How has Facebook’s “like” button changed the world? Is it responsible for the spread of inaccurate news and that thing that happened in November? Has it become so far detached from the simple concept of “liking” something that it’s become downright counterproductive and maybe even dangerous?
Leah Pearlman is one of the people that came up the idea behind the button (which she called the “awesome button” for awhile.) She’s since left the company and makes excellent webcomics.
It’s interesting to read how she uses Facebook in this article:
Leah Pearlman has grown wary of Facebook. The 35-year-old illustrator uses the social network to promote her business, Dharma Comics, but has set up various safeguards to avoid becoming too emotionally invested in the happenings on the site. She uses a web browser plug-in called News Feed Eradicator, which replaces the social network’s endless stream of status updates, auto-playing videos, and advertisements with a single inspiring quote.
The Like button was intended to give users a quick way to indicate that they, well, like something without having to write a comment. However, given how Facebook’s real raison d’etre is to mine data about what we share and what we read, it’s turned into the pivot point for a circle jerk.
But the place where Like diverges from typical human vanity is the way it powers Facebook’s increasingly omniscient News Feed algorithm. Facebook takes into account thousands of factors to determine what posts to prioritize in people’s feeds, but Like is one of the most straightforward ways that users convey positive sentiment to the company’s algorithms. A Like isn’t just a digital pat on the back — it’s an ambiguous upvote that drives a piece of content to more eyeballs. Like is presented as a simple, rewarding interaction point, but the ways in which it dictates what we see are opaque.
We see things because our friends like them, we like them because our friends liked them, then more friends see them, and so it goes.
Vonnegut would have a field day with this.
I remember when Facebook changed the timeline from chronological to whatever the hell it was then. Since then they’ve further tweaked the super secret algorithm they use for showing us what we see.
At some point, my suspicion that they hold their users in contempt became a conviction.
Like many people, my feelings about Facebook are decidedly mixed. It’s a good place to keep track of friends and share interesting links, photos, etc. , but at the same time, it can be a pretty ugly place, and Facebook-the-company’s goals and motivations become more and more evident as time passes.
I’m going to need Facebook when it comes time to sell books, but I wish I could find a better way to stay in touch with friends.
I honestly think Twitter is a better tool for staying in touch and sharing links and images because it provides you what you ask for in chronological order with no filter. But “no filter” requires the ability to ignore or at least tolerate things that one doesn’t like and accept criticism and dissenting opinions. If you’ve spent any time on Facebook, you’ll know that doing that is just impossible for too many people. (And it’s also threatening to kill Twitter.)
(By the way, Open Culture has instructions on how you can tweak your news feed if you are not ready to go the full feed eradicator route.)