Lately I’ve been trying to stay off Facebook (I’ve never been on Twitter) but it’s hellishly difficult – and last night we began watching a Netflix documentary on how this stuff works; how much time and energy and manpower they spend trying to get and keep our attention. For example, this morning I noticed a little red figure on my Messenger app. A notification. I generally check these as sometimes I have friends who need help, so I looked. As far as I could see there were no new messages – but eventually I found something unread going back a couple of weeks. More puzzlingly it was highlighting my reply to a friend’s message. Do I need notifying that I sent a thumbs-up to Sarah two weeks ago? I do not. I’m convinced this is not accidental; I’ve noticed of late that if I’m not messaging much it will notify me of something I’ve sent, just to keep me engaged. If you stay off it for too long they will do something to hook you back in.
This is the essence of Facebook’s strategy and a key part of their monetisation programme. There’s a saying in marketing: If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product and I think that’s very true. Why would they give us so much stuff for free? It’s because they are taking our attention, constantly throughout the day, and harvesting our data. We are lab-rats kept stimulated 24/7 so that people can make money from us.
The temptation is when watching such a programme, to say to yourself: ‘I don’t respond to adverts. I’m very careful. And you may be – but I have to acknowledge that I’ve responded to several ads on Facebook recently and have even bought a couple of items. This gives Facebook information about what I like so that they can advertise more of the same. I never stop getting ads for recyclable toothbrush heads, for example. I have an add-on to my browser called Privacy Badger which stops people tracking you across the internet but even Privacy Badger can’t prevent Facebook from doing so within its own borders.
I’ve only watched about a third of the documentary so I’ll write more when I’ve finished. Meanwhile my mouse is still playing up. It seems to need cleaning about three times a day and I’m going to christen it Moody because it’s like Mad-Eye Moody from Harry Potter; it whizzes all over the place, especially when it’s been cleaned.
Here’s Mad-Eye’s first appearance in the Potter films – though of course fans will know it isn’t actually Moody at this point…