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Roger McNamee says the 'like' button was 'beginning of the end' (cbc.ca)
117 points by colinprince 41 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments

Blaming the like button for the end of the "soft cuddly" side of Facebook is spurious from someone who was an investor.

Facebook didn't have to build a surveillance machine, it didn't have to extract every possible penny out of it's user's data, Facebook didn't have to stop being "cuddly"...until it raised money at an outrageous valuation and had an outrageous IPO.

Blaming the Like button for actions necessitated by Facebook selling out their users for a higher valuation/money seems a bit rich coming from one of the investors.

I think he's alluding to the `like` button being a symptom of the changes that were driven by things like IPO valuation.

I don't think the like button is to blame as such, it's just an indicator of where the purpose of the company started to move in the direction of mining its users for profit.

Ofcourse it is to blame. It has added a number next to every expressed human thought.

What do you think that does to behavior and thinking?

No effect?

I'll upvote THAT sentiment!

> until it raised money at an outrageous valuation and had an outrageous IPO

Lots of companies go public without developing a psychopathic culture. As Tim Cook has said, supposed conflicts between privacy-versus-profits or privacy-versus-innovation are false choices [1].

These are strategic choices Zuckerberg made and which his employees fell into step to execute. They are strategic choices investors profit from and voters tolerate. Each of these constituencies could, relatively unilaterally, knee-cap Facebook.

McNamee is making good points. This is a classic case of ad hominum.

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/7fafec06-1ea2-11e9-b126-46fc3ad87...

I don't believe any CEO taking stance on topic like this.

Tom Cook is picturing Apple as a privacy guard, while they deploy icloud servers in China. Take with a grain of salt everything that's said by people who want to sell you things.

>while they deploy icloud servers in China

That's literally a requirement of the Chinese government for anyone offering web services in China. What exactly would you suggest they do as an alternative?

Very easy - not do a business in a country, which practices go so deeply against core values that Tim Cook claims Apple stands for.

The USA does too, as evidenced by the NSA’s spying and Trump being Trump. ICE issues iPhones as government furnished equipment. They’re almost certainly being used to help coordinate the caging of children.

So Apple just shouldn’t do business anywhere then?

They can do business anywhere, just not while lying about what they are doing.

What’s the lie exactly?

I think what he's getting at is that Facebook's path became clear as soon as:

1. the reciprocity effect started (photo-tagging) and then;

2. social validation started (the like button)

That was always there anyway, but the like button made it that much easier to validate.

Facebook didn't have to build a surveillance machine, it didn't have to extract every possible penny out of it's user's data,

Actually it pretty much did, in order to attain the revenue goals it was after.

Which has been its core flaw since the very beginning.

yeah, I mean, the like button is an example of exactly what the internet is good for: sorting and summarizing information. It makes far more sense to me that the pathological culture is created by the perverse incentives of a social network monetized by ads.

Which is the cart and which is the horse?

Especially given how the like button wasn't exactly a novel concept, nor something that wouldn't have otherwise come about. These systems existed prior to Facebook and if it hadn't have introduced it, some other service in the same niche would have done exactly this.

And Facebook's privacy issues and general sociopathic business attitudes predated all of it.

Right, FriendFeed had Like before Facebook: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Like_button#FriendFeed

I’ve made this realization lately as well, that all “upvote” based social media is inherently toxic and bad for society. What’s been lost from the days of actual internet forums is the ability to make a point, and ignore it if you don’t like it. It used to be that we were all equals under the admin, and discussion was long form. However the incentives now have shifted discourse to the rhetorical and pithy, rather than creating meaningful connections. The result is a monoculture of thought that is doing real damage.

Compared to the real world, where people make arguments around the table and others applaud, grunt, hoot, roll their eyes, etc., upvotes seem like a rather mild form of feedback.

I don't think zero feedback is a good goal. Even with voting, forums exhibit a level of trolling and asshattery you'd never find if you had to watch people's live reactions to your statements. And not that much grandstanding, compared to, say, politicians in the media.

That said, should HN add an option in your profile to hide comment scores? You could always get around it with some effort, but maybe not seeing the score right there would encourage you to comment for truth, beauty, and posterity, rather than upvotes.

> Compared to the real world, where people make arguments around the table and others applaud, grunt, hoot, roll their eyes, etc., upvotes seem like a rather mild form of feedback.

