Facebook Numbers in Status Defeats Purpose of Facebook

The Facebook numbers game is the latest paradox to confound social media.

Facebook Numbers in Status Defeats Purpose of Facebook

As soon as the Facebook “like” buttons started appearing everywhere across the internet, we noticed a particular social networking paradox: what does it mean to “like” something on Facebook?

In the same way that the network had forever changed the meaning of the word friend—turning it into a verb, as SMS had done with the word ‘text’ in previous years—it was now redacting what it meant to like something. Yesterday D+T Kyle Daley called out the Tea Party for suggesting that only property owners be allowed to vote. So far, 102 people have “liked” the article. Does this mean they like the Tea Party’s suggestion? Or do they actually dislike it, but simply like that Kyle pointed it out? Perhaps some of both? Or was there some quality in the article itself that they liked? What does I like it on Facebook mean?

A new meme called “The Number Game” is catching on in the network, which is a far more grievous paradox not only in that it’s confusing, but idiotic in that it defeats the purpose of Facebook.

The Facbeook Numbers in Status game goes like this: Send a friend a number in a non-public communication like a Facebook message or in a chat. The friend will then communicate his or hear ‘real’ feelings about you in a public status update, but will refer to you only by number, so that your identity is hidden in plain sight to all but the two of you.

It’s basically reverse anonymity—the opposite of having a secret admirer or adversary. Both parties know who the other is. The difference between having this conversation about ‘true’ feelings in private is that you’re telegraphing it publicly on Facebook—except that no one has any idea what you’re talking about. It’s not like the rudimentary encryption hides anyone’s identity in order to allow them to say things to another in secret they wouldn’t say otherwise. I could see a value in that. But all the Numbers Game does is clog everyone else’s news stream with revelations that “so-and-so thinks 6 is a total B.” Who cares?

As Zuckerberg has said, the point of Facebook is to make a more honest, transparent society. Anonymity is anathema to to the network. The whole point is that it facilitates real conversations between individuals. While the numbers game does not actually create any true anonymity, it is interesting that this ostensible numeric veneer would entice users to say things about each other, knowing full well who each other is, and that they would want to both display those messages publicly and simultaneously have them be publicly indecipherable.

I imagine it’s not what Zuckerberg imagined in his utopian vision for the site. But Facebook is now a public utility, and one can’t help but marvel at the machinations the human spirit will devise to satisfy its particular social wants (and “likes”).