Why Doesn’t Facebook Have a “Favorite Character Qualities” Box?

Before we start, here’s a fun video of some guys doing a man-on-the-street bit where they ask the same questions that Facebook asks its users.

Warning: this video contains crude language

Arts & Entertainment

So the video is funny, but have you ever taken a moment to look at what Facebook presents you when you click the “Edit Profile” button? Over on the right is one the “Arts & Entertainment” section.

Take a look at what’s there.

And then think about what’s not there.

For example, there are no boxes for sculpture, paintings, plays, or the culinary arts. For Facebook, “Arts & Entertainment” is only movies, books, TV shoes, and music.

So why doesn’t Facebook have more boxes and categories – is it just that they don’t want to have too many? Maybe, but Facebook has been expanding the Profile steadily over the years, so that can’t be the only concern. Does Facebook just think people don’t care about sculpture? That’s probably true.

But under the hood, the primary criterion that Facebook uses to decide which boxes they include is this: monetization.

Advertisers have almost unlimited power to mine all the data you enter into your profile and taylor ads that will interest you. For example, I can easily offer one ad to people who like John Piper and P90X and a different one to people who enjoy Cee Lo Green and macramé. Every last detail of what you enter, from photos of Disney World (you’ll get an ad for Universal Studios) and your new baby (need a Diaper Genie?) to what you ate for dinner (diet pills and ab blasters) is used to make money.

Where you see textboxes, advertisers see dollar signs.

Philosophy and Identity

So let’s think a little more about your profile.

There are categories for where you live, the schools you attended, what you do for a living, and even your “Philosophy” which includes 4 things: your religion, your political party, inspirational people, and your favorite quotes.

However, there really isn’t any place to talk about the defining moments of your life that make you who you are (summers at your grandfather’s farm, your parent’s divorce, getting accepted to Juliard, a childhood friend dying of cancer, the first time you saw pornography, the time your mother said she was proud of you).

Nor is there space for those qualities which you value most. Can you imagine typing in “longsuffering” and little drop down says, “78,948 other people also like longsuffering”?

These things are not on Facebook for three reasons. First, they are not monetizable. How do you encourage a person who values “patience” to “buy now”? Second, they cannot be conveyed through the technology of textboxes. A human life and the vast significance of a person’s experiences just can’t be boiled down into zeros and ones. Third, they are not fun. No one wants to login to a social network and see someone talking about how sad they are.

Working Through and Against

Now, I know it sounds like I’m being anti-Facebook. But let me give you another example of how I talk about Facebook.

Recently I was talking to a pastor who said that he didn’t like that his youth group was putting all their announcements and events on Facebook rather than the church website. He felt it undermined the authority and unity of the church. So I asked him if he’d feel the same way if there was a large segment of his church who spoke Chinese. Would communicating to them through Chinese language and culture undermine the authority and unity of the church? Well, then neither should speaking through the language and culture of Facebook to those who speak and know Facebook.

So, I point out this limitation on Facebook not in an attempt to demonize it or to persuade people not to use it, but to help us better understand how to work both through it and against it at the same time.

God is pure. Everything else requires discernment.

So let’s remind each other that Facebook is useful and fun, but that it can also turn one of God’s image bearers into a monetizable, white-washed advertising bullseye devoid of character, meaning, and significance. Because Facebook (and other social networks) are a part of our culture, let’s encourage each other to work through it to reach people, but also to subtly work against what doesn’t jive with our theology. That means seeing the good and the bad, the pros and the cons, the usefulness and the uselessness.

Oh, and would you please click the LIKE button below?

Published by

John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

5 thoughts on “Why Doesn’t Facebook Have a “Favorite Character Qualities” Box?”

  1. In my church youth group, or even our current English class community project/outreach project, we use Facebook as an important instrument for announcements and invitations, and also to maintain contact with our visitors and new friends. Indeed, your insights are so true!

  2. I just wrote a post similar to this a few weeks ago. Right on John! No rhyme intended :) I like your analogy of speaking chinese. It’s a great way to bridge a gap for people between how we normally think of responding to those in church and how we think of responding to our culture at different times.

  3. What does “city” mean in the title of your book, besides the reference to the city of God or new Jerusalem? Is there wilderness? Fishing in the stream from the throne? Who tends the trees? Is there pruning? Subways? Etc.

    Thanks for considering these questions.

    1. Curt,
      Thanks for your question! The City is a reference to the City God brings down from heaven in Revelation, but I’m also using “city” as a metaphor for technology and human creativity. As to what exactly that future city looks like – I’m not sure!

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