By Simon Ogden
When Facebook began its relentless grind towards establishing itself as the central hub of the internet I was just about as skeptical and reactive to the idea as they came. Despite being what is now commonly called an ‘early adopter’ in the world of social media – in my particular niche of the independent arts world, anyhow – it took me quite a while to start a Facebook account. I had jumped into blogging as soon as I could decide on a topic, and right after that I was tweeting away despite the scorn and derision of those around me who were sure it was just all “I like pie, nom nom nom” and nothing else, but FB seemed to me to be a bit insular. Now that I’m on it I get the use of it, of course, but I still think its worth as a business tool is limited to mostly client and fan support rather than growth and outreach, due to the fact that it remains the one network client best suited to keeping published content – our thoughts, pictures, opinions – reigned in to the smallest amount of audience. Our “friends”. It remains the insular paddock of the internet.
Maybe this is why so many people are losing their minds over the topic of Facebook “privacy” lately. Let’s put some perspective on the matter.
You’ll notice I used quotation marks around both the words “friends” and “privacy” just then. This much-misused literary device is used here not to emphasize, but to denote ironic detachment. This, dear friends, is what the post-modern digital age of instant communication has done to these two words that heretofore described our most dearly-held rights from the early days of our respective childhoods. “Friend” no longer means those seven or eight people that you feel most comfortable around, it also means those 371 people that you “added” to your account. And “privacy”? Well, whatever that term used to mean, it doesn’t quite shoehorn into a life spent a great deal of online.
It is important for everyone who uses a computer in order to access the World Wide Web to get clear on one very stark reality of that choice: nothing, absolutely zero % of what you put onto the thing, is private. Sorry. If someone wants to get information on you badly enough, and you’ve put it on a computer somewhere, they can get it. The internet is, in fact, fueled by accessibility. This, in a nutshell, is what is causing a gigantic wave of panic among some Facebook users when they hear that privacy settings are being changed. Again, and again, and again. I see the backlash everywhere, mostly in my news feed from my Facebook “friends”. “Boo, privacy changes, identity theft, instant personalization, boo, (copy and paste in your status)”, on and on. There was some media attention recently on a group that started a “Quit Facebook Day” movement, (note: it is estimated that 31,000 out of the current 450 million Facebook users quit Facebook on May 31–Rebecca) saying in the opening paragraph of their web site:
Facebook gives you choices about how to manage your data, but they aren’t fair choices, and while the onus is on the individual to manage these choices, Facebook makes it damn difficult for the average user to understand or manage this. We also don’t think Facebook has much respect for you or your data, especially in the context of the future.
I don’t think the person who wrote this has much respect for your ability to understand things, nor for your ability to decide what is and isn’t fair. The site goes on to suggest that if Facebook continues to adapt to the ever-changing rules of online engagement and make changes, then it will make the internet somehow “unsafe”. Elaboration isn’t offered, just the vague assertion that harm will come to you. It’s pretty blatant fear-mongering, but it is a fairly concise summation of most people’s privacy concerns with the site. “We’re not really sure what all these changes mean, but we’re pretty sure they’re Evil. Why can’t they just leave it alone?”
I do not share these concerns. But I had no misconceptions of the reach of my social media presence from the git-go, so that probably helps. It has honestly never occurred to me to put something on the internet that I would be ashamed of, or that would compromise the security of someone I care about. It seems there are a great deal of people whose stress level would be helped by adopting this policy. And they should probably let go of the sense of entitlement that lets them use someone else’s program and then dictate to them how they should operate it. The people behind Facebook aren’t evil, they want to make some money by providing a handy service. The price you pay to take advantage of this service is that they target some ads towards you based on your freely provided information, like pretty much every other company on the planet. That’s it, that’s the extent of their evil plans, yet some people insist on treating it like they’re one step away from coming for our children in the dead of night. Do you really care if the name of the city that you live in is floating around the internet? Or that you like horses? What are these people putting out there that they’re so scared of it falling into the wrong hands?
I believe the very concept of losing control of their personal information, no matter how insignificant or banal, is what they’re terrified of. These people are not ready for the world of new media. The way we deal with information has changed forever, never to return. And it happened very fast; speed is a byproduct of technology, which is now the world’s hottest commodity. We reside in a new age, one built upon a foundation of sharing and collaboration facilitated by electronic networks, and it is built upon the rubble of the old paradigm of hoarding information and a doomed “us against them” aesthetic. We have nothing to compare it to, because information has never been shared like this before, in the history of mankind. If the vehicles of this revolution – like Facebook and twitter and email – make you uncomfortable, opt out. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing just because they’re doing it. Everyone else probably isn’t as worried as you are about somebody overhearing what they say when they’re out in a public place.
Besides, you can always see for yourself how well you, the average user, understands Facebook’s privacy controls.
Simon Ogden is a playwright and blogger (The Next Stage) who currently resides in Victoria, BC. We miss you, Si!