Facebook Demetricator and the Easing of Prescribed Sociality by Ben Grosser at Unlike Us #3

Unlike Us #3
Unlike Us #3 organized by the Institute of Network Cultures, March 22-24, 2013, Trouw, Amsterdam

At Unlike Us #3 Ben Grosser presented the Facebook Demetricator which is a web browser extension that hides all the metrics on Facebook and therewith demetricates Facebook’s interface. Grosser describes his project as a piece of critical software that intervenes in the numerical focus of Facebook.

The quantification of social relations: More!

Ben Grosser narrates a scene from Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps where Jacob asks his new boss, Bretton James: “What’s your number?” “Everybody has a number, a set amount of money that once they hit, they’ll leave the game and just go play golf for the rest of their life. What’s yours?” and his response is: “More.”

The scene depicts a moment in the movie, which deals with the 2008 USA financial collapse, before the financial crisis and shows capitalist society’s fetish with increasing numbers and numerical growth which eventually came to a collapse. He describes the human desire to make numbers go higher, whether this means stocks rising, calories burned, friends added, likes accrued or comments left. Grosser states how we are obsessed with these numbers and that we’re paying more attention to the numbers than the actual content of the interaction.

He defines metrics in relation to his project as enumerations of data categories or groups that are easily obtained via typical database operations and studies these in relation to the Facebook platform from a software studies perspective. How do these metrics enable things in the sense of Matthew Fuller’s conditions of possibilities? The metrics increase user engagement with the site through the quantification of social relations as may be seen in the +1 included in the Add Friend button. You can increase your personal worth by incrementing your social value if you add a friend and the number is making that value explicit.

The extension does not only remove the numbers from likes, shares or friends but it also removes the timestamps in the interface. The Newsfeed is presented as a never-ending conversation and has engineered presence in the system where if you step out of the stream you may miss something. By quantifying our social relations Facebook becomes a technology of control that pushes for continous consumption. In our paper on Facebook’s Like Economy colleague Carolin Gerlitz and I describe this as a process of intensification and extensification where “user engagement is instantly transfigured into comparable metrics and at the same time multiplied and intensified on several levels:”

the metrifying capacities of the Like button are inextricable from its intensifying capacities. Within the Like economy, data and numbers have performative and productive capacities, they can generate user affects, enact more activities and thus multiply themselves or, as Simondon puts it, ‘Beyond information as quantity and information as quality, there is what one could call information as intensity’ (cited in Venn, 2010: 146). Such dynamics are enabled through the medium-specific infrastructure of the Like economy which simultaneously enacts, measures and multiplies user actions. (Gerlitz & Helmond, 2013)

Unlike Us #3
Ben Grosser at Unlike Us #3 organized by the Institute of Network Cultures, March 22-24, 2013, Trouw, Amsterdam

Facebook Demetricator user feedback

The feedback from users that installed the Facebook Demetricator after five months reveals how it removes addictive behavior (to like more, to constantly check for feedback or appreciation), how it blunts competition and calms users down, how it lessens emotional manipulation (one user stated (s)he was now in a neutral state of mind all the time) and how it relaxes rules. When going through the feedback it became apparent that many Facebook users have self-imposed rules on how to deal with the numbers and how to interact with content. One user stated: “I don’t know how to respond to this because I don’t know how old it is” indicating that (s)he would not respond to old content and actually asked if (s)he could have the Facebook Demetricator but with the timestamps back. Another user stated that “I need to know the numbers because I don’t want to be the first or second person to like it, because what if other people don’t like it?” and “If it has over 25 likes I am not going to like it anymore because that person has enough likes.”

With this piece of critical software Ben Grosser addresses how Facebook constructs its users by guiding its social interactions through the metrification of its interface.

More by Ben Grosser:

  • Ben Grosser – How the Technological Design of Facebook Homogenizes Identity and Limits Personal Representation (PDF)
  • Reload the love: Reload The Love! automatically detects when your Facebook notification icons are at zero and artificially inflates them for you. If new notifications arrive after Reload The Love! has inflated them, they will instantly revert back to accurate values. And any time you want to reinflate them, just reload the page to Reload The Love!
  • Interview with Ben Grosser by Matthew Fuller: Don’t Give Me the Numbers

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