6 Ways Facebook is a Life Leeching Succubus

Here's a failed Cracked* article I wrote around a year ago. I've since come to terms with social media and the anti-social havoc it wrecks...probably because I finally got a smartphone and there's only so much hypocrisy I can spout. Oh, and I've had a series of jobs in social media since. *Excuse my ridiculous hyperbole and sensational expletives — it was for Cracked.

6 Ways Facebook is a Life Leeching Succubus 

'Nation of Swipers' from  Philippe Put /Flickr.

'Nation of Swipers' from Philippe Put/Flickr.

Facebook is great. It keeps you connected with friends and family. It can keep you up-to-date with news and current affairs. And it is a great way to keep up with bullshit memes that you don't care about but might need to stay abreast of.

If Facebook is so great, why do commuters look liked drug-fucked zombies when they're scrolling through their Facebook news feeds? It is because Facebook is Shiva, both the destroyer and creator of lives, here's why:

#1. Living in the moment

A mainstay of Eastern philosophy is living in the moment. It's difficult to argue with the healthiness of this practice.

Basically, if you're constantly thinking about the future 'what's for dinner', 'it'll be so cool when the new Smash Bros. comes out', 'life will be much better when I have a real job', then you will never experience the present — and thus you'll live a virtual life. The 'ideal' life that you've always dreamed about can never be tasted in the present. 

"Over all, subjects' minds were wandering about 47% of the time... The daydreaming was not good for people's moods: Volunteers were unhappier when their thoughts were elsewhere." Science: Daydreaming is a downer
This guy's got the picture — stop and smell the roses with your four noses. Give em a little nibble maybe. Image:  Mark Robinson /Flickr.

This guy's got the picture — stop and smell the roses with your four noses. Give em a little nibble maybe. Image: Mark Robinson/Flickr.

That's why it's nice to eat slowly and clearly perceiving a nice meal. To 'stop and smell the roses' is both literal and figurative. Do it.

Enter: Facebook - **PHWOOOOAAR** - it stomps down the street, leaving a puddle of pus and garbage juice in its wake. It stomps over and throws the flower-smelling hippy into its gargantuan, gaping face orifice. 
Maybe I'm exaggerating for the sake of illustration, but Facebook is certainly efficient at stopping people from living in the moment.

I'll admit, sometimes FB users are living in the moment, but it's someone else's - like: what that someone else is eating for dinner right now.

Instead of experiencing a live show, the FB-possessed are too busy taking blurry, pixelated photos. Instead of enjoying nature, these people are scouting out ideal profile picture angles. Instead of thinking 'how lucky we are to have the chance to even experience reality', we are thinking 'how can my current situation be synthesised into a status update?'

#2. You suck, but everyone else is fantastic

In the same way advertisers manipulate your self esteem by showing you idealised, non-existent people. Facebook users, including your friends and family, do not post about their mundane experiences, which compose 99% of their mundane lives.

Instead, we see that 1% of great times. And since our own lives are composed of mostly 'uncool' stuff, this leads to an overestimation of how great everybody else's life is and, consequently, how shit our own one is.

This might be an example of 'probability neglect', a brain glitch whereby we remember and overcompensate for more extreme (but often infrequent) scenarios, and ignore the overwhelming majority of innocuous scenarios. 

"Probability neglect helps to explain public overreaction to highly publicized, low-probability risks, including those posed by sniper attacks, anthrax...[etc.]" The Irrational Economist
A shit night can happen even inside a game you're playing while you're wasting time having a shit night. Image:  Zola Zsun /Flickr.

A shit night can happen even inside a game you're playing while you're wasting time having a shit night. Image: Zola Zsun/Flickr.

Facebook heavily publicises great stuff and suppresses boring stuff - especially with the 'top stories' versus 'most recent stories' function.

"Top News shows popular stories from your favorite friends and Pages, many of which have gained lots of attention since the last time you checked...t displays stories based on their relevance, rather than in chronological order." Facebook Tips


#3. Semi-perfect news feed

Facebook has over a billion users and a large proportion of those return each day. To cater for these folk, Facebook tries very hard to create perfectly personalised news feeds. 

