It’s a week on from the Great Facebook Blockade, and the Australian papers are trumpeting headlines announcing that Zuckerberg ‘backed down’ or that he ‘blinked first’ and all the world was watching.
Call me Miss Silly, but reading the articles, I thought after issuing his ‘warning’, Mr Zuckerberg simply showed willingness to negotiate. The Australian Government made some concessions, so did Facebook, and here we are, back to kind of normal. Also, the media seems to have overlooked the fact that Facebook has already made a similar arrangement with the UK, where news corporations negotiate with the tech giant to agree on terms. So the world may have been watching, but the situation isn’t quite unique.
My site was part of the ‘collateral damage’. Facebook’s boycott of Australian news sites apparently included all sites on Aussie servers, whether offering news or not. The only real impact of the settlement for me is that I’ll once again be able to share my weekly blog, and links to my books, on Facebook.
But there was one further consequence of Facebook’s heavy-handedness. Anyone who has used Facebook for any length of time knows that the site keeps tweaking its layout. When a largish change is made, there is usually an uproar because people can’t find features or hate the way the posts are presented. And there are glitches. It’s a typical ‘topsy’ web design, where the basics were written over a decade ago, and changes have been added and subtracted from that foundation ever since. You see it a lot in banking systems, where the original code (usually written in COBOL) is so out of date the system gurus are afraid to change it in case it breaks.
Then there’s the privacy concerns. Facebook collects information about you. That’s how it makes its money, by targeted advertising. If you’re silly enough to ‘sign in using Facebook’ (or for that matter, Google) on a new site, that’s another chunk of data the tech giants can collect about you. For them, individual users like you and me are just marketing targets.
Facebook is also quick to censor. Sometimes that’s fine. Posts inciting people to violence, footage of beheadings, or the Christchurch massacre have no place on a public forum. Sometimes it’s not, for instance pictures of women who have had a double mastectomy and had the scars covered with tattoos are not at all suggestive. A number of people (eg. ex-President Trump) have been banned. I don’t like censorship. I don’t need thought police in my life.
Since it went on the stock exchange, Facebook has scrambled to monetize anything it possibly can. I can’t use my profile page to advertise my books, I must have an author page to do that, which I can create for free. But only a handful of people will see the posts unless I pay to ‘boost’ them to distribute them to a larger audience. Even if I’m just posting a lorikeet picture on my profile, not all my friends will see it. Have you noticed how interaction has dropped? Advertising is more important.
In short, Facebook has become something of a pain, rather like free-to-air television; not much content and full of ads. I’m using it less and less and only stay because of a few groups, and some family and friends.