The other day I was searching through the settings on my Facebook account looking for a way to block annoying ads and stop receiving posts about a friend’s brother’s niece’s first goal in soccer. Really, I would have settled for a button that said Anti-Social.
That’s what my kids call me when I tell them I try to stop new people joining my network. It’s not that I don’t like hearing from friends, I just don’t want to hear about their friends and their friend’s cousin’s wedding or the friend of a friend who liked an airline for a chance at a free trip. Just flip through the feed, they say. Well, yes, there is that, but then I have to spend too much time flipping through junk just to find something I possibly would like to know. I have a No Junk Mail on my letterbox, why can’t I have one on my FB box?
A friend reminds me that I am in the media and I should be using social media to build my profile. And she’s right. In social media, you are the media or you’re the audience and people like me are meant to be the media. We should be working on getting followers — 50,000 at least, 500,000 if you really want to monetise it.
Part of me wants to believe that social media is a way of keeping up with friends but sensible me knows it’s just a way for everyone to make money. For users it’s a chance to turn chat into outcomes. They’re monetising their networks, conducting political campaigns, building a market for a product or building an image for a job. But the hardest worker is Facebook.
Our friendships are the business model for Facebook and, for that model to work best, FB needs us to behave in certain ways. It makes money when users have big networks, when they check their feed often, when they are active — liking, commenting, sharing and providing data to FB and its advertisers about what sort of products they will buy. We are the market. Our desire for connection puts us on the road to consumption. They’ve remade friendship in the image of a business model.
I know, I’m late to this realisation. And I know I won’t find a solution in the privacy settings FB provides. Hell, you can’t cancel ads, you can just refine the information you give so FB can calibrate the ads to you more precisely.
So, I’m gradually giving up on Facebook and focusing more on Instagram, where I am ruthless about who I let into my network. I’m sorry distant relatives, friends of friends and people I can’t remember meeting, you’re not getting on to my feed because I don’t want to turn Instagram into a pile of mail I’m not interested in.
And some of my young friends agree. Young people have left FB in droves. If you were to take a snapshot of the people most active on FB today, it would look like a suburban cafe at 10am Tuesday morning. Younger people have fled to networks like Instagram, Snapchat, Messenger, WhatsApp groups and whatever new meet-up is catching their fancy.
Facebook knows this. That’s why it is pushing its new Direct button, which isolates your post to discreet groups. That’s why it keeps prompting users to share recent photos such as the one of a washing machine’s dimensions that I took in a shop yesterday. That’s why it worries about the “context collapse” that comes from seeing posts from a friend’s brother’s niece. That’s why it keeps prompting us to share precious memories from a year ago. Mark Zuckerberg said as much last year when he admitted people were sharing less about themselves on the site, even if they’re still sharing cat videos, memes and fake news. And when we stop sharing personal stuff on FB, the business model starts to collapse.
Too late, Facebook. You turned our friendships into a marketplace, you polluted our conversations with advertising. You thought we’d put up with news from a friend’s brother’s niece’s first day at soccer so you could reap more data from us. But some of us are wising up. The smart ones left a long time ago and the entrepreneurs remain only to milk your system but people who just want to be friends have decided there’s power in becoming anti-social in an age of social media. gmail.com