Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Talky Tuesday: How I Facebook

I should be listing things in the store, but it's a little slow going right now. There is kind of a lot of other stuff going on, I guess? So, without much new stock to post about, I figured now would be a good time to talk about Facebook. Specifically: how I use Facebook, and how I've changed my interaction patterns with it.

Facebook, once the place where you creeped on your roommates, high school classmates, and party hook-ups, is now the de facto social networking site for much of the English-speaking world. It's also become the de facto news site for much of the English-speaking world, for better and worse.

I don't want to talk about "real news" versus "fake news" today. I want to talk about something a little less partisan and a little more sinister: "social feed" versus "news/entertainment feed."

A while ago, I thought long and hard about why I use Facebook. A short list:

  • To keep in touch with friends and family that are far away. (And I have many that are all over the world.)
  • To keep in touch with nearby friends when I'm too busy to see them in person.
  • To find out about, attend, or organize events, large and small. 
  • To network and pose questions to professionals in my field.
  • To find support and encouragement.
  • To have an easy-to-find, organized online gallery of my jewelry.

Weird, what's not on there? Cat pictures, puns from George Takei, and news.

But every time I "like" a cat picture, a George Takei pun, or a news story, I tell Facebook show me more of this!. And so the posts I probably really want to see, more than cats or George Takei, get de-prioritized. Which defeats the whole point of why I want to use Facebook in the first place.

Math Babe is probably who got me thinking about my Facebook usage from a machine learning perspective. After some reflection, I decided:

Facebook is for people, not for consumerism.

(The hypocrisy of my saying this while also having a Facebook page for my jewelry does not escape me.)

This boils down to three large shifts in my Facebook-using behavior.

(Less) Sharing is Caring

I still follow Facebook pages of businesses, blogs, or people I like, of course. And if they share something I really like, I'll still share or like it, if I'm in the mood—but only if it's original content from the person, business, or blog itself. I don't follow you on Facebook so I can learn what you think is funny; I follow you on Facebook because I like you.

So I no longer like or share memes from huuuuuuuuge meme factory pages. I invest more likes and shares into the things that you, my friend, the person I care about wrote yourself. If I don't know, or at least know of, the person who made the original post, I'll pass.

Filter via Address Bar

I also made this URL my default Facebook bookmark: https://www.facebook.com/?sk=friends. This is subtly different from the URL you get when you click on the "Home" button, which is this: https://www.facebook.com/?sk=h_chr. The latter includes posts from groups, pages, and bumps up old stories that a friend of yours shared or even just commented on every time it gets a new comment. The former is just posts from your friends (that you've opted to follow) in the order they post them. No pages, no groups.

If I want to get down to business (and defeat the Huns) (I haven't even seen Mulan, guys), then I check https://www.facebook.com/?sk=groups, and I see only posts from my assorted groups: social, work, support, whatever. If I want to catch up on the blogs, cool musicians, and art projects I follow, I check https://www.facebook.com/?sk=pages. There's not a lot you can control on Facebook, but being able to control that much is something. It's nice to be able to say, "Right now I want to check in with my friends" or "I'm in the mood to chat with some activists" or "I wonder what my fellow sword-swallowers are talking about" and then be able to navigate more or less straight to that discussion.

Tinfoil Hattery

I'm also wary (not "weary"!) of the new "reactions" you can have to a story: angry, sad, funny, and love, in addition to like. I'm sure Facebook wouldn't roll out something like that without plans to use the data to further tweak their algorithms. Tempting as it is to click the "sad" reaction button on a post, if it really is a tragic incident, I take the extra time to post a comment with a sentiment or hell, even a smiley. (Same if it's a really happy post. One of my friends just had a baby and I've been making creative use of the Prickly Pear stickers in the comments.) Facebook is probably tracking that content as well, but by using half a second more thought to engage with the content, I'm hopefully at least being a better friend? (And supplying something like data noise. I hope.)

Bonus: The Cavalry

I also use AdBlock, AdBlockPlus, and Fluff-Busting Purity to deal with "suggested" posts and the sidebar advertising, but you either already know how to use them, or someone else has told you about them. (If you don't know, comment or Tweet at me, and I'll be glad to help you out!)

So. I hope you like me enough that you've liked me on Facebook. You don't have to; I'm kind of bad at posting there, anyway. But even if you don't, I hope you'll think a little more carefully about how you interact with Facebook, and that this post helped you have an even marginally better Facebook experience?

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