This was said to me by a fellow dinner guest this week, during a discussion about Facebook’s new version of Groups (read Marshall Kirkpatrick’s analysis here). The day after launch, the shine of Facebook’s latest product announcement began to tarnish when it was discovered that that the new version of Groups was opt-in by default. It was later reported that tech frenemies Michael Arrington and Jason Calacanis were automatically added to a new Facebook Group called “NAMBLA” (North American Man Boy Love Association). Drama ensued.
Why did this happen? Facebook’s new groups are opt-in by default, meaning any one of your friends can add you to any group without you saying it’s OK. While you can immediately unsubscribe to a group you’re added to, or modify the email notifications settings for it, the fact remains that getting automatically put in a group can be annoying, especially when the topic is man-boy love. Facebook should probably modify this by converting Groups to an invitation-based model.
Facebook only shares some of the responsibility for this. We’re part of the problem. I’m looking at you, citizens of the Web.
While Facebook’s vision for the new version of Groups celebrate signal over noise and contextual integrity of conversations, the sad truth is that current ecosystem is tarnished by a numbers game. Whether it’s the high school classmate you be begrudgingly added late one night, or an ex-significant other you’re trying to maintain a connection with, chances are you’re suffering from friend fatigue. Our social ties on Facebook are largely superficial and weak. In order for that to change, humans, not algorithms, need to change.
You can argue that Facebook’s privacy settings are convoluted, but it’s equally true that despite all the shouting people do about privacy, the majority of users are inherently lazy when it comes to curating their experience on Facebook and other social platforms. I’ll refer you again to the million dollar quote at the beginning of this post: “I have 1,500 Facebook friends and I don’t know who any of them are.” That’s a bingo!
Do your Facebook Groups lack focus?
When you’re not selective about who you make your friends on Facebook, things like NAMBLAGate happen. So you’ll excuse me if I don’t feel terribly sympathetic towards Mr. Calacanis, Mr. Arrington, or anyone who complains about the tons of emails they got this yesterday from unwanted groups. Those emails came from people you accepted as a “friend.” And with that, comes consequences.
Opt-in issue aside, I really like the new approach Facebook is taking with Groups. Now it’s time for everyone to do a little less complaining and start taking more responsibility for their social connections.