Facebook's Man-Child-Sized Problem
The fundamental challenge for Facebook is not personalization versus privacy, but the platform’s uncanny ability to either empower annoying people to rise or somehow turn normal people annoying.
Facebook could have told you it launched a new feature called Cambridge Analytica, and you would object, then forget. Because there’s macro stuff people like to scream about; there’s the micro day-to-day they live in; and often not much of a connection is maintained between the two.
By the way, I know it’s unsettling to think about Facebook being manipulated to influence election results. Zuckerberg should and did take some ownership. But if your vote was decided by the dubious techniques of Cambridge Analytica, then you should consider the rigor with which you consume information and construct your reality and opinions.
The salient question in my mind is not whether Facebook has become too powerful, but the opposite – so boring that it’s moving toward irrelevance.
Here’s the root of the problem, very simple to describe. The people I want to post content rarely do. The people I don’t want to post content range from steady nuisances to horrific power users, like some sort of digital opioid addicts.
Maybe it’s just my news feed, but I doubt it. Facebook saw enough need to create a snooze button. I use it at least once per browsing session in hopes of making the next one slightly better.
But good content scarcely bubbles to the top, only a hodgepodge of no-value-added links, stupid commentary, dull updates and infinite iterations of the same photo. I glanced over some Facebook posting guidelines I wrote four years ago and still agree with them for the most part.
Leading the pack are these parents who must not have developed much of a personality or identity before their nondescript children entered their world and thus everybody else’s digital world.
They are relentless with post after post built on the erroneous assumption their kids are special or interesting to others. That would be like using the wrong value for pi. All your output is wrong.
I’ll tell you about one special child, but I have to do it delicately because I don’t want to be mean. Normally I scroll through baby pictures quickly enough to avoid the images registering in my brain.
If you’re one of my baby-posting Facebook friends, know that I couldn’t pick your kid out of a lineup. I’m hitting the Like or heart button because of your name. What’s underneath is a blur of nothingness.
Recently though, a pic of a toddler almost floored me. We talk about thumb-stopping creative at the ad agency I work for, and this eclipsed anything our designers could ever do in Photoshop.
The genderless thing was just so strange-looking. Not hideous or ugly, but deeply unappealing to the point of making the viewer uncomfortable. So yeah, kind of ugly.
I showed my baby-and-puppy-fawning, former schoolteacher wife expecting a reprimand, but instead she asked me to screenshot and send to her. She wanted to pass it on to her sister so they could gawk together at this child with fully grown adult features. A Tyrion Lannister costume for Halloween is a no-brainer for the next 10 years.
Again, I am not trying to be mean. The child’s looks surely will improve over time, provided it has the same condition Benjamin Button did.
And don’t worry, it’s not your baby. The mom and I are the most distant of acquaintances, and it’s a virtual certainty she does not read this blog.
This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about though. The people with interesting things to say and share probably are too thoughtful and self-aware to post a full photobiography of their awkward, unconsenting child.
Meanwhile, the people without anything compelling to offer lack that level of thought and creativity and operate in rapid-fire mode. I tried being super strict and unfollowing anyone mediocre or worse, but then I was left with no content.
Once again, there’s the intrinsic problem. Professionals aside, charismatic and stimulating people use Facebook sparingly.
Here’s my solution. I think it’s such a solid idea for Facebook or a rival new platform, but the few people I told seemed lukewarm about it.
The intent is to coerce more users to participate and contribute, instead of relying on this dreadful cross section to dominate conversation. Creating a little content should be the ante for consuming a lot of it.
Let’s call it a Level 2 news feed. In order to access this feed, you have to post something once every 14 days. If it’s been more than 14 days, you’re locked out until you post.
Does anyone else think this is a sensible concept? Facebook would actually be worth the time spent on it with a diversity of content drowning out the staple annoyances.
Most people think they have nothing good to share. But when forced, they would be surprised. I go through the same process every month with this blog.
There is always something on your mind, and I would like to hear it. This is the connection and community Facebook ostensibly wants to build along with its staggering base of ad revenue.
The money will keep flowing as long as the people don’t leave. Whether that will ever happen really comes down to not what Facebook shares, but what is shared on Facebook.
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