Facebook is Dead in the Water
Here’s Why — Using Graphs and Science and Stuff
Mark Zuckerberg has just made an announcement. He posted it on his Facebook blog, as if anyone knew one of those existed… I don’t think I’ve read a blog since the 90's. Anyway, essentially he wrote that Facebook are going to revamp their entire platform to be more “privacy focused” and apparently that’s meant to be good news, like privacy shouldn’t already come as standard, or whatever.
It’s a bit like Ford announcing they’re going to start building engines that don’t blow up, or Cadbury’s will stop putting razorblades in their Dairy Milk. This is apparently good news, a grand Facebook gesture by the human-cyborg leader himself.
The thing is, if you recall, we’ve all heard this lip-service nonsense from Zuckerberg before. As of writing, it’s early 2019. Just over a year ago, in his annual address to the unwashed masses on 4 January 2018, Zuckerberg wrote (as a long status update as that weird blog thing didn’t seem to exist back then) he was going to “fix” Facebook.
He wrote that he wanted to ensure his social network showed more “meaningful posts” and he publicly wringed his compassionate hands about the negative impact Facebook had on the mental health of its users.
Of course, this was all before shit hit the fan and Facebook had its worst year on record when it became clear their entire business model had been to harvest private data and selling to anyone who was buying.
Consequently, users left, stock prices crashed and Zuckerberg was forced to testify in front of Congress to explain how the internet worked to a bunch of confused old men in suits.
If you care, here’s a good timeline of how it all went down, but to summarise, 2018 was the year the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that data from 50 million users had been illegally gathered and used for political purposes. Facebook also became a vehicle for fake news that they then went on to very clumsily defended. It also came to light Facebook was a tool for Russian meddling despite Zuckerberg saying he wanted to tackle governmental abuse, and some smaller but much more pertinent privacy breaches were also revealed regarding 3rd party apps stealing data and crazy shit like finding out Facebook had been scraping call and text message data for years.
It was a shit show of a year for the Zuckster, all of his own making. But in that year of scandal and empty promise, did he manage to “fix” Facebook at all?
Did he bollocks, and here’s the proof.
Facebook Right Now
I’m 40. I don’t want to get all generational on you, but it was my lot that grew up with both cassette tapes and the internet. We were the last generation to use analogue as a necessity, rather than hipster novelty.
In my youth I played Paperboy on a green screen Amstrad as well as shooting down the Red Baron on the Amiga 500 and killing dimension-hopping mutants on a Playstation 2.
I had a tape playing walkman, a minidisc player, an mp3 player… I watched 4 channels on a wooden TV before remote controls were invented and now I have a 50” LCD monster where I stream what I like, when I like.
The point here is that I’m not adverse to technological change. I’ve lived through it. But there is no doubt in my mind Facebook has changed drastically and for the worse in the last couple of years, so much so in fact, I predict it’s dead in the water.
In February, I took a month off social media. The impact of this was the moment I logged back on I was able to see with fresh eyes what these social networks really were, before my brain started re-receiving new dopamine hits and I got dragged back into arguing about Brexit or whatever.
It was a moment of clarity; a kind of “What the fuck am I doing?” moment you normally only get in those few post-ejaculation seconds when the porn is still playing on your screen and you’re covered in your own bodily fluid.
Let’s cut to the chase; Facebook these days is a shit show. Goodness knows what Zuckerberg was talking about when he said “more meaningful posts”. It’s literally littered with inane, irrelevant bullshit flashing at me like a Tokyo high street.
I was so appalled by the sheer money-grabbing, low-quality, eye-sore offal I was being subjected to, I took an audit of my first 11 posts purely so I could rant about them here. Let’s take a look.
The 2019 Timeline: A disection
Post 1: A friend posts about his time in China. Fine. Start with something real. I see you, Zuckerberg.
Post 2: Second post in and already an advert. I refreshed a few times. Always an advert at post 2. That’s front page, no scrolling, real estate right there. It costs.
The advert in question is below. Shitting algorithm, I’ve never purchased property. I don’t even have the money. But look at this. I think he’s an ex-athlete or something. I dunno. But there it is. Second post, an auto-play video about property investment. I go on social media to escape such banality, not to have it forced in my face like a chugger’s leaflet outside Farringdon railway station. Fuck.
Post 3: Friend shared post from a ‘Page’.
Now I can’t remember what this share was exactly, but to me this is an advert. Just an advert through a friend. You’ll notice as we move through the timeline there’s a few of these shares, evenly spaced out. Obviously Facebook thinks page shares are important because, of course, it’s one of the ways Zuckerberg makes his cash.
Post 4: Friend check in.