That's the problem IMO, it's not just mild, it's nothing, yet weight is attached to it. In the real world, when you make a good argument and someone just rolls their eyes disapprovingly and grunts, you can go "What? What's your problem with what I just said?", and they can't possibly just pretend they're not there or didn't roll their eyes -- like people who downvote without reply often do, which gives them the false impression of having said something.

When we don't like something, yet can't find any solid argument against it, that should do something with us, maybe teach us something, and votes are like the most optimized form of memes and other ways to not have to actually think, distilling it to the minimal essence, just a click. I'm not saying nobody thinks when voting, but the only requirement is an account and an input device, not actually thinking. Not so for "using one's words".

I think it has more to do with how thoughtless downvoting/upvoting can be in some implementations. But this isn't inherent to the upvote system. Requiring a comment for each vote to explain the user's position, for example, can curb this tendency.

> Requiring a comment for each vote to explain the user's position, for example, can curb this tendency.

Why not just remove the vote altogether? So commenters have to say something about why they agree/disagree/feel the need to comment.

And then maybe allow interest groups to form naturally. With a standardised protocol for exchanging messages, so there was no centralised owner of all data. And everyone pays for it implicitly through their ISP fees, like they do for other basic services like email or DNS. Instead of having their data milked, processed and fed back like some grotesque combination of Orwellian fiction and mad cow disease.

That sounds like a much more civilised way to Use the Net. Maybe we could call it something like, I dunno, Usenet....?

I don't know if requiring a comment for an upvote is so necessary; but requiring a comment (or an upvote of a comment) in order to downvote seems like it could help. I think the problem with upvoting tends to exist where there is no downvoting.

I'm mostly at peace with net scores on my replies, though I feel a bit confused when the scores down without explanation. I think it is healthy to some extent to seek validation, but in order for it to be productive, I think we ought to know why people feel the way they do about what we say.

I see lots of stuff upvoted thoughtlessly that might benefit from forcing the voter to explain.

I think you'd end up with a lot of

"+1 funny" "-1 Reeee"

stuff, and that'd just add noise to the thread, but not add to the discussion.

I agree, but that applies just as well to downvotes. I don't have good ideas how to run a required-comment-to-vote system, I just don't see the asymmetry between up and down.

Maybe I wasn't clear in saying that I don't think it should be necessary to comment in order to downvote, but I think it should be required to upvote a reply in order to downvote (or make your own reply).

Long form discussion is fairly orthogonal to "upvote" based social media in my appraisal. The simple fact that you choose to post your response here instead of one of the 'chan' style boards signals that you're really not looking for spaces where "everyone is equals under the admin".

Upvoted for relevance

It seems tied to having a single bucket for everybody.

I'd probably participate in some discussions if I couldn't see and wasn't involved in the likes, up/downvotes, brownie point scramble. If I just saw similarly inclined people there would be a different kind of discussion.

It really depends on the number of participants. A thousand comment thread could take an hour to properly read through every viewpoint. If we are only willing to spend a few minutes on that thread it needs some kind of filter.

If there are only 5 participants in a thread though it is different. Traditional forums would be read like this, but were almost always at a much lower scale.

> Traditional forums would be read like this, but were almost always at a much lower scale.

Yes, and at too large scales communication becomes less meaningful, you can't scale it to millions of people without getting something else. Even in large cities or at giant festivals, people tend to mingle in smaller groups, there's just more of those groups the larger the city or festival is, it's not like people stand around in ever larger circles, shouting louder and louder. Groups that get too big break up into smaller ones naturally because they start to noticeably suck.

I actually love the upvote/downvote mechanism here. An upvote takes the place of a low-content positive affirmation like "good explanation" or "I agree," which helpfully increases the content:filler ratio for other comment readers.

A downvote takes the place of tiresome rebuttals to tedious arguments. If somebody posts "vaccines do cause autism" in a discussion about health care costs, I can just downvote and move on. Without downvotes, people are tempted to make the diversion worse by posting retorts ranging from "go away, troll" to several paragraphs of carefully cited rebuttal. Or if everyone manages to refrain from Feeding the Troll, then the bad comment appears to be just as worthy as every other comment that wasn't rebutted.

From what I've seen of relatives who get sucked into lengthy arguments on Facebook, they can't break away because there is no downvote, and letting bad arguments sit otherwise-unchallenged looks like a (weak) endorsement from other participants.

This is readily apparent if you go back even a few years and read old threads. We are rapidly losing things.

Karma is awful as well for similar reasons.

