The End of Facebook’s Ubiquity?

A Self-Defeating Statement

Last week, Facebook posted an essay on their company blog titled: “Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?” The statement confronts this blunt prompt, admitting that social media can be harmful, and then exploring uses that research indicates are more positive.

Here’s the relevant summary of their survey:

“In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward…On the other hand, actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being.”

From a social perspective, Facebook should be applauded for finally admitting that their product can cause harm (even if they were essentially forced into this defensive crouch by multiple recent high level defectors).

From a business perspective, however, I think this strategy may mark the beginning of the end of this social network’s ubiquity.

Concrete Competition

Until last week’s statement, Facebook’s messaging embraced an ambiguous mix of futurism and general-purpose positive feelings (their mission statement describes themselves as a tool “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” whatever that means).

The company promoted the idea that they’re a fundamental technology, as much a part of the fabric of society as electricity or the internet itself. From this foundation, it was easy for the company’s supporters to dismiss critics as either anti-technology eccentrics or anti-progress conservatives  (I speak from personal experience) .

As I’ve written before, however, once a social media company like Facebook starts talking about specific uses of their tool, and tries to quantify the value of these uses, they enter a competitive arena in which they probably won’t fare well.

In its statement, for example, Facebook emphasizes that using their service to “actively engage” with “close friends” can generate measurable increases in well-being in research studies.

But once they enter this concrete debate it’s natural to start asking how much does this lightweight digital interaction increase well-being, and then compare these benefits to the numerous other ways one might seek to actively engage close friends.

I haven’t conducted this study, but I suspect that the benefits of a semi-regular beer with a good friend absolutely dominate the benefits generated by half-heartedly tapping out emojis on the friend’s wall while waiting out Hulu advertisements.

Put another way, once social media services are forced to make a sales pitch, as oppose to leveraging an inherited position of cultural ubiquity, they suddenly seem so much less vital. It’s not that these services are useless. But when considered objectively, they fall well short of earning the default status that they both currently enjoy and rely on for their high-volume attention economy business models.

Which all leads to the conclusion that 2017 is shaping up to be an unusually bad year for Mark Zuckerberg.

33 thoughts on “The End of Facebook’s Ubiquity?”

  1. “You feel bad because you don’t use our services enough and not the right way…”
    These guys are just in another dimension. I see Social Media and especially Facebook as a kind of drug or a sect. When you say you don’t use it, people are use to telling you with the same pre-built sentences…
    I’m glad not to have an account on any of these services…

  2. Interesting. Still, this would not have an impact on the passive consumers and it is difficult to eradicate Facebook altogether. But, making people pick that choice consciously is very vital. We hold the responsibility to educate our next generation towards the digital disturbances.

    Thanks Cal for your perseverance!

  3. I quit Facebook 2015. What a relieve to not feel a need to update status, to stay relevant and to look at millions of facades in there of even your real friends and family. Now I am planning an exit strategy on Whatsapp and LinkedIn, every time I useless scroll through Whatsapp I feel a static of unease after the process, they added that status shit to keep people hooked, I don’t go through those status since Cal said this social media platforms hire attention engineers which I believe that Status of Whatsapp to be a great example of that. Social media is crap, It’s difficult to quit Whatsapp due to the simplicity of communicating with real family and friends, as for LinkedIn I am still looking for a job, some jobs are easier to apply to from LinkedIn.

  4. Why does this article presume FB ubiquity, when it is not the case. Like any tool, technology or device, using it for personal improvement is indeed applicable to this tool called FB as well.

  5. I personally don’t use FB at all. The only time I do, its because I buy advertising on the platform. It’s mind boggling as to how intrusively you can actually market stuff on FB. For e.g. I can target students in the harvard campus, who are in the age range of 25+ and show them pizza ads after 6 pm. And I can do this for < $5.

    Is FB good for marketers – nothing comes even close, probably Google but they are quite expensive.

