Facebook cannot act in your best interest

With the recent complaints about Facebook surfacing across the internet, now seems as good of a time as ever to share this. I’ve discussed with friends before that Facebook cannot be acting in their best interest.

Now everyone agrees that Facebook is in the business of making money. That’s the entire purpose of for-profit enterprises. It’s also not controversial to say that Facebook makes its money by advertising.

Based on these two statements, we can say that to please shareholders Facebook must show advertisements. In particular, they should show as many advertisements as possible, in order to make as much money as possible.

In order sell more advertisements, Facebook must do one (or some combination) of two things: acquire more users and show more advertisements to existing users. With Facebook’s already having a user base of billions of users, it is less and less likely that Facebook can continue to drive growth by adding more users in the future. So then to make more money, it must show more advertisements to existing users.

Now in order to show more advertisements to existing users, you can either increase the concentration of advertisements, or increase the amount of time spent on it. Increasing the concentration of advertisements will drive away some portion of users (as there is always some users at the margins, for whom more ads would be the “straw that breaks the camels back”). So it is in Facebook’s interest to maintain their existing density of advertisements, and instead have users spend more time on it.

We’ve established that Facebook wants people to spend as much time as possible on it. At this point, I usually ask my friends about examples of where they have spent more time than usual on Facebook. Often it comes back to some impossible political argument, or family blow-up, or some other unpleasant thing. These are the things that we ask Facebook to show us more of, by spending more time looking at. The problem is that the things that draw our attention — anger, violence, fear — are not the things that are good for us to be immersed in.

Written March 20, 2018