Social Media Has Become Extremely Annoying Of Late
It’s isn’t just the irritating ads though.
During it’s formative years on the World Wide Web, Social Media was a tool used by people to connect with family and friends from across the world.
You could share life events with your online friends, tag them in pictures, send them funny cat videos through messenger, and what not. Your friends and relatives were up-to-date with everything you did as long as you shared them on your wall. Social media bridged the geographical distance between people — those thousands of miles that stretched across vast oceans or landmass continents — and made your friends feel like they were sitting right beside you.
Such is the power of social media and the internet as a whole.
But such powerful impactful tools seldom tend to stay free. The corporations started getting jittery, and as time went by, decided that users were getting too much for free. And for too long a time!
It was time to show them the real cost.
They didn’t make sudden changes to the platform one fine sunny day. They made changes to the way we see things on our wall, the content of our walls, and everything else, one slow gradual increment at a time. When things happen that slow, people seldom take notice and don’t even realize what’s going on until a lot has already changed. Advertisements, which once used to appear sporadically on our walls, have now come to dominate and occupy our screens 90% percent of the time.
Monetization, rather than connecting people, seems to be the main goal of social media these days.
The ads were fine, at least when they made their first on-screen appearance. They were so inconspicuously hidden on the top right corner of your Facebook wall that you wouldn’t even know they were there if you didn’t look hard enough. Fast forward to today, and ads, suggested posts, and sponsored posts take up the vast majority of our screens. They are right at the center of attention itself. In the spotlight so to speak.
The average Facebook user now sees more ads, suggested posts, and sponsored posts than content posted by their friends itself. This isn’t a social media platform any more.
It’s an advertising platform with a bit of connection thrown in as a cheap side dish.
Why do I see Ads on Instagram and Facebook for products I just browsed on Google? I thought social media was all about connecting with your friends and family, sharing memories, making new friends, amongst many other things. Then what’s with all this tracking?
Here are some ways in which your Facebook wall has been modified into a money making machine:
Suggested and Sponsored Posts
These have literally skyrocketed in the past year and a half. Nowadays, between all my friends’ updates and page posts, all I see are suggested posts, sponsored posts, and advertisements. It’s insane!
I logged in just now to see what would appear on my newsfeed, and I literally got a sponsored post as the second story on my feed. How crazy is that! I didn’t even have to hunt for it.
The fourth post was a suggested post.
The sixth post was again a sponsored post.
If this doesn’t speak volumes about how Facebook has changed over the last few years, then I don’t know what does.
Ads. Targetted ads to be precise.
Since Facebook snoops on everything you do on the web, it knows exactly what your preferences are. Like Jeff Seibert, a former executive at Twitter says in the Netflix documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma’, “Every single action you take is carefully monitored and recorded. Exactly what image you stop and look at, for how long you look at it.”
So, no surprise there.
If I searched for a product on Amazon, it would show me ads for the same product/service right away. If I did a Google search, it would show me the relevant ads again there too. Same for clicking on ads on the app itself.
So this is what the social media algorithm does: Over a long period of time — and this is a daily recurring process — it builds a history of all your ad clicking behaviour, analyses that data, and shows you ads only for the stuff it thinks you’re most likely to buy again. This data is refined every day, week, month, and year, continuously monitoring your behaviour and updating your file with the most useful and profitable set.
The narrator the goes on to remind us that when we get something for free, especially when we are the product itself, there can be absolutely no expectation of privacy. In fact he says that it isn’t we who are the product anymore, but rather our behaviour that is.
“It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product”
In a Medium article about getting rid of daily eyesores to upgrade one’s life, writer Anthony J. Yeung specifically highlights ‘Online Ads’ as a significant distraction in peoples lives that could totally be done away with, saying:
“The second you get online, there are so many things fighting for your attention, but your attention is all you have. And if you give it away cheaply, you’ll gradually exhaust yourself until there’s not much left over for the things that you really matter.”
This is one awful aspect of Facebook that really gets my goat. I’m totally fine with ads or even suggested posts because I know I’m getting all of this for free (I actually use Facebook and not just mindlessly scroll through it everyday). And at the end of the day, no matter how large of an App it's become, it still has to make money.
But here’s where my tolerance for their shenanigans end.
Why on earth does Facebook have to show my comments to my friends? I just don’t get it. What have the comments which I’ve made on other people’s posts or pages got anything to do with my friends? It looks like Facebook deliberately wants to create antagonism and hate where there is absolutely none.
Let’s illustrate this with an example. A few months ago, I’d made a comment on a certain page that had something to do with my stance on Anti-natalism and the childfree movement. My comment was solely intended to the ones who were on that thread and who were already engaged in debate with me, and no one else. But when I logged in a day later, I received a notification saying that one of my friends had replied to my comment on that debate. How did they get to know about it?