    For users – Though it benefits me financially, I really don't see much tangible value in it. Apart from comparing benefits of FB vs other mediums, I think what matters even more is what's the downside of each, with FB dwarfing other mediums.

  6. What I find grimly amusing is that the Facebook research team’s findings revealed that the “healthiest” way to use the social media site happens to align perfectly with the outcome that will most benefit Facebook. Active users of their service, posting photos and updates and actively sharing, will generate more valuable data that can be mined for consumer insights and monetized by the company, right?

    I’m sure that’s just a fortuitous coincidence.

  7. “2017 is shaping up to be an unusually bad year for Mark Zuckerberg” – Facebook stock is up 41% from January on strong earnings growth. I think that’s essentially as good a year as any 500B company could ask for. In the end, none of this will effect their business.

    • I disagree. Facebook’s business model fundamentally depends on massive numbers of users. They achieve that now by leveraging their current moment of cultural ubiquity which leads people to maintain accounts by default. Once that moment passes, however, and people begin to see Facebook as an optional service, these numbers will drop significantly. Unlike, say, Google Search, Facebook does not offer anything of significant or hard-to-replace value for most users. The reason I say 2017 is a bad year for Zuckerberg, therefore, is because it might be the year that marks the beginning of his company’s slide from cultural force to dated app.

  8. Spot on, Cal.

    I’ve started using Facebook a little bit for work; but I still only have one friend – my mom. I definitely don’t need another feed to distract me from the important work.

  9. I think you’re being overly optimistic about the end of Facebook’s ubiquity. To the people willing to turn a critical eye to tools, yes, Facebook loses – what benefits it offers is generally not outweighed by its harm.

    But most people use Facebook simply because everyone else is doing, and they feel compelled to posture and keep up with the Joneses, because they think they need to keep up with people from their past and are unwilling to put in a personal effort to do it. They won’t be swayed by Facebook’s acknowledgements of harm. In particular, Facebook is *generating* the harm — Facebook is striving to get people addicted, not connected. It’s literally designed to hijack our brains.

    It is the default in many ways, which means more people get on. It is designed to be addictive, meaning most of those people will stay on.

    I’ve had multiple Facebook accounts, each time finding my life better when I deleted it, each time finding an excuse months or years later to come back on. I think I’m finally to the point where I’m off for good. But it was not an easy process, even knowing the damage Facebook causes.

    (Apologies if this is a double post. I usually see a “comment pending” on the site after I’ve submitted my comment, but I do not see it this time, so I’m submitting again.)

  10. I stopped using FB after reading Deep Work at the end of last year. Huge time suck with no value add. I am on Twitter for work, and was amused to see a thread this week castigating FB’s algorithms for someone failing to realise a ‘friend’ died a few months ago (apparently the friend posted so rarely the algorithms stopped featuring them in the poster’s feed.)
    While I am sympathetic to the poster obviously being upset, if the only way you can connect with someone is on FB (as opposed to having a phone number, email address etc), do they really count as a friend? Not sure FB are entirely to blame here, but I guess it does illustrate the power they have over how close you’re allowed to be with your ‘community’

  11. Plenty of people maintain an account but don’t bother checking it unless they need to for some reason. E.g. in my area one parent-teacher organization has started posting all of their events exclusively on FB via the events function, assuming that everyone has an account (mostly an accurate assumption). My programmer buddy (dad in the PTSA) says he gets enough computer time at work and literally only uses FB for the PTSA announcements.

  12. In principle, I agree. I’m not on social media, and I have no desire to get into it, but I’m feeling increasing amounts of peer pressure to join (especially since I’m 16 and surrounded by social media addicted teenagers). I’m struggling to figure out whether my abstention from social media should remain grounded in what I want to spend my time doing (i.e., what your blog encourages) or if I’m just being self-righteous in refusing to adapt socially/culturally.

