What if Facebook is really just a blog?

author198 May 12, 2010

The other day we did a program about what happens when you quit Facebook. Or rather what happens when you try. It’s not all that hard to deactivate one’s account, provided you can find the right menu items and get past the screen that shows pictures of your friends who Facebook says will miss you (as if you’re actually dying). But to really delete the account, to pull the plug, is very complicated and even then Facebook keeps your data and uses it.

After that show I got to thinking about that data and what it is. It’s the digital manifestation of who Facebook thinks I am. It’s a bunch of information nuggets, a ton of ones and zeros that make up my Facebook identity. Let’s be clear, it’s all the property of Facebook. I gave it to them. There are pictures of my kids up there, my family, old friends. There are status updates about personal events in my life.

But that file is also not me at all. I am a person, made of atoms not bits. I have information I don’t put on Facebook. I exist in three dimensional meat space not in a massive open room where my friends from third grade and new colleagues at work all mingle together semi-obliviously. I am a man, not a file.

And so all these recent privacy concerns make me wonder if we’re going about Facebook all wrong. Yes, I like sharing pictures of my kids with friends and family who live far away. Yes, I like making jokes with personal references that I wouldn’t make to, say, my Twitter followers. But recent events on Facebook make me wonder if I’m just kidding myself to think of it as a private platform that houses something that remotely resembles my identity. If I never own the data and have decreasing amounts of control over where it goes, maybe it’s just a blog. Maybe I should just accept that everything I post has or could go wide (if— big if— anyone cared to see what I posted). And maybe I should just let go of all other notions.

I think it’s time to at least entertain the notion that Facebook is a round hole and privacy is a square peg. You can shove, push, get out a hammer, sand down the edges of the peg, but the peg ultimately just ain’t gonna fit.

Being in the media a bit, I sometimes get friend requests from total strangers who would like to know the real me. They’re fans of my work, which is tremendously flattering, and since I seem friendly on the air and in print, they try to take the next step. Sometimes I say yes, often I say no, the reasons are entirely capricious. I set up a fan page (felt like an egotistical jerk for doing so) to accommodate people who liked my work but didn’t know me. It’s gotten a few members but mostly people who I actually know in regular life. I don’t think that system works.

I’m not ready to do this yet but in light of all that Facebook has done lately and all we’ve learned about them, I can see the reasoning behind simply friending the world, scrubbing my profile of all information about my kids, and just treating the whole thing as a big blue Farmville-enabled blog.

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