I open my Facebook app and a stream of my most recent photos slides smoothly into my status box. Facebook doesn’t need to say it, I already know what it’s asking.
“Please, please share one of these photos. Share something, anything.”
Can’t you smell the whiff of desperation?
Judging by the selection of ugly Snapchats, pictures of lecture slides and screenshots that appear from my camera roll, I’m going to say that’s a definite no, thank you very much Facebook. I’d prefer not to inform my entire friend list that over the last month of uni-induced meltdown, I’ve had more meaningful experiences with memes than friends.
But it’s not just laughable that I’d share that collection of woeful photos, it’s laughable that I’d willingly share anything much at all. More specifically, that someone from my generation (young millennials and Gen Z that is) would have the courage to post anything on the feed. Facebook could prompt me to share an article that literally altered the course of my entire life, and I’d probably still wouldn’t press “post”. Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule who are “sharers”, but they are by far in the minority.
You see, Facebook won’t admit it, but it’s facing a crisis of monumental proportions. Earlier this year Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that people were sharing less about themselves. He failed to mention just how much. But for anyone young with an account it’s been pretty clear for a while that a massive stigma has been quietly solidifying around sharing. Especially for young people. The bottom line is, no-one’s really publicly sharing that much anymore.
So Facebook is getting desperate.
I scroll down a little further before another suggestions appears on the side — “make a group with all your friends that like LadBible!”.
This time I can’t help but chuckle. Come on Facebook, now you’re just getting a bit pathetic. Did you really think I’d ever make that group? What are we going to do in that group? Have a good old chin wag about how LadBible is really contributing to the political landscape? Or am I supposed to initiate drinks with this random assortment of meme lovers — consisting of a few primary school randoms I wouldn’t recognise in the street, my friend’s ex-boyfriend and a girl I made friends with in the line at Splendour?
The thing is Facebook, it’s getting a little embarrassing. We get it, you’re super keen to make us share things but your desperation is showing. Badly.
It’s kind of like the titillating early texting exchanges with your crush. You never reply straight away, you let the message sit. I mean, you’ve got to appear a little aloof, play a little hard to get. You’re keen but god forbid you let them know it.
Well, Facebook is officially over keen and I’m officially losing interest.
Facebook is right to be concerned though. Apart from mean spirited friends dredging up the horrors of your Facebook past, how often do you see a status? How often do you see friends let you glimpse their personal lives? Statuses are quickly becoming relics of a long lost era when sharing personal information was the norm. Gone are the days where people would chat by posting on each others’ walls. Now even sharing an article feels like walking onto the street and shouting your opinion through a loudspeaker. It’s painfully public and because it’s rare, you can’t help but notice when others share and judge them when they do. A meme or two or a funny status — sure, but people are quickly branded as “annoying” if they post too often or are labelled “that political friend” if they share too many articles. Somewhere along the line sharing became tinged with arrogance.
It’s this fear of being perceived as arrogant or annoying that is destroying the sharing culture on Facebook. When a friend wrote a brilliant article, I told her she should share it on Facebook to which she replied “oh God no, I’m not that type of person, I don’t want to be annoying.” Another time a friend messaged me personally saying an article from The Vocal *pats on back* was the best piece he’d ever read on Iraq. Yet he still didn’t share it — such is the stigma around sharing.
Instead, we’re shadows flitting around the fringes of the site. We tag each other in memes, we reside in messenger in rowdy group chats and intimate conversations, never daring to be seen in the harsh light of the news feed. We laugh at memes and are moved by articles. But we copy the links and sharing them privately through text, WhatsApp or Messenger.
Everyone’s on Facebook, but you wouldn’t know it. We tiptoe around the place, careful not to leave a trail. Even liking an article is a kind of statement. Commenting on one without tagging a friend is virtually unheard of.
And it’s making Facebook an incredibly dull place. It’s clogged with brands, news and the odd meme. It’s lost any semblance of a personality. Imagine if every person on Facebook freely shared what they actually wanted to — posting funny memes, interesting articles and photos of their lives without any stigma? Imagine how interesting and thought-provoking that environment could be?
Where did Facebook go wrong?
The mistake that cost Facebook was making everything so damn public. Timeline surfaced our greatest horrors and taught us that what we write on Facebook will never be forgotten. For the younger generations especially, it’s been burned into us that employers are hounding our profiles for details of our lives while anything we do post is seen as some kind of social statement by our other friends. Even things we like and comment on burst onto the newsfeed for everyone else to inspect. Now that everyone has family on Facebook, nobody dares make a mistake.
But this phenomenon is strictly generational. A quick glance at my mum’s Facebook and many of her friends are sharing multiple articles, photos and statuses a day. Even my friend who is 10 years older than me shares articles on a daily basis and doesn’t think twice about it. To me, this doesn’t resemble the Facebook I know and increasingly hate.
This imbalance has consequences though. If they haven’t already left Facebook, young people are barely participating. Instead, the likes that pile onto articles and the comments that dictate the public’s reaction to news and events are all posted by those who don’t feel the stigma — the older generations. Just try scrolling down the comments of a news article and glance at the profile pictures and you’ll see what I mean.
We all know Facebook is one, manipulative algorithm which is run by the people who participate. The more shares an article gets, the more people read it, the more important it becomes in global news. If the balance of people sharing, liking and commenting is shifting towards the older generations as they increasingly flock to Facebook, then it is they who are controlling the pace and importance of news and global issues. Meanwhile, young people’s personal lives and opinions are locked away in safe, private spaces like Snapchat and Messenger — unable to penetrate the public discourse.
Facebook didn’t mean to create this imbalance and it desperately wants to reverse it. Ironically, for all the hate that older generations heap on young people for being self-obsessed and attention seeking, it’s the older generations who seem to be sharing far more of themselves online — on Facebook at least. Young people are still constantly online, but we’re selective about where we gather because we’re savvy about the consequences — just look at consequences of Donald Trump’s colourful Twitter history. Being too public can destroy lives. No wonder every other day another one of my friends has changed their name to protect themselves from their employers’ prying eyes.
Facebook is no longer a vibrant place for discussion for younger generations — rather it’s a passive place to consume news and information. We need to make our voices heard in different ways. Maybe don’t make that LadBible group (I beg you), but discuss ideas you see on Facebook with friends.
And if you do see a post or article that really matters, have the balls to like it, comment on it or dare I say… *share it*. There’s still no other forum where your voice will be better heard.
This article by Cameron Nicholls was originally published on The Vocal.