Updated: Oct 26
Facebook knows what pisses you off.
It always has.
And it's making a fortune keeping you constantly outraged.
If you haven't been living under a rock, you've probably heard about Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who testified to Congress (and "brought receipts") about how the social-media platform's algorithm is designed to keep users seeing posts that anger them.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
News media outlets are sharing the many documents she provided, now dubbed the "Facebook Papers," which detail some extremely serious lapses in morality and judgment at the social-media giant -- from how it aided January 6 insurrectionists, to how it contributes to human trafficking, to how it aided actual genocide of Muslims in Myanmar beginning in 2016, and how it consistently puts profits above common sense and human decency.
The list goes on. And on.
There's a lot to unpack from the recent revelations (and even more to come from a new whistleblower who's gone to the SEC, according to CNN).
Until then, let's talk about Facebook's love of "click bait," and why and how it wants to keep you in a constant state of rage and fear.
For starters, take this revelation from the Facebook Papers, about an internal experiment by a researcher at the platform's headquarters:
The researcher created a profile for fictional "Carol Smith" of Wilmington, North Carolina. The researcher entered that "Carol" was interested in politics, Christianity, and parenting, and signed "Carol" up as a fan of Trump and Fox News.
The researcher then sat back and watched as, within two days, Facebook's algorithm suggested to "Carol" that she join groups and sites devoted to QAnon.
Within a week, her newsfeed was filled with conspiracy theorists and groups that violated Facebook's own rules on hate speech.
Poor "Carol" never asked for any of it!
It's because Mark Zuckerberg & Co. know folks are much more likely to click and comment on posts that are shocking and infuriating than on "good news."
And they have enough data on their users to predict what each of us see as "bad news."
If you're a democracy-loving Democrat, you'll see a lot of Trump and his loony band of misfits on your newsfeed. (Trust me.) Conversely, I assume, if you're a white supremist, you can expect a bunch of posts about Black Lives Matter to pop up.
Many content providers, including politicians and news organizations, see that Facebook favors "bad news" -- so that's what they keep posting. Because the whole point is engagement.
Why post "happy" content that people won't see -- and thus, won't interact with?
In fact, according to Haugen's testimony, many international leaders have reached out to Facebook to complain that, because of this algorithm, they must make more and more alarmist and confrontational statements to be seen and to generate interaction from users (and voters).
Facebook is literally sowing the seeds of dissention for profit -- making a blatant lie of its public mission statement of "bringing the world closer together."
* * * * *
In my 2020 book SUB-LEBRITY* I mused that the ensuing social-media outrage from Donald Trump's campaign (and later, presidency) killed Old Dogs & New Tricks.
Because when we launched the show in 2011, attracting and interacting with viewers and fans on Facebook was a breeze. Our posts got tons of engagement in those early days.
But slowly, that began to change.
My posts about ODNT got less engagement. Meanwhile, my posts about Trump, "Cindy Brady," et al., always generated a lot of feedback.
In fact, the media firestorm of the "Brady Debacle" brought me more media attention (and more new "fans") within one week than my peaceable series did over five years!
I eventually realized it was impossible to break through all the online anger to raise money for, and promote, our show -- even if I didn't have hard evidence.
Well, we have it now.
I was wrong.
It wasn't Trump who "killed" the show.
It was Facebook itself.
Trump merely knew how to leverage Facebook to full advantage.
* * * * *
So where does that leave us, when the world's most popular social media site is intentionally and literally turning us against one another?
I know most users aren't ready to disconnect, at least not completely. I, for one, have used Facebook as a virtual scrapbook over the past decade.
All the same, I've recently downloaded all of my photos and videos from Facebook, just in case. (It's easy -- learn how HERE!) Because if Facebook allows Trump back on its platform, I will disconnect my account immediately.
Meanwhile, there's something we can do while still on the platform:
We can stop using Facebook to voice anger, to argue with others, to boast of our moral superiority.
I know, I know. If you follow me on Facebook, you're rolling your eyes right now, because you know I've always rushed in where angels fear to tread (yes, making me a fool!).
Because I was bullied as a young kid, insults don't penetrate. So I've been able to fling myself into the muck with little concern for my feelings. I just kept hurling insults back tenfold, and falling deeper into a dark hole of hate and anger.
But what point does it serve? I realize now, I'm merely adding to the noise, the anger, the hatred -- and helping justify Zuckerberg's twisted algorithm.
Despite my endless political posts, I don't think I've changed one person's mind.
Posting insults and links on "how to leave a cult" on the pages of Marjorie Taylor Greene or Lauren Boebert -- and engaging in the resulting "arguments" -- may make me feel good (or even superior) in the immediate instant.
It even felt a little fun, in a sick and twisted way -- at first.
But that elation is short-lived when you realize you're screaming into a vacuum, and that your wit isn't enough to change anyone's point of view.
The corrosive effect of being able to tell people off -- even people who have rightfully earned our scorn -- eventually becomes toxic.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Anonymous
And let's be honest here. Bitching on Facebook doesn't make any of us an "activist" (despite what some of my show-biz colleagues claim).
In fact, the term "hashtag activist" was recently coined to refer to folks who talk a good game online, but who otherwise sit out protests, don't call their reps, or (God forbid) don't even vote!
Let's promote what we love, instead of bashing what we hate -- much like how Maya Angelo preferred peace rallies to anti-war rallies.
Go to the pages of the politicians and activists you admire, and tell them how much you appreciate them! If you're able, ask how you can volunteer to help their cause!
If you absolutely must go to the pages of those leaders with whom you disagree, resist commenting with disgust to their lunatic ravings and those of their supporters.
Instead, post comments that are argument-proof.
Share Bible verses that expose those leaders as hypocrites with no further comment.
Or turn into a southern belle and kill them with kindness ("Oh, bless your little heart").
And refuse to engage with any trolls who try to bait you.
Better yet, use your energy to report their posts that promote violence, white supremacy, or COVID misinformation.
Trust me, I've done enough time in "Facebook Jail" to know if enough people complain about a post or comment, Facebook will remove it and punish the person responsible -- even if the post or comment doesn't technically break their nebulous (double-) standards.
That's why crackpots still post nonsense about the pandemic without consequence, but anyone who calls them a "covid-iot" risks suspension.
I urge everyone to resist that urge to give in to venom.
Let's deprive Zuckerberg from profiteering from hate and division.
Let's stop arguing politics on Facebook.
Let's not seek out arguments with those with whom we disagree.
Let's post positive stories, fun photos, the content we used to share back when Facebook still felt fun!
Remember those days?
Maybe nobody will see your posts. But maybe -- just maybe -- if enough people say "enough!" we can cut into the profits of division.
Meanwhile, contact your representatives TODAY (via phone, email and "snail mail") and urge them to investigate and regulate Facebook!
Facebook is not invulnerable.
Remember MySpace? Friendster?
There was a time when AOL ("America On Line") fancied itself just as powerful. Time Warner even spent millions to merge with AOL, and added them to their corporate name (AOL Time Warner).
For a while.
Where is AOL today?