Thursday, October 31, 2013

Facebook Prison Blues

I was recently blocked from sending friend requests and then chastised for it on Facebook. This is apparently a routine occurrence based on the feedback I got from my post that pasted at the end of my rant for your enjoyment. For those of you that don’t recognize it, the song is Folsom Prison Blues by the legendary Johnny Cash. I’d like to think if he was still with us that he wouldn’t be offended.
What bothers me about being chastised and blocked is the hypocrisy. Facebook is taking the position that users should only send friendship requests to people that they know in the physical world.

I have a personal problem and also a logical objection to this apparently contrary opinion. My personal problem is that I have developed many friendships with people solely through electronic means. People I trust and have done business with and collaborated with yet never met in person. Despite knowing them at this level before I sent them a friend request on FB, I am still in violation of their rules by sending the request, and that is just plain stupid.

My logical objection is that FB puts a limit on friends at 5,000 people. If you have a page, it can be liked by significantly more people, but a users personal page has a limit that is radically higher than anyone could every maintain in the real world.

A British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar proposed that there is a cognitive limit to the number of 250 people with whom any human could maintain stable relationships. Her theory further speculates groups of people fall into three categories equivalent to bands, cultural lineage groups and tribes. The upper limit of tribe ranges between 500-2,500 people. So a maximum number anyone could realistically “know” in the real world is 2,500, yet the FB limit is twice that at 5,000.

I’m not the most extroverted person, but I’d bet that the realistic upper limit is actually around 500 with an average closer to 250. Regardless, not only is the limit dramatically higher but FB acts contradictory by posting friends suggestions directly on the peoples feeds. Worse, they recommend people with few friends in common. I’ve received suggestions for friends with only 1 other friend in common. Now I appreciate FB trying to help me out by suggesting I may know someone that I may want to connect with and yet am apparently too incompetent to find on my own, but in the “Real World” I have less than 250 in my personal and professional circle and I can find them all on my own.

What would be really cool is of they could mine my data, and not just use spyware on my browser to determine what products I’m interested in buying, but real data mining so they could find people that I used to go to school with or served in the Army with back in the day. Now that would be useful and I really know or at one time knew those people so there would be no need to chastise me if those people refused my friend request. Because if I’m completely honest, I haven’t had positive relationships with everyone I’ve ever met.

So why does Facebook go through this dance, especially when despite their instance, neither their customers nor even they themselves believe FB should only be used to communicate with people you already know in the real world? Great question, I can only speculate that it’s to cover their ass. Friend requests are sent and sometimes they are rejected. Some customers will undoubtedly complain. Perhaps they are on FB to only share information and pictures with their closed circle and one of the people in their circle is a little more social so they show up the suggested list of friends FB sends to others.

I think a better solution than FB Prison would be for customers to be able opt out of the whole mess. If they only send and want to receive requests from people they already know well, why would they want to be on a list sent to strangers? This seems like a simple solution, so why didn’t they think of it? Perhaps they did, but that would run contradictory to what Facebook as a company wants, which is people having the most friends they can possibly have. More friends mean more posts. More posts means that they will stay on FB more often which in turn exposes them to more advertising. Even when they get you hooked on games, they design the games in such a way that the players are rewarded for getting more people hooked on those games, hence all of the damned game requests.

You best friend from high school doesn’t care of you play the game he or she is hooked on, but to get a bonus level or some feature unlocked, they are willing to pimp your ass out to FB. If you get hooked in the process so be it.  I get irritated at the requests, but these folks are game junkies and need our help, not our anger. A twelve step Farmville program would come in handy, because I AM NOT GOING TO WATER YOUR FUCKING CROPS WHEN YOU GO ON THAT CRUISE MOM!! Sorry, lost my mind there for a second.

You see, they make money from outside advertisers, but they also charge people to advertise their pages throughout FB. Pay them enough, and even though some people may have no desire to see your writer’s page, they will get a recommendation to like it. If you pay enough, everyone on FB could potentially get your page as a suggestion.

I send out friend requests for a variety of reasons. First, I get a kick out of many of the post. There is a lot of great content out there and I see more of it the more friends I have. True there are repeats and occasionally I get a new friend that ends up being a bigot, but I can un-friend those few exceptions.

If I am likely to see a fellow horror writer at a convention, and especially if a person I already like tells me he or she is “good people”, I’m going to try and friend them. If people are fans of horror I want them to read the stuff I write and also the stuff I publish through my small press. I have a page for Stygian Publications, but without paying FB to advertise, I can only get likes by sending invites to my friends….

By George, I think I got it, or at least another reason why they put people in jail for sending out friend requests. At least I would like to think that they are sophisticated enough to put two and two together, but I’m not able to test my theory. It would be interesting to know if people that had pages they were trying to drive traffic to were put in jail more often that people that only have their personal page.

I would also like to know how many is too many when it comes to sending out friend requests. Does only one person have to click the box saying they don’t know me and that is the reason they are denying my friend request or is does it take ten? If I have ben in jail once, do I have a record? Am I considered a convict? When I am able to send requests again (the block lasted about a week), am I on double secret probation or does the counter reset to zero?

I’m afraid I have only questions and will likely not get them answered. I do know that the punishment is not that severe, just irritating and if FB’s goal was to rehabilitate me, then they failed. I’m back out on the street and they are baiting me with tempting new friends and I am only human. I’m going to send out more requests, it’s only a matter of time.

Posted on FB Oct 30th, 2013:
Apparently, this establishment frowns on sending friend requests to people that I don’t have a relationship with in the “Real World”.  I think this is a mixed message since they post a link on my newsfeed suggesting friends. I was put in Facebook Prison and it gave me the blues, so I wrote a song about it called “Facebook Prison Blues” and goes a little something like this,
One, two, one two three…
I got my bad boy notice
While I’m sitting in my den
And I ain't sent a friend request since I don't know when,
I'm stuck in Facebook prison, and time keeps draggin' by
But those people keep a posting and sharing stuff I like
When I was just a baby my mama told me. Son,
Always be a good boy, don't ever play with guns.
But I shot a man in Farmville just to watch him die
When I get those game request, I hang my head and cry..


I bet there's strangers posting some cool new Vader memes
They're probably getting lots of likes and sharing all their dreams.
Well I know I had it coming, I know I can't be free
But those people keep a posting'
And that's what tortures me...

Well if they freed me from this prison,
If that Facebook page was mine
I let people meet each other without having to do time
Far from Facebook prison, that's where I want to stay
And I'd let my new friends, post my blues away.....

Copyright, R. Scott McCoy, 2013