Pluralistic: 17 Feb 2022

Today's links

A still from a Meta promotional video depicting Mark Zuckerberg meeting his VR avatar; a 2006-era bumper-sticker reading 'You looked better on Myspace' is superimposed over the background.

The last days of Myspace (permalink)

I hated Facebook from the start and couldn't wait for it to die. That was a pretty reasonable thing to expect. After all, I'd watched social networks from Sixdegrees on crash and burn as the network effects that drove their growth also drove their precipitous collapse.

A system enjoys "network effects" if it increases in value as it adds users. Social networks are all about these effects: you join Facebook because your friends are there, and once you join, others sign up because you are there.

But there's a hard corollary: systems driven by network effects lose value when users leave. Your blender doesn't get better when someone else gets a blender of their own, but it also doesn't get worse when someone else throws theirs away.

Social networks are prone to sudden collapses, in part because of the double-edged sword of network effects – but also because of the intrinsic dynamics of social networking. Social networks insist that we articulate our relations to one another, pinning down the way we feel about the people in our lives.

The problem here is that the most important part of our relationships are hard to pin down. The opposite of "love" isn't "hate" – it's indifference. It's surprisingly common to feel a mixture of emotions towards the people who matter the most in your life. Pinning down an emotion that fluctuates from moment to moment is difficult.

Actually, it's worse than difficult. It's anti-social. Your partner or your bestie knows when you're pissed off at them, but that doesn't mean you should create a world-readable sign that says "I hate this person (right now)." That's a recipe for staying mad.

And those are the easy cases. Because at least who love you care about your happiness. There's a whole universe of people – like your boss, or a creepy co-worker – who seem to sincerely think they're your pal, even though you loathe them. When those people friend you, you have to friend them back.

This dynamic is so common that I wrote an article about in 2007, entitled, "How Your Creepy Ex-Co-Workers Will Kill Facebook."

It describes how, over time, the coziness and connection of a friend-list populated by people you genuinely like becomes an exhausting morass of people you don't really like, but can't kick off the list, and how you are almost certainly oblivious to the fact that you're someone else's exhausting not-really-a-friend.

Back in 2007, I thought we'd soon be free of the scourge of Facebook. I was wrong. Facebook used a mix of tactics to extend its shelf-life and increase its influence, and its network effect advantage let it grow, and grow, and grow.

Facebook owes its longevity in part to its anticompetitive conduct. By 2012, young users were fleeing Facebook, which was being colonized by their parents and teachers. They flocked to Instagram, so Facebook just bought Instagram, ensuring that its disgruntled users could not escape its grasp.

Having captured Instagram, Facebook ruthlessly strangled potential competitors. It tricked millions of users into installing a fake battery monitor called Onavo, which spied on their mobile usage, giving Facebook the strategic intelligence it needed to keep rivals like Snap at bay:

But capturing or killing rivals was only half the story. The other half was Facebook's ruthless campaign directed against its own users, whom Facebook sought to impose "switching costs" on. A "switching cost" is the value of everything you give up when you switch out a product or service for a rival. Facebook did everything it could to increase the switching costs of leaving for a competitor, including plotting to hold your family photos hostage:

That's important, because low switching costs are kryptonite for network effects. If you could leave Facebook and still talk to your Facebook friends (the way you can leave your cellular carrier without leaving behind the people you talk to on your phone), then the first time Facebook really pissed you off, you could just quit.

In other words, network effects are how companies like Facebook get big, but high switching costs are how they stay big.

Facebook used both technology (breaking interoperability) and law (suing companies that interoperated anyway) to fend off switching costs. It build a walled garden with really high walls.

But not even sky-high switching costs could keep Facebook users locked in forever. At a certain point, the number of truly awful people in your Facebook feed made leaving worth the price. Growth slowed. Halted. Reversed. Last quarter, Facebook lost US daily users for the first time. Investors pounded the company, wiping more than $230b off its market cap, the largest single drop in value ever experienced by any company, ever.

Those investors understood that when the toxic creeps push the most delicate normies off of Facebook, that leaves the rest of the nontoxic users mired in forums where the creep:normie ratio is worse. More normies leave. The ratio declines some more. Soon, it's just a cesspool. We've all experienced online communities where this happened.

Today in his Garbage Day newsletter, Ryan Broderick revisits the last days of Myspace and the way this dynamic created a precipitous slide from the world's largest-ever online service to a husk in the blink of an eye:

Myspace started out as a fun place to hang out with friends and meet new ones. But it filled up with scammers and harassers. Creepy grownups arrived and creeped on teenagers, who were creeped out. Users left (for Facebook!) in droves. Myspace lost 10 million users in a single month:

What's interesting is what Myspace did next. They tried to pivot to "safety," stepped up their moderation, tried to target teens. When that didn't work, they embarked on "a bizarre redesign, a dumb logo change, and a shifting of their corporate strategy."

Dumb logo change? Bizarre redesign? Radical shift of corporate strategy?


Oh, by the way, Facebook is now called Meta. It has a new logo that is just…wow. Also, it's not a social network anymore. It's a VR company, except it's not called VR anymore, it's called "metaverse." No one likes their metaverse. Possibly because it doesn't work.

They've got a a doozy of a new slogan: "Meta, metamates, me." (No, really).

