I know how to fix Facebook.

We all know what is wrong with Facebook: it creates these horrible echo chambers where people of like minded ideas congregate together and reinforce each others worst ideas.

I’m sorry, but no. The echo chamber phenomenon is real, but it’s not the problem with Facebook. The experience of being on Facebook, I’m sorry to say, is not the experience of living in an echo chamber. Old fashioned web bulletin boards have an echo chamber atmosphere. Sorry to tell you, but Facebook does not. I’m not even really sure why anyone thinks it does.

The experience of being on Facebook is actually one of watching the horrid crap everyone posts about everyone else. If it’s not Obama is a Muslim terrorist, then it’s all Republicans are cryptofascists, and Trump dropped the crypto. The problem with being on Facebook is not that I hear from no one but Catholic software engineers of vaguely libertarian politics.

The problem with Facebook is that my dad is a Trump booster, my oldest friend thinks Trump is a fascist, many of my fellow parishioners are the sorts of Catholics that think three-quarters of the Church are hell-bound modernists, most of my coworkers and friends are modernists, and nearly all of them are Zynga addicts, just to put the whipped cream on top.

And that’s not even the problem. That’s just humanity. We are not the same, thank God. We have different backgrounds and values and beliefs and some of us are just plain wrong, but I know I’m in that category myself about some things so it behooves us to be gentle to one another about it.

The problem is bigotry, and because that word is widely misused, let’s take a second to define it:

  • bigot noun a person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions

I’m going to use the word to mean exactly that.

Now, I’ve practically never seen any of my family, friends, coworkers, or other relations compose anything bigoted on Facebook.

But, oh God, have I seen them click “Like” or “Share” on some bigoted things.

The problem with Facebook is memes. And the solution is something, anything, the makes memes weaker the further they go from their original source. How many degrees of separation is the author of the meme that depicts Obama as Bin Laden or Republicans as Nazis from me? I don’t know the answer, but I know that it is enough that I don’t care about it.

Facebook already cultivates your feed. Add this: As a meme gets further from it’s source of origin, reduce it’s ranking in the feed. So, if I post a link to a web page, it gets a high ranking in the feeds of my friends. If a friend likes, then the ranking falls by half. It is further down and less likely overall to appear. If a friend of a friend likes, it falls by half again. Eventually, it is so far from its source that it is watered down to nothing and hardly appears at all.

You need one other thing though: you need a way to “promote.” That’s the share button, but with a twist. Promoting should be in some since expensive. Not as in money, but effort, and not much effort. UX research shows that so much as one extra click makes a substantial proportion of potential users fall off. Just making it so that promote requires two or three clicks, maybe some typing. Even just making it so that “promote” requires a captcha would be excellent. A promote restores the meme to full potency. It is an active statement by the social network user that “I want to post this, I want this to be as if it were my speech” as opposed to a reflexive, “I tittered for a second so it must be spread to the entire world!”

It’s better than the alternative being floated, which is that social networks like Facebook need to take a more active and paternalistic role in promoting the discourse in it’s community.

I’m all for community standards. I don’t think trolls should be tolerated, or cyber-bullying, or insulting random people behind a veil of autonomy, or any of the other nasty things that the internet has given us.

But the emphasis is on the community part. The oldest rule on the internet is, if you don’t like it, ignore it. Ignore it and let it die. Facebook, Twitter, and Google can give us more sophisticated tools to accomplish that old adage so that we can police our own communities.

That’s fine.

Making people into open-minded cosmopolitans is a good goal for a parent or a teacher to set for their wards. It’s a good goal for a person to have for themselves. It is not at all an appropriate goal for a tech company with 90% market share in their space.

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23 March 2018