    • Tracey: Don’t do it. You are already exhibiting high intelligence, a first-rate mind and the ability to think for yourself. Stay the course. Read Cal’s “High School Superstar” book. If you’ve already read it, read it again.

      What you have is precious. Don’t squander it on clueless peers.

      Lead from the front. The sailing’s rough out there, and requires skill, but both journey and destination are oh so worth it.

    • I deleted all my social media accounts for I don’t know, over a year? And it was great.

      But I had a relapse this week (I’m using addicts terms because it is like an addiction).

      Earlier this week I got an Twitter account to be able to interact with a particular group about a certain topic. I knew I was breaking my own self-imposed rule of “no social media”, but I thought I could handle it. I mean, it was with a purpose, for a specific use, right?

      Well, no.

      It was a mess. The stats, the impressive amount of information and distractions, the suggestions, the whole thing was so stressful and time consuming… I wasted a lot of time, more than I planned, and I felt bad afterwards because… I don’t know, it was just so much noise. And hate. There is so much hate in social media this days. When you are out of it, you are free from it.

      Anyway, to me, it is just like an addiction. It is easier to say no if you never, say, smoked before, but if you start smoking, it is hard to stop.

      So, please, I’m peer pressuring you not to get into this social-media-frenzy because you are lucky: you haven’t started yet. Keep on the right track, girl.

      Btw: I deleted the twitter account. I got here to read some posts because Cal is a big inspiration. His no-social-media-you-don’t-need-this actually helps. 🙂

      *sorry for the long comment.

    • Let me put it this way: I’ve had to grade undergraduate work at two universities. In neither case was the average anything close to the coherence and rationality of your post. In many cases, I had to count an answer wrong because, while the words were English words, they did not create sentences; there was literally no way to determine what the person was saying.

      Do you REALLY think that THOSE people are the ones you want to emulate? 😉

  13. I am addicted to books and blogs. More accurately to fascinating ideas they offer. Is this addiction less negative than social media addiction? Because I read books and blogs, which is a passive consumption .
    ( don’t get me wrong, I totally agree with Cal , in fact he is my favourite thought leader )

  14. I used FB for work… It was really a nice tool to engage people in mine services. It was because they start to change their algorithms and now it is only a waste of time to me.
    I use it as a distribution tool. I write the content on my websites and I past the URL with some words on FB.
    Too much not useful pieces of information and in a way difficult to retain.
    Really is something really far from productivity and utility.

  15. Well I thing the terms are wisely chosen because it is an addiction. As for the need a social media account to interact with a specific group of people or to get news, I also realised that’s a bad idea because the very nature of these services is that they add up a lot of noise around what you need and I think there are more efficient ways to reach these goals.

    “*sorry for the long comment.” Longer interactions are “normal” outside the social media universe 😉

  16. I think Facebook shines in situations where you CAN’T share a beer with the folks in question. For example, it’s a great way to share pictures and videos with family/friends that are far away. It’s the equivalent of looking through a photo album or watching home videos when you visit someone, only you can do it from anywhere. In that regard, Facebook (and other social media sites) offer real, tangible value.

    The problem is that they aren’t used that way. They’re used as miniature, poorly-formatted blogs.

  17. Hi, just to give a little follow up. When I wrote this comment I was very upset because I had three stressful days, even though I had the twitter account for just one afternoon.

    I am feeling much better now, and I’m reflecting on the experience. I think what upset me most was the fact that there was some information I needed, but to find it I had to go through all this “noise” from the social media. And even when I was offline, I would still feel anxious like I should be “checking” to see if someone had replied. That is why I talked about it as an addiction (you “just check” and that is like “getting a hit”). I am not addicted to substances, except for, perhaps, coffee, so I am not sure I have the experience to compare.

    Anyway, thank you for your kind reply.

  18. “…the benefits of a semi-regular beer with a good friend absolutely dominate the benefits generated by half-heartedly tapping out emojis on the friend’s wall while waiting out Hulu advertisements.“



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