The misbegotten "pivots" are everywhere. As Broderick writes, "Reels, the video feed on Meta’s once-cool photo app, is filling up with silent auto-playing one-second video memes everyone hates."

Facebook's demographic is aging. It has become synonymous with toxic debate, conspiratorialism, harassment, and creeps.

Switching costs or no, people are leaving. And the nature of network effects is that every person who leaves makes Facebook less valuable to the people who stay behind. What's more, as the bad drive out the good, the people who make Facebook most worth staying for are the ones leaving.

The company lost $230b in market-cap last month. Seen through this lens, the investors who hung in are looking like optimists.

I recognize optimism when I see it. I've been waiting for Facebook to die for 15 years now. The market can stay irrational for longer than I can stay solvent, which is why I'm glad I didn't short the stock. But I never lost hope. Today, I'm more hopeful than ever.

(Image: Beatrice Murch, CC BY 2.0, modified; Meta, modified)

Child Labor: Breaker Boys, Pittston, PA, USA, 1911. A mixture of frowns and smiles on the faces of child miners.

The child labor story hidden by the Great Resignation (permalink)

Over and over in the history of labor rights, we see the same story: if workers exclude a group from labor protections, bosses will recruit that group to scab against them and smash their power. Xenophobes argue that this means we should block immigration to head off competition with low-waged workers, but history teaches us that this is a losing move.

The winning move is to open your solidarity to every worker, regardless of immigration status, national origin, gender, or age. That's why last year's strikes against two-tier contracts (where younger workers are excluded from union benefits) were so significant:

The #GreatResignation has seen an increase in worker power, with gains in wages and working conditions. A recurring motif in Great Resignation talk is dunking on the boss's lament that there is a "labor shortage," pointing out that there's really a wage shortage.

In other words, if you're a capitalism stan with a Laffer Curve tattooed on your bicep, you should be able to recognize that if workers won't sell their labor at the price you're offering, you might have to increase your bid.

As the success stories in /r/antiwork tell us, bosses will increase their bids, but only after exhausting all other possibilities:

And back to labor history, one of the options bosses will try before raising wages is hiring some excluded group at scab wages.

That's why we've seen such a boom in hiring children to do jobs that were once held by adults.

But hiring child scabs is a problem. Kids have even more statutory labor rights than adults: limits on how many hours they can work, which jobs they can do, and more. Fortunately for employers, kids don't know about those rights, and they can often be pushed around.

Writing for the United @Steelworkers blog, USW international president Tom Conway writes about the rise of child labor exploitation and the efforts of Republican legislators to make it easier to turn children into scabs:

Conway's article opens with the story of a high school wrestler who had to quit the team because his boss fired him for refusing to work more than the 16 hours/week that allowed him to participate in sports and keep a job. "[The] dejected youth conclude[d] he had to give up sports so he’d be available to cater to his next employer’s every whim."

The store manager refused to budge on the termination, even when the wrestling coach pleaded with her: "You don't know what it’s like to be a boss these days."

As bad as this boss is, she's benign compared to other abusers of child labor, like the SC @Walgreens that hired a 12 year old; the AL chicken plants that hire migrant teens; or the TN contractor whose insistence on putting a 16 year old on a rooftop ladder resulted in the teen's death.

Nationwide, chains like @Wendys and @ChipotleTweets are increasing the hours of their underaged workers, blowing past legal limits that are supposed to balance a kid's right to an education, a social life and employment:

The business lobby understands that exploiting kids is a low-risk activity, thanks to kids' vulnerability and understaffing at OSHA and other agencies, but they'd like to reduce that risk even further. In WI, the GOP passed legislation allowing bosses to work 15-17 year olds for longer hours (the law was vetoed). There's more legislation being cooked up in statehouses across the country.

I got my first part-time job – mopping a dance studio twice a week after school – when I was 11 years old. Working has always been a part of my life. But both I and my parents were careful to ensure that my work didn't eclipse my childhood, or put me in physical risk.

That said, the first time I worked in a union shop – as a page in a public library – I was excluded from the union. What's more, there was enormous pressure to increase my duties (and those of my co-workers) to replace our adult union colleagues.

Kids have a place on the job. Working is a great way to learn and grow. But kids are also vulnerable to exploitation. Kids who end up taking jobs at wages lower than adults aren't the problem. The bosses who turn kids into scabs are the problem. The answer isn't to exclude kids from (safe, balanced, protected) work – it's to include them in solidarity movements.

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Newspaper claims Vikileaks Twitter account traced back to House of Commons

#10yrsago Dan Kaminsky on the RSA key-vulnerability

#10yrsago WSJ: Google caught circumventing iPhone security, tracking users who opted out of third-party cookies

#5yrsago Irish women call for a nationwide strike if they don’t get a referendum on the country’s brutal abortion ban

#5yrsago American airbase personnel sent erroneous “Missile inbound — seek shelter” warning

#5yrsago City of Paris deploys “anti-refugee boulders” to prevent camping while waiting for space at a humanitarian center

#5yrsago Millions of lead-filled CRTs have been abandoned in warehouses across America

#5yrsago Hereditary Samsung chieftain arrested for bribing disgraced president’s “Shamanic” cult leader

#1yrago Reverse centaurs and the failure of AI

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

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