The motivation for me writing this blog post comes from this article which I just read. In it, a former Vice President of Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya, speaks about Facebook and social media in general in the following way:
“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”
The Facebook company’s response can be found in this article, and the reply specifically reads as:
Chamath has not been at Facebook for over six years. When Chamath was at Facebook we were focused on building new social media experiences and growing Facebook around the world. Facebook was a very different company back then and as we have grown we have realized how our responsibilities have grown too. We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve. We’ve done a lot of work and research with outside experts and academics to understand the effects of our service on well-being, and we’re using it to inform our product development. We are also making significant investments more in people, technology, and processes, and — as Mark Zuckerberg said on the last earnings call — we are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made.
The above reply has struck me as being very generic and detached. If you look at the sentence “We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve”, and place it on the scale of just-saying-something-for-the-heck-of-it-without-really-meaning-it, it ranks right up there with phrases such as “Hey what’s up” and “Have a good day”. In other words, Facebook’s reply is bare, it doesn’t really touch any of Chamath’s concerns and the issues he raised. Thinking about the overall exchange, I realized that Chamath is trying to address issues like reduced attention spans, less connection on an emotional level with fellow humans, and lack of perseverance in difficult situations. I don’t know about my readers, but I find myself experiencing these issues quite a lot and I do feel that the prevalence of social media bears a connection to them. And yet, I don’t feel like deleting my Facebook account because it is a great way to plan events and, more importantly, stay in touch with close friends whom I don’t get to see any more. So I decided to suggest some features which I hope will make the Facebook experience more enjoyable and help people deal with the aforementioned issues.
A post rating system
This can be done in several ways such as IMdB style 1-10 or Netflix style 1-5 stars. It could even be a slider or a small feedback box. Or, for those really lazy, it could just be a simple Dislike button. The basic idea is that if I don’t like someone’s Facebook post, I should be able to point that out. Pointing out that the post made me angry or sad – features which Facebook already provides – is not what I am looking for. I could be sad at someone posting a link of a disaster killing several people, but that doesn’t mean that I think the person posting it has done a poor job. No, emojis are not what I am looking for. What I would really love to see is a way to tell a poster “Hey, I don’t like what you posted. It’s banal. Stupid. Too attention-seeking. The sole purpose of it is image-crafting. It’s boring to everyone except your inner circle, so kindly don’t share it outside of that,” and so on. A way to tell a person that their post sucks.
A news feed which shows me posts from people and pages whom I have liked in the past, not posts which have a lot of likes from others
For example, if I have a friend X whose past 5 posts have all been liked by me, Facebook should fill my news feed with posts from X. If X hasn’t posted something in a while, my news feed should show posts from pages I like. This could be combined with the rating feature so that I only get to see posts from entities whom I have rated higher than some threshold in the past. And if my entities of interest haven’t been posting anything, my news feed would show nothing. It will be blank, which signifies that there isn’t anything on Facebook right now which might potentially interest me.
The point I am making here is quality over quantity. I’d rather see good stuff than see posts which have 100+ likes from people whom I honestly don’t care about (such as people who account for 80% of my friend list). One of the primary reasons I scroll through my news feed is to find good articles on topics which I love to read about. If there isn’t anything like that, then Facebook should show me an empty news feed and indirectly encourage me to log out and try to find good articles on other websites.
A message which says “Are you really sure you want to post this, and share it publicly?” every time anyone tries to post anything.
How many times has it happened that you have deleted something by mistake and thanked the Recycle Bin’s Restore option? Or said something abruptly and later had to apologize? Or needed to press Ctrl+Z? Yes, it happens. Why do we get into such situations? Because as humans, we are not perfect. We make mistakes. Some mistakes cannot be undone and we spend time regretting. But a lot of mistakes and stupid actions can be prevented if they are more difficult to do. As a simple example, knives are kept out of reach of children since that makes it difficult for them to commit the mistake of injuring someone with a knife.
When you put something out there on Facebook, you are releasing it to the world. You are presenting something for others to see. Face it, you are. If you really didn’t care about what other people think, you wouldn’t post something on Facebook in the first place. The fact that you are doing it means that impressing others is important to you. Now think about this. When you go out in public, you spend some time dressing up and thinking about the way you look. When you write a paper, you try to do it correctly and eliminate mistakes. If you have to give a public speech, you spend some time in preparation. All these are examples of where you present yourself to the world, so you care about doing a good job. Why should posting on Facebook be any different? If you really want to share something online and make it public, you should try to do a good job. A simple message from Facebook just before you hit the ‘Post’ button will make you reconsider and perhaps polish the post to make it more appealing. Or perhaps make you think “Hey, I don’t really need to let the whole world that I joined a new gym, just sharing it with my 10 close friends should be fine,” or “Hey, it’s my wife’s birthday. Do I really need to state what she means to me via Facebook? Instead, let me just break it to her in person followed by a kiss (A real one, not an emoji)”. That’s what I am looking for. No, not a kiss. A checking mechanism so that your Facebook posts end up having more quality and meaning to the people you share them with.
At the end of the day, I like the concept of Facebook. It lets people connect. But it has the potential to make people connect more meaningfully. It hires some of the best brains in the world. Surely these brains are capable of critical thinking.