Shrimp Jesus is another nail in Facebook’s coffin - opinion

Facebook is sometimes called a place full of angry and mostly older people shouting at each other. Now, though, real users don’t even matter, with generative AI nonsense taking over.

A few years ago, experts began complaining that Facebook was too hostile. It was true. But since then, Meta has made the platform so unbelievably dull that artificial intelligence is now filling the void.

It’s bad, folks. Not only do we now have group posts, ads, and ramblings from energetic keyboard warriors and proud or worried moms. This time, human input is not really needed for an entirely new ecosystem of weird AI posts and interactions to flourish.

You must have seen them, surely – the viral photos of Jesus statues made out of shrimp or a crucifix worshiped by kneeling flight attendants around a pool.

Overwhelmingly depressing

Yep, they’re all AI-generated, and the reason we see them is, of course, Facebook and its algorithm, which is giving these fake images a boost – and a place on our timelines. Especially if you choose to comment under the images – which a lot of people do.

“I truly don't understand who this art is for, and I don't want to know, but they always have the homies in the comments saying ‘Amen,’ which cracks me up,” graphic designer Jake Browne said on X recently.

If you interact with stuff like this in any way, you will get more AI-generated images, and soon, your timeline will look like a grotesque C movie from the 70s.

After analyzing 120 Facebook spam and scam pages that each posted at least 50 AI-generated images, a new study from Stanford and Georgetown (not yet peer-reviewed) found that these posts collectively generated hundreds of millions of interactions, mostly from real people.

Scammers seem to be capitalizing on both the widespread appreciation of craftsmanship and the heritage of religious folk art to boost engagement. They then insert some dubious links in the comments, claiming that the content is actually handmade.

More than a few folks believe them, click on the links, get directed to off-platform content farms and low-quality domains where non-existent products are sold, and are prompted to divulge their personal details. Amen, indeed.

Sure, one could think this is all just good fun and a sort of a return to the glorious internet of the 90s when everyone could do anything, and the web, as small as it was, was just pure chaotic brilliance.

But to me, and to many around me and my age bracket – I’ve been asking around – this is just another sign of how overwhelmingly depressing a social media platform’s journey towards Profitland can be. They just don’t care about us, ordinary users.

Actually, they never did – from the very beginning of the social network era. In his book, BROKEN CODE: Inside Facebook and the Fight to Expose its Harmful Secrets, Jeff Horwitz reminds his readers that users were happy with practically none of the many changes on Facebook since the company patented the News Feed in 2006.

A dead cow is still a cash cow

Nobody was happy with the mere fact of the News Feed, but it boosted activity and engagement so Facebook, of course, kept it. When EdgeRank was introduced a little later, users again revolted, but the platform’s usage metrics again jumped across the board, and the complaints were ignored.

Naturally, all is now dictated by the algorithm, powered by machine learning and AI. It calculates which content is most likely to appeal to each user and delivers them a personalized feed.

I’m not sure anybody likes it or has enough time to fiddle with the settings to make the timeline just a little more relevant, but again, Facebook cares about the numbers – not me or you.

If users, even those who complain, still spend more time on the platform and give Meta sellable data points, to hell with the critics.

“The dissonance between users’ vocal disapproval and avid usage led to an inescapable conclusion inside the company: regular people’s opinions about Facebook’s mechanics were best ignored. Users screamed ‘stop,’ Facebook kept going, and everything would work out dandy,” Horwitz writes.

Meta is laying off people left and right, and its products are worse every day, but it still tripled its profit to $14 billion in the final quarter of 2023 (PDF). Facebook alone had a little more than three billion active monthly users as of December 31st.

Do I think the keepers of the Lenin mausoleum care that he’s dead as long as the crowds of tourists bring in precious money? I do not. Facebook might also be a zombie, but it’s making money, so who cares? Certainly not Mark Zuckerberg.

But if he were human, he’d surely miss the early-mid 2010s when we were generally engaged. When we updated our walls and even our profile pics regularly. When we argued more or less politely in the comments.

Maybe we should have expected the current state of play to emerge, though. On average, we’re not that unique: we overplay memes, we like dumb jokes, we listen to influencers (big mistake), and we believe in shady marketing schemes. Maybe Facebook is a true reflection of humanity.

Still, what a pity. But if Facebook finally submerges just like Titanic (after constructing their own icebergs, mind you), I won’t grieve. At least the Shrimp Jesus will welcome the odd visitor of the ocean depths.

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