Another Perspective on Facebook as Social Poison

This is a follow-up to my posts Social Media is Doomed and Staying Sane on Social Media.

I ran into an article which discusses what a former facebook executive said about Facebook’s effect on people:

Palihapitiya’s criticisms were aimed not only at Facebook, but the wider online ecosystem. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

He went on to describe an incident in India where hoax messages about kidnappings shared on WhatsApp led to the lynching of seven innocent people. “That’s what we’re dealing with,” said Palihapitiya. “And imagine taking that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want. It’s just a really, really bad state of affairs.” He says he tries to use Facebook as little as possible, and that his children “aren’t allowed to use that shit.” He later adds, though, that he believes the company “overwhelmingly does good in the world.”

Here’s the original video, in case the article goes down, or if you’d like to verify The Verge’s description of what was said:

(I haven’t verified it myself, mostly because mention it as a good expression of a concern I already have, and not as information supporting a conclusion.)

The ability social media gives to people to form instant mobs is something I haven’t talked about yet, but it’s another major problem that social media brings with it. Mobs are dangerous things; technology which allows them for form more readily is certainly dangerous. There is yet another element of push-vs-pull social media at work, but only in degree. Pull-based social media (i.e. social media where you have to actively go look at someone’s feed rather than there feed being pushed in front of you) still drastically reduces the amount of energy necessary to whip up a mob, but not as much as push-based social media. (To recap: Facebook, Twitter, etc are push-based social media while blogs, etc. are pull-based social media.) Much of the difference comes from speed: in pull-based, you have to get others to go look at the inciting material, and they will get to it when they get to it. In push-based media people can repost/retweet/etc the inciting material and spread it much faster. The faster it spreads, the more people will be having an emotional reaction to it at the same time.

There is a flip side to the information hose that push-based media causes, though, which is that no one has a good enough memory to drink from the information fire hose of push-based social media and keep track of all the things to be outraged about. This mitigates against the online mob-forming tendencies of push-based social media, in that a mob’s ire will usually not be directed at any particular target for any great length of time. Burning something requires both intensity of heat as well as duration of the heat being applied; anything can withstand a blowtorch applied for only a ten-thousandth of a second. And in fact savvy miscreants are learning how to use this to their advantage in order to avoid blow-back from their misdeeds.

To be clear, it’s not that I think that push-based social media is an unalloyed evil; only that it is fundamentally incompatible with human nature. My contention is not that push-based social media is impossible to use well. My contention is that push-based social media is simply too much strain on a human being for human beings to continue using it in its current form. I don’t think that Facebook et al will die off, but rather transform into something with so many content-curation tools as to effectively be pull-based rather than push-based. I.e. they will become something dissimilar to what they are now, though possibly under the same name.

One thought on “Another Perspective on Facebook as Social Poison

  1. Pingback: Facebook Had a Bad Year – Chris Lansdown

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