Thursday, August 11, 2016

Ascent from Social Media

The sad part is, most of you won't read this message.

Not because you don't want to. You probably do. You actually followed me just for that purpose. But because your social network is lying to you.

As of today my Facebook page OLDaily has 638 'likes'. This mean s 638 people think they are following the page. Yet when I post an article on that page, it reaches a small percentage of that audience. This item, for example, which as of today has reached 33 people.

There are ways to increase the size of my audience on Facebook. I can advertise - specifically, I can 'sponsor' the post. If I spend $4 I can increase its reach by an estimated 10-11 people. Surprisingly, people are paying to boost their posts on Facebook.

What they're trying to do is to insert themselves into my news feed. My news feed is where I read the messages my friends and family have posted. It has long been the target of unwanted attention, as spammers through out clickbait and exhort readers to 'like' and 'share' these empty posts.

These are annoying, but at least my friends actually recommended them (and there are ways of blocking these shares based on where they originate, so when Shirley sends me another meme from the radio station, I no longer see it, because I've blocked everything from the radio station - it takes a while to do this, but at least it can be done).

The sponsored posts weren't recommended by anyone - there's no hint of 'social' about them. They're just inserted into my feed. And while (in theory) I can block messages from a specific source, I can't keep them out of my feed altogether.

I used to be able to do this. For years I've browsed the web with ad-blocking software in my browser. It selects what I want to see, and eliminates the advertisements. It's able to spot the advertisements because reader views of advertising are tracked and reported, and the software can spot this.

Regular advertising - "Eat at Joe's" - slips right through, because it's just content. That's what all advertising used to be. But today's advertising spies on you, installs software on your computer, adds extra seconds to page loads, and generally makes your life miserable. So I blocked it. But now, Facebook has disabled my ad blocker.

All this - the clickbait and spam and sponsored posts and advertising - is inserted into my feed instead of the observations and comments from my friends. And that's why my useful post that 638 people want to see is actually seen by only 33 people. Facebook wants me to join this cavalcade of sponsored posts. Not so much because of the money but because it legitimizes the whole thing.

And - frankly - what it legitimizes are the the greasy bottom-dwellers of the internet. As I go through my feed today this is what I see: Search-Engine Optimization (SEO) services. Gambling houses. Skeezy political organizations. Sexist domain name registrars. 'Bank owned homes'.  Health heart institute (with a fake Princeton URL). There are reasons why I avoid all these sites!

So not only is my personal information being bought and sold by Facebook applications, it is being sold to these guys. Ewww.... where can I wash?

What Facebook has done very deliberately is to insert itself between you and your friends. Nowhere is this more clear than with Facebook messenger, where Facebook no longer allows you to use a mobile browser to send messages to your Facebook friends - you are required to use their proprietary app. It won't let you read what they send you without the app either.

And it has inserted itself there not to serve any higher purpose (such as, you know, actually letting me communicate with my friends). It has inserted it there because it thinks it has me, because it thinks it has managed to eliminate all of your choice in the matter, because it thinks that Facebook is better than nothing.

After all, some other sites have been responding to my ad blockers as well. Sites like Wired and Forbes are preventing me from viewing their content, throwing up a big advertising window instead in which they require that I turn off my ad blocker if I wish to view their contents. But I can easily view other sites, and so I read (and link to) their competitors.

But without Facebook, what to I route around to? How, for example, do I find out about this story about Ulrike Reinhard (as of today, 52 reads on Facebook, 972 reads on my web site)? The value I get from Facebook is that, when my friends' messages finally get through, they're worth listening to.

Facebook has me going both ways. They make me pay money in order to allow people to read my content, and then they throw advertising at the people who are trying to read that content. And now they're tightening the screws.

And even as it clamps down on content, Facebook favours the wrong people, siding once again with the bottom-dwellers of the internet. It has no qualms about encouraging catfishers and other scammers to operate with impunity. Alec Couros has been struggling with this for years as Facebook allows scammer after scammer to use his image to defraud innocent victims. Breastfeeding, however, bothers Facebook a lot. It has no problems with hate speech, but generally dislikes plus sized women, cannabis advocates, sexual health organizations, indigenous people, reporters, and mentions of Facebook censorship.

Why do we tolerate this?

To a large degree, we don't. People have tried to build alternatives, like Elgg and Diaspora and App.net and pump.io and GNU.social. Though they've all had some success and reached some level of usership, none has really caught on, and all are in various stages of abandonment. There are enterprise social networks like Yammer which are poorly used.

It's like we don't want to replace Facebook. We've seen social networks and we don't need another one. Younger people are using things like Tumblr and WeChat and  YikYak and Tinder. And of course Pokemon Go. And Instagram and Snapchat. None of these is perfect, but also none of these seems to be so closely associated with the seamy side of the net the way Facebook is.

So, maybe just maybe, we can live without Facebook. And after all, if my stuff on Facebook is actually not being read, why continue to bother with it.

So I think it's time to move on from Facebook. Not to try to replace it, but to rather ascend from it, to get away from the bottom-feeders and think about new ways to connect with family and friends, new ways to cooperate with colleagues around the world.

Over the next few days I'm going to turn off the feeds and shutter the Facebook pages (I won't delete them, because then some SEO creep will pretend they're me). But first I'll make sure there are other ways to contact me.

And over the next few weeks I'm going to revisit what I do with my core offerings, my newsletter and my other work, and think about making my incoming content feeds work better for me, and my outgoing feeds work better for my readers. Thoughts and comments are welcome, as always.

5 comments:

  1. Unfortunately now, facebook must answer to its shareholders, so of ocurse it will become more and more primarily an advertising platform. It would be naive of us to think it can now be any different after all it is a publicly traded company. I will continue using facebook but have changed my expectations of it, and also the way I use it, for me facebook is purely to keep in touch with people directy, which it is still a good tool for, I just don't spend hardly any time on it as it has become a pretty boring place to be.

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  2. I guess I am going to be logged in through Google because I don't see another option...

    Anyway, I applaud your ascent from Facebook. As I told you in a tweet (@carlroberts_us), I haven't used Facebook for personal use in about 8 years. For someone who is 31, this is pretty strange behavior.

    I still have friends. I still learn things. And I don't need Facebook.

    I really don't care if other people use Facebook, so I do not go around arguing with people about it. However, people very, very often ask me if I am on Facebook. I reply that I am not. They want to know why. I just say that I do not use it. They then feel the need to justify why they use it.

    It's the same reason every time: "I just use it to keep up with my friends."

    Great. I keep up with my friends through things like email, phone calls, in-person visits, etc. People who I do not speak with regularly or email once in a while or see once in a blue moon are not my friends.

    Anyway, let me wrap this up. Stephen, people like you have to lead the charge away from things like Facebook because the vast majority of people are fine with having their minds trapped and controlled.

    Brian Lamb and I were going back and forth about a similar issue on Twitter recently, and I wrote a response that I think is relevant to some of the issues you have with Facebook as well.

    I'd be honored if you would give this a read because you inspired me to have a website of my own in the first place: http://carlroberts.us/?p=277

    Take care, and keep up the good work!

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