I’ve been wanting to tell you this for awhile – I don’t post on my Other Sociologist Facebook page as often as I used to because Facebook is a racqueteering platform. Research has shown that since 2014, pages have lost at least 60% of ‘organic reach’ (that is, individual followers seeing page posts without promotions paid by brand pages). Some market research has determined that for most pages, only 6% of followers see their content, while other analysis shows it’s closer to 2%. My discussion is not new; social media analysts have been attuned to these patterns for the past decade. While the issues I discuss apply to many different companies and brand pages, I’m focusing on the impact that the Facebook model has on not-for-profit pages, specifically those like mine, which aim to educate the public for free.
Across all of the social media pages I run solo (the Other Sociologist, Sociology at Work and Social Science Insights), I have a collective following of 50,000 followers (13,100 for Other Sociologist alone). At the peak of my volunteering, I co-managed an additional 2 million followers across other not-for-profit communities on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook (most of them now closed with the demise of Google+ in April 2019, or as communities outlived their purpose). And that’s not counting the social media accounts I’ve managed for national organisations and businesses as part of my paid work. From this extensive expertise, I can tell you that Facebook is the least efficient and most cumbersome platform. Its algorithm is so bad, that it withholds relevant posts, ensuring followers don’t read about community events, sales and other opportunities until three or more days. That is, well after the information was relevant.
On other platforms, I engage in a steady stream of interactions. For example, on Twitter, if I publish an important thread that speaks directly to the audience I’ve built, I can be sure that many of my followers will see and interact with my posts, and, in turn, push out my writing to hundreds, or at times – thousands – of their followers (such as on racism, sexism, homophobia, bad research, popular films, social media, or science). When I live tweet from a conference or event, I can guarantee that this work will be shared into new circles. A steady stream of traffic to my blog comes from Twitter (for example, when I share my latest blog posts). On Facebook, I’m lucky if I get a handful of ‘likes,’ and views. Take a recent example: I have been discussing the impact of bushfires and supporting a cause I know is of great interest to my followers: Aboriginal rights. The same content that reaches over 8,700 people on Twitter (193 engagements) is obscured by Facebook, which cannot make money from such causes (116 people reached, 2 engagements).
It’s impossible for me to maintain a meaningful community on Facebook like I can on other platforms. I’ve always been conscientious about what I publish: with few exceptions (such as promoting a community cause like bushfire relief), each of my platforms has original content that has been tailored for that specific audience. If you follow me on Instagram, you see a different application of sociology than if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, or any other number of social accounts I’ve run over the years. Other pages push out churnalism, regurgitating half-baked ideas, stolen from other places on the internet, for the sake of riling people up. My page does not do this. I only write when I have original, sociological responses to current events. What I publish on my Facebook page, I don’t publish anywhere else. It takes additional time to upload new commentary and media to Facebook (resizing images, writing original content). This amounts to considerable wasted analysis, time and energy that would have been better served elsewhere.
Capitalism at work
I previously worked as a research and social media consultant, so I understand better than most what it takes to make social media accounts successful. When I run Facebook pages for businesses and organisations (including not for profits), I have no other choice, but to allocate budget to promote posts. Businesses and organisations relying on philanthropy or who have to reach broader publics (such as when promoting events), simply cannot afford to not promote posts. When I hired people, I set aside funding to promote these posts on social media as well as paying for ads in other channels.
A personal page like mine, however, that is not for profit and purely set up to educate, cannot afford to pay for posts. I already spend significant time and expertise running my website. I pay other costs to make my content public (web hosting, software to edit images, and other related costs). I simply cannot justify paying to show my followers my free content. What a perverse position to be in: I derive no income from this but I’m expected to keep paying to reach people who have opted in to hear from me.
As a page manager, my personal feed is bombarded by Facebook telling me to pay to promote my page posts. It’s insidious, because my personal Facebook is a separate space from my page, but Facebook is keen to invade my personal time with its racketeering. At least once daily (but usually multiple times a day), whenever I log into Facebook, one of the first things I see is a large block from Facebook, pushing me to promote my page posts. It is even more absurd that the algorithm is clever enough to demote my posts about my website, but is outlandish in needling me to pay to promote posts where I’ve discussed a media article. Are you serious, Facebook – pay to have you promote a post from me about an article a media giant already paid you to push out? Talk about double dipping!
I never get a break from Facebook strong arming me, reminding me my posts are being held hostage unless I pay to show them to the people who’ve followed my page. Facebook hides my original posts (including timely videos and photos when I’m at sociological events). It effectively withholds my posts about important things that matter to me and my followers (social justice and protest) and it hides any posts linking to my website. It pushes out only content that the original source already paid for (e.g. big news articles).
Facebook tracks content and forces pages to catalog themselves. Mine is categorised as ‘society and culture website.’ Nevertheless, I’m expected to pay and compete with large corporations that have millions of dollars set aside for advertising and marketing.
Some pages that gained a large following early have sustained their post reach (though most report a drop in engagement), but pages established in recent years have struggled. It’s a charlatan model that thrives on extortion of small pages that can’t afford to pay for promoted posts, while giving power to paid posts spreading misinformation, hatred and war mongering.
Facebook’s tools for moderation are ineffective. As a regular user, it took many days to take down a page that was set up to target me and other academic activists. As a page manager, I’m exposed to abuse that is cumbersome to report. It’s been like this for years.
Please see this as a general reminder that if you’re following other small community pages like mine, you aren’t seeing their content because that’s how Facebook is engineered. But before you rush to defend an humongous, fascist platform (‘it’s a business!’), remember that’s not how Facebook first established itself and coaxed users. It amassed its stranglehold on social media by promoting networking and community.
It’s easy to see in retrospect, with its racist, colonialist, unethical practices, poor moderation, and its lack of fact checking and attacks on democracy, that Facebook’s business model is corrupt. The widely watched questioning by American politician Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (below) demonstrates incisively that Mark Zuckerberg built an empire to profiteer from paid hate speech, not informed social interactions. Pages like mine cannot compete in this pay to play wrought. It’s still tough to make the decision to leave my Facebook followers behind. However, I’ve been publicly inching towards this decision since 2017, for this exact same reason, after many years of struggle.
Let’s connect in better places
I have always disliked Facebook, but maintain my account because I run educational pages. In fact, I first opened my Facebook account in 2009 only because I needed to disseminate my Sociology at Work blog! I then started my Other Sociologist Facebook page in September 2011, the same time as this very blog was founded. I have maintained my Other Sociologist Facebook page because I know some of you only use Facebook. Given that’s the case, I will keep the Facebook page only to let followers know I’ve published a new post on my blog, but I won’t be wasting any more effort in posting other original content. It simply gets submerged and not shown to my audience.
I receive tremendous traffic from other social media and from subscribers sharing my work. I can’t bear to keep dealing with Facebook’s gatekeeping. I’ve already published an explanation directly to my followers on my Facebook page and encouraged them to connect with me elsewhere. I will maintain my Sociology at Work community on Facebook, begrudgingly, because that audience is much longer established.
If you’d like to keep regularly engaging with me, you can find me on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, all under @OtherSociology. If you don’t want to miss my research posts , subscribe to my blog OtherSociologist.com to receive post alerts via email (see the top of my blog). I’m getting ready to publish a big resource on equity, diversity, inclusion and intersectionality, so be sure to stay in touch.
The Other Sociologist, and my other websites, will forever remain free. And a reminder to new followers, I established my website for me and other women of colour. I’m happy that many people from around the world come here daily, but please respect the ethos of the spaces I create.
Take care and keep fighting for justice and positive social transformation.