The problems with Facebook are inherent in its design, but that can change

The problems with Facebook are inherent in its design, but that can change
From TechCrunch - April 16, 2018

The latest controversies of social networks Facebookand Twitter are easily the most heated in their entire 12-14 year historynot just because of their suspect role in enabling interference in the 2016 election, but because by now, nearly all of us are users. If history is any guide, however, this outrage likely wont last.

The simple fact is Facebook and Twitter have become too useful for most of us to quit, efficiently connecting us to people and ideas in ways that no other platform can replicate. Its usually enough for the social networks corporate owners to loudly apologize and promise new reforms; after the anger ebbs, equilibrium is rapidly restored. Even many users who vowed to quit social media forever will eventually, begrudgingly, return.

Still, this current crisis of trust has created an opportunity to interrogate just exactly how social media is failing us, and push for the fundamental, systemic changes needed to make it better. Im speaking of deeper, more subtle problems that are far less acknowledged than fake news or data mining: The core user experience of Facebook and Twitter are broken, rife with subtle visual and interactive cues which exploit and fuel our darker urges on these platformssubtly impelling many of us to share fake news, engage in trolling, and worse. Heres how:

Fast, Focused, Frenetic

Websites live and die by engagement, their ability to attract new users and keep them on the site. Facebook and Twitter have earned mass user bases and a central place in the mainstream discourse years ago, but their user experiences still reflect these companies origins as scrappy startups, desperate to keep growing. Consequently, every aspect of their user experience is optimized to reward frequent, and ultimately, frenetic engagement. For instance:

These dynamic interactions are compounded by the overall user interface, with image-based posts, screenshots and retweets occupying much of the interface display. Imagery accelerates and magnifies user engagement; it also encourages users to take and spread screencaps of incendiary private discussions and inflammatory discussions from other social networks.

The ever-increasing speed of wireless broadband further exacerbates this problem, encouraging emotional engagements wherever and wherever we might be with a device in our hands. Its rare that you can scroll down a Twitter or Facebook feed without getting emotionally hooked by something. Unlike an analog conversation, which might hook you emotionally one part at a time, social media feeds offer multiple barbs per page. Scroll long enough and there is no escape.

It would be simplistic, however, to say the design of social media is the sole culprit, because they are papering over an even deeper design problem.


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