While Facebook had greatly facilitated meaningful friendships with these guys whom I’d known since a couple of years, through status updates, image tagging, and commenting, it also seemed to be playing the role of a strict school teacher, letting the whole class know where I’ve been, and what exactly I’ve been up to.
Do they even make anything from this? Maybe. I don’t know. But why show my comments on certain topics, or my comments to someone else’s personal post to others on my friends list?
“In that (social media) world, any time two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person who’s paying to manipulate those two people.”
— Jaron Lanier, Founding Father of Virtual Reality, The Social Dilemma
You get to know how ridiculous this is only when you apply it to real life.
Imagine the two of us are at an event right now and are engaged in a conversation. Now, the only people privy to this conversation would be, of course, you and me, along with a bunch of others who would have touch-n-went in between. But by and large, it was still a conversation only between the two of us, that no one else could have heard or been privy to, right?
Now, here’s what Facebook does. Imagine this event that we’re at is the comment section on a Facebook page or friends profile. When your other friends log in tomorrow, they’re going to be shown“ Akash recently commented on this post”, or “Akash added a reply to this comment” or something of the sort.
Remember, at the real world event, there was no way for random friends or strangers to get to know what we were discussing there, unless one of us actually blurted it out. But guess what? That’s exactly what Facebook does.
Facebook is the online equivalent of that sneaky little eavesdropper at a party who silently sits in a corner and carefully watches everyone's move, and later goes and snitches about who did what to the very people opposed to those actions.
If it was a person, you’d beat them silly!
Showing what I’ve “liked” to my friends
A subset of the above point is ‘like’ visibility. Facebook not only shows your commenting activity to your friends, but also puts your entire personality on full display for them by showing them the brands, products, and kind of activities you like. Not only does it show me the kind of stuff my friends ‘like’, but also their ‘like’ activity on sponsored and suggested posts. I can get to know everything about a particular friend of mine by just mindlessly scrolling on my wall and waiting for the news to show up. I don’t even have to rummage through the haystack. I can just silently sit like a snake and wait for a mouse to pass by.
If this was done by a human in the real world, you’d be suspicious of them and would try to stay away from them as much as possible. But you find yourself logging into Facebook in a classic case of Stockholm syndrome each and every single day, don’t you?
Users being tagged in comments by default
Back then if you replied to a comment, the reply would just appear as is. Today, the person you’re replying to automatically gets tagged to it. Unless you proactively get in there and remove his/her name, he/she will be tagged, and get a notification about the same, thereby greatly increasing the chances of interaction with the site again.
Which one of the following notifications are you more likely to respond to ?
A notification that someone also commented on a certain post (only replying)
A notification that someone replied to your comment on a certain post. (tagged replying)
If there’s a particular post that I’d like to share with my friend, I can tag him in it all on my own. Why does Facebook need to add that as a default?
Ever interacted with a page for the very first time?
A chatbot automatically tries to start a conversation with you the moment you do. Look, I get it. You’re trying to increase interaction between a page and its followers. But popping up a messenger box on the lower right corner of my screen every time I comment on a product page will only annoy me and discourage me from buying their products.
If I actually have doubts and concerns regarding it, I am perfectly capable of finding the messenger tab and getting a conversation going with the page all on my own. No nudging or pop-ups required!
This is the human equivalent of that student in class who keeps nudging you to “go talk to the new girl”. Or “ask the teacher the doubt that’s in all of our heads but we’re too afraid to ask”.
Increased Viewer Actions
Noticed how since the past month, you can only view comments on an image or post by clicking a “view comment” button after clicking the comment itself? That’s one additional click that’s a complete waste of time. But I guess you make more money making people click additional buttons to get things done. So there goes that convenience!
Showing me “People You may know” constantly
Between the advertisements, sponsored posts, suggested posts, and my friend’s and pages updates, the “people you may know” section is slyly squished in there somewhere by the developers at Meta. It is an extremely annoying feature because you keep seeing the same “people you may know” on your wall while scrolling, people whom you might not necessarily like in real life, or even want to add to your friends list.
Even if you click on a prospects profile to check them out, the ‘friends suggestions’ appears in a list format next to their profiles and remains locked to the left side of the screen. So no matter how much you scroll through a persons profile, the list is always there as a constant reminder of all the people you didn’t add on Facebook.
Great work Facebook. Now I definitely have FOMO.
Whether it’s the constant advertisements being shoved in your face, the annoying notifications, or the fact that your conversations are out in the open for all the world to see, Facebook is anything but the humble social media platform it once used to be. It then comes as absolutely no surprise that users are leaving in droves to other apps or just quitting it altogether.
Do let me know your thoughts in the comments section to the side.
“We’ve moved away from having a tools-based technology environment to an addiction-and manipulation- based technology environment.”
— Tristan Harris, Former Design Ethicist at Google, The Social Dilemma