"Each time you log in, Facebook’s algorithms choose from about 1,500 possible posts to place at the top of your News Feed." Slate: Facebook's Edgerank algorithms

Ideally for Facebook, our news feed would be so ideal it would be a drip feed from God's vein - each and every post, perfectly customised to our desires. If they can model which posts we like, they can model which ads we like and which way we'd like to feed the hungry, hungry FB hippo.

BUT, the problem is: the news feed SUCKS! It sucks because I don't give a shit about 90% of the stuff that appears there. An interesting or provocative post is like finding a corn kernel in a log of shit.

Yet we still love Facebook and continue to return to it, day in and day out, pawing at the screen like a locked-out toxoplasmic cat.

Why is this? 

Well I suspect Facebook's imperfect news feed (the one which feeds mostly irrelevant and inane material) is the reason why people are so addicted.

Behavioural science suggests that too much of a good thing gets boring. If we get no reward for performing a behaviour, we won't return; if we get too much reward for performing a behaviour, we get numb and bored. But, if we get rewarded only occasionally and randomly - then we hang around for much longer, awaiting that next and unpredictable dopamine kick. Here's an experiment demonstrating dopamine release from minor wins in a video game, straight from the horse's mouth. Or was it a scientist? I can't remember, I get those two mixed up.

"These results further validate the putative link between behavioural manipulation and dopamine release, and complement studies in which...[dopamine] was associated with sensorimotor functions related to rewarding, aversive, and stressful stimuli." Nature: Evidence for striatal dopamine release during a video game.
Old skool Facebook feeds. Image:  Kristofer Björkman /Flickr.

Old skool Facebook feeds. Image: Kristofer Björkman/Flickr.

If the news feed was tailored too well, we might get satiated with entertainment after reading two entirely engaging articles. 

With Facebook's crappy news feed, the occasional interesting post keeps us hooked, searching for the Oasis of Entertainment in the Desert of Inanity. This way we're exposed to more ads, thus more revenue for the Beast.

This is just speculation, but keep it in mind next time you're scrolling aimlessly through miles of news feed.


#4. Advertising

We all know advertising is great! Marketing agencies love getting to know you, really well. Strangely, all they end up doing is making insulting and demeaning typecasts (NYTimes).They manipulate your psyche to make you feel inadequate. Why? So you'll spend money to fix your inadequate self, of course! Make me feel bad; take my money - that seems like the meaning of life to me.

And on the internet, advertising follows you around like a rapist taking notes so it can most efficiently screw you free of your (hard) earned money.

"As advertisers increasingly seek to target their ads based on personal information, the company that will be most successful will inevitably be the one that can gather the most information about its users." New Yorker: Facebook's targeted ads

Why are ads so good at targeting you at your weakest? Because Facebook and advertisers are in a tag team of good cop, bad cop.

We can help treat you, now that we've convinced you you need treating, you filthy dry-scalped arsehole. Image:  eliz.avery /Flickr.

We can help treat you, now that we've convinced you you need treating, you filthy dry-scalped arsehole. Image: eliz.avery/Flickr.

Facebook walks into the room: 
'Hey, I brought your friends and family along in your time of need. Wanna have a little chat? Tell 'em what you like, what you're into?'
'Sure, sure', we say to Facebook. 'I like this and that, and I have some comments for these pages over here.'

And then Facebook leaves the room and gives its seedy notes to the ad people waiting outside. Yes, FB uses all of your clicks to craft perfect ads. Well that's how it used to be, in the good old days at least. But how do they make even better ads?

"...the answer was to begin collecting new forms of data designed to generate insights that the old forms of data—likes, shares, comments, and clicks—couldn’t." Slate: Facebook's Edgerank algorithms

Since June this year, the year 2014 AD (in case you just woke up from an induced coma and stumbled straight to this article). In June, Facebook extended its eye-tipped tendrils outside of its own domain, and into the rest of your browsing history. The new adstool or ad stool is called Atlas, as in: you can't hide anywhere on the mother fucking...

