Much has been recounted about Facebook as the most significant media phenomenon at the beginning of the 21st century. Now for my attempt at a conclusion. More important is your own conclusion
In the end, it’s all our doing - we are Facebook’s true believers. Driven by our virtually unquenchable curiosity and libido, we surf unhindered and unlimited through profiles and statuses of acquaintances, their partners, colleagues and friends from back then, those flirts from a bygone summer evening. Images grab hold of you and draw you back, time and time again.
This pleasing distraction is always present when you threaten to lapse into serious work or any depth of thought. Facebook is a stronger magnet than the nice neighbor who strolls by, the Wii, the latest TV series, YouTube and e-mail.
Aside from curiosity and libido, Facebook satisfies many needs; coquetry in particular. Once reserved for an elite with television, anyone can now give full reign to it on social media. Facebook understands both sides of the coin: voyeurism and exhibitionism.
“Share!” It sounds like a fine idea! As if we are giving something of ourselves. As a child, you must learn to share. On Facebook, this mercy reigns; this barter trade in attention. Facebook wants to teach us that communication with friends or companies barely differs. It is seldom altruistic any more.
Is Facebook one big shop window of our longing for attention and coquetry? Is it not a deep-seated need to be seen; to come over as pleasant or quick-witted? That seems to be the case; but is that such a bad thing?
With Facebook, social time and space have become defunct. On the social network, you constantly receive a lot of attention, whether you happen to be there or not. High school and student associations will never end anymore. And relations from the past intertwine with your family, friends, acquaintances and (former) colleagues.
Although the online carousel for attention that we know as social media has bolted, it revolves around attention, not indifference. Your new pullover and the squirrel in the garden gain attention, but so does the world news. Exchanging intimacy does not lead purely to barbarity, no more than television deprives us of fine films and theater.
It's the code, stupid!
The technological feat of the TV altered our human existence and daily life, in a stealthy but also unmistakable way. The compulsive effect of the format is characteristic of all powerful media, and this also goes for some radio, magazines and the weekend papers.
There is also mobile internet, with the social media apps on it as its most powerful software. Thanks to the ingenious templates, Facebook can offer and demand new forms of communication. However, we do not have the slightest idea of the enormous amount of statements that we let ourselves be enticed by through digital technology. Software steers our behavior. We do not know it, so do not deny it. It’s the code, stupid!
The display is ‘always on’ and thinking becomes expressing and responding. We don’t have to miss anything anymore; silence is a sin. It answers our natural urge to banish insecurities. Facebook takes advantage of supposed insecurities with its ‘status updates’: what is she doing now? What is he thinking about? And on top of that: will they Like it? Will I get any comments, or will I be left alone in the corner of the schoolyard?
New insecurities are the consequences, in far greater numbers. What do they make of me? Who is allowed to know where I am? Like? How should I react? Could I just slip something in there? An immense pattern of prospects that have and have not been fulfilled oppresses us. These are borne by Facebook’s structure. The software is not neutral; rather, it is also programming your personality.
So here is my own conclusion, which can only be temporary, given Facebook is constantly changing its principles and attitude: I like Facebook, but I do not recommend it in its current form.
Why? It is not a social network. It is a liaison between coders in Silicon Valley and the shareholders on Wall Street. The pressure of the latter, stimulated only by greed, is driving Facebook even more towards pure marketing. Users are reduced to revenue-generating units. Facebook is not for free. ‘Free’ meets our desire for self-delusion.
Clever new strategy
Who am I to condemn one billion people who find enjoyment, excitement and comfort on Facebook, their free choice? Facebook offers you a great deal of pleasure, and you might consider privacy to be an outdated concern. You indeed make the choice yourself – join in to your heart’s content – because each woman or man can decide for himself.
I observe Facebook will be offering its users the option to grant more and more privacy to each other, precisely because privacy is becoming an important marketing issue. By allowing users more options and easier to handle privacy settings, Facebook is enlarging user’s trust, hoping users remain confident enough in their settings to share much of their life via Facebook.
