Facebook Continues Destroying ItselfAugust 13, 2022
Lately I've been seeing some strange messages on Facebook when I block people. Something about "blocking applies to a profile" and "you might still see something from the user's other profiles" - I didn't capture the exact details, but you get the gist. WTF? So I looked into it. Apparently FB is experimenting with a new feature - not yet fully announced, sure as hell not properly documented - that allows a single user (account) to have multiple profiles so they can interact with different groups of people. More details here:
Facebook tests a way to add up to five profiles tied to a single account
This is not inherently a bad idea. Many people have a strong need to keep different "facets" of their lives separate - more so than the existing methods of controlling post visibility. Separate profiles for professional and personal "circles" is an obvious example, especially in professions with special privacy or security concerns. Another example is people who are vulnerable either individually or as members of an often-targeted group. LGBTQ+ people, for example, who might have extensive circles of people to whom they're already out but also extensive circles of people (including family) to whom they're not. And this is where the cracks start to appear.
<<<Flashback: circa 2000, before either Facebook or Tumblr existed. I was an active user of a social thing called LambdaMOO. The details of the place don't matter, except that it was highly programmable. As a programmer, I had figured out a way to block another user so I didn't have to put up with their constant BS. Knowing that I couldn't hear them, they took to hanging around where I was and saying things like "Trystan [my name] is a child molester." Since I was there and blocking was not a well known thing, I guess people were supposed to interpret my lack of response as some sort of admission. Fortunately almost everyone knew better, but it became a bit of a cause célèbre in the online (and online-research) community at the time. Believe me, I know all about the power and the danger of blocking. But that was then and this is now. Now, I believe that blocking is an essential part of any online person's toolbox.>>>
You see, the design of this feature is an absolute shit show. The way I found out about it, via messages when I block someone, suggests why. Can you guess who benefits most from this feature? Who has absolutely jumped all over it, despite its not being well publicized or document? Stalkers and trolls. People who want to evade others' blocks. Let me make that even clearer.
The design of this feature endangers the very people that a better designed version should protect.
Clearly, nobody - or at least nobody with an ounce of sense or understanding of vulnerable people/communities - thought this through. This will, in general, not encourage people who were thinking of leaving Facebook to stay. Being exposed to more content that they have already signaled they find objectionable, or even that's directed at them personally, they'll go running for the exit. The creeps will become even more omnipresent.
If Facebook wanted to do they right thing, they could implement a better design that actually serves people's needs. In particular, instead of giving control to the often-blocked by letting them shed their blocked state with a new profile, it would give control to the person doing the blocking. If I go to block someone, for example, I should have the option to set up my own new profile as well (or instead) right then and there. There should also be far greater clarity about whether changing my profile picture or joining a group (for example) has profile-wide or account-wide effect, so people don't accidentally do The Wrong Thing and violate privacy or find themselves targeted.
There's certainly a lot more, and that's kind of the main point: this needs to be much more thoroughly thought through, and communicated, than it has been. What's there now is a half-baked mess that actually endangers people and will be bad for Facebook's user retention. And frankly, despite once working there, at this point I think they deserve to lose. "Evolve or die" are the choices, and they have steadfastly refused to evolve.