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I Scroll Through My Facebook Feed For The First Time

7 min read from miscellaneous on 2020-05-29

I’ve seen many blog posts documenting people’s journey in leaving social media. The most recent one being “Asocial? A Life Without Social Media” from Justin Vollmer.

As someone who has social media but almost never uses it, I’ve always been interested in these posts and have wondered if I’ve been missing out on anything. A common theme is that apparently knowing what your friends and family are up to is important to people. From Vollmer’s post:

“I also miss out on social gossip (which is probably both a positive and a negative). I have missed many people’s birthdays, because I forgot to find out when they were ahead of time, and I no longer get a notification. I also am not the first to know when relationship statuses change (single -> dating, dating -> engaged, dating -> single, etc). And I don’t always hear about major life changes either (pregnancy, moving to a new job, new state, etc). These are often small prices to pay, but they do affect me nonetheless.”

I’ve never really understood this because I already know what people are up to: they’re making a series of stupid mistakes that I would not personally make.

But I think it will be interesting to see what else is out there. As a person who spends all their time watching people play video games and reading research papers it would be nice to find other ways to waste my time.

This is mainly going to be about Facebook becuase I don't find Twitter or Instagram to be very interesting as they seem to be more focused on the one person instead of communities, which means that there probably aren't very many worthwhile discussions going on around there.

I may look at TikTok however, because I don't get it. I don't get TikTok. Why do people like it? It looks really stupid. Every time I've looked at a video that originated from TikTok it's been against my will and was about someone being an idiot.

But enough rambling, it's time to make social media history. This will be a tale for genenerations to come. Years from now your grandchildren will ask you: "where were you when Justin first scrolled down his Facebook feed?" And because we're such good friends, I'll give you permission to reply: "I was right there with him", even though we both know you weren't. It's 11pm right now, I'm alone in my apartment, I've spent half the day watching people do pacifist Dark Souls runs, and I haven't spoken to a single person in 4 days. So saying that is a complete lie, but I'll let it slide so you can look cool in front of your grandchildren.

Okay that was more rambling, but that's it I promise!

I think first thing you do when you want to look at your Facebook feed is to open up your internet browser (Firefox) and enter www.facebook.com into the URL bar. While we wait for that to load because this is the modern web and a login page needs 50MB of JavaScript, let's talk about some fun stuff.

Remeber when in 2018 when Facebook’s tracking of non-users was ruled illegal again. Apparently they were using "various technologies, such as the famous ‘cookies’ or the ‘social plug-ins’ (for example, the ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ buttons) or the ‘pixels’ that are invisible to the naked eye. It uses them on its website but also and especially on the websites of third parties." Which meant that "even if you have never entered the Facebook domain, Facebook is still able to follow your browsing behavior without you knowing it, let alone, without you wanting it, thanks to these invisible pixels that Facebook has placed on more than 10,000 other sites.”

Haha, that's pretty bad but at least they stopped doing it because it's illegal. Right?

Facebook is loaded now and I'm seeing a login page. Gotta be honest, I don't remeber what my password is. I thought it would be in my password manager but I must have made my account before I got started using one. Bare with me for a moment, I'll just reset it.

In the mean time, let's look at how Facebook is becomming the entire Internet for many people. Back in 2016, BuzzFeed News published "This Is What Happens When Millions Of People Suddenly Get The Internet", which is an excellent writeup on Myanmar.

Myanmar has a “low media and information literacy rate,” according to an interview given by an unnamed official in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to the Myanmar Times. Often called “digital literacy,” the term measures how well people using the internet understand what they are doing, and how to stay safe online. Countries like Myanmar, which come online quickly and without many government-backed programs to teach safe internet habits — like secure passwords and not revealing personal details online — rank among the lowest in digital literacy. They are the most likely to fall for scams, hacks, and fake news.

I'd encourge you to read the article, it's not that long but I can't really summarise it here.(1)

(1) And you should be reading the articles I link anyway.

But one more thing related to all this is how Facebook uses "zero rating" plans. This is when an internet provider takes bribes from online services to exempt them from data charges on their networks. Facebook says that having a roster of (Facebook-approved) services that are free-to-use benefits the poorest people in a country (and the fact that this also makes "Facebook" synonymous with "internet" for whole nations is merely incidental).

This isn't the case obviously, a study of 30 European countries by epicenter.works found that zero-rating encourages carriers to collude with Facebook to raise prices on non-zero-rated services, making it much harder to escape Facebook's orbit (and other big incumbents).

I think the EFF said it best: "Zero rating limits users to a narrow experience of the Internet, and disincentivizes them from venturing beyond those services that are provided for free. This is an argument commonly directed against Facebook's Free Basics service that is offered in several developing countries. Indeed, there is evidence that at least some users may never venture beyond Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg claims to have data that half of Free Basics users in fact upgrade to full Internet access within 30 days, but this net positive effect on Internet access seems to be minimal. Given the habits of the typical Internet user, those who upgrade likely continue to disproportionately use the services they could sign up for during their stint with zero-rating, a lasting harm to competition and public discourse."[1]

Anyway, I've reset my password now so let's get this over with as I can finally login.

Okay nevermind that. Apparently Facebook doesn't trust this browser and I need to enter a code they send by SMS. Thankfully, my phone is right next to me so I don't really have the time to go into another tange…

Oh I just remembered that Cambridge Analytica was a thing. Hmm.

For the unaware, "the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data breach occurred in early 2018 when millions of Facebook users' personal data was harvested without consent by Cambridge Analytica to be predominantly used for political advertising."[2] That was 2 years ago, I wonder if anything has happened because of it since then.

According to "The Cambridge Analytica scandal changed the world – but it didn't change Facebook" from The Guardian, Facebook hasn't really changed in response and has only made some vague promises to "pivot to privacy". They also state that the "Cambridge Analytica revelations may not have changed Facebook, but they did change us. Our eyes are now open." I'm not too sure about that. I'd consider myself to be pretty well informed about these privacy issues and I literally forgot about it for two years, so I'm not certain that the average person actually knows about this, let alone why it's such a huge deal.

Oh man, I just remembered the Panama Papers! What ever happened to those?!

On second thought, this is straying very far away from what this post was supposed to be about. I think I should call it quits here.


[1]: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/02/zero-rating-what-it-is-why-you-should-care

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook%E2%80%93Cambridge_Analytica_data_scandal