Meanwhile users' hidden profiles in Facebook's advertising database could actually profit from more privacy. By allowing users more privacy on public posts, their actual privacy towards ‘the machine’ (regarding their much broader array of behaviors on Facebook) still remains negligible, and so advertising revenues can still climb, as needed, to satisfy shareholders.
Facebook is far from social, in my opinion. The only one who can change the exploitation spiral is Mark Zuckerberg himself. If he wants to become immortal for history definitely, he won’t reach this status with just preaching his “share” and “transparency” religion legitimized every now and again by a silly status updating his latest 100 million dollar donations to a cause.
As Facebook becomes truly more social, we would certainly become more and more dependent upon each other in evolved ways. This could also be something for a successor, should Facebook fritter away users’ confidence with commercialization. Social media offers enormous opportunities if it becomes truly social. We ain’t seen nothing yet.
10 necessary steps for Facebook
Let’s assume Facebook is here to stay and will be our most important network in the forthcoming decades, becoming the first virtual world power. Following the sheer weight of data and opinion that this book itself has assayed, I can confidently, if somewhat arrogantly, offer Facebook a few tips to become a social network in the real sense of the term:
1. The ideal social network
Despite its mega success, the concept of Facebook does not fit the way in which we behave socially. Facebook programs us from the primacy of social ties and conversation. However, we have a scale of individual needs, from which the need for communication arises with some regularity. This is a fundamental difference.
The average 700 social ties in ‘normal’ life continually demand other forms of communication, not a permanent and uniform exchange of ‘What’s on your mind?’ and ‘What are you doing?’ Shared with hundreds of people, the answers to these questions are just too much when they arrive in a single, amorphous News Feed.
We do not function in this way, not in reality nor virtually, even though Facebook presents its format as a template of our life in an extraordinarily clever way.
2. Turnaround the marketing system
Commercially, it is following the same line, but advertising and individual needs are seldom attuned to each other. Advertising is so 20th century. Yet still in 2013, Facebook heavily relies on generic commercials, which most people simply ignore or even hate.
Even in the case of targeted ads, the click percentage is below 1 percent, thus the economic waste is great. The solution by marketers to make friends of brands is a nice idea, but economically it is just as absurd. Things are fundamentally wrong and Facebook can solve them.
A better, 21st century Facebook marketing concept would be based on real consumer needs. If people want to buy, or just use, products and services, Facebook should offer mechanisms to get the best results based on users’ own buying needs. This is called radical innovation.
3. Return the data to the users
Facebook’s collection of personal details resembles predatory hunting. We do not have the slightest idea what Facebook is up to commercially. In the framework of the company’s own frequently preached concepts of transparency and ‘control,’ that is an audacity.
If Zuckerberg really has brains and brawn, he will give us back the details. We would each be in charge of our own cash register of data, and we would be able to erase and add data simply ourselves, just like on the open Timeline. We could then decide with which companies we would share these.
Facebook continually urges us to share, but in fact it’s time for Facebook itself to share with us. An enormous increase in confidence would be the result, certainly in the long-term. This could be the key to Facebook’s long and happy life.
4. New world concept
Facebook is now based on Friending; building up circles of people that you already know. That is evidently exceedingly attractive, but also rather predictable. It limits engagement in conversation and creativity.
There are splendid untapped opportunities for Facebook to get the world’s population to become more strongly and mutually acquainted with each other, and this would be done precisely by connecting strangers. Of course, this already happens to a limited extent, but it does not get as far as actual Friending between kindred spirits.
5. Personal advice services
Facebook could do more with the Timeline function, such as finding relevant connections between your statuses and interests, or helping discover patterns from conversations between individuals.
Facebook can both analyze and structure your social behavior, interests, statements and click behavior. These concern your work, hobbies, passions and disappointments. How is your life looking and what could be improved? What really fascinates you; what makes you happy, dejected, nervous etc.?
