Mark Zuckerberg is a billionaire. You and I are not. If we wanted to have some fun, we could list the reasons why this situation exists. Being charitable to him, we could say Zuckerberg is a tenacious visionary who was willing to challenge the status quo and harnessed the Internet to create a product that billions of people use every day. Being charitable to you and me, we could say we’re not a trope of an evil Bond movie villain, willing to eviscerate the greater good for personal enrichment, and that’s why we’re not multi-billionaires. But if we want to really zero in and laser focus on the most important distinction between the fact that he has enough cash to fill his pool with money and literally swim in it, and you and I have…less – here’s what I come up with.
Facebook, the current business model that Zuckerberg built, panders to people’s desperate desire for social and status signaling.
Although I could write a PhD thesis on this (and might one day), let’s break it down to its simplest level. Billions of people begin and end their day on the Facebook platform because it panders to their need to try and compensate for their fears and insecurities, by sending out signals to suggest they are superior to those that they dislike or disagree with. This then activates the second stage of the process, when the people who agree with your worldview will “like,” share, and comment on your post. And those that post comments disagreeing with you can instantly be attacked by you and your partisan disciples. You can even do this preemptively. Ex: “And if you’re one of the disgusting people who actually supports (fill in the blank), you can unfriend and unfollow me right now, because I block your sorry ass anyway!!!!!”
We love to social signal and do it every chance we get. Facebook offers us a façade to present to the world as ourselves. (As, to a degree, other social media platforms do as well.) Thousands of years ago, signaling was a useful survival skill. It still is in some cases, such as the peacock attracting a mate or the rattle on a rattlesnake warning away would be predators. For most people today, the signaling is usually for much more base and egoistic reasons. I might be driving a Bentley because I appreciate the luxury and craftsmanship, or because I want to signal that I’m rich. (Or both.) I might be wearing a “Be Kind to Animals, Don’t Eat Them” t-shirt because I’m against animal cruelty, or I want to signal that I’m more enlightened than meat eaters. (Or both.) I might go to church every Sunday because I want to praise the lord, or I might be signaling so people think I’m a good person. (Or both.) Carrying the logic forward…
I might be writing this blog post to highlight how shallow, hypocritical, and destructive social signaling can be, or I might be using it to signal how smart I am to deconstruct the phenomenon. (Or both.)
The kinds of signals described above often involve spending money, changing behavior, or taking action in some way. But Facebook…Facebook allows you to signal easily, frequently, and immediately. You can post something first thing in the morning and receive instant gratification. Then you can tabulate your viral reach before you snuggle off to sleep, knowing that you signaled to the world how noble, smart and worthy you are.
But of course, if you really believed you were noble, smart, and worthy…you wouldn’t have to signal that would you?
If you do believe Zuck is evil and Facebook is a dangerous monopoly, the best way to fix the situation is for everyone on earth to develop self-esteem, be comfortable in their own skin, and stop being so needy about getting validation from others.
Peace, - RG