Friday, October 29, 2010

On Facebook

This is another one of those posts I started forever ago and didn't finish and then it wasn't timely anymore. And then The Social Network came out and I still didn't finish it because really, what could I add to all that that would be of any interest? But then the other day I saw this on The Joy of Tech and then today Lifehacker had this ridiculous poll: "Is Facebook Evil?" As of this writing, I was one of only 7.37% of people who voted "No," with a whopping 51.65% picking "Yes." The other choices are "A little," and "Only where my privacy is concerned."

This makes me inexplicably mad. Inexplicable because I have no ties to Facebook and no particular reason to care about what people think of it, and it's a huge corporation that I suspect in my heart probably is a little bit evil. But all this "Facebook stole my privacy" nonsense just rubs me the wrong way, and always has, because I don't understand how anyone can really complain about a lack of privacy over things that they share on the internet. If I stood on a soap box in Times Square and shouted out status updates, people would think I was crazy. If I handed out photos of myself drunk at a party while I did it, no one would accuse the people who took those photos from me of invading my privacy. But somehow the internet makes doing basically the same thing eeeeevillllll, and also somehow not my fault.

I'm not saying Facebook hasn't done some iffy things. They don't communicate changes in policy or interface well enough. Or at all. That thing where going to certain sites installs, without your permission or even knowledge, an app in your Facebook account and we're not even sure why or what they do was deeply fucking shady. (Is that still around? It hardly got any press in the first place.) It's one thing for Facebook to do stuff with the information I share, but I do not want them monitoring my web traffic just for the hell of it unless I tell them they can. Mark Zuckerberg seems like kind of a dick (and I wrote this part months ago, so I'm not basing that on The Social Network's characterization at all.) I think he's a good case for why not a lot of 25-year-olds run multi-million dollar companies. Not that the experienced guys do it so well all the time, but there is a maturity thing. I won't be at all surprised if he brings about the Sontaran invasion of Earth. It would be nice if stricter privacy settings were opt-out instead of opt-in.

But also... I kind of see his point that the site is pointless without openness. Have you ever tried to look for a friend with a common name, only to find a completely blocked profile? If you don't share at least one photo or where you went to school or your birthday with everyone, your actual friends can't find you, and then why are you on Facebook at all?

Maybe I have the wrong perspective on this, seeing as how I'm making this argument from a blog, which I will later link to on Facebook and Twitter. I am clearly one of those self-absorbed over-sharers Aaron Sorkin hates. But I take responsibility for that. If I share things on the internet, they are inherently not private. That's actually the definition of sharing. Even if I never touched my privacy settings (which really aren't that hard to find or understand, but that's another story), I have control over my Facebook profile. There's no law that says I have to put my age, or my workplace, or post a photo, or update my status. I could easily use it to keep in touch with friends without sharing a thing.

It's true that there's some expectation on Facebook that you're only sharing with your friends and not the whole world. But, hello, duh, the internet. As Failbook proves, we all have "friends" who will happily take a screenshot at our expense. Anyone can tag a photo of you (I do wish they let you approve photos tagged by others before they go live, instead of just removing the tags after the fact). My boss isn't on Facebook, and professional colleagues who are not also non-work friends are blocked from much of my profile, but I would never write "I hate my boss" on Facebook. Because someone will see and it could get back to her. (I don't hate my boss, my boss is awesome, it's just a very commonly used example!)

A few months ago people were complaining about those "Like" buttons popping up on other websites, as if Facebook was somehow following them around. Even NPR anchors were acting like Facebook is somehow psychic. "It knows what I'm doing! It's Big Brother!" You share links on Facebook all the time, so what's the difference? Um, just because the button is there doesn't mean you have to click on it. No one is forcing you to "Like" anything.

People also seem to forget that Facebook is free, and yet we expect them to never go down, and to store all of our photos and everything else. How we've become a society that doesn't want to pay for anything is a topic for another, even more Andy Rooney-ish post, but I have to wonder why people are surprised or upset by targeted ads or anything else Facbook does to try to actually make money, as if that were so insane. And again, if you don't like it, why are you on the site? I bet most of those people who said Facebook is evil in that poll have accounts.

Look, people are stupid, and I just don't see how that's Facebook's fault. Our proverbial kids are going to be online whether we want them to or not. We need to be raising responsible users, just like we need to be teaching them about sex, or money, or generally not to be idiots. But we adults need to take responsibility for our own actions, and not act all surprised when (it's worth saying again) something we share on the internet winds up on the internet.