An obvious and famous counter-example to this argument is Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules For Life which actually was born out of one of the most popular and up-voted Quora answers.

The problem is people have substituted their own critical thinking for a metric of varying quality (upvotes)

+1 insightful


It's amazing how deleting my account gave me a sense of autonomy over my own thoughts. It took a while, but after some time I didn't care about what other people liked and didn't like.

It's amazing what original thought can do for a person. That little button has more power than most people think.

This isn't facebook specific power. Need for validation is deeply rooted in our psychology.

Keep in mind, that you're posting that on a different social network (with different rules, but still - social network), that also has exactly the same system, with upvoting.

Thank you. I've been humbled.

I second this. I deleted my account four years ago because I kept getting in arguments with people, and I genuinely feel that deleting it made me a less insecure person.

I sort of find myself in the same boat, but now I have very few high quality arguments.

Reddit and Facebook and Twitter are chalk full of people ready to have a low quality debate, but there are some rare instances where you'll get some genuine insight from interlocutors.

HN seems to be a good source, but in general on any given subject it's very difficult to find a good faith, intellectually honest, substance-based disagreement on the Internet.

As you say, it seems better for one's IQ and eIQ to lose Reddit and Facebook and Twitter, but it'd still be nice to have a place to sanity-check new ideas.

Agree 100%. This is quite literally the only place I post anything online anymore, and it's been that way for some years now. I never had accounts with Twitter, Instagram, etc. Only Facebook because it was new when I was in college and a bunch of people suggested I sign up. I never really gave a shit about it, honestly. Didn't post that much. Commented on a few things. Never posted pictures. Gave it up many years ago.

But, I did have a tendency to get into arguments on forums of other sites, including YouTube of all places. Most were news/political sites, though. I stopped commenting on any sites other than this one for many of the same reasons. It's just not worth it and is a giant time suck to comment elsewhere. I absolutely love not seeing asinine responses to my comments where I get enraged and then feel obligated to respond to counter that idiocy. I hated that feeling but was obsessed with proving myself. I do not miss that at all whatsoever.

Going cold turkey is never easy. If you're having trouble withdrawing, consider what I did over the past few years:

1. Turn off notifications for the Facebook app on your phone; next

2. Turn off notifications for the Facebook Messenger, Instagram, et cetera apps on your phone; then

3. Delete the Facebook app from your phone; then

4. Delete the Facebook Messenger, Instagram, et cetera apps from your phone; and finally

5. Log out of Facebook on your desktop.

It took me 2 years to go through from step 1 to step 5. It has made me happier and more productive. I still have a Facebook account. But the friction of grabbing my laptop and logging in forces me to consider "is this what I want to do? Or am I thoughtlessly reaching for the crack pipe?" (It's been months since I've cared to log into Facebook. Feels more like trudging through spam in an old e-mail inbox, now, than anything compelling.)

Wow. What you wrote sounds like a classic description of serious addiction. Something like an alcohol, drug, sex, or porn addict might go through. That shows the true power this type of product/service can wield over a person. These products are definitely designed to suck our time and souls. They are/were never made for the benefit of humanity, or whatever bullshit Zuckerberg and the other tech CEOs claim. They are designed to make us like the mindless slobs from Wall-E or the future humans from Idiocracy.

Glad you finally kicked the habit, though, and are more productive because of it.

> What you wrote sounds like a classic description of serious addiction

It's reasonable to characterize the American population as being debilitatingly addicted to social media. (Rome's leaden pipes come to mind.)

The like button may have kicked the journey off, but in my opinion the point of no return for a social network turning bad is when they start treating "like" as "maybe share" (which all the big ones have eventually done).

Somewhat lacking... Wish this article talked more about "why" the like button was the beginning of the end.

I believe it was discussed early on when the article states McNamee believed that's when FB started to receive emotional cues from users. But I can see why readers might want a more thorough dissection of that point.

It was when the emotional state of users started to be revealed at scale. That allows to leverage targeted messaging to change users behavior by catering their emotional needs.

The obvious reason to me is that people started posting not because they genuinely had something to share, but to garner more "likes."

Anything that is measured will influence behaviors.

Agreed. They give it a sentence and then move on.

Facebooks decline began with the "Share" button. That's the one that enabled my friends to fill my feed with 3rd party bullshit. I used to go to there to see what was up with my friends, not get their take on reddit, politics and pet videos.

