I’m a fan of Facebook. I like that it gives people the ability to communicate with friends and relatives around the world, in a much more interesting way than email or snail mail. For example, thanks to Facebook, I know a lot more about my cousins in the UK than I used to. I can see pictures of their kids, they can see pictures of mine, all that sort of thing that was definitely possible before, but took much more work and just never happened.
But to be more accurate, I’m a fan of what Facebook was intended to be. I’m not so much a fan of what it has become, which is a way for some people to feed their ego by gathering likes. I’m certainly guilty of this myself; I get some satisfaction when I post something and people click “Like” on it. Who wouldn’t want to be told that someone likes something you’ve written or a picture you’ve taken?
But there are people who take this to the extreme. People post pictures with pithy sayings on them, hoping for thousands of likes, shares, and comments. Most of them include URLs where you can go to buy their products or simply generate page views for them so they can charge for advertising. There are millions of these pictures floating around Facebook. In most cases the idea is to get you to visit their website but there are lots from people who just want to generate likes and shares. Maybe just getting the likes is the goal here, or maybe people can charge for advertising on their Facebook page itself (I don’t know how that works). But in general the actual content of the image is secondary, or sometimes completely meaningless. And I’m not even talking about pictures containing blatantly false information, though I’ve seen more than my share of those. In this article, I’m just talking about the useless ones.
Here are a bunch of types of images you’re likely to see from these Facebook pages.
Appeal to emotion
The appeal to emotion is huge. Pictures of people (usually children) suffering from some terrible disease get tons of likes. Same for pictures of injured or abused animals. The “let’s give this kid a bunch of likes” is compelling in that if the kid himself sees thousands of people clicking “Like” on his picture, he would probably feel pretty good about it. But if you’ve posted something that’s been shared and re-shared, you don’t just see a caption saying “This picture has 45,302 likes!”, you’ve got to go looking for it. You have to dig through your “analytics” information to find out how many people liked it, commented on it, and shared it, and how many liked or commented on the shares. And that’s assuming that the kid himself or a member of his family originally posted it, which is almost never the case.
Pictures of military personnel get likes from people eager to show their support for people in the military. I have all kinds of respect for people in the military, but liking a picture on Facebook really does nothing to help them. You’ve probably seen the picture with the caption “let’s get 900k likes for this military dog protecting a sleeping soldier at an airport!” As cute a picture as that is, I guarantee you that neither the dog nor the soldier will give a crap about 900k likes. And why 900k? Why is there a specific target?
Others include “Share this picture if you love your daughter/son/brother/sister” with the implication that if you don’t share it, you obviously don’t love your daughter/son/brother/sister, you heartless bastard.
“Share this picture if you hate cancer!” Why? First off, who doesn’t hate cancer? Secondly, how will it help anyone? This isn’t even useful for “raising awareness”, a concept that is seriously overused in the world of charities.
Save to your timeline
There are lots of pictures, particularly recipes, that say “click share to save this to your timeline”, the idea being that you can retrieve it again later. This is hilarious. Have you ever gone through your timeline looking for something that you’ve shared? In the unlikely event that you have, good freaking luck. If you really want to save a recipe, save the picture on your hard drive or print it. It’s not “click share to save it”, it’s “You should click share so that my sharing stats get bumped and more people go to my website”.
Some of these puzzles are legitimately interesting but most are click-bait. One has a grid of lines and asks “how many squares do you see?” with thousands of answers, all different. Another I saw recently was “Name a CITY that does not have the letter “A” in it. I bet you can’t. ;)” Yeah, this is a toughie. There are thousands of them: London, Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing, Mexico City, New York, Toronto – it took more time to type those than to think about them. This posting had over 118,000 likes, 967,000 comments, and 22,000 shares. I don’t understand how people can see a posting that has almost a million comments on it already and decide to add another one. Do you really think none of the previous million commenters thought of your answer? And who do you think is going to read your comment? Maybe the dozen or so people who comment after you, but that’s it. Either way, why bother?
Also, even if you do the work and figure out an answer (for puzzles that have a single answer), you will likely never know if you’re right. I have never seen the original person who posted the puzzle actually post the answer. And the worst part: if you’re into math or science at all, reading the answers to some of the math ones is likely to depress you. When I see people who I know are adults (and presumably have at least a high school education) posting that 5 + 4 x 0 = 0, I weep not only for humanity but also for whatever school system they went through.
People post pictures that contain “opinions” which are almost always either blatantly obvious or divisive (eg. opinions on gun control) and then say “share if you agree”. I saw one recently that said “This Christmas, I want my family and friends to be happy and healthy. Share if you agree.” Who the hell wouldn’t agree? And why specifically at Christmas? I want my friends and family to be happy and healthy all year round.
The divisive ones are good because they will get shares and likes from those who agree and comments from those who don’t. Tell you what – if I agree with something I’ll share it. But telling me to share it is a great way to ensure that I won’t. And telling me “99% of people won’t share this” to try and guilt me into sharing works even less.
That said, I’ve been known to share the odd picture that contains an opinion I agree with (as long as it’s not something as obvious as “I want my family to be healthy”), as well as a few that I don’t agree with and I explain why I don’t. But that’s OK because all of my Facebook friends want to know my opinion on everything. I know they do.
Magic pictures and codes
“Watch the picture and leave a comment and see what happens”. Right, because Facebook spent time and effort adding the ability to post pictures that somehow react to comments left on them. I even saw one that said “Hold your finger on this image and leave a comment and see what happens” which seemed even more ludicrous, but then I realized that a lot of people would be reading it on a mobile device. Pressing their finger on the picture could in theory have some sort of effect, though it’s unlikely. But how are you supposed to hold your finger on the image and leave a comment at the same time?
I saw one recently that told people to take the last 3 digits of your cell phone number, plug it into some formula, and post the resulting “code” as a comment to get your cell phone’s name. WTF? Do people really think that (a) your cell phone has a “name” and (b) Facebook has integrated a mechanism to retrieve that name into its comment feature? Why on earth would either one of these two things exist?
I’m amazed at the number of people who think that a company is going to send them a gift card or an iPad or something just for liking their page (and usually sharing and commenting as well). Facebook rules prohibit promotions that require you to share a posting to enter, so anything that asks you to do this is bogus. Read the postings closely as well – would Disney really use the name “Disney World.” (with a period at the end) as the name of their page, or have obvious spelling or grammatical errors in their postings? Apple makes bucketloads of money from people buying iPads and iPhones. Why would they give hundreds of them away?
There are lots of pictures of people saying that something good will happen if this picture receives some number of Likes. You’ll see a picture of a kid holding a sign saying “My mom will stop smoking if I get a million likes”. So your mother will not stop smoking if you, her loving child, ask her to, but she will if a million strangers ask? Right. The one that inspired the image above was a picture of a child in a hospital bed with tubes all over him, saying “If we get 100 shares, this kid will get his heart transplant for free!” Now, we all know that anyone can be fooled, so it’s hard to say that you’d have to be stupid to fall for this kind of thing, but if you think about this even for a second or two you should realize that it’s ludicrous.
I realize that people aren’t going to stop sharing or liking these types of pictures. For the most part, it’s not a big enough problem for Facebook to do something about it, and you could even argue that other than cluttering up your timeline, it’s not a problem at all. All I ask is that before you share or like that image, give it a few seconds of skeptical thought first – is this thing true? Is it helpful? I know that not everything has to be helpful but if it’s utterly meaningless, maybe the fact that it’s already been shared 20,000 times is enough.
On the upside, these images do give me something to rant about. And you all want to hear my rants. I know you do.