We all have a current, hedonistic self that is programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain in the present. We also have a future, reflective self that assesses prior current selves after pain and pleasure have passed. Facebook purely plays to the current self, providing an unending stream of stimulation. It’s not that Facebook shows us clickbait or junk, it’s that most of what happens on their platform is meaningless. No one’s future self feels glad that the two-minute session they intended to spend on Facebook turned into thirty because the company was so good at predicting how to keep their current self stimulated.
If Facebook truly cared about time well spent, they would tell users to turn off the app right after they get the most meaningful updates, two minutes in. It’s foolish for Zuckerberg to suggest that Facebook could ever truly respect our attention to this degree without significantly hurting the company’s revenue machine.
The other point Zuckerberg makes that leans toward ridiculous is that harmful and divisive content remains prevalent on the platform because their AI and human systems aren’t yet good enough to police it. He states that, “People consistently tell us they don’t want to see this content,” embedded in which is the answer to the problem: let users have more control over the content they see.
We’ve previously written that users should have the ability to turn off certain content categories like politics or to only see news articles that come from verified news sources. Identifying political content and the veracity of news sources are trivial tasks, but ceding control of what users see is not a trivial adjustment for Facebook. I don’t think Facebook likes having negative content on their platform, but again, if they cared, there’s an easy solution to address the problem. I think Facebook just likes the idea of giving up control of what it shows users on their timeline less.
Facebook remains stuck in a difficult but entirely self-inflicted negative sentiment cycle. Zuckerberg’s WSJ defense won’t be the last we hear from him or the company about the merits of Facebook. Even though the company has improved its handling of consumer data, it’s hard to trust Facebook’s motives. We’ll know how genuine Zuckerberg is when Facebook starts treating our time as carefully as it treats our data.
Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest or may invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we may write about companies that are in our portfolio. As managers of the portfolio, we may earn carried interest, management fees or other compensation from such portfolio.