Users think they're connected to people to people via News Feeds when in fact Facebook has already cut that connection.
Many users believe the ability to maintain casual friendships via the News Feed is the main benefit of Facebook.
And it's true: We don't need Facebook to maintain relationships with our closest friends and family. What Facebook is really good at is maintaining not-so-close relationships via the News Feed -- or, at least it used to be before Facebook started ending those relationships.
Facebook actually shapes and directs the evolution of your social life without telling you.
Let me give you one hypothetical example. Let's say you "friend" an old high school buddy. After making initial contact -- "what have you been up to, where are you living now," etc. -- you simply "stay in touch" with each other via your News Feeds. You're connected but distant. Everybody's happy.
If Facebook never cut that connection, something might happen that would change your relationship. What if you discovered via the News Feed that the person shared a hobby or interest, or that they moved into your neighborhood or had a child start attending the same school as your own kid.
Suddenly, that distant friend might start evolving into a close one. Facebook users often get closer to a small number of previously distant friends by learning of shared interests via the News Feed. That used to be one of the great things about Facebook.
But because Facebook has already decided your friendship isn't relevant, you'll never hear about the changing circumstances. You'll never know about the new hobby, the move, the school or whatever. You'll not only remain distant, but grow increasingly distant due to the Facebook-imposed radio silence.
Facebook's algorithm-enforced policy is to bring you closer to the friends you're already close to, and push you away from the friends you're less close to.
Is that why we signed up for Facebook?
Nearly three years ago, I wrote a column in this space that analyzed the value of social networks like Facebook. The main purpose of Facebook, I concluded, is not that it makes relationships better, but that it enables you to maintain a larger number of relationships.
I pointed out that expanding the number of relationships is an innate human need, and that this need draws people to Facebook.
The News Feed concept is central to this idea. Most Facebook relationships take place exclusively via the News Feed. This is how you can maintain 1,000 relationships. You just watch your News Feed. When someone has a sandwich or an idea or a baby, you hear about it and feel connected to their lives.
This is what is so shocking about Facebook's new policy: It kills the main benefit of Facebook for most users.
1. Explicitly reveal to each user who is seeing your updates and who isn't.
2. Occasionally tell people exactly what's going on, that Facebook algorithms automatically sever their connections to some people. Don't just make this knowledge passively available. The goal should be for most Facebook users to actually know this information.
3. Give the user the option to maintain a connection that is about to be cut by the algorithms. Or, at minimum, simply inform the user you have decided to Hide one of their friends.
4. Make it far more obvious to users that they can "Hide" friends from appearing in their news feeds. Favor user choice over software algorithms to determine which items get delivered into News Feeds.
We don't pay for Facebook, and therefore users are not customers. Advertisers are customers.
But Facebook is much more than an online service. Its ubiquity has motivated people to replace other forms of communication, and rely instead on Facebook.
Facebook has a responsibility then to enable users to control who they maintain a relationship with.
Facebook assumes we want their software to terminate our most casual relationships without bothering us with the news or giving us the option to keep them.
Facebook is wrong, and this needs to stop.
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