As you may have heard, social networking giant Facebook today quietly announced the test marketing of an updated version, called Facebook Real, with the stated objective of improving the Facebook user experience.
Facebook has always taken some flak about its negative effects, so this seems a worthwhile goal. But cynics as we are, The Armchair MBA feels Facebook Real is just a misdirection play to divert attention from the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal (CEO Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before the US Congress in the near future).
In any case, this is an example of how a seemingly innocuous reason-for-being (exploit the constant human needs of attention and affirmation to create an online community and attract eyeballs) can instead have the opposite effect (while also creating an international political scandal).
In today’s online world, nothing is 100% predictable. Or even 50%.
Since its founding in 2004, Facebook in 2017 has reached over 2 billion active users and a market value of over half a trillion dollars (although the recent scandal chopped about $50 billion – !! – off its market cap).
Along the way, however, the effect of never-ending positive posts from friends combined with lack of personal interaction has drawn increasing criticism for its negative psychological effects – – leading to a press release in December 2017 from Facebook’s own researchers admitting that sometimes people “felt worse” after spending time online.
Facebook has itself experimented with a ‘dislike button’ (which they call a ‘downvote button’) to give users some measure of control. But this hasn’t gone anywhere.
How will Facebook Real be different?
Facebook Real is a different way to help some users better cope with a continuous stream of positive posts, while still staying connected.
It is well known that the carefully curated posts of acquaintances’ positive experiences – – an accomplishment, a great vacation, a financial windfall, a celebrity sighting, etc. — are in reality your friends’ personal Highlight Reels. No one has a life as fabulous as any single person on Facebook, let alone everyone combined.
Indeed, as the Facebook researchers noted, “reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison” – – in other words, feelings of relative inferiority.
Facebook Real takes a different approach that is elegant in its simplicity. It essentially attempts to make feeds more representative of real life, including the ups as well as the downs – – and relies on Facebook’s seemingly endless personal data trove, combined with some remarkable algorithmic programming.
In the test, every 2 or 3 actual positive posts from a person will be supplemented by one ‘fake’ post that is designed to reflect the realities of life. These ‘reality’ posts will be woven into the feed naturally, based on what Facebook knows about you.
For example, if Person A posts ‘my daughter is on the honor roll’ followed by ‘my husband just achieved his karate green belt’, or ‘got first row tickets to the Final Four’, it will be followed by a random post that Facebook has created but which is based on the person’s actual life.
If Facebook’s data shows that this person has, say, experienced a drop in credit score, a mortgage default, a threatening blackmail note from a spurned co-worker, a pet that failed obedience training, or a child that was recently bailed out of prison, this will be skillfully used to create a real-looking post sent from that person. The ‘sender’ will not be aware of this ‘faux post’.
The result will theoretically provide a break from the incessant stream of positives and show that everyone actually deals with real life, leading to a more interested, engaged and stable universe of Facebook users.
The downside is of course that Facebook Real relies on leveraging ever-increasing and ever-intrusive data on its users, which is not consistent with current attitudinal trends.
Look for more information on Facebook Real in coming weeks, and please contact The Armchair MBA if you suspect you may be in the test group. We’ll (anonymously, of course), provide an update in a future post.