Explaining Facebook to the teenager

The 17 y.o. came to me this morning full of outrage about something one of my friends had posted on Facebook.

Here’s what I told her: That outrage you’re feeling? That’s what Facebook is designed to produce.

What my friend posted was just her venting. People do that, among friends, after bad experiences. They make outrageous generalizations and say things that aren’t literally true, because they’ve been hurt or they’re frustrated and they just need to blow off some steam. An understanding friend knows how to listen to that and take it for what it really is.

But Facebook exposes that venting to the world, or at least to a wider circle, where it becomes subject to analysis, interpretation, criticism, debate.

Facebook wants to keep you on the site. The more emotionally engaged you are, the more ads they can show you. So it’s designed to make you engaged and keep you that way.

Anger and outrage are among the easiest “engaging” emotions to provoke. All Facebook has to do is show you some emotionally charged content (that may have been someone venting) and encourage you to respond to it.

So if you are easily outraged (as the 17 y.o. is) and you want to make Mark Zuckerberg even richer than he already is, by all means, spend more time on Facebook. You’ll spend a lot more time being angry and upset, though.

Explaining Facebook to the teenager