"With the expansion of Atlas, when you visit a third-party Web site while you’re logged into Facebook on your computer or phone—even if you don’t have the site itself open at the time—Facebook will serve the Web site a targeted ad based not only on cookies but on the data it has about you." New Yorker: Facebook's targeted ads

A few months ago, I was organising a surprise holiday for my partner on our anniversary. Within hours we were both looking at a post on FB when ads for the holiday location AND transport routes began popping up all over the page. Thanks FB, now I have goddamned robots spoiling my surprises.


#5. Anti-social networking

Facebook is, after all, a social network. And it does that well. It is easier than ever to organise an event with many people. It is easy to stay in touch with friends that you haven't seen since kindergarten and who are now into heavy drugs and have five children and post porn and racist slogans to Facebook.
As you might know, users must engage with this digital Facebook world while they're living in the real world - much like the real world in The Matrix, where humans are sleeping in jelly wombs while accessing their matrices.

Phone ran out of battery. Image: WarnerBros.

Phone ran out of battery. Image: WarnerBros.

All too often though, FB users neglect the real world to plug themselves into the FB matrix spontaneously and often without warning. Since this life neglecting technology is so new, common sense hasn't had a chance to penetrate. This leaves us with groups of friends sitting side by side in the real world (rows of jelly uteri) with no words or eye contact - all separately browsing the matrix on their separate matrix machines. Social networking indeed.

"A systematic literature search was conducted, identifying 18 studies. These studies provide
compelling evidence for the similarities between different types of addictions, notably
substance-related addictions and Internet and gaming addiction, on a variety of levels." Journal of Brain Sciences

I haven't the opportunity to purchase my own matrix machine just yet, so it's awkward for me when these spontaneous FB browsing events happen. I'm left to watch the blank, illuminated faces of browsers. Indeed, I have been in one on one conversations where a FB checking 'sesh' has happened. That's fun. 

Or maybe my conversation should just be more compelling and way less fucking boring.

#6. BAR is watching

Background app refresh (BAR), is what happens to apps when you have your back turned, and you'd better believe Facebook is being seedy, just like the Apple house it lives in.

"Multitasking allows apps to perform certain tasks in the background while you're using other apps or not using your device." Apple Support

Yes, Apple's smart devices try to balance the device's energy usage to the detriment of your privacy. Once you close an app, it is still active in the background, likely getting a drink or something. Background app refreshments try to minimise the rate at which they update the content, so as to minimise energy usage.

But we all know, humanity's greatest downfalls always occur when we're seeking convenience, think: take-away, drive-thrus, email, Amazon drone delivery. 'Don't get up and get some life saving exercise, we'll bring the food to you and feed it to you while you're in bed.' 'Have an unidentifiable discomfort? Have these precious antibiotics that can only be used a limited number of times.'

"iOS learns patterns based on how you use your device and tries to predict when an app running in the background should refresh. It also learns when the device is typically inactive, like at night, to help keep apps from refreshing when you're not using your device. Apps can also schedule background refreshing based on your location." Apple Support

Yes, Apple and Facebook know where you are and when you go to sleep and wake up. Therefore, when you close Facebook, you tell Facebook to close, but it hears differently. Facebook hears: 'monitor my internet browsing for optimum ad tailoring, and, when I'm about to rouse from my slumber, start choosing specialised news feed posts to feed me'.

Don't worry if you find yourself playing games or looking at pictures of baby animals at 1 AM on a Friday night instead of having mad awesome roof-top parties. It's not just you; it's everyone.

Facebook is fantastic, it helps us to stay connected with friends, family, news, culture. It helps orchestrate get-togethers and events. It helps spread our net of interests with like-minded people. But, Facebook has its dark side which we should keep in mind. Now march on, my zombie brethren and sistren.