Facebook needs to learn to manage scruffy neighborhoods to stay relevant
Not all of us live in or want to live in a PG-13 world. But the recent rash of shutdowns over perfectly normal behavior has me wondering how Facebook’s going to set a global standard for what the social media neighborhood looks like.
Failbook, Reddit, even other meme generators and collection curation systems show that Facebook left unmoderated would be a pile of naked people pictures, drunk and disorderly pictures, and a ton of stuff that would make for a genuinely human neighborhood. The good part is that Facebook does moderate the most egregious stuff out of our daily feeds. But the flip side of that is the number of abortion pictures, dead animal pictures, and downright wacky left right democrat republican nonsense you have ever seen in your life. Facebook tends to run a very fine line between what is good for common decency and the kind of environment they want to have for their users.
If you have never had your Facebook account shut down for posting something “inappropriate” then you have not run into the intentional curation of a PG-13 environment. Complicating matters is the new Graph Search, and if you have not used it, it is a very interesting way of finding out what your friends are into, depending on what they have posted. In an article this morning over at Wired they stated:
It might be for technology scalability and resource reasons, but it’s also good psychology. A slow and steady rollout gives Facebook time to preserve its feel of a digital living room (or neighborhood bar), a place where we can safely hang out with our friends. It also gives users time to figure out and get comfortable with where their information ends up as it is indexed and made searchable. Because a steady supply of current preferences and intent is absolutely critical to the success of Graph Search. Yet this supply of social information on Facebook could slow as the very demand for it grows. Source: Wired.
What makes this interesting is the community norms that are being promulgated through the Facebook system. They might know where you go because you use Facebook login everywhere you go, but there is a deeper issue of neighborhoods. If Facebook wants to be the neighborhood bar, then they need to understand that some of us like to hang out at biker bars, while others like to hang out in Gastropubs, while others like the look and feel of a dive bar, while others like to hang out at strip club bars. There is not one universal place to hang out that appeals to everyone, we all have our different ideas of what makes for a fun Saturday night.
Facebook Graph needs to address the idea that neighborhoods are different. We are all different, and not all of us want to go to Disneyland, no we want to go to a dive punk rock bar and watch a band rip up the stage. Being shut down for however long does not truly address the issue that we are all different. The use of graph search opens up windows into your friends’ behavior that are unexpected. It also opens up the door to not just Facebook imposing an idealized and quite possibly unrealistic expectation of behavior, but to the sanctions of friends and families if you checked into a strip club using foursquare and that gets posted to Facebook. If that check in gets you shut down by Facebook, or sanctioned by your friends, you either stop going to strip clubs or stop sharing data back to Facebook via foursquare. Either way there is a data loss, you stop sharing, Facebook keeps its nice shiny neighborhood intact, and a quirk in personality suddenly gets harder to track.
For some this is awesome, some people do not want it known that they go to strip clubs and won’t share the information. In some subcultures, going to a strip club is a rite of passage. It all just depends on why you went, not so much as where you went.
The world is much more than white picket fences, and at times that seems like what Facebook is going for. There is an amazing amount of people, some 100 million records in Google, who have been shut down in Facebook for any number of reasons, all of them violating Facebook’s Terms of Service.
The internet has grown to be an important medium for expression, and there are safer places than Facebook to post your shared content. Google Plus seems to be the most relaxed of all the social services, along with Twitter coming in second place. Facebook seems to want to create an idealized world where everyone is simply peachy. Unfortunately, there are still dive bars, biker bars, and strip clubs on the internet and in real life. The white picket fence part of life is remote for many of us, and Graph Search is going to show us that as a reality. While Facebook continues to shut down or lock out accounts, people will move on, and no amount of technological trickery is going to solve the fundamental problem. Facebook wants to be the corner bar; the problem is that some of us like one kind of corner bar over other ones.