Commentary

The Day I Stopped Scrolling Down

Dear Facebook, this morning I have spent 23 minutes scrolling down in my news feed. Not to find something interesting, just to find anything new. You have been showing me the same, stale posts for days and I still don’t want to “interact with them”.

I am your commodity, not your customer, I am fully aware of that. I know why this is happening. But in your effort to extort money from your paying customers, you have become useless for me.

You have been soul-searching to find a solution to your perceived problems – like “filter bubbles” and “fake news”. But a poorly defined problem can only lead to stupid solutions. So let me offer better ones:

  • You prioritize paid content for money – that’s service. But how dare you to hide unpaid content? That’s extortion.
  • Why do you still insist that people broadcast themselves? The 90s are not coming back, let it go.
  • You’re the editor-in-chief of The Front Page of The Internet but refuse the responsibility. You turned yourself into a public utility – so it is not just about money anymore.
  • You are my pimp allowing your customers to penetrate my attention – but you don’t give anything back to me. Not even a new post from time to time.

Do you want to know what will end you? It is that your commodity will no longer find you useful. It’s hard to stay addicted to such a repetitive news feed.

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Image: Luis Quiles Artworks

1. Stop making me “interact”. It’s condescending and not going to happen

A friend’s photo of her latte art has been in my news feed since February 15 – for almost three weeks – even though no one had reacted to it, not even me. Her lame post is unloved for a reason, Facebook, stop shoving it into my face. No one cares about her uninteresting mug of coffee. The rest of the posts you keep showing me are almost as old. I saw them, Facebook, and I was not interested. Why am I still seeing this?

I know you want to shove my friends into my face to make us share intimate things and spend more time. You want me to “interact with the posts”, like some chimp stomping on reaction buttons and yelling emotion-filled comments.

But that boat has sailed, Facebook. You are not an intimate place anymore – and nor is the internet. You are now a bona fide self-surveillance tool. It is like going out on the main square: everyone sees you and judges you, but there is no upside to it. Actually, it is worse than the market square because on Facebook every move is recorded as well as peer-judged.

Apart from professional influencers, no one under the age of 50 (or over the IQ 100) is really keen on sharing stuff the Facebook way. It feels more like a not-so-professional LinkedIn, where you may humble-brag and position yourself (in carefully measured posts, camouflaged as friendly sharing) but you double-check it to see how it fits with your public image.

And we all know that those who look at our posts will only look for the cracks on that image. The mistakes we made. The dildos left in the background of our selfies. The fakeness of the engagement smiles. No one is looking to admire us. There is no upside to this.

Employers monitor Facebook activity. Some use it for professional purposes. Did you consider that when you started to push for more intimate interactions? Is it really a friend if I write on his news feed for his birthday? Is there anything in the world that I want to share with everyone? Do I really want to tailor those visibility settings? Do I trust you not changing them again?

Today, only unsophisticated or careless people “interact” a lot. They comment on newspapers’ articles for all the world to see, they get into arguments under posts set as ‘Public’. They don’t seem to have a professional reputation to maintain, they are unaware of the power of not disclosing their views, they are either fake profiles – or very low-educated ones. Hence the quality of the comments. That’s not us, Facebook. That’s not all of us.

I know I am not your costumer. I am the commodity whose attention you are pimping out to your actual customers. But to achieve that, you must stay useful for me. And no, intimately cuddling with my friends will never be part of my online activity again, Facebook. This is not the 90s anymore. Not even if you still look like the 90s…

And you know what else you are not good for?

2. You are no longer a source of inspiration

Some say you have never been, but I could imagine you as a place where I can find things I never knew existed. But your algorithm absolutely refuses to waste news feed space on things I have never seen before. It is just too expensive now, so you stick with stuff you assume I already want. And you expect me to stay like this for the rest of my life.

Facebook, I really don’t need yet another force in my life that pushes me to stay unchanged. I have my family for that, Facebook, and they are very keen to keep me serving my functions. And every new thing is a potential diversion – or as they call it, potential temptation. Not seeing new things, cutting themselves off from potential temptation is how people die on the inside.

I don’t want to turn into a never-changing zombie, so I go to places where there is less pontification, and no one tries to second guess me. Like Tumblr. I can subscribe to unexpected channels and the platform will actually deliver their content because they just do it chronologically. Yes, there is tedious latte art everywhere, but I only have to see it once. And there are millions of things I would never have come across on your news feed – because they don’t pay for it. Because they don’t make money out of it.

3. Big data is self-fulfilling

I know you believe that Big Data describes the world – rather than shaping it. You also assume, like many cynics, that people can never be underestimated. So you make them even more stupid. And finally, you assume people to be comfort-animals who enjoy the warmth of their opinion bubbles. And you may be right a million times over – but not for everyone and only for a while.

Stop lamenting that people are narrow-minded when you are the one making them so. You think we only want to see stuff from our own political side (if any), then you lament that us, peasants, are so narrow, we are getting more and more partisan. Can you see the problem here?

Your mighty big data is not just revealing – it is self-fulfilling. And by assuming that we are all like the majority, you make us more and more like your assumption. You are part of the problem you lament.

