* I check up on social media only via my iPad that has an adblocker installed. I notice that I use half as much bandwidth.

    Eventually people will realize that banner ads don’t really accomplish much and there will be a great rending of garments and rolling in the ashes of facebook and twitter, etc. Maybe then we’ll have a great re-invention of paid for premium content at a reasonable price. I think that’ll take another decade or so but it’s the end-game on all the abuse and banner ads.

    (* including FTB)

  5. Dunc says

    You can turn the email notifications (and most of the other annoyances) off, you know. Oh, and nobody has “tens of thousands” of Facebook friends -- the upper limit is 5000.

    But I am intrigued by the phenomenon of clicking ‘like’ on other people’s posts. Why does it matter?

    Think of it as a form of grooming. I find it a useful way to maintain contact with people I don’t see or talk to in person as much as I’d like.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    people will realize that banner ads don’t really accomplish much

    SSSSSHHHHHH! Don’t tell!

    Private Eye, the UK satirical magazine, has a regular column entitled “Ad Nauseam”, about the advertising industry. Typically it reports on campaigns blatantly ripped off from other sources, controversial ads, and so on. An increasingly common story they mention is the massive disparity between the amount businesses spend on online ads and the amount of benefit they get from them. There’s a definite sense of panic in the ad industry that someone might notice that the Emperor’s cloak is a bit threadbare…

  7. Dunc says

    There’s a definite sense of panic in the ad industry that someone might notice that the Emperor’s cloak is a bit threadbare…

    Not just the ad industry… Once that dirty little secret gets properly out, most of the internet will be revealed as nothing more than a giant money sink.

  8. Marshall says

    Mano: there is monetary gains from businesses receiving likes. Posts/pages with significant likes are drawn higher up in the “trending” topics, which show up on more peoples’ pages as either ads or trending content. Additionally, most businesses websites have some form or another of ads, and typically the amount the company earns from hosting those ads is directly related to the number of visitors to the webpage, a number which is vastly increased when Facebook chooses to highlight their page.

  9. says

    SSSSSHHHHHH! Don’t tell!

    There is one business that has a legitimate value for advertisers and that’s targeted search ad placement. If I go to google and search for “1tb hard drive oem” there is a good chance I am about to try to buy a hard drive. If I go to expedia and search for “hotel santa cruz (dates)” there’s a decent chance I am looking for a hotel in Santa Cruz. But based on that google and expedia and targeted ad companies are worth a couple hundred million bucks, tops. Even that’s questionable because shoppers are switching to sales sites that are basically targeted ads, like ebay and amazon.

    It’s weird to me that Yahoo! is going blub blub blub while Google is still doing OK in spite of some really amazingly creative fuck-ups. When the online ad correction hits, it’s going to be a bloodbath. I read a statistic the other day that 30-40% of smart phone users are now using ad blockers. And I noticed that Forbes has stopped their ad blocker blocker, because I can see Forbes again. For now. BuhBye Forbes, your business model is dinosauric.

  10. anat says

    And Google Chrome has Incognito windows, which means I can read any story without paying subscription fees.

  11. raym says

    Mano, I am in awe of you (well, I was anyway), but to think that you have *more than 200* FB friends… putting my meagre 79 to shame. I feel so inadequate 🙂

  12. doublereed says

    Well you can adjust the settings of all the social media so it doesn’t bother you with emails. That’s usually the first thing I do when I set up any social media account.

    You can “deactivate” your facebook account which basically turns it off until you log in again. But honestly, I’ve had friends who have deleted their facebook accounts and they haven’t looked back. If it’s annoying to you, don’t bother. There’s plenty of other ways to connect with others.

    Liking things imo is important to facebook use because facebook tracks what you like and sends you more posts with that stuff in it (and you can adjust those preferences as well). Facebook is most useful if you unfollow your friends that annoy you and like the things you enjoy seeing. That way the algorithm will send you stuff you enjoy.

  13. says

    Well you can adjust the settings of all the social media so it doesn’t bother you with emails. That’s usually the first thing I do when I set up any social media account.

    Set up an email forwarder, e.g.:> then sign up for social media sites. Then tear down the forwarder. If you ever need to do password reset or recovery, put the forwarder back up, do the recovery, then tear it down again.

  14. Reginald Selkirk says

    Think about Facebook’s main product: you.
    They make their money by selling you to their advertisers.

  15. mayknot says

    I don’t even HAVE a Facebook account and I constantly get email from them letting me know about all the “friend requests” awaiting my attention. Anyone know if I can”unsubscribe” to THAT helpful service? I have my email set up so all those notices go to the spam folder but still annoying.

  16. lanir says

    The only thing that other customers do or say about a product that influences me is when people I know and talk to directly say something about it or if they leave a comment that directly has to do with features or aspects of the product that I will be using. I never care about generic positive or negative statements. If they’re saying something specific it’s useful. If they’re not it’s just noise.

    The only reason people I know may have more influence on me is because if I know them well and I see them while they’re telling me about a product I have a good shot at understanding any bias they may have. A random person on the internet … I don’t know if they’re a troll, overly nice, have no idea what they’re talking about, are an expert on a subject, etc.

  17. DanDare says

    The worst thing about fb is that it is a crap medium for deep conversation but people try to use it for that. It’s worse than blogs. Unfortunately people prefer those things to forums.

  18. John Morales says

    DanDare, that’s rather arguable — personally, I think the worst thing is the diminution of privacy for its users — but consider the best thing about it: it’s not mandatory.

    (Opting out is an option)

  19. sonofrojblake says

    @mayknot, 16:

    I don’t even HAVE a Facebook account and I constantly get email from someone pretending to be Facebook letting me know about all the “friend requests” awaiting my attention

    I get a message about once a day from Microsoft telling me hotmail account is full and I need to reset it. I have a hotmail account. I get a message about once a day from Paypal telling me my account has been “limited” and that I need to log in by clicking the link to unlock it. I have a Paypal account. But I also get emails from banks, email providers, commercial companies and other entities every day trying to persuade me to click the link and log in.

    I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that if you examined those emails closely you’d find they’re not from Facebook at all. As to how you “unsubscribe” -- if you find out, you’ll be richer than Zuckerberg. Good luck.

  20. says

    I have long avoided facebook, only signing up and using it in the last eight months. I only use it because it became a necessary evil for widening my social circle. Email and cell phone messaging weren’t enough when so many don’t reply to them anymore.

    I avoid talking about any serious issues on it (e.g. how Cathy Brennan is a fake goth). The site has repeatedly shown its hypocrisy and selective enforcement of its own rules (e.g. rapebook is banned, users advocating rape are not). If there were another option, I would use that instead.

    And that’s without any discussion of privacy issues.

  21. johnson catman says

    Richard Selkirk @15:

    Think about Facebook’s main product: you.

    I do not have a facebook account, have never wanted one, and I do not find anything they offer appealing. Maybe I am an antisocial asshole, but I don’t need “friends” because I have friends IRL. I also do not bother with twitter. If I plan to communicate with someone, I will call or email or even write a snail mail letter.

  22. inquisitiveraven says

    Honestly, the only reason I have Facebook these days is that a few friends are next to impossible to contact otherwise.

    The only reason I have Twitter is so I can get notices of unplanned service disruptions from my local transit agency. Planned disruptions like construction detours and parades get posted to their website, but things like a downed wire on a trolley route or bus involved in a collision only go out on the agency’s Twitter feed. This is a lesson learned from a cold snowy winter day when the buses were out and the subway was running slow.

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