Friday, February 26, 2010

Facebook Sentiments

For a short time, Twitter seemed very close to stealing Facebook's thunder when it became known that celebrities were active on Twitter. Needless to say, many people felt that by following their favourite celebrities on Twitter they were somehow intimately connected with said celebrities, along with the hundreds of thousands of other followers.
Facebook only allowed you to interact with friends and family, which got old pretty quickly. People want more intimate contact with everyone. Enter twitter which placed friends, stalkers, random followers and celebrities all within equal and easy reach.
The folks in Palo Alto were not to be outdone though, and soon Facebook had introducted Facebook pages, a means by which businesses, organisations and - most importantly - celebrities could interact with their 'fans'. The first fan pages belonged to movies (Titanic, The Dark Knight and Dirty Dancing) and celebrities (Vin Diesel, Ashton Kutcher and God, to name a few), followed shortly by products (Nutella, Starbucks and Pizza). About a month after pages were introduced, something in my news feed caught my eye. One of my friends 'became a fan of Not being on fire' and another 'became a friend of not being mauled by a bear.' I was tickled by the way those two sentiments sounded, and quickly became a fan myself. How could I have known that that was the beginning of Facebook's descent into spam- and creeper-hell?

It started with the creation of pages expressing very broad and popular sentiments.
The most popular pages on facebook, with between 2- and 5-million fans, are
  • I ♥ SLEEP
  • I need a vacation!!!
  • I really hate slow computers
  • I don't sleep enough because I stay up late for no reason
  • Randomely(sic) laughing because you remembered something funny.
  • Random laughter when remembering something
  • Flipping the Pillow Over to Get to the Cold Side
  • Shut up, The World Won't End in 2012.
  • Laughing until it hurts and you can't breathe!
  • Texting the person next to you stuff you cant say out loud
  • I hate stupid people
  • I HATE WAKING UP FOR SCHOOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • I Hate Getting Texts That Only Say "k"
  • I Love Music!
  • Laughing when someone falls
  • That was NOT your last piece of gum stop lying
  • I Hate "Battery Low"
And those were almost bearable. But very quickly, it expanded and Facebook is now literally polluted with countless unofficial pages. My usually spotless news feed is now dominated by news of friends realising that they too "are human", "have two eyes", "sleep with their eyes closed", "Don't like unlikeable people", "Hate people who become fans of everything."
These annoying pages are only part of the problem; I find it more disturbing to consider the people who create these pages. I have no doubt that a few are genuinely creating a fan page as it was originally intended, but the majority of people are no better than those MySpace users who had thousands of 'friends' and sadly considered themselves to be 'popular'.
I myself am a page admin, for a children's home where I've volunteered, and that has given me an idea of what a page admin can and can't do. What most fans don't realise is the feature of facebook pages intended for celebrity and business page admins: Page Insights, a statistics feature that gives detailed information about the number of fans, their location, language and demographics. Considering the extraordinary measures to which Facebook goes to assuage users' concerns about privacy, the same users fall easily into the trap of Facebook pages, paying no heed to the fact that anyone can set up a facebook page and have access to this information. And anyone, and everyone who can't just be satisfied with their 200 - 800 friends can set up a page and suddenly, they're in contact with tens- or hundreds of thousands of people who would NEVER accept a direct friend request, but now happily like and comment on the same person's status updates; all because it's a page devoted to people who text with their thumbs.

A brief craze in trapping fans were pages with titles like "Can This Sexy Potato Get More Fans Than Miley Cyrus?" and "Can This Lemon Get More Fans Than This Sexy Potato", but that particular strategy didn't garner more than a few hundred thousand fans before people lost interest. The latest fan-generating strategy is the 'Become a fan to see something'. These snares have names like:
  • 1,200 engineers couldn't get this riddle. Can you??
  • I bet this guy will regret getting this tattoo once he's older!!
  • ¡¡uɐɟ ɐ ǝɯoɔǝq noʎ ɟı uʍop ǝpısdn ǝdʎʇ oʇ ʍoɥ noʎ ɥɔɐǝʇ ןן,ı  (Just use this website, by the way: 
  • Funniest Face Book Private Message leaked!!
  • 90% percent of people agree that this is the FUNNIEST JOKE EVER
  • Hardest riddle ever!!! 
  • 96% of people can't solve this riddle!!
  • What is the answer to this riddle? 99% of Harvard students got it wrong!!
  • 99% of Harvard students couldn't figure this riddle out
  • 80% of harvard students cannot answer this when 98% of second graders can!!
  • 79% Of Harvard Students Couldn't Answer This Simple Brain Teaser
  • OMG! I can't believe Megan Fox looked like this!! Become a fan to see the picture.
I've met Harvard students, they're not that dumb. And why are they being asked all these riddles anyways? This is even more devious, playing on people's curiosity, forcing people to become fans, usually for minimal pay-out. And once you've become a fan, the effort involved in removing yourself as a fan is often too much.

Facebook has been clamping down on these unofficial pages, removing admins' access, which is some consolation, but these admins still have access to their fans through the posting of pictures. Something more has to be put in place to rectify this abuse of Facebook's features.

I'm not unrealistic, I know that the time of Facebook groups has passed, Fan Pages are the new thing, but Facebook has been overrun by these numerous unofficial pages, and something must be done before Facebook dies the same death that MySpace did, as users are repulsed and annoyed by rampant pollution.
And so I propose a new Facebook Feature: Facebook Sentiments, where page admins have limited access to fan and interaction information, but where users can still express shared sentiments, because there is something to knowing that there are other people out there who go out of their way to step on a crunchy leaf.

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