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Quit Dumbing Me Down, and Do Something Great Instead: An Open Letter to Facebook

You could, you know. You could be one of the organizing forces of the evolution of humanity over the next century. But, first, you have to get off the middle school playground. You have to let go of your identity as that guy who calls himself Crazy Larry and throws confetti at the camera to sell used cars. You have to get a little more mature, yourself.
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Dear Facebook,

You've labeled me - politically speaking, at least. I recently learned that you'd boiled me down to either Conservative, Liberal, or Moderate, based only on my clicks - and I was curious to see what you'd come up with. So I checked.

Now, in this open letter, I'm just going to say you've labeled me as something other than moderate. Let's call it "X," a disguise I employ for two reasons. First, I'm not convinced I agree, and second, I don't want this letter to be interpreted as the taking of sides - an unavoidable side effect, if I were to disclose the label.

The point is, I'm not taking sides - nor am I writing to you about the accuracy of your assessment. In fact, I'm not even writing to call you out with rhetorical questions about where you get the right to peek into my psyche. I clicked what I clicked; you tracked what you could. Fine. Do all the peeking you can, and good luck making sense of what's in there.

What I want to talk about is what you're doing with your guess. Because you're not just using it to present me with content you think will be agreeable to me. You're also using it to try to infuriate me. And that's manipulation.

Come on. I know that you know what you're putting in my feed, and that you're intentional about it. It's no secret, for example, that you offer specific audience optimization tools for paid marketing content. And, it's just as clear that you understand the details of other content too - at least well enough to present 'related reading' suggestions for every article I click.

So let's talk about what you're presenting to me.

I have friends on Facebook (and in real life) whose politics are actually Pro-X. And given the way you've labeled me, it's not surprising that you show me their Pro-X posts. You show me things like "Presidential Candidate X on the Issues," "Prominent Person Supports Congressman X," and "Candidate X Leads in the Polls." When a Pro-X friend shares a Pro-X post, you show it to me.

But here's where you get sneaky. I also have friends whose politics are the opposite of X - let's call them Pro-Y. And I happen to know they're reading analogous articles - things like "Presidential Candidate Y on the Issues," "Prominent Person Supports Congressman Y," and "Candidate Y Leads in the Polls." But when a Pro-Y friend shares a Pro-Y post, you don't necessarily show me that one.

Actually, you don't show me much Pro-Y content at all. Instead, you show me the Anti-X content that my Pro-Y friends are reading. And, you choose the most rabidly Anti-X articles imaginable. You choose articles with incendiary, overly dramatic, idiotic titles - titles with lots of capital letters that sound like middle school playground banter. You show me "Presidential Candidate X OWNED by Prominent Figure Y." You show me "DISGRACE! Congressman X Favors Terrible, Un-American Things." You show me "Candidate X Has NO CHANCE After One Major MISTAKE," and "Candidate Y is KILLING Candidate X in the Polls."

And the really devious part is, my Pro-Y friends aren't even sharing most of that stuff. But that's OK, you don't need them to share it - you just need them to 'like' it. As soon as one of them clicks 'like' on one of those incendiary titles, you serve it up to me fast, with the person's name and picture right at the top. I can almost imagine your pleased look as you instigate. "You know what so-and-so said he liked? Just wait till I tell you."

I happen to know my Pro-Y friends in real life. They're far more nuanced than the one dimensional profile you paint. They may be clicking "like" a hundred times a day, on a hundred different kinds of articles. But you only show me the ones that encourage divisiveness.

It's not an accident. It's not a coincidence. It's a pattern. It's intentional. And I wonder why. Are you conducting another experiment? Are you desperate for readers? Are you trying to start a fight?

Whatever your reason, you're purposely taking action designed to make me dumber - and you know it.

Admit it: You do. We both do. Simple, binary, immature thinking leads to less intelligent, less sophisticated, less effective solutions. Complex, multifaceted, mature thinking leads to more intelligent, more sophisticated, more effective solutions. Immaturity is dumber than maturity! I know this because I'm an expert in creating high performing organizations. And you know it, too - both because you are a high performing organization, and because you make your money by converting simple, binary, automated algorithms into complex, subtle, analytical data.

And yet, here you are, encouraging me to think more simply. Practically daring me.

Actually, on second thought - never mind why you're doing it. Just cut it out. Stop showing me content that encourages crude, unsophisticated, we/they thinking. Stop dredging for reasons to cause strife with my friends. Stop trying to drive a wedge between me and other human beings. Get off the middle school playground.

Do better.

You have the ability. I've listened to you brag about how you have more members than many countries, more analytical insight than most companies, and more content than most platforms. You have breadth, depth, intelligence, and insight about the global population that was unheard of even a decade ago. You have computing power beyond what many of our political leaders can even comprehend.

Do better! Decide, once and for all, to put all those assets to good use. That's good use. Be a force for unification, not an instigator of petty conflict. Be a carrier of truth, not a yammering, nosy neighbor. Be Neil deGrasse Tyson, not Gladys Kravitz.

Build algorithms to educate people about the nuance behind oversimplified viewpoints. Encourage connection and collaboration between people of differing backgrounds and beliefs. Foster cooperation between complementary groups of diverse individuals. Quit encouraging homogeneity, factionalism, and brainless skirmish - and start encouraging the kind of complex, networked, multidimensional thinking mankind will need to survive the challenges we'll face over the next hundred years.

You could, you know. You could be one of the organizing forces of the evolution of humanity over the next century. But, first, you have to get off the middle school playground. You have to let go of your identity as that guy who calls himself Crazy Larry and throws confetti at the camera to sell used cars. You have to get a little more mature, yourself.

Do it for me. Do it for humanity. Or, do it for yourself. Because if the entire population of thinking, functioning, non-middle-school-playground-dwelling adults outgrows you permanently - well, that's not good for ad revenue.

Thanks for your time, and for all the pictures of cats.


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