Let me start by saying that I mean no ill toward Facebook employees, particularly none toward those in rank and file. Facebook is like a giant wheel. I don’t blame the spokes for where the wheel goes. People gotta eat.
But I do have some complaints about the greater organism. I believe that Facebook knowingly plays to my vanity with pumped up numbers in some cases, while using fuzzy math to entice me to spend money. I believe that a significant portion of the “likes” I have on my Atlanta Banana page are at best catatonic users from far-flung locales who do not speak my language, and, at worst, fictitious.
Lastly, and most frustrating of all, Facebook obsessively notifies me. It knows that it must compete with television, my work, hobbies, and family for my attention. It knows that attention is a currency far more valuable than gold. As such, it aggressively notifies, often two to three times for one action. It’s a perfect strategy for their goals.
Facebook knows that if you can make a business out of human vanity, there won’t be a check long enough to write your fortune.
How Dare I?
If you read on, understand that I can’t prove my hunches incontrovertibly.
Facebook owns and obsessively tweaks the algorithm that determines who sees what. In their defense, if anyone knew exactly what Facebook’s content display algorithm was they’d instantly start gaming the system. Sneaky people could make a fortune overnight gaming Facebook to sell penis pills or financial scams. A politician could surge ahead in an election merely by having the most recognizable face.
But as a regular guy trying to write and get people to read my work, I can’t help but feel that Facebook is stepping on me.
A Fistful Of Likers
I started a web site called The Atlanta Banana in 2011 because I wanted to collaborate with other humor writers. For every ten stand up comics or improv actors, there’s maybe one serious humor writer. For every one humor writer, there are ten YA/Fantasy writers, and a thousand erotica jockeys. I digress.
In those early days I got a lot of positive response, but I wanted more eyeballs. If you can get an audience, you can get published. One of my favorite bloggers, BikeSnobNYC, built an audience that way. Justin Halpern (Shit My Dad Says) did, and Andy Weir (The Martian) as well. That has been my goal for these many years: to obtain a publishing contract.
Of course, now that I have obtained said contract and it is signed, it seems as if The Atlanta Banana had nothing to do with it. Or maybe it did, since I got so much regular writing practice. Hard to say.
In any case, I paid Facebook to advertise my page, and soon I was sitting on over 1000 likes. The result? That’s it. I had 1000 likes. I had no new interactions. No new shares.
Wow, my writing must really be awful. These people liked my idea, but they don’t like any of my posts. They don’t share anything. They never comment. Yet when I post stuff to my personal page, my friends laugh and share and tell me they enjoy it.
Then I saw this video by Veritasium:
Oh, so it’s not just me who feels run roughshod over.
I’m not an economist, but I do believe that people do what they are incentivized to do. Facebook is incentivized to get money out of my wallet. They are in no way incentivized to share my small-time links to my small-time site. Again, I don’t blame Facebook for running a business. I want every one of its employees to buy my books. But my books contain exactly what they claim to contain: words.
Implicit in the buying of likes is that each of those people represent a chance for my work to reach someone. That’s what I’m after: a chance. I don’t think Facebook is fair about how it represents the real mathematics of that chance.
The Answer? Boost your post!
If operating a FB page with a lot of likes is the cocaine of the internet, boosting your post must surely be the crack. Each time I post to my page, Facebook helpfully highlights a call to action that says “Boost.” If I pay a little money each time, they’ll let more people see my content.
Wait, didn’t I just pay to promote my work to a bunch of folks? Now I have to pay to get them to see it? What?
Facebook encouraged us all to register an account and begin posting away. The only problem is that users did just that. Now, people generate more content than can possibly be consumed. Baby photos, check ins, status updates, and shares out the wazoo.
Towards thee I roll
But Facebook needs advertising dollars, which means they need content that people can enjoy on Facebook. I don’t do my writing on Facebook. I do it here, on other sites, and in books.
What does that mean for me? It means that if I want people to read my work, I have to phrase my post headline in such a way that it grabs people’s attention, but denies them any information unless they click.
Or, in other words, I would have to write clickbait. Well, I refuse. I may be unknown. I may not be the half the writer my heroes were. But I will not attempt to trick people into reading me.
I lay clickbait, this mockery of journalism, this mockery of writing, directly at Facebook’s feet, and I glare awkwardly.
You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next
There are a lot of good things about Facebook. I get to easily share family stuff with friends and family. I get to know when everyone’s birthday is, and I get to surmise which of my acquaintances are nut-jobs. As a user, it’s fun, with the exception of how much it needlessly notifies me.
It’s not FB’s fault that I hate being notified, though. I also keep my phone totally silent with the vibration turned off. Send an email. Or better yet, a check.
But in a larger sense, I’m a guy who writes words. I want people to read what I’m writing. Facebook is so big now it’s basically a public utility. And I don’t pay for it. Or at least, I don’t any more.
Is it really their fault that they were able to trick me into paying to see an imaginary number go up? Is it Facebook’s fault that I’m vain, or that I selfishly want people to see my work? Probably not.
But it is Facebook’s fault for deceiving me. It is their fault for allowing clickbait to happen, and it is their fault for being so self-important that they need two applications, both bleeping and blorping and notifying at full chat.
Couldn’t you share a few of your eyeballs with me, Facebook? Couldn’t you let my actual organic “likes” see my posts? Currently only around 25% of them ever do. What the hell did I get them for if most are fake and the rest are catatonic?
I can’t imagine.