As major advertisers are boycotting or pausing spending on Facebook, the company is promising to do more to “prohibit the kind of divisive and inflammatory language that has been used to sow discord.”
Don’t believe it. Hate is a feature that’s central to Facebook’s existence. It’s hard-wired into how and why it works because it connects with how human beings are wired. It’s always been an addictive drug that makes us sicker, not a salve that makes us better.
Hate is to Facebook what soap operas were to broadcast television in the 1950s; it provides the content that keeps people coming back by triggering their puerile, sometimes off-color proclivities. The genius of Facebook (and social media overall) was to recognize that consumers could also be producers, thereby transforming them from spectators to characters in the show. It also stripped away all of the regulated and informal rules of civility that once limited open expression of that content.
It made our lives into the the most blunt, incessantly angry and endlessly renewable show in entertainment history.
There is no Facebook without hate.
That’s because there’s nothing particularly entertaining about presenting facts or the truth. We human beings come to the platform pre-programmed to believe, enjoy, and care about things that play to our expectations and emotions. We show up in the world every day with little interest in having our opinions challenged or changed. We want reinforcement. Affirmation.
The coding for negative emotions seems to run deep. Maybe it’s because we’re genetically prepared to look for threats. A dose of critical questioning was probably healthy for our distant ancestors, along with assumptions that most things were more likely dangerous than not. The corollary in positive thinking is love and joy which also are felt passionately but they don’t prompt actions that seem as visceral or necessary.
Love is profound but fight or flight are animal instincts.
I think this is why a lot of people might find ways to share their pleasant interests on Facebook, but what drives its engagement and profits are those topics that make us angry. Its algorithms are constructed to sense and share those negative emotions, and its interface is structured to encourage discrete, linear blasts or releases of them.
Then we show up programmed to feel good when we share our darkest, most angry fears and our hatred of those who don’t agree with us, and feel affection for those who agree with us when we do.
Without that traction, Facebook can’t tee-up enough eyeballs for advertisers, so no amount of technical tricks or review policies will change it. It will just be window dressing. Angry people drink soda pop and buy soap.
The companies participating in today’s righteous boycotts will return as tomorrow’s silent enablers.
Hate isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.