By Tom Ehrich
Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook.
I love its ease of use, its non-stop menu of links to interesting articles, its views of the world far beyond my rural corner of the Hudson River Valley. I love the way I can skip past what I find nonsensical but others find important – and I love knowing that we all have a place at this table.
At the same time, I hate the knowledge that I am being gamed, that the company behind Facebook is monitoring and processing everything I do in order to monetize my presence. I hate the ads. I hate it that I must pay to “boost a post,” that is, to get more than a handful of people to see it. It’s like fees on airlines. Pay to play, pay again, pay again, and be turned into a commodity.
No, I don’t have an answer as to how something useful could be made available without this commercialization. But I don’t think Facebook is approaching it that way. They aren’t asking, How can we charge enough to make the service available to many? They are asking, By making the service available, how much more money can we make than anyone has ever made online?
The clue is how difficult Facebook makes it to have personal security and reasonable privacy in their social medium. If they were truly out to serve people, they would have us opt in to the ways they monetize and use, instead of making it remarkably difficult to opt out.
As a writer, I use Facebook to make my writings available to anyone who wants to read them. I don’t mind paying for that, since some of my own work is commercial. But having worked hard to build an audience of people who “like” my work, it galls me that only a tiny fraction of those people see what I post. Even when I pay to boost a post, the fraction remains small.
I also recognize that Facebook is a “time suck.” That is my problem, not Facebook’s, of course. The Off button works every time I choose to use it.
But the combination of time-suck-ness and my irritation at being monetized and hit up for fees is leading me to a fresh decision: check Facebook twice a day, and definitely don’t spend the 50 minutes a day that is the new normal for Facebook users.
Will anyone notice my diminished presence? I sincerely doubt it. And that’s the most disheartening thing of all. Facebook isn’t truly a community of friends who look out for each other. It’s a presentation app for getting whatever I want to say in front of at least some eyeballs. If I am absent, untold numbers will fill in for me. But no one will miss me.
The good news is that I will get my time back, to use in whatever way seems more fruitful and rewarding.