6. P2P principle
The hardest hurdle to overcome in order to adapt the Facebook of today with the principles of the free internet as it was created in the last three decades of the 20th century is rather technical. The internet is a distributed network, designed to give the power to users. Not to the CCCP, not to Mr Assad and not to Facebook.
Moreover, the whole concept of the huge central data machine is in the long run not advantageous for the mankind Facebook wants to serve. If not the very principle and heart of Facebook it should be courageous to dismantle this concept as far as possible.
7. Influence to, and liberation of the people
Mark Zuckerberg once promised users his company would put important decisions affecting them to the vote. This was a difficult promise to carry out with hundreds of millions of users, and for that reason the voting mechanism was abolished entirely. It is, however, a fine principle, so why not rig this up once again?
It would be possible to have a direct democracy, in which Facebook’s billion users could vote on proposals, or an indirect democracy with a Facebook parliament, or shareholders that act via a supervisory board and/or advisory body.
Important company decisions should not be taken by a democracy, but decisions about features that directly affect users could be supported and improved by feedback loops with the inhabitants of Zuckerberg country. At the very least, opinion polls would be something to offer.
8. Offer paid subscriptions
Although most members want to participate for ‘free,’ Facebook should offer a subscription with freedom from advertising and data collection. A paying relationship would also make users into true Facebook customers, just like advertisers.
Facebook could upgrade its status with this and direct aggrieved persons to the cash register. Its own payment system of credits would also get a considerable stimulus, and it would be able to offer paying customers other paid services and settle the bill more simply. You might even have your own Facebook internet access, with its own browser.
9. Permit anonymity selectively
I am in favor of keeping things above board rather than encouraging the cowardice of anonymous opinions, but some sensitive discussions do call for anonymity. In these cases, Facebook could lift the passport obligation, for example for medical topics, political action etc.
That is technically feasible and there are no insurmountable drawbacks. In cases of misuse, Facebook could still supply the identity upon legal request. Anonymity partly releases us from the current snag: that your personal reputation weighs heavier than the truth. That is not always beneficial to unrestricted thought and creativity.
10. Become accessible
Facebook is continuously close at hand, but as an organization, it appears to function in outer space. The many thousands of cries for help from Facebookers who lose their registration bear witness to this. Facebook’s arrogance, perhaps unintended, could tear Facebook apart at any time.
The public of course cannot command free answers en masse to their requests and questions. Facebook could organize this with circles of ‘friends’, who have staggered access to the help desk.
The advice-givers would be a sort of first aid team of experienced users, who have been trained online by Facebook itself. With some in-kind payments and recognition in return, Facebook could go a long way with such an army of volunteers.
Conclusion: Facebook’s investment in People
It could be too late for Facebook, who knows. Perhaps the outlines - and this whole book - are sketched of a Facebook successor. We keep on dreaming about a real social network, the one who serves us and shares its power. Or is the open internet enough ‘social network’?
I had no intention of giving a cut-and-dried appraisal service, or advice on whether or not you should be on the platform or off it. Because there is no such a thing as a clear and simple take on this phenomenon.
Facebook can be regarded as the most successful public-private partnership. Its passport offers companies unique marketing opportunities as it offers governments unique methods for tracking and investigation.
Does it change the world? Yes, like the whole internet, it accelerates many aspects of life while lowering thresholds to access and connection. It doesn’t change people’s innate sociality, so the net effect of the changes might be limited as long as people refrain from thinking much about what they are doing with the new techniques, and why.
But Facebook itself is, despite the enormous influences, more an improvement of the internet. Or even a deterioration in some ways, given the forced formats of the social media of today.
There are enough good reasons to continue to enjoy the pleasures of social networks, but I’m afraid that after reading about the Powers of Facebook you’ll no longer be an innocent user of this or, hopefully, any other so-called free online service.