Friday, November 2, 2018

Facebook. Meet Friends or Manage Your Feed?

This used to be true.

I am fed up with Facebook.

I have had a profile for years (more than a decade!) now, and somewhere along the line, the platform has gone from "Meet your friends!" to "Manage your feed!" The first was fun, the last—not so much.

I know it's common to complain about "The good old days," but Facebook, when I first got my profile, was fun. I played silly games with friends, I got to see pictures of their kids, their pets, their houses, and to be a part of their lives. I reconnected with people I hadn't seen in years, and stayed in touch with people who probably wouldn't have kept up with letter or email exchanges. We goofed off, we chatted, and we got to know one another better.

I quickly learned that the silly games were a bad idea—Facebook wasn't careful about making sure the apps didn't share data I wanted shared—but that was a simple fix. I stopped playing Farmville or trading zoo animals with people, and Facebook went on being fun.

Somewhere in there, though, it changed, slowly enough at first that I didn't really notice, or mind—much. Ads gained more prominence, the newsfeed started to be organized by an unexplained algorithm, I started to miss more and more posts by friends. Things got increasingly political and stressful, egged on by the mystery algorithm which, whatever else it was doing, promoted controversial posts over quiet ones. 

I kept adapting. I read articles. I learned how to best manage my feed. I blocked this and tweaked that. I held onto the idea that Facebook was about staying connected to my friends, and I wanted to stay connected to my friends. This all started because I like these people and I want to hear about their lives.

And it wasn't hopeless: There are still flares of people meeting. I get to share pictures of my adorable dog, people still enjoy word play, and the amount of love and support people gave when my mother died helped through a very dark time—and still helps.

But that was almost two years ago. I'm not sure the same thing would happen today. Not because the people have grown any worse--They remain the same wonderful friends I have had for years—but because the mystery algorithm has continued to evolve and feed management has become ever more complex. These days, I don't know if my friends would see my post to respond to it. I don't know what triumphs or tragedies I've missed in their lives.  The last time I logged on as a casual user, I could barely find my friends amidst all the noise.

There were suggestions that I "promote" posts from pages I manage, posts from publications one friend or another had liked at some point or another. Posts from publications whose articles I had liked, sponsored articles from various publications I might like, and a new set of "popular on Facebook" posts that had nothing to do with anything. It was almost impossible to find anything actually written by a friend amidst all this. I gave up on counting, but I think less than one in four items in that day's feed was an actual, real update by an actual, real friend.

And I realized: This has stopped being fun. It hasn't been fun for a long time now, no matter how I've tried to keep it about friends, how I've juggled timing or rearranged my "likes." And—it really doesn’t matter how much work I put into this business of managing my feed, it's never going t be enough. The algorithms are going to change again. The clutter is going to increase, and the stress is going to go up.

Yes, I still have an account—I need one for work—but the initial reason I signed on? That got lost somewhere in the shuffle. It's not coming back. 

I might not either, not to my personal page.

How will I replace Facebook? I don't know. Maybe I'll try emailing again, or letter writing. Maybe I'll try carrier pigeons. I haven't decided. I'm away for the month, that's all I know for now.

PS: Yes, I am aware of the irony of sharing this on Facebook.  But I do want my friends—the ones who can find me amidst that thicket of ads—to know that I haven't abandoned them. I still care for them. I just can't handle all that clutter.

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