I wrote this short review of the book Assholes: A Theory by Aaron James on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/634449320. As I usually do with my Goodreads reviews I shared it on Facebook. The next time I went to my time line on FB I noticed it wasn’t there. Assuming I did something wrong I went back to Goodreads, shared it again and then checked to confirm it was posted. Couple hours later, gone again.
So it wasn’t something I had done wrong technically. It then occurred to me I had run afoul of an apparent obscenity bot at Facebook. Bear in mind that the name of the book is ‘Assholes’ and it is about, well you guessed it. The term asshole refers to a personality type not a body part.
So I could have adapted my review to make it Facebook friendly by using a different word. Butt? Anus? Derriere? That of course would have rendered the review completely meaningless. Just as the book would have been rendered completely meaningless if the author had used a synonym of asshole in order to get exposure on check out lines.
So what’s wrong here. Meaningless gibberish is perfectly acceptable to Facebook. Using the word asshole to discuss a book named ‘Assholes’ that is about assholes? No good.
I thought of that when I read some of the more recent pronouncements by Facebook about changes in its newsfeed. Facebook has described these changes as putting a greater emphasis on content quality. Who’s kidding who? Facebook uses machines to rank quality and algorithms know nothing about quality. So basically what you will get on top of your news feed is content that appears to a robot to have certain attributes that the FB programmers have associated with quality. (Repeated use of the word asshole not being one such attribute.)
So Facebook is going down the same road as Google, rewarding links or sites that are highly trafficked, probably to the detriment of members who are posting the kind of status updates about themselves which is really what brought people to Facebook in the first place. There are an awful lot of places to go to see what was published by Upworthy or Buzzfeed or the New York Times. Not so many places for me to see what my friends have to say.
So while social media has been credited with democratization of publishing, the largest of the social media networks seems to be moving the opposite direction, a result of catering to advertisers not members. Is that the reason for the well-documented decline in Facebook usage?