You may have reacted to big data and decided to serve the (perceived) demand of the majority – but by doing so you have started killing off those who don’t just want to circle jerk online. People are now scared when they meet someone with different political views. We are in the midst of a religious war and you are perpetuating it by assuming things. You are letting down open-minded people and turning everyone more narrow-minded. With so much and such diverse content created on you every day, it is quite a feat.

4. Let me change!

I see maybe one or two new posts per day – even though I give you a lot of precious time. Is it because nothing is going on in the world? I don’t think so. Is it because I am not subscribed to enough sources? Hardly. I am a member of hundreds of groups and follow thousands of pages.

It is because you keep pushing me to behave in a way that is alien from normal people in 2018. We don’t want to share stuff with the world anymore. We have grown wary of your all-encompassing go-to human registry. And we became aware of bubbles.

I have many interests, Facebook, more than you allow me to have. I also want to have even more interests, Facebook, even though you want me to stay with stuff I already know. Am I supposed to sit back and be content with the three hobbies I had by the age of 30? Am I not allowed to read posts from a group of outdoor biking enthusiasts – just to get an idea? I have subscribed. No, I will not ‘like’ their posts. I will not “interact with them” like the chimp you treat me to be. I will just scroll over and maybe stop for a minute to admire the photo the sunset over the bike trail.

Why do I have to explain myself, daddy?

5. You have become useless as a source of news

You asked me the other day why I go there. You kindly listed a number of things, neither of which was remotely true. You failed to list “for work”, “to manage the pages of my employer”, or “to create an attractive public profile in case I need to impress”. And most importantly, you failed to offer the answer “to read the news”.

It is not an accident, of course. You left that option out so that you don’t have to admit that you are, in fact, the front page of the internet, and many people’s major news source. This is how you can lie by asking questions. But by lying to yourself about your own role and reinforcing it by guided questions, you have collected meaningless data. Don’t draw conclusions from these answers.

If I want to know what is going on in the world, you are no longer the place to go. You could be. You were supposed to be. Many still go there and feel informed – simply because they see so much stuff. But not actual news. Your inane effort to label and pigeonhole me had limited me to see what you already think I want to see. When you started fiddling with my feed to fix your misidentified problems, I actually had to shoehorn news sources back into my feed.

At this point, an RSS-feed serves me better and with less condescension.

6. When I subscribe, I mean it

I once went to a Berlin fringe theater show. When I got home I subscribed to their page – and you recommended other similar groups, like you always do, so I subscribed to them as well. I thought it was great. It is what Facebook was for. I will get updates from things I don’t have time to keep an eye on. Or so I thought.

But did I get any updates from them since? Not a single one, Facebook. You have decided I am not active enough or not worthy enough – or that these poor theater groups haven’t paid you enough, so you hid all their updates from me ever since. But it gets worse.

I am not fishing nor hunting, Facebook, you have ascertained that correctly – to my misfortune. What you don’t know is that I used to go fishing with my father and I feel nostalgic so I subscribed to some fishing and sailing magazines to see a few articles once in a while. How many do you think I have seen in the last years? Does your mighty algorithm understand nostalgia? I am not an antique dealer either but I enjoy looking at auction items from time to time. Does your mighty algorithm understand idle interest? Passive interest? It’s weird because you could monetize on it…

I am a big bubble-burster. I noticed your limitations long before “filter bubble” theories made it to your news feed, Facebook. But given my line of work, I worked hard to burst that bubble. I subscribed to groups where hysterically scared citizens write prayers to Orbán, describing in disturbingly vivid details how migrants would rape their daughters without him. I subscribed to channels of benevolent do-gooders dripping implying wide-scale confiscation of private property to support their basic income nightmare. But it didn’t seem to be enough.

If I am ready to waste my time scrolling through a diverse set of sources – why are you wasting my time pushing me the same two dozen sources over and over again? I get it, they pay you. But once I lapped up what you fed me, do I deserve a little bit of what I want?

6. How can I break out of your political bubbles…

…when you are more interested to find out which politician’s paid advertisement to feed to me?

My job is also unforgivable to your algorithm. Not only am I professionally interested in politics – I am interested in the politics of many countries. And you have no idea how to handle that. You only want to know which politician’s targeted ad to push into my face, so that you can please your paying customers better. You refuse to serve the needs of your users – in this case a curious analyst, who wants to read the nonsense of all political sides – from prayers to autocrats to hysterical offense-seeking.

And from many countries, Facebook. Actually, we could all benefit from some outside perspective by seeing the same stupid going down in other countries. You may pose like a global entity, but you are too deeply buried in US domestic politics if you can’t imagine how a foreign perspective might be sobering for everyone. Is my location really more important than my revealed preferences? Do you really have to build your advertising sand castle on my IP address’ nationality?

And boy have politicians a lot of money to spend with you! Taxpayers’ money, even. So they can feed themselves back to me on my own dime. Excuse me, I have to vomit a little.

The letter continues

 

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This post was sponsored by not scrolling down Facebook for a whole day. 

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One thought on “The Day I Stopped Scrolling Down

  1. Pingback: How Facebook Shifted From Service To Extortion | Meanwhile in Budapest

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