The nefarious intent behind Facebook’s word choice: “friends” and “likes”

I signed up for a Facebook account nearly 13 years ago, but haven’t used it in roughly the past 7 years.  Since I have some software development tied in with the Facebook platform from the past, I chose not to outright “delete” my account.  For anyone else also hanging on to a dormant account, you begin to notice the barrage of e-mails spamming your inbox trying to get you back on: you have more friends on Facebook than you think!  

I find their choice of words both telling and appalling. It demonstrates how superficial the platform is by emphasizing the importance on the number of “friends” and downplaying the importance of quality in personal relationships.

It is all on purpose.  The implications are subtle, but present.  The persuasion, primarily negative inference, works as follows:

  • A lot of people use Facebook, thus if you don’t, you are an outsider;
  • Your lack of Facebook usage suggests that you have no friends; and,
  • If you were to use Facebook, chances are you can find some people (regardless of how loosely connected you are with them) that you can add to your list, to appear that you are not as unpopular as suggested

In one sentence alone they have managed to glorify popularity, passively claim that you are unpopular, and thus motivate you to rejoin the network so that you can prove otherwise.

The Jonathan Haidt video clip describing the social catastrophe stemming from Facebook and social media has raised interesting related commentary:

1 main thing facebook SHOULD do . . . is change the 'friends' to 'connections'. 'Friends' is a totally fake presentation on there.

Facebook should do that, but Facebook thrives on perpetuating immorality:

Facebook’s foundation was very likely designed out of spite. Passive-aggressiveness is Facebook’s modus operandi. Understanding this, no one should be surprised by Jean Twange’s findings that Jonathan Haidt discussed in the video.  Ostracization, mob mentality, and the glorification of popularity is the essence of Facebook.

You see this in Facebook’s careful word choice.  They know that inflated numbers of “likes” and “friends” are persuasively powerful. In the eyes of social media designers, it doesn’t make sense renaming it to “connections” as the word “friends” provides a stronger implication.

You don’t want to lose friends, right?

You want to be liked, right?

On top of that, you want to have a lot of friends and a lot of likes.  This is the “game” created by social media: get a high score in “likes” and “friends”.  Surely you don’t want to be a loser in this game?

It just wouldn’t be the same if “friends” was renamed to “connections” and “likes” renamed to “agrees”.  It would feel less threatening to remove a connection or to disagree.  In fact doing so would be productive, in the sense that removing connections sorts out unnecessary “baggage”, and differing opinions result in meaningful discourse.

But that feeling of productivity is replaced with feelings of guilt, just by Facebook’s choice of words.  No one wants to lose friends and be unliked.  Even though the actions are objectively the same, the psychology is much different.

Exploits like these have psychologically owned social media users.  Facebook is not a technology company.  It is a psychology company.  And unfortunately, the amount of psychological damage Facebook has inflicted has sparked a world-wide social catastrophe.

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