We can marry you off, wholesale.


Last week I was on the In The Abstract podcast. I came up with a curious idea. If I were Tom Scott, I'd turn this into a performance piece - instead, here's a short and entirely fictional story.


Facebook knew you were in love a long time before you did. It noticed you scrolling back through her timeline. Every millisecond lingering over the photos of her at the beach was faithfully logged.

When she sent a message to her best friend saying "Hot date tonight ;-)" it correlated all the messages that she'd been sending and rightly calculated that you were her probable partner.

When the two of you didn't send each other flirty message one morning, it concluded that you had spent the night in a... how to put this...? A state unobservable by Facebook.

On the surface, you two were perfectly suited to each other. But Facebook had detected a problem.

At your age, it's hard for Facebook to make money from your love. Sure, a promotion for flowers earns a few bucks. Adverts for romantic dinners can bring in some cash. But here's not much money in that.

Not as much as there is in e-Dating.

So Facebook acted. It "lost" the occasional message you sent her. It made sure that photos of her with other guys were always at the top of your newsfeed. She mostly saw your posts about drinking - and all the girls who had liked your status updates.

Before too long you'd both decided that it just wasn't working out between you. That's when the adverts for eHarmony started following you around the web.

It's much more profitable to take a monthly payment for online dating - than simply hoping that you'll click on adverts. Facebook knows just enough about you to find someone you'll enjoy dating for around 3 weeks and then... well, humans are rather predictable in their reactions. Send humans enough emails to make them think someone better is waiting for them and they'll quickly drop whoever they are dating in the quest for something new.

But, sometimes, the unpredictable happens. You fall in love again! She's smart, witty, beautiful, and wants to settle down - just like you! That's when Facebook detected the second problem.

A long time ago, you linked your 23andMe account to Facebook. In the blink of an eye your entire genetic history was gobbled up - just in case it was useful.

She had been a lot more careful with her privacy. No mega-corporations had a hold on her genome! But her father and sister were more lackadaisical. Two close genetic relatives were all that Facebook needed in order to stochastically determine her likely imperfections.

Genetically, your weaknesses would have been cancelled out by her strengths. And that, it turns out, isn't good for business.

Parents spend a lot of money. They're cash-cows. Parents of sick babies - they spend more. So Facebook decides to break your heart yet again.

With perfect algorithmic efficiency, Facebook found you a beautiful wife who was practically guaranteed to produce a sickly child. Nothing too bad, mind you, but just ill enough to make you spend a little bit more than you would otherwise.

A child is a joyous event. Lots of photos posted to Facebook. Lots of likes. Lots of inspiring updates about bravely struggling.

There's no malice here. No human ever decided to profit from your misery. The constant A/B testing with billions of reactions just so happened to engineer a situation to help you breed a better human. More profitable human.

Now, how can Facebook make your "epic divorce rant" go viral?


The story has some loose ties to reality.

But, like I say, the above story is a work of pure fiction.

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