About six months ago, my friend’s beloved grandmother died. Really broke her up. She still hasn’t recovered. This was her most momentous moment in the past year.
Yet when I ran into her at a party, I had no clue this tragedy had befallen her.
“Didn’t you see my posts?” she asked. “On Facebook?”
No. No, I didn’t.
What I saw was the usual toxic stew of Buzzfeed posts, and “What Firefly character are you?” and “These four thousand photos will restore your faith in humanity. #568 will break your heart” and image memes… but the information that my friend’s grandmother had died, her posts about the funeral, her occasional dark night of the soul as she mourned?
Facebook’s algorithms had decided her life was not of interest to me.
Which is happening more and more often lately – I’ll finally catch up with a friend somewhere in real life, and discover that they’ve graduated from their Masters, or gotten married, or quit their job and moved to Tibet, and out of all the information Facebook could have shown me from my hundreds of Facebook friends, their computers went, “No, not that. You know what Ferrett wants to see? Another webcomic link.”
Yesterday, it hit the fan when Facebook begun showing me images from people I didn’t even know, but random friends had commented on. And I thought, “Why the fuck are you expanding your range to show me a picture of some other person’s book when you didn’t even tell me about my friend’s divorce?” The answer was sadly obvious: since my friends knew this person, Facebook hoped maybe I knew this person, and was hoping that I’d friend him and thus expand their social network range.
That’s when I realized: Facebook was broken.
I signed up to catch up with old friends, so I could have some idea of what’s going on in their lives. And yeah, sometimes those old friends are irritating political cranks, but more often I found that hey, they’re having kids, they’re celebrating wonderful things, they’re enjoying life’s milestones….
….and in its push to churn out linkbait, Facebook is increasingly failing in its job to tell me any of that.
So I’m not accepting any more friends’ requests on Facebook. Why should I? It doesn’t tell me the things I want to hear about the people I currently have, so why would I stack one more person on the pile?
Now, some people will claim that if I rejigger these settings to mark my “important” friends, and create groups, I can make Facebook usable – which is at complete odds with my point. I know what my “important” friends are up to – I see them regularly. I want to know what my quote-unquote “unimportant” friends are up to, the folks who I haven’t seen in years but still have affection for. I would by far rather know my friend got a kitten than see the latest funny Onion article.
Yes, I can make settings (which Facebook often undoes by default) or devise workarounds, or download Facebook Purity to cleanse my page, but:
I should not have to work this hard to cut through linkbait to get at people.
Others will snarkily point out that Facebook is free and I should expect no better. No. Since Facebook is free, I recognize I am the product that Facebook is selling to other people – and I’d be fine with that if Facebook actually served my needs. As it is increasingly becoming a monstrous Buzzfeed-plus, this repository of dreck and quizzes, I have the right to say to Facebook, “Hey, the less usable information you give me, the less usable information I will provide to your customers.”
So I’m not accepting any more Facebook friends requests. Furthermore, I’m not going to click on any articles in Facebook – if I see something I’m curious about, I’ll instead go to Google and look it up directly, short-circuiting any data that Facebook gets from me. (Google can have it. I at least like their mail program.) I will refuse to “like” anything that is not a status update or a picture posted directly by someone I love.
I will starve them of as much information on me as humanly possible. You may wish to do likewise.
I’m not leaving Facebook, as they hold my relatives hostage. It took forever to get my beloved Aunt Peggy somewhere that I can keep up with her, and I adore seeing my cousins on there; the likelihood of them going and registering at WeHaveOnly500UsersButWePromiseWeWillGetB
But if you find what I say interesting, share this thought. Agree to do it. Try, via what you claim to love on Facebook, to bring some sanity back to it.
Because until Facebook starts showing me my friend’s funerals again, I have zero need to know the Top 10 Celebrity Divorces.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.