I like my Sketchers, but I love my Prada backpack. Can Facebook Tell the Difference?

7 Aug

Or, The Difference Between What You “Like” and What You Like

Facebook like sign by afagen

Photo credit to afagen

Increasingly, the web shows us what it thinks we want to see.  Our Google results and our social media feeds are no longer a real reflection of what the hive mind or our friends have to say on a given topic, but what the powers that be think we want to see about that topic.

Most of the time, they’re right.  As much as we might like to think so, we’re not enigmas.  As we traverse the web, we leave behind digital footprints.  Our likes, our shares, even the pages we view, give Facebook et al insight into what we want to see.

But, sometimes, liking something doesn’t really mean that we like it.  With only the one button to express a myriad of sentiments, a like can mean, “Congrats,” “Cool picture,” “Aww, that sucks,” or many other things.  A like doesn’t actually mean, “I enjoy this and want to see more of it on my newsfeed.” But that’s how Facebook sees it.

Frustration by Sybren A. Stuvel

Photo credit to Sybren A. Stuvel

Sometimes, the fact that you keep returning to the same website doesn’t mean that you like it.  Hatewatching happens on the web, just as it does with TV.  But to Google, however you’re watching it, love or hate, it’s all the same.  Because it’s your eyeballs that count, not the sentiment that’s going on behind them.

The more advanced the social networks are becoming, and the more information we tell them about ourselves, the more customized our windows on the digital world become.  But, sometimes they’re wrong.  Sometimes Facebook thinks we want to see more of something, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Justin Bieber by jake.auzzie

Just think, if you installed the Shaved Bieber Extension, you would be missing out on all this awesomeness. (Photo credit to jake.auzzie)

There’s a new generation of apps that let you fight back when Facebook spoon feeds you the wrong content.  Tired of seeing babies on your newsfeed?  Try Unbaby.me which removes all posts about them.  Getting fed up with Justin Bieber and his legions of screaming fans?  Install the Shaved Bieber Extension, which deletes all references to the Canadian singing sensation.  Looking to avoid something a little closer to home, like maybe an ex?  Try Eternal Sunshine, which entirely removes someone from your Facebook world view, without having to go through that awkward defriending process.

It seems like it shouldn’t be this difficult to avoid things we don’t want to see.  Facebook’s very good at giving us what we do want, so why is it so bad at doing the reverse?  Simple, on Facebook, you can only opt-in – it’s almost impossible to opt-out.  You can only like, but you can’t dislike.

There have long been clamors for a dislike button.  Something to push to empathize with your friends’ posts about being sick or getting a speeding ticket.  But, Facebook won’t give us a dislike button, because it’s contrary to the Facebook ethos.  Facebook is like Cheers, everyone knows your name… and even better, they’re all your friends.  In Facebook, we’re all busy keeping up with the Jones, looking our shiniest and happiest, and a dislike button would mar our happy exteriors.  And Facebook’s in the business of keeping us happy, keeping us coming back for that little dopamine hit that we get when someone likes our status.  (Maybe Ke$ha should make a new song, Your Like is My Drug.)

Dislike Button by Sean MacEntee

Photo credit to Sean MacEntee

But, Facebook keeps us coming back in another way too, by delivering sticky content – content that compels us.  To Facebook’s algoriths, a like button and a dislike button would serve almost the exact same purpose.  They would cause you to report which content you found engaging.  Whether you liked it or disliked it, Facebook would know that that content was sticky, and would push more of it your way.

I don’t think that Facebook will ever give us the dislike button.  If they did, they’d probably have to give us two, one for expressing dislike of the information being conveyed in the post, and another for expressing dislike of seeing that information on our newsfeeds.  Since that’s not likely to happen, if you really dislike something and want it to go away, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands.  So, whether it’s babies or Bieber that you’re trying to avoid, don’t tell Facebook.  Knowing that you have such a strong reaction to it will, if anything, get more of it on your feed.

Questions of the day: Are you trying to avoid anyone or anything online?  Maybe Olympic spoilers?  Have you found an app for that?  (‘Cause if so, please share!)  Also, do you want a dislike button?  Think we’ll ever get it?


Maggie (not Margaret) by Maggie O’Toole

Formerly MaggieCakes, Maggie (not Margaret) covers technology’s impact on culture, specifically on how we interact with and connect with each other. Have a question or an idea you’d like me to write about? Leave a comment, or send me an e-mail: moc.teragramtoneiggam@eiggam

7 Responses to “I like my Sketchers, but I love my Prada backpack. Can Facebook Tell the Difference?”

  1. Vicki - Glitter Frog August 8, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    I don’t think FB will ever give us a dislike button. No matter how much we beg and plead. What I do is, if I get tired of seeing a particular kind of post on my feed, I click the little arrow thingy and hide it. I don’t hide the person that posted it (well…not always) but I do occasionally change my subscription from all of their posts to just their important ones. If you do it enough, FB gets the message.

    I had one friend who was forever posting photos of abused animals. Look, I get it, ok? Abusing animals is bad! But I’m already aware of it and if I decide to try to do something about it, I’ll get in touch with the ASPCA or whatever. I got tired of seeing those sad photos on my feed all the time so I started hiding her stories. Now they don’t show up at all and she’s none the wiser. Whatever works, right?

    • Maggie O'Toole August 18, 2012 at 9:47 am #

      Oh, I hate the abused animal pictures! And the commercials too, when Sarah McLaughlin starts singing, I know it’s time to change the channel. I also have some friends who post pictures of aborted babies. Not something I want to see. I get what they’re trying to do, but I don’t appreciate having my eyes assaulted and my heart stings tugged.

      • Vicki - Glitter Frog August 23, 2012 at 8:04 am #

        And what I really, really, REALLY hate are the ones where if you like and share, some giant corporation will donate a gazillion dollars to some unnamed organization. Umm? No they won’t.

  2. Morgan Mussell August 10, 2012 at 12:30 am #

    This post reminded me of an old usenet artifact – for people who hated a certain singing purple dinosaur, there was a newsgroup called. Die.Barney.die.die.die. Perhaps something has been lost in our move to greater digital sophistication…

    • Maggie O'Toole August 18, 2012 at 9:42 am #

      Haha, what a wonderful and honest title for a group. I’m kind of sad that I missed the usenet/netsgroup days of the internet. I feel like I came into social media part way through the story.

  3. Matthew Morgal August 11, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    As nice as a dislike button would be, I agree that we’ll probably never see one on Facebook. In addition to conflicting with the FB way, I cannot help but fear that some people will get hurt by the idea that one of their posts was “disliked” regardless of the reasoning.

    And despite the annoyance in trying to hide certain trends from appearing on your news feed, I do find that hiding posts by certain people tends to cut down on it quite a bit. One of my old co-workers had a “Your Annoying!” friend group for all those people, which I find rather amusing.

    • Maggie O'Toole August 18, 2012 at 9:43 am #

      Oh, yes, I’ve definitely hidden people. One person I know posts like 100 Lol Cat pictures a day. Hiding her from my newsfeed felt so liberating!

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