‘Frictionless sharing’ and Zuckerberg’s law

A few days ago I blogged about the implications of Facebook’s latest intrusions into the lives of its users. The more I looked at the idea of “frictionless sharing” the more outrageous it seems. So it was refreshing to come on this succinct dissection of the initiative by Jeff Sonderman which makes the point more cogently than I did.

Facebook spent years making it easier for us to share by building its network and placing “Like” buttons across the Web. Its latest idea goes much further, turning sharing into a thoughtless process in which everything we read, watch or listen to is shared with our friends automatically.

Encouraging sharing is great. Making sharing easier is even better. But this is much more than that. What Facebook has done is change the definition of “sharing.” It’s the difference between telling a friend about something that happened to you today and opening your entire diary.

Yep. Jeff points out that a number of news organisations (including the Guardian group, for which I write) are careering headlong down this path by ‘partnering’ with Facebook in its latest wheeze. Which brings to mind Winston Churchill’s wonderful definition of appeasement as “being nice to a crocodile in the hope that he will eat you last”.

Jeff goes on to list a number of reasons why this idea of frictionless sharing is not only fatuous, but also cynically manipulative, in that it benefits only Facebook while purporting to be useful to its eager sharecroppers.

  • It means little to friends
  • The fact that people choose to keep most things private places significance on what they choose to share. If everything is shared automatically, nothing has significance.

  • It is misleading
  • If a woman reads a Yahoo News story about breast cancer and that fact is automatically noted in her Facebook activity, what are her friends to make of that? Does she have cancer? Does she have a friend with cancer? Perhaps a colleague was quoted in the article. Maybe she accidentally clicked on the wrong link.

    Facebook is presenting this information with no context. In the absence of context, people make assumptions.

    Can anyone in the new Facebook world read about personal health, relationship advice, personal finance or gay rights without their acquaintances speculating why? In other cases readers could be embarrassed by clicking on a Kim Kardashian photo gallery, a list of crude jokes, or anything else that some people may find distasteful.

  • It has a ‘chilling’ effect

    News organizations that employ the Facebook activity feed may end up hurting themselves by making readers stop and think, “Do I really want to read this, knowing my friends will see that I did?”

    Finally, Jeff asks news organisations pondering whether to jump aboard this bandwagon to ask themselves a question:

    Why exactly are you doing this — for your benefit, or for the readers? Pumping Facebook full of links to your site so you can benefit from a bump in referral traffic seems good, but you risk alienating users and eroding their trust. The last thing a news organization wants is for people to think twice before they click.

    Right on. Great post.