Thursday, January 23, 2014

Remember, when using Facebook, you are the product, not the customer.

I had an interesting disagreement with a Facebook friend recently, and I think it might be useful to discuss what social media is (and is not) for those of us who use it for personal and business communication.

Long story short, a friend of mine posted an image that I found inappropriate, and I clicked through to report it as such.  It was a beach image of a dude wearing as little cloth as can be considered clothing, which is to say, he was anatomically correct.  It was absurd and not what I want popping up in the space we all share online.

The response from my friend was a public outcry and surprise that someone would find that unacceptable, so let's talk about it.

While Facebook has elements of a public forum for users, it is very much a business.  And as a business, the company has to do its best create value for its customers.

And we are not the customers.

We are not the customers of social media, we are the product.  In exchange for the communication tools and community experiences Facebook gives us, we allow ourselves to be advertised to and give them information about ourselves to be bought and sold.

The real customers for social media companies are the advertisers and information companies that pay for the ability to sell us stuff.

In order to have a profitable amount of "Product" (you and me) to sell, Facebook has to create an environment that is acceptable and useful enough for to keep us coming back.

And since they need us to be there, we get to have some input on the community environment of the service.  And by doing so, we get to shape what kind of experience we have.

So, yes, I'm an old curmudgeon with a sense of common decency that does not appreciate a dude hanging out in all his glory on the beach popping up the virtual walls of Facebook.

The reality of it is that in one sense Facebook is no different from a shopping mall.  We have the right (and responsibility) to either help create an environment where we want to participate or vote with our feet and leave.  If I saw the same image (or just some dude walking around wearing nada for that matter) hanging at the mall, I would talk to the manager.

On Facebook, the only way to alter the experience is via feedback to management, and they get to decide what type of environment they want to provide for us.

I like social media a lot.  And a big part of what makes it fun is the amazing diversity of opinions, beliefs, thoughts and humor.

But as with society in general, we have to have meet in the middle on some sort of common decency standards to make the experience as pleasant as possible for as many people as possible.  It is in the best interest of the company, and us, their willing products.

So if something crosses the line, you bet I will complain.  And I hope you will too.  Keep it classy, folks.


Now, one other note.  My friend rightly noted that I could have easily "hidden" that particular post so that it didn't show up.  I could also have blocked all content from my friend from popping into my timeline.  Or I could have even "unfriended" my friend.

It seems that these options would have been less offensive, and so maybe a private note and "unfollowing" the post would have appropriate.  However, in this case, my goal was not to simply be shaded from something I did not want to see.  It was to help shape the environment that we share online.

And I don't want to unfriend people who obviously think differently than me, because it is from them that I learn the most.

Just my $.02.  If it is even worth that much.

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