COOL NEW SHIT COMING
Why don’t people interact with Facebook posts as often as they used to?
On 8 April 2014, Twitter announced that profile pages would be getting a pretty massive makeover. Being a big fan of Twitter — I first joined in 2009 and have been tweeting regularly since 2011 — this is news that’s particularly relevant to my interests. I shared a link on Facebook to an article posted on The Verge about Twitter’s new profile changes. I was proud (for lack of a better word) of my caption for the Facebook post, a reference to a popular internet meme involving the rapper Xhibit.
I’ve observed that I’m more prolific with my posts on Facebook than the majority of my friends are. If I find something that I think is relevant to my interests or my friends’ interests, I’ll often share a link. I’ve been doing this since high school, and recently, I’ve noticed several changes in the dynamic between my posts and the reaction to them. The particular post that I’m looking at here had seven “likes” and zero comments. I have 930 friends on Facebook, some of whom I’ve known since middle school — that doesn’t mean I still talk to them, though. Nonetheless, it’s interesting that they see my posts, and even more interesting that they “like” them, especially considering the fact that I haven’t spoken to these people in years. Eli Pariser speaks to this in his TED Talk “Beware online ‘filter bubbles.‘“It turns out, Pariser says, that “Facebook was looking at which links I clicked on, and it was noticing that, actually, I was clicking more on my liberal friends’ links than on my conservative friends’ links. And without consulting me about it, it had edited them out.” Facebook decided that Pariser cared more about links and posts from friends who talk about a particular topic, despite the fact that he still wanted to see posts from his other friends regardless of their political beliefs. One reason I believe these people “liked” my post — three of whom I haven’t spoken to in over three years — is that they follow pages that post content similar to the (usually tech related) topics that I do. My post could have been pushed to their feeds because their Facebook “filter bubbles” overlapped with mine.
As Facebook has evolved and grown to play an increasingly vital role in our daily communication habits, the way that my generation views and uses the social network has changed. Posts that get “likes” or comments are highly visible thanks to the way that Facebook’s news feed algorithms work: the more interactions a post has, the longer it will stay in the news feed and the more people it will be displayed to. I believe that, in some situations, this has lead to people straying away from liking posts — any interaction on Facebook is highly public. Facebook increasingly reminds me of a one-way mirror where the person sharing the information can only see their reflection. There could be one or 100 people on the other side of that mirror, but you’ll never know unless they “like” or comment. When someone does interact with a post, it’s like they’re coming out from behind the mirrored glass. danah boyd speaks to this in her “Networked Privacy” essay. Because there is no “preference panel” for social situations, taking control of a public social interaction like a Facebook post is more difficult than taking control over a technological situation, boyd writes:
It’s not about being able to manipulate privacy settings on Facebook or limit who can see what piece of content. That would be what Alessandro Acquisti calls “the illusion of control.” Control over a social situation means having a deep understanding of the social situation — who’s looking and why — as well as an understanding of what the norms and boundaries are. In public spaces, it can be challenging to get such control by default so people try to carve out a way of achieving control. They whisper to create privacy in public. Or they try to do things that can’t be seen, like passing a note under the table. But all of this requires understanding the affordances of the space and carving out a space for privacy.
This makes people more picky with what posts they like. On several occasions (enough for me to write about it in an academic paper) I’ve had people mention to me something that I posted to Facebook or Twitter in offline interactions rather than interacting with the post online. This is exactly like what boyd says: people are trying to take control of their sense of privacy by only mentioning that they saw my post in a private, more controllable, face-to-face situation.
I’ve noticed that since the rise of in-the-moment social networks like Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat, people have strayed away from Facebook, which is more permanent and memorable. Even though everyone is constantly checking it, posting to Facebook has practically become taboo to some people I know. I think this is because of a combination of the reasons that boyd and Pariser talk about: Facebook is a highly public forum. Maybe my caption just sucked (I doubt that all 930 of my Facebook friends are familiar with that Xhibit meme), but even if that’s the case, this is still a topic that’s highly relevant to anyone who uses Twitter — this is a major redesign of how Twitter profiles look. I think that several more people read my post and clicked the link than just the seven who “liked” it.
As the networks we use to connect change and evolve, the ways that we use them will too. This is probably why my Facebook posts would regularly get 20 or 30 likes when I was in high school, but now they only tend to average around five to ten — even though I’ve added over 300 friends since then. If anything, Snapchat has emerged as a more preferable way to share things — it takes the opposite approach to the mirrored window metaphor I made earlier. The person sending the snap is the only one who knows the all the recipients, while on Facebook, the person creating a post is blindly blasting it out to everyone. As social networks and the way we use them to interact progresses, I think that we’ll see more of this type of sharing: more ephemeral, intimate, and catering more to the sender than the receiver.
This essay was originally written for my Structure of Information class during the Spring 2014 semester at Rutgers University. There are a few edits here (this version is a little more colloquial) but this is more or less the same essay that I submitted for class. Hope you enjoyed it!
- "Don't mistake my kindness for weakness."
some very quick thoughts on Facebook Paper
Facebook Paper was released today. I’ve been using the app all day, and I like it. It’s clearly inspired by the iOS 7 design language but adds its own unique style.
The name bothers me, though. Why did Facebook choose to name the app Paper when Paper by FiftyThree is one of the best iPad apps out there — and has been out there for years? Despite the obvious error on Facebook’s part, the CEO of FiftyThree politely handled the matter in a blog post: “We think Facebook can apply the same degree of thought they put into the app into building a brand name of their own. An app about stories shouldn’t start with someone else’s story.”
I’m not sure if I’ll end up using Paper as a way to read news (instead of just checking Twitter), but I agree with Ellis Hamburger’s review: this is definitely the best Facebook app ever.