How did Facebook end up with the kind of social impact they have now? That's an elegant way to phrase the question that many of us state in more categorical terms in front of more understanding audiences, where we need not fear being labeled as luddites or extremists. Terms like "how the fuck did Facebook become the cancerous growth it is today?" and "how come so many people rode this cancerous mud ball as it was getting bigger and bigger under their feet?".
The typical answer is greed. Greed is what made grown-ass adults think, for instance, that it's a good idea to tune algorithms so that posts where the predominant reaction was "Angry" get to the front of the timeline. They realized making people angry is good for their bottom line and they irresponsibly decided to go ahead with it because, well, their bottom line trumps everything.
But I don't think that's all there is to it. I think something else was at play here, too: yes, obviously greed played a good, if not the predominant role. But it was more than helped along by good ol' ignorance. And not just, you know, the generic breed of ignorance, the they-watched-all-of-the-movies-and-read-none-of-the-books kind. No, the most dangerous kind of ignorance: the ignorance of rich, privileged punks.
See, folks, those of us who've seen one or more of the plights of life -- poverty, xenophobia, racism, war -- not necessarily experienced them first-hand, just seen them with our own eyes for a substantial amount of time, we understand anger differently. We don't need to do some grand exercise of mindfulness and selflessness to avoid the dubious advice of Greed and maybe pick some other reaction to optimize for, like, I dunno, love, or that laughter emoji thing.
But all these people who make these algorithmic life-and-death decisions -- all these managers of something or another, all these senior managers of what the fuck is this even, all these chief executive whatevers -- what do they know about anger?
Few, if any of them -- and knowing how committees work, let's not meddle words and just round it off: none of them -- truly understand it. They have no idea what it means to spend so much of your adult life wondering if your kid says they're not hungry because they're not hungry, or because at some point, when they turned four or five, they understood they hurt you when they admit they are. Their idea of marginalization is being passed over for promotion to Senior Manager Band III, not being ogled by the security guard when they enter a shop that doesn't look like a dummp, or chased away by the police if they sit on a bench in a park with too green a lawn.
Do you think the people whose kids go to preppy schools have even the faintest idea of what it means to wear six year-old coats, whose pockets you've mended God knows how many times, and work two jobs, so that your kids can go to school? When they get butthurt and switch to a cheaper medical insurance that still covers pretty much everything, just to play it safe, do you think they understand the grief of someone watching their husband succumb to illness before their eyes? When they ask around for a good inheritance lawyer, do you think they grasp the concept of being scared shitless because you were diagnosed with cancer, and then being scared even shittlesser, only to give in to shame and despair, upon realizing that you have nothing to leave your kids, and your wife would barely be able to cover burial costs?
Of course these punks would come up with something as stupid as boosting things that make people click the angry emoji. Their idea of anger is basically throwing a tantrum. The angry emoji looks funny because they never experienced that howling rage of despair that makes people truly angry. All they've ever experienced is entitlement and impatience, the two teenage cousins of anger, who can make about as much noise as their dangerous relative but are otherwise as harmless as a fart in an empty elevator. When they get "angry" and "frustrated", all they do is yell and pour themselves a little more Chardonnay in the evening. The worst consequence of their anger is maybe a broken glass, and a slight dent in their staff turnover figures if they take it out on the people at work.
It's not greed, but good ol' fashioned ignorance that makes them oblivious to the fact that anger doesn't breed whining over expensive cocktails, it breeds violence and hatred and revenge. To them, anger is the benign expression of having one's feelings hurt, not the desperate outcry of poverty and hopelessness. It's something you go to anger management classes for, or treat with meditation, not the tempestuous and unforgiving mistress of rage, whose emissaries -- racism, sexism, xenophobia, religious fundamentalism -- trample the world from one end to another, sowing war, destruction and famine. It's the benign tool of assertiveness, which at worst results in a slap on the wrist, not ethnic cleansing.
Do you think their Ivy League-schooled asses are able to grasp these things for what they are? They treat anger like it's just an emoji the way they treat hunger or war -- like a bad case of the munchies, or a longer airsoft match with higher stakes that can result in substantial economic growth if it's handled just right. When all these things do is breed worthy causes for their parents' foundations, why would they fear them?
If you've seen any of the things about, even the idea of an "angry emoji" feels stupid at times. Who the fuck thinks that's funny? Would you draw an AIDS emoji -- what would it look like, a sweaty blue-purplish face, to capture the sensation of dying of pneumonia, but, like, in a cute and relatable kind of way?
That is how Facebook came to be: it is the way it is because it's shaped by quirky man-children whose sheltered lives never let them understand the magnitude of what they're doing, and the chasm which separates that red-faced emoji from the emotion it's meant to represent. It was shaped by greed just as much as it was shaped by a narrow, incomplete and detached view of the world, the kind that you can only attain after looking at it from an ivory tower -- either because you were born in one, but because you so coveted the one your rich neighbor had that you climbed up there first chance you got and fuck those weak nay-sayers you left behind.
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