Even though the latest quarterly figures and an increase in users tell us something different, Facebook has every reason to panic. Their charm offensive has been going on for quite some time, but after ‘Cambridge Gate’ Facebook’s PR machine works overtime. A large campaign currently runs in the US to limit damages as much as possible.
The current discussion concerns privacy, unlawfully obtained data, Russian trolls, and ‘filter bubbles’. Facebook responds as usual: with excuses, new promises, and adjusted conditions. And because the policy makers have little understanding of how these platforms actually work, Facebook seems to be let off the hook quite easily.
But if you pay attention you will see that Facebook has a much bigger challenge. Now we are more aware of how irresponsible Facebook handles our data, the ‘idealistic and optimistic’ company’s good intentions are increasingly questioned. We’re beginning to realize that Facebook has only one goal: keeping us glued to the platform the entire day. Is more connection created, or is our attention highjacked and sold for a lot of money?
Has Facebook deliberately turned us into social media addicts?
We have known for quite a while that the enormous power of large tech companies was a serious risk, but only now that we’ve seen how this power can manifest itself do we truly feel it. The fact that the American elections have been manipulated on such a scale, with the result that Trump is now the most powerful man in the world, is something that appeals to everyone’s imagination. This particular incident could well have been where a tipping point started.
When former Facebook employees spoke out about the tech company’s real motives and even launched a campaign to fight tech addiction, notably few people were receptive to their message. It takes time to kick an addiction, and there’s actually five phases of behavioural change: denial, acknowledgment, exploration, action, and perseverance. Most people are still in phase one, as shown by the fierce responses focusing on everything except the recognition of the problem. Some people are already in phase two or three, and some, like the whistle-blowers are in phase four. Logically, Facebook tries to stop this from developing, and wants to keep the toxic reason behind the success of the platform (getting people addicted) covered up.
When you view the campaign video through a critical lens, you will see that the story is incorrect or incomplete at the very least. The video starts by reminding us of the good old days when everything was still fun and games, and then swiftly jumps to our current time of fake news and clickbait. How we got there, or how Facebook got us there, is never touched upon. Because then you’d first have to explain how you got us addicted.
Pay attention to the style of communication as well: Facebook chooses to speak in ‘we’ form, but communicates as the audience. They also decided not to allow comments on Youtube. The platform who turned consumers into ‘content creators’ chooses to fully determine the public’s opinion in their own campaigns. That is why I was so kind to rewrite the video’s voiceover. What the story would really sound like if it came from a user.
We came here for the friends
We got to know the friends of our friends
Then our old friends from middle school, our mother, our ex, and our boss
Joined forces to wish us happy birthday
And we discovered our uncle used to play in a band
And realised he was young once too
And then we found others just like us
And just like that we felt a little less alone
But then something happened
We spent more and more time here
And our attention became the new gold
So we were seduced to stay even longer
The likes, the comments, the views,
Became our dopamine hits we could no longer live without
And we were left craving for more.
We were taught who we should befriend
Who we should talk to
Which event we should attend
Which products we needed to buy
Who we should vote for
But then something happened
We became unhappy, restless, unfulfilled, and lonelier than ever.
Slowly but surely, we started to open our eyes
And realized we had become obsessed with checking our timeline
And started missing real connections, conversations, and experiences
So from now on
Facebook will radically change its policy
And will stop abusing human vulnerability
And will stop making people addicted to its platform to make profit
And will stop giving more space to negativity than positivity because it creates more engagement
And will stop selling our data
And will stop creating a divided world
And then we can all go back to what made Facebook good in the first place
When this place does what it is build for
Then we all get a little closer
This blog was published in Dutch at Adformatie.nl on May 2nd 2018