Twelve years ago, I engaged in a heated discussion with a group of designers about Facebook; the discussion centered on whether their brand of social networks was a sustainable business model. We agreed then to disagree about various aspects of the User Experience (Ux), and that was that. It is now 2018, and I want to revisit some of my ongoing issues with Facebook. Many of these points reflect why in 2016 I dropped off the platform. Today many of the Ux problems persists with no end in sight.
Back then I proposed that Facebook’s existing Friendship metaphor or model in cyberspace was fundamentally flawed. Moreover, Facebook had no understanding of the complexity of the human social fabric — how we exist and want to exist in our relationships. Over time it had become a dark and sad place — full of toxicity; it does little to inspire, enhance, elevate and advance the human condition. Instead, it reduces the human experience, financially exploits and enables the tribalization of humans, with a sprinkling of built- in divisiveness. I discussed then, why I believed the model was fundamentally flawed. Today I feel the same about the platforms Ux and here are some of my top reasons.
1. Facebook Assumes All friends have equal value
Facebook lumps everyone in the same virtual room, assuming they all have the same relational value to you and uses this to expose all of you to all of your “friends.” While Facebook has algorithms that do complex things, it has yet to figure out a way to parse friends to the degree to which you value them in real life. The worse aspect of Facebook was the meshing of my “work friends” and “personal friends” and even then the gradation of friendship in both groups were not well managed. Facebook needs to revisit better metaphors for understanding the notions of Friendship, primarily friendship and relational value. Much like my home — not everyone is allowed in all rooms. Some, in fact, only get to the front step.
How Do I Score? — Massive Fail.
2. Facebook Appropriates Your Friend’s Data
One of my pet peeves with many applications, starting with Facebook and Google, is the non-sensical request to invade, not just my privacy, but that of my “friends.” Consider in real-life occasions where you need to divulge any such details as access to your contact. We are programmed to accept this seemingly naïve request over time. The free services provided by most applications lures us into these virtual spaces without understanding the trade we have just made. Recent US election has already proven the back-door trading of human data used to advance the mass manipulation of social and political behavior as well as drive divisive discourse. At Mark Zuckerberg’s Capitol Hill hearing it was discovered that the company made $11 billion (2017) in advertising revenue using aggregate human data. The idea that simply by asking with nothing in return, that Facebook can do this is just not normal — neither is it right.
How Do I Score? — Massive Fail.
3. Facebook Plays Friendship Reductionism
Friendship once meant something — as a word, as a concept, imbued with a lot of expectations. The Aristotelian idea of Friendship describes friendship as a union based on utility, pleasure, and virtue — meaning, we benefit from it — it gives us a positive feeling (pleasure) and lastly how we perceive the others level of morality (or virtue) before we determine their friend worthiness. So, the question remains: Are Facebook friends, real friends? It depends on what you mean by “friend.” We can have friendships based on utility and pleasure via Facebook, but what about associations based on virtue? I contend that Facebook concept of Friendship lacks the moral component as one cannot ascertain another’s virtuousness, solely in a virtual space. Real friendship requires substantial exposure to each other over time to build some level of familiarity to determine trust, mutual respect and ascertain someone’s virtue. Further, the ability to Friend and Unfriend on Facebook allows us to think of Friends as disposable.
How do I Score?— Just Bad.
4. Facebook Makes Money Off User Data
Point # 2 has partly addressed how Facebook makes money. Essentially Facebook generates algorithmic profiles of all users and uses this to target users for paid marketing purposes. Advertisers can use the wealth of personal data about users from Facebook and target us with advertising. Facebook claims that it makes the data anonymous and serves the information to advertisers in custom demographic blocks — but what do we know about Truth at Facebook? Advertisers can then further slice and dice these data blocks for even detail brand targeting. Facebook as the advertising platform rakes in the money and pockets it with no disbursement beyond its coffers. It’s like having that creepy friend that tells on you and then makes money off it.
How do I Score? — Just Creepy!
5. Facebook Allows Others to Use Your Data.
One word — Cambridge Analytica! And that is the one we know.
According to a report from the New York Times and broader reporting, Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm amassed a trove of Facebook user data for some 50 million people without ever getting their permission. Facebook fights the claim that it was breached and that while it has suspended Cambridge Analytica from its service, it is not at fault. Facebook contends that its technology worked how Facebook built it to work, but that “bad actors,” like Cambridge Analytica, violated the company’s terms of service. Shouldn’t Facebook be held to a higher standard? As I write this Cambridge Analytica has closed its doors for business as it is currently under investigation for its role in the 2016 Elections case presently unfolding in the United States. Facebook has since changed its terms of service to manage how 3rd parties can collect our data. So is this then an admission that its prior terms of service were flawed?
How do I Score ? — Colossal Fail!
6. Facebook is Doing too Many Things — Jack of All Trades
A few years back Facebook wanted to know what High School and University I went to and where I have lived. After double checking the logo to make sure I was not on LinkedIn, I thought “urgh — why would I want to regress by inviting all the people from whom I have moved on?” Do I care what many of these people are doing today? Short Answer — NO! And do I need Facebook building in more psychographic data of me for its nefarious purposes? Again, the short Answer is NO! Leave this Schooling to LinkedIn and focus on the improving one aspect of the brand to make it work for humans. Facebook is continuously trying to remain relevant. It does so through such things like the acquisitions of platforms like Instagram — with a younger audience as its older audience on their prime platform catches up with the ugly side that is Facebook Algorithm. In many ways, I see this as a wheel spinning to relevance, but I predict much like My Space, the company will fade if no course correction is made soon by re-valuing the User Experience.
How Do I Score? — So Bad
7. Facebook is Too Big to Fail?
There comes a time in every company’s evolution where it must reflect and ask — How Big is too Big? Have we passed our shelf life and are we doing more harm than good? I propose that while big data may currently rule the world, the beauty of the human experience lies in Small, qualified human contact. In a recent Washington Post article, “Facebook Isn’t too Big to Fail,” columnist Christine Emba writes:
The 2008 financial crisis made the phrase “too big to fail” a part of common parlance. Until now, the expression is used mainly to describe financial institutions that have become so vital to our system that their collapse could take down the broader economy. When these institutions run into trouble, the government feels obliged to step in — and it has.
But is this argument valid? In recent months Mark Zuckerberg has made the same claims. Instead of a deeper dive into Zuckerberg’s baseless protestations, one merely has to ask- Had we survived before Facebook? The answer is Yes! Can we survive after Facebook? The Answer is Yes!
How Do I Score? — I call B.S!
With all this said, Facebook should focus on revisiting its Design experience and ensuring that design ethics, as well as fundamental respect for human beings — those exploited by Facebook, is valued and protected above all. Building on top of a flawed Ux is like putting lipstick on the pig and will only serve to limit long-term brand sustainability.
::: ABOUT KEM-LAURIN
I am a deliberate Post — Corporate Product User Experience & Content Strategist, working a variety of project types that challenge traditional Design Thinking and Strategy. I write on a wide variety of topics from Work Futures, Current topics as well as to Branding — essentially topics on the confluence of Society — Design & Technology.
I am also the author of the book User Experience in the Age of Sustainability and Muse in Chief at kemlaurin.com. you can also check me out on LinkedIn and Instagram. I love creating digital content and enabling small brands and start-ups. To balance the virtual design work I do I also side hustle in digital retail, curating stuff I like from time to time. Latest things I curate. My visual musing can be found on http://www.instagram.com/kemlaurin/Insta
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