To offer another potential inflection point: public posts. That turned Facebook from solely a social network to a broadcast network, and--while it has been successful for their business--it led to them being mired in all these political-information-broadcasting type problems.

A lot of talk comes up about the facebook and twitter like buttons where most people agree that they're terrible. I for one can't imagine bothering with twitter unless there was a like button, or at least some way for people to show they agree with what the person twitted. Are they supposed to reply to with a thumbs up emoji? Or "I agree"? They really need some easy way for people to show their agreement. The older original forums are one place where people in a more closed area can talk without distinct likes, but for a more open network, there needs to be something easy for people to show support so the people creating the content know what people like.

Dude! it's been 10 years now. Where have you been all along? 'Like' button was added on February 9, 2009. And, it's not going anywhere

For me it was "sharing".

It was when original content got pushed aside to non-stop sharing and re-sharing of memes and propaganda.

I'd like to use Instagram if it had a way to turn off likes. I'd like a way to share pics with my friends without the weird feeling of expecting likes, it just changes the dynamic of the whole thing.

"I want to show you this, with no expectation of a return." would make Instagram a lot more interesting and less fake.

You know what’s cooler than having millions of Instagram followers? Not needing to have millions of Instagram followers. That’s why I always thought that the celebrities that aren’t on Instagram at all actually seem more self assured, appealing, and, believe it or not, cool.

What you're doing is just a different kind of the social signaling than the one you're trying to seem above of.

It's okay for people to enjoy Instagram. It's okay for people to not enjoy Instagram. It's okay to make one of your hobbies getting Instagram famous. Trying to put some value judgement on why one is _better_, and going out of your way to justify your own is a waste of time.

I would be careful with projecting that experience, everything is not about signaling; sooner or later mostly everyone will come to the conclusion that pretending isn't leading anywhere. Because it isn't.

Not depending on Instagram's algorithms and the opinions of its marketing department and your followers is _better_, for everyone. Dependency in general is rarely a good thing.

Judging is a different issue. But not giving a shit about what other people think usually goes hand in hand with not giving a shit about what they do either.

Millions of followers mean you have more influence. (like it or not)

Some people want to release products and not pay for advertising, some people want to watch football.

So, what did Facebook have before the like button?

What would your ideal version of a social network be? From comments here, it seems so far:

->no selling users out

->no likes/dislikes (but then how do you filter out bad content?)

->no sharing 3rd party content?

Edited: formatting

I would really ️like being able to disable the ️like button on Instagram as you can for comments. I don't like the approval seeking nature of the way it is presented.

EDIT: HN filtered out my emoji :S

I can imagine an improvement in many UI's if I had a way to tailor it for what I want, not some corporate one size fits all.

Like: 1. See no likes. 2. Filter out comments that are deeply nested quotes. 3. Filter out specific people on a specific subject that I don't need to read again. 4. Switch off all adverts. 5. Never see a public post. 6...

I'm working on a blog post about this.

The issue isn't decentralization or issues like upvoting.

The issue is one of economics.

As long as we don't address the core fundamental flaw with capitalism - that capital flows towards central actors, we will never have a decentralized and fair communications structure.

What's sad is that I think it might actually be impossible without major efforts to understand the problem.

It just happens naturally and without some sort of aggressive taxation policy it's just going to keep happening over and over again.

If you analyze them deep enough, you'll find out that money (greed) is the root cause of ~90% of world problems. Taxation is just a workaround, not a solution to those problems.

In the audio clip he says it was photo tagging that started the decline followed by the like button

I think Like buttons and other forms of social media voting are destructive to intelligent thought. They can generate argument ad populum fallacies so bad ideas can appear to have merit based solely on popularity. They are a good example of why true democracies always devolve into mob-rules tyranny.

The thing about mechanics like upvotes/downvotes, is that they're ripe for exploitation by evil/sociopathic people. (For virality. Often for outrage-driven virality.) That's okay on a place like reddit, because things are largely pseudonymous, and if things go south, you can go to a different place or just take a break or even get a new username. Your real life network of friends and family isn't so easily abandoned or replaced.

Not so sure what the difference is with Twitter, but maybe it's one of granularity. There are no boundaries there, so people have to police things themselves with block lists, or appeal to Twitter itself to get people banned. It's also clearly ripe for exploitation by sociopaths.



(What of HN? HN is moderated.)

I really think the blame lies with Facebook management and not a button.

The Big Bang was also the beginning of the end but saying that doesn't really accomplish much

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