Fine. I mean, not really fine, who actually cares, but at least it’s not an advert. I expect annoying status updates and check-ins from friends. It’s why we’re on social media. We want to gawp at that nonsense and revel in its insignificance.
Post 5: A friend shared link.
I can’t remember what the link was (I probably should have made some notes now I think about it) but I’m pretty sure Facebook likes to promote this kind of crap as it’s link-throughs, clicks and influence… yadda yadda. Money, essentially. It will make Facebook money.
Post 6: Another friend shared post from another ‘Page’.
Nice and evenly spaced between the last page share in post 3. The algorithm is working hard to subtly slip these into my timeline like you slip notes from the work till into your pocket. Don’t deny it.
Not that I want to get all nostalgic about the internet but do you remember when Facebook didn’t have corporate pages? When it was just your mates sharing photos from nights out and ranting about TV? Me too.
Post 7: Seven posts in and it’s another sponsored advert. Seven posts, that’s about 1 and a half scrolls on the old smart phone. That’s a high rate of adverts we’re consuming. This one is about some sleeping device. Look at it. Bollocks, mate. I’ll toss at night if I want to, you sanctimonious French bastards.
Post 8: Friend photos from beach trip. Fine.
Post 9: A ‘Page’ I’m following post something.
It was New Scientist if you’re wondering, because I’m an intellectual. I think about planets and the origins of the universe whilst you think about Love Island and that fish pie you have in the freezer. ADMIT IT.
Now I guess I do follow this page, so fair enough. I want to see this stuff. I want to be able to curate my own timeline. This is surely what we all want? I don’t want an algorithm ruining it.
Post 10: A group I’m following posts something.
Again, no problem. I think it was about podcast production, because I have a podcast. I’m a creative whilst you’re still thinking about that fish pie.
Post 11: Another sodding advert.
“Technical pants”. An American advert. The algorithm isn’t even trying. It’s just chucking up any old tat from whoever has paid. When have I ever shown interest in technical pants, trousers, socks or technical anything?
I think what this article shows (if anything) is that even if you pay Facebook for a targeted ad campaign, they get it hideously wrong. As far as I’m aware, there’s no way to see or verify who your ad was seen by and why.
Fuck you Treasure Pole and your “compartable” slacks, you’ve been swizzed.
Some More Analysis
I want this article to look important and analytical, so I’m including some graphs. Here’s the first professional looking one:
It seems the basic ratio of adverts to posts is approximately constant. Perhaps this might change over weeks or months, but when I refreshed, it was always about a THIRD of all posts were sponsored adverts.
A third! So if you scroll through 100 posts (easily done in a minute or two) that’s 30 adverts. What a waste of time and attention. Imagine sitting through 30 adverts on television, or flicking through 30 pages of adverts in a paper. It’s not acceptable is it? It never used to be this saturated, I’m sure.
However, it gets worse. If we make an assumption that friends sharing pages and links are also adverts as they make Facebook money (directly or indirectly), then this rate of adverts — aka products, pages and services shoved in your face by an algorithm — goes up to over half!
This is simply not acceptable. But it’s oddly almost unoticable. Facebook have worked long and hard to ensure this has been a subtle saturation of sponsored content. It’s a drip feed, spaced out in your timeline to remain feeling organic and chronological. But of course, it isn’t. Here’s another scientific graph showing why.
See the nice even spacing? There’s nothing chronological or organic about what Facebook is serving us. It’s a well perfected manipulation of our attention.
This is hardly a revelation, of course. They’ve done much worse. In the past, Facebook was caught purposely manipulating the moods of users by showing them happy or sad posts then monitoring the outcome based on what was next posted by the targeted user.
The timeline we see is the result of years of carefully crafted persuasion to bring in hard cash.
Still, this is hardly surprising. We all understand that Facebook are essentially evil. Just like Nestlé, just like the banks, just like Uber… but we all still use them for the services they provide.
But the point of this entire article is that I believe Facebook have fucked it. Their careful persuasion is now more a shouty man at a market stall, their subtle suggestion now more a bellowing bell end.
Google and Apple might spy but they don’t make you watch an advert each time you look at your phone. The services they offer are still quality so we all grimly accept their behind the scenes shenanigans.
However Facebook seem intent on milking their cash cow until its ready for the mincer. The quality of the network is at the lowest point it’s ever been, despite everything they promised and subsequently endured in 2018.
If Zuckerberg couldn’t do shit about it when governments were screaming and users were fleeing, do you think he cares if your timeline has too many advert in it now? Me neither.
It’s a giant, unstoppable Frankensteinian ship of crap and everyone can see the iceberg but Zuckerberg is too busy counting cash to turn it around.
Welcome to the dystopian world of Facebook in 2019.