Facebook Unlike and Internet Schadenfreude

“Facebook is worth $100 billion, but all I got was this lousy status update.” That just about sums up the type of public sentiment that has been inundating the Internet over the past few weeks. Facebook’s much-anticipated $100 billion IPO is almost ready to hit the market after a circus-like roadshow where Zuckerberg was chided for, among other things, wearing a black hoodie. At a time when Facebook promises to transform hundreds of investors and employers into paper millionaires, the site’s 900 million users are wondering: What about me? The site, which rocketed to fame and fortune by selling advertising based on the personal data of its users, will leave almost all of them empty-handed.

As a result, we have people gloating over the site's disenchanted advertisers. We have snide opinions suggesting that Facebook might be the next MySpace or Friendster. We have the articles suggesting that Facebook could disappear within five years. And we have the constant inferences that Zuck is still just too callow to actually deal with the “Grown-Ups” (i.e. People With Money). Facebook, quite simply, is turning into one of those companies that we love to hate. At some point, it seems like everybody we know threatens to leave Facebook, fed up with the site’s privacy options or its pernicious support of over-sharing. Deep down, we fear that the company has somehow gotten too powerful, and there’s something we don’t like about rich Harvard monopolists. (Remember another Harvard dropout kid who faced the same problems once his company became too powerful?)

And it’s not only individuals who are bellowing about Facebook. Giant companies like GM – a company that spent $10 million on those quirky Facebook social ads last year – are now publicly voicing their discontent with the way Facebook works. Who really clicks on all those ads after all? By calling this out just days before the big Facebook IPO, one gets the impression that the folks at GM either have zero sense of timing, or are clearly miffed at being hoodwinked into spending $10 million on a lot of empty words and Sponsored Stories.

Where is all this schadenfreude coming from?

At some level, we’re all disenchanted that the world’s most successful Internet company is actually just a massive advertising play. Facebook sells ads based on our web behaviors and personal profiles. As a result, the company has every incentive to encourage users to create even more content, so that the ads become even more effective. Not surprisingly, just like GM, we are waking up to the realization that we’ve been used: If you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold.

If nothing else, this schadenfreude will only deepen as we find out how other Web companies are getting rich by trafficking in our personal data. As we transition to a new mobile, post-PC era, this trend towards personal data consumption by the Internet’s most successful companies will, most likely, only deepen. In fact, our mobile devices are perhaps the perfect devices for capturing information about us – not just online, but also in the physical world. Our phones know where we’ve been, with whom we’ve talked, and where we go online. We all leave a trail of digital exhaust anytime we open up our phones. At some point, we will wake up and realize that all of this digital exhaust is not some new form pollution – it is actually something very valuable that has tangible value in the real world.

Related Articles

Why Japan's hikikomori isolate themselves from others for years

These modern-day hermits can sometimes spend decades without ever leaving their apartments.

700,000 Japanese people are thought to be hikikomori, modern-day hermits who never leave their apartments (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images).
Mind & Brain
  • A hikikomori is a type of person in Japan who locks themselves away in their bedrooms, sometimes for years.
  • This is a relatively new phenomenon in Japan, likely due to rigid social customs and high expectations for academic and business success.
  • Many believe hikikomori to be a result of how Japan interprets and handles mental health issues.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less