In the last couple of days, two individuals have written about experiments that they conducted at Facebook.
Mat Honan, at Wired, wrote about what happened to his Facebook feed when he “liked” absolutely everything he saw for two days.
At the same time, Elan Morgan was conducting a similar experiment… by not liking anything at all, and when she saw Honan’s post, was inspired to write about her experience.
Before you go on, I recommend you read both articles in their entirety. There are some good thoughts in each, addressing more than the facebook issue. I will quote this, from Schmutzie’s blog post:
The first thing I noticed was how difficult it was to not like things on Facebook. As I scrolled through updates, my finger instinctively gravitated towards the Like button on hundreds of posts and comments. It has become a gut-level, Pavlovian response. I saw updates I liked or wanted others to know I liked, and I found myself almost unconsciously clicking my approval.
The Like is the wordless nod of support in a loud room. It’s the easiest of yesses, I-agrees, and me-toos. I actually felt pangs of guilt over not liking some updates, as though the absence of my particular Like would translate as a disapproval or a withholding of affection. I felt as though my ability to communicate had been somehow hobbled. The Like function has saved me so much comment-typing over the years that I likely could have written a very quippy, War-and-Peace-length novel by now.
I have experienced much the same thing myself. Clicking that “like” button has become addictive, similar to the upvote/downvote arrows over at reddit. Both these articles made me think over the nature of my participation at Facebook.
A side note: my feed is full of other things, of course – lots of promotion from people running businesses, lots of politics, and – it goes without saying – lots of kittens and Pinterest shares. But, it is worth mentioning, no advertisements – I use FB Purity, which cleans up my Facebook feed in a way that makes it tolerable to use and much less noisy and chaotic. Social Fixer accomplishes the same thing. If you’re not using one of these, I highly recommend checking them out.
As for myself, I use Facebook to share things that are important to me; ideas, feelings, issues that I feel deserve attention, and to keep in touch with those people in my life who help me move forward. The “like” button has been a quick way of exchanging “strokes,” a concept introduced by transactional analysis and defined as “a unit of recognition.” As people, we need these strokes. Those who don’t get them on a regular basis end up feeling alone and isolated; even those who are introverted by nature and prefer solitude to social interaction need this kind of recognition and contrive to get it in other ways that serve them best, including self-stroking.¹
Mr. Honan noticed that by liking everything, he disovered that
“My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time. After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages.”
Contrariwise, Schmutzie (Elan Morgan’s alternate pseudonym) discovered that refusing to like anything and posting meaningful comments instead resulted in the exact opposite:
“Now that I am commenting more on Facebook and not clicking Like on anything at all, my feed has relaxed and become more conversational. It’s like all the shouty attention-getters were ushered out of the room as soon as I stopped incidentally asking for those kinds of updates by using the Like function. I have not seen a single repugnant image of animal torture, been exposed to much political wingnuttery, or continued to drown under the influx of über-cuteness that liking kitten posters can bring on. (I can’t quit the kittens.)”
Yeah, I enjoy the kittens, too. But what a contrast! By not using the “Like” button, one effectively short-circuits Facebooks ad-targeting algorithm and allows a more human environment to prevail.
I can’t tell you how much I like this concept… but I’m not going to click the button.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹That’s not what I meant and you know it. Get your mind out of the gutter.