December 13, 2012

Anyone who saw this must-read post Facebook: I Want My Friends Back last month, calling the promoted posts system on Facebook the “biggest bait and switch in history”, or, you know, literally any single person who has logged onto the site lately, will have recognized that there is something fishy going on with the content we’re seeing in our news feeds. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been afforded an uninterrupted, unfiltered look at the actual posts being shared by my friends. Although I have a couple thousand people I’m supposed to be interacting with, in theory, my feed seems to stay stagnant, with the occasional update from a handful of people, and, more importantly, from companies and businesses who are obviously paying to get to the top of my stream. That would be bad enough on its own, if at least somewhat understandable—Facebook is a free service, after all, and I’m not required to use it. But a new behavior may just be a bridge too far.

As Bernard Miesler points out in this infurtiating piece on ReadWrite, many of us are also starting to see phantom likes and interactions between our friends and companies that they never even initiated themselves, rise to the top of our pages. Even worse, it’s happening with people who are dead, or who would never have liked the company in question in the first place. Sometimes it’s both.

Last month, while wasting a few moments on Facebook, my pal Brendan O’Malley was surprised to see that his old friend Alex Gomez had “liked” Discover. This was surprising not only because Alex hated mega-corporations but even more so because Alex had passed away six months earlier.

The Facebook “like” is dated Nov. 1, which is strange since Alex “passed [away] around March 26 or March 27,” O’Malley told me. Worse, O’Malley says the like was “quite offensive” since his friend “hated corporate bullshit.”

All of this is surprising, especially given Facebook’s purported mission to stamp out fake profiles because they consider it harmful to their credibility. What’s with all the fake likes then?  And, as Miesler points out, doesn’t this sort of brand appreciation shell game completely destroy the very thing that makes Facebook so valuable to advertisers in the first place, being a means to track what we as consumers specifically “like” and thereby target us better? Go check your own pages now, you’ll probably find a vegetarian friend who “likes” Burger King, or a liberal who “likes” Mitt Romney. It turns out I like something called TD Money Lounge, which is a bank or some sort I’m guessing. Even weirder is that me and about 12 other of my friends, most of them from Boston, and most of them in the music world here, like a restaurant in Binghamton, NY, called Valhalla International Restaurant and Lounge. W. T. F. ?

That’s a lot of wasted ad and promoted post dollars being flushed down the shitter based on faulty premises. The result, I guess, is people online pretending to be someone that they’re not, getting falsely looped into a brand interaction they never agreed to, then being advertised to by companies who think they’re reaching someone that doesn’t exist. It’s enough to make you want to wash your hands of the whole social media experiment altogether. I mean, none of us are going to, because we’re all twitching crack-rodents waiting for the next pill to pop down the shoot, but wouldn’t it be nice if we did?

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