Sunday 26 July 2020

Five Years of Facebook: A Rant

Social media is a fact of social life and an increasingly central vector of capital accumulation. The content generation and imminent networking capacities these platforms enable offers new ways of organising, as well as the means for indulging a bit of mass manipulation. But you don't need me to tell you this. We're not living in 2006 any longer and this is understood to the point of assuming the status of a banality. What gives then? If you permit your author a moment of indulgence, Saturday marked five years of this blog having a page on the Facebook, so while you're here why not give us a like? On the occasion of another blogging milestone, I won't be slapping my own back or giving the dusty old vanity trumpet a blow. Now is time as good as any to have a short moan about how shitty Facebook is.

As of this set of key strokes, your favourite Stoke-on-Trent-based politics blog has accumulated 5,726 likes. A modest quantity but here's the thing. While the likes have built very slowly over time the reach of the blog's Facebook page has actually declined. All thanks to the unaccountable and (usually) incomprehensible changes to the company's algorithms. Starting out sharing links on sundry groups, you would always get a good number to the blog via sharing posts from the page. Likewise, shares grown organically, to use the awful jargon, were quite healthy to begin with. Then, from 2018, material was getting regularly picked up and shared by Red Labour's page. The audience numbers were good and then, over night, Facebook changed how people see material shared to their feeds. The numbers referred from Facebook to here crashed by about two-thirds. An annoying inconvenience for me, but the impact on businesses and the self-employed who depend on stable traffic from the site for their income must have been hard.

Remember the fake news panic? Well, it's never really left us, and neither have the changes Facebook made. Finding an affected concern for community building and prioritising content from friends, those changes de-prioritised the content put out by pages and groups, and so another drop in traffic hit all groups and pages, and by extension those who depended on traffic via these portals. The problem is there's still just enough people visiting the site after the two big cuts in audience figures. Facebook remains one of this blog's main feeders, though nowhere near the levels of when the page had half the likes it does now. And so tending to it, trying to drive those likes ever higher, sharing your bits and pieces in the corners of a dozen or so groups, this all demands time but with ever decreasing returns. Not that Facebook cares. The whole shtick is premised on you sharing your content, be it a clip here, a meme there, a photo of a slap up meal, or a learned and discerning political screed. And people who pump out their own stuff will carry on feeding Mark Zuckerberg's machine because, if they want their stuff to be seen, they have no choice. Such are the labours intrinsic to the attention economy.

Facebook is a monster. The same goes for Twitter and any other social media platform. Their service is socially useful, but they simultaneously leech off the data freely given over and by their meddling with algorithms, tinkering with the interface, and introducing paid for and subscription elements they destroy the serendipitous creativity and (semi-) random connectedness that powered them to success in the first place. Just because it's Silicon Valley with its tech bros, the contrived talk of ecosystems and self-actualisation, and on trend piffle doesn't change the nature of the beast. Capitalism eats itself by cannibalising the conditions of its own production, be it digital or analogue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am not even on facebook. I come here because I have the page bookmarked. I don't know whether this titbit of data will help provide any solution to your social media woes, but here it is.

I'll mention as well what I read somewhere: millions of resentful users are not a good business strategy