Clearly, 2.9 billion people do not feel Facebook is a problem. And advertisers seem confident that Facebook is a good place for them to connect with their potential audience.
So if Facebook is not alienating its users, then what is the fuss about?
The fuss is about success and growth. It seems that when a platform gets to 2.9 billion people. And when it gives them ways to connect. Then some people, some of the time, have bad experiences. I suspect the same is true in smaller settings like a bar or a school playground. People can be nasty. And people who are nasty can be hurtful. Other people have social or emotional issues and they can be reinforced through social contact with those who make you aware of them. This, it seems to me, is true in life. And Facebook is just that — life.
Frances Haugen seems well-intentioned. but she is asking Facebook to host “nice” content, and not to try to get us to engage with each other on its platform. She wants children who use it to only find positive or optimistic reflections of themself.
This is not the real world, and it cannot be real Facebook. The ugliness of life has as much of a place as its beauty. That would be like banning nasty mean people from a bar to help the goal of it being a “nice place”. Nice idea but entirely unworkable.
And what about profit as a motivator? Now, I am not a big fan of capitalism. It can certainly be improved upon. But until it is, the pursuit of growth and profit is at its very foundation. It is what determines success. It is the Darwinian mechanic that enables change — the death of the old and the birth of the new. Money is merely symbolic of that success and a way of capturing the value you bring to the world. So what is the recommendation Frances Haugen has that can replace seeking to engage us and make a profit?
“Haugen suggested, essentially, turning off the computer algorithms and making more of the internet gravitate toward designs like those of iMessage or past versions of Facebook and Instagram that showed posts in chronological order.”
This is from The New York Times
and is a really good insight into the lack of any real alternative to an engagement algorithm. The idea that a linear chronological list would be better than Facebook’s attempts at relevance is quite laughable, to be honest.
So, after all of this, what is likely to happen? Not a lot. Facebook is not the cause of these societal issues. I suspect its efforts to mitigate bad experiences are as good as is practicable. But if not, it is no different than any social setting in which human beings are gathered in large numbers.
At the top of this week’s newsletter is the video made by Apple to celebrate the life and contribution of Steve Jobs on the 10th anniversary of his death. and Azeem Azhar’s book “Exponential”.
Steve’s commitment to innovation and excellence has produced the world’s most valuable company. We engage with its products and love them. Because they are good. And the 2 trillion dollar value placed on his company is proof that we love it.
And Azeem’s book focuses on the inevitability that change, driven by technology, will produce changes that question every aspect of our current societal structures, and more.
That spirit is one that should guide all discussions of Facebook too. How should a platform of 2.9 billion regular users and many more infrequent users, be leveraged as an asset for our collective connection and interaction. It is a testament to technology that it exists. It is not going away, and if it did something equally big and transformational would replace it. The fact that in humanity there are many imperfect people should not be blamed on technology or change. And it is unrealistic to think that those people should somehow be removed from the digital world. Let’s learn to connect, interact, agree, and disagree, just as we must in real life.