I originally wrote this blog post back in March. I didn’t post it because I thought this subject of Americans vs. Americans was touchy as we were entering Covid quarantines. Then I didn’t post it during the riots. Then I didn’t post it during the election season. Then I gave up on social media entirely. This year has seemingly found a way to drive us all further and further from each other, and I hope this in some way serves as either enlightenment or a goodbye because I am not willing to lose more friends and family due to a difference in opinion. I love you all. Except vegans.
In my opinion…
1997. I’m sitting at the next table over from my boss who is fighting with a Juniper rep over some BGP configuration issue. I am not sure what they said to him but the words that came out of his mouth were:
“Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.”
At that moment I was building our new Usenet server (Linux software raid with experimental kernel drivers), to host one of the first and largest distributed discussion/bulletin board systems. And, alt.binaries.* aside, the largest pile of opinions nobody asked for.
If you ask me, that is what made America great: everyone had an opinion, they were smart enough to keep the idiotic ones to themselves, and anyone that shouted it from the corner with a megaphone was a nutjob that you ran away from faster than a dude handing out hooker business cards on the Las Vegas strip.
We all have personal thoughts and opinions – and they only matter to us.
The age of dimlightenment…
Your opinion is worthless.
Your opinion of my opinion, equally worthless. Even more so, because you’re free to misinterpret what you think I said. Social media makes that easy.
Yes, it’s fun to debate, to argue, to joke, to tease, to post memes – but it does not carry any value. Yes, debating and defending your opinion might excite you, empower you, educate you – but it’s very much a personal and internal matter that is of no consequence to the real world. Yes, I love Florida Gators and I think they are the best despite the record, but there is a profound difference between screaming at the TV and getting tackled full speed by a 300lb linebacker.
I’m sure you can all relate and agree.
But things get a little tricky when you throw in social media and some Psychology 101 on a quest for eternal profits.
Suddenly, your opinion is no longer some irrelevant BS you’re slinging with your buddies over wings & beer.
Your opinion, nearly instantaneously, is delivered in black and white to your friends, family, and people that hate your guts. They are free and encouraged to “react” to your opinion, or share it out of context with their friends and associates.
Your opinion now not only matters, it has a score. Thumbs up. Thumbs down. Love. Care. Sarcastic care. Sadness. Retweet. Heart. Shared. Screenshotted. Reposted. Facebook does a great job of delivering constant notifications and reactions to your opinion, compelling you to react back in an environment that is designed to embrace your short attention span and need for frequent dopamine.
Your opinion, that you likely formed and decreed from your porcelain throne while regretting your lunch at Chipotle, is now how your friends and family see you.
Your afternoon started with saying yes to queso on your burrito, but 15 toilet paper sheets and flushes later you’re sharing a joke on Facebook and some dude you haven’t seen in a decade is calling you a racist.
Facebook enabled all of us to be that crazy guy shouting at people passing by. Facebook not only normalized and boosted sharing unpopular opinions, it’s gamification and algorithms outright weaponized it for profit. They handed us the megaphone and surrounded us with familiar people/pictures/names so we’d feel safe being ourselves.
By all means – share. And then to reward you and incentivize you – here is a way to react. Because it’s a way to have an emotional outburst without the effort of actually thinking of a response. It drives engagement, which can either positively or negatively validate the poster.
On social media you’re never a raving lunatic – you’re an influencer!
But that’s not how Facebook makes it’s money. Just like a drug dealer, Facebook makes money by getting you addicted to the neverending stream of opinions that will glue you to your phone and keep you scrolling. The longer you scroll the more likely you are to make their job even easier, by emotionally reacting to something that further perfect the trap. Cause the longer you scroll, the more paid me$$ages they can get in front of you. The hell with western civilization, they are just innocently broadcasting everyone on a mission as an advocate of freedom of speech. Except, they operate more like Al-Qaeda. Here is a process in a nutshell:
- Fill out a survey when you join Facebook to show your interests so that they can build a model for the type of content you’re into.
- Based on what you like, and how you “react” to content, Facebook suggests additional content that is along the same lines.
- They track which links you click on, what you scroll back on, who you mute/ignore or become a top fan.
Facebook actively incentivizes you to share your opinion. Whether it’s through dopamine/validation hits when others react or engage with the content you share, or by showing you content that they know you can’t resist commenting on, it is always your eyeballs that and mindless clicks that are relevant. Never forget: They want you scrolling and clicking, not reading and thinking.
Tell Facebook what you like. Tell Facebook what you hate. Tell Facebook which charities you support. Put it on your profile picture. Show it how you react (directly, or indirectly by leaving it as you scroll past something unsavory) – and rest assured that they’ll give you endless content to keep you glued to your stream.
That last algorithm, the one that looks for more addictive and blood pressure raising content, is the most dangerous one: the one that suggests pages and groups to follow. Where Facebook’s “community standards” police is usually looking the other way because those very same places produce shareable and engaging content that draws people in.
The biggest problem
The biggest problem with all of social media, according to me, is:
Social media tricks you into thinking that your opinion matters.
You are stupid (or emotional) enough to sit there and defend it. You take opinions of strangers as if they are attacks on your very core, as if they carry value and meaning and as if they aren’t musings of someone bored on their toilet.
And all these groups, all these pages, virtually everything you can feed into Facebook, is there to monetize your inability or unwillingness to close the window.
It even goes one step further, by providing you convenient ways to justify your opinions along with easy access for anyone that has a different opinion to disagree with you. Now go on, feed it more.
In the real world, your opinions don’t matter and you rarely have to defend them. Your thoughts, your interests, your values – they all drive your actions – and that is what defines you.
On Facebook (and social media in general), it’s the exact opposite: there are no actions, just a lot of hot air. Incentivized and monetized by a company pretending to be about free speech while developing and profiting from the technology designed to drive us apart and pin us against each other. For some of you observing and participating in that is a form of therapy, and I understand and appreciate that. It’s not worth the tradeoff for me anymore.
We cannot let our cities and our civilization burn down just so some weirdo dweeb that couldn’t get laid can stack a few more billion.
We cannot let the opinions and the outrage over opinions stall our progress as civilized people.
We are allowing things that even we’re not that passionate about break up friendships, marriages, families – over our limited understanding of the world around us, our lack of empathy, our inability or unwillingness to see someone else’s point of view and do something about it.
For me, it’s doing something that I in good conscience am not willing to feed because I firmly believe that we’re stronger together than apart, when we work on solutions to common problems, not when we just debate our disagreements.
To that end, I hope you keep on following Vladville if you’re interested in what I do and how I can be of some value to you. As for Facebook, I’ll just let it know when I post stuff here, but it’s license to bother, manipulate or profit off my attention and my relationships is hereby revoked.