Mark Zuckerberg’s Manifesto shared with the world last week acknowledges that Facebook is no longer primarily a platform for sharing personal memories between family and friends.
An analysis I recently did on my Facebook News Feed content showed just how polluted Facebook has become with advertising, funny animal videos and all sorts of other attention grabbing digital clickbait.
In his manifesto published last week, it seems Mark Zuckerberg has also come to this realization – characterizing Facebook as a platform for sharing simple messages designed to grab your attention and get a reaction:
“Social media is a short-form medium where resonant messages get amplified many times. This rewards simplicity and discourages nuance.”
Yep, that would explain the chicken wearing pants video, the post about the rise of the alt-right movement and also that video of Steve Irwin’s son on Jimmy Fallon.
Zuckerberg says that,
“Building a global community that works for everyone starts with the millions of smaller communities and intimate social structures we turn to for our personal, emotional and spiritual needs.”
He is totally right of course, but families that have historically been at the core of these “communities and intimate social structures”, now seem to be a secondary focus for Facebook:
“For the past decade, Facebook has focused on connecting friends and families. With that foundation, our next focus will be developing the social infrastructure for community…”
Rather, Zuckerberg has decided to focus on Facebook becoming the “social fabric” for the “…layers of communities between us and government that take care of our needs.” Groups that lie between our “…personal relationships with friends and family, and…institutional relationships with the governments that set the rules.”
The strategy makes sense. We no longer post much personal content so Facebook now has to work harder to connect us with relevant groups that present us with content we want to engage with and that we will more likely share content with. After all, without that content and engagement, we would consume far fewer advertisements.
While the sentiments of community building in Zuckerberg’s manifesto are lofty, it pays to remember that Facebook is a public company compelled to increase its revenues through paid advertising and this is what motivates its actions. Facebook relies on the content we create and edit for free to attract us back as an audience. The detailed personal information it has extracted from us is then used to present us with targeted advertisements they can sell for billions of dollars.
Without the free content machine we users provide and our continued engagement, Facebook’s powerful model doesn’t work.
Although it has changed its focus, Facebook is not likely to give up on being a platform for sharing among families and closer circles of friends. It has the resources to acquire any competitor that offers these groups better, more personal, ways to share. Instagram was the first example of an acquisition to keep users under the Facebook umbrella and WhatsApp is the most recent. These different apps and services all become parts of the social infrastructure for the “global community” that Zuckerberg is creating.
But even if it wants to, Facebook’s need to maximize revenue will continue to conflict with providing families and close circles of friends with the best experience possible for saving and sharing their personal memories. A prime example of this is Facebook’s announcement that it is preparing to bring marketing messages to its WhatsApp service and to tap user data from WhatsApp to improve ad targeting on Facebook.
With over 1.86 billion monthly active users and a $385 billion market cap, Facebook is a behemoth that is not going away anytime soon. But as we have seen in the past, behemoths often struggle to adjust quickly to their diverse and ever-changing user bases and this creates opportunities for others to step in.
It is up to us to, as Zuckerberg puts it, “build the world we all want”. The groups that Facebook wants us to connect to can only be part of the solution. We must start by tending to our own roots — strengthening connections with our own families through preserving and sharing the personal stories and memories that form the narratives that guide our paths forward.
Exploring other online and offline options for capturing our own personal stories and selectively sharing them with those closest to us will involve taking some time away from Facebook and the other noisy, cluttered social media streams we spend time on. Stepping out of our comfort zones will take effort but will be rewarded with deeper connections to ourselves, our families and those closest to us.
We have the power to choose to spend less time consuming meaningless chatter and more time creating and capturing moments that matter with those we love. If we don’t choose this path, we may ironically find ourselves more connected and more adrift and isolated at the same time.
The big question is: will we look to other solutions to help us save and share our personal memories or will the art of family storytelling and the powerful foundation it has always served in society be irreparably damaged?
Arkiver is one option you may want to check out.
This article was originally published on Medium.