A Facebook reflection…buyer beware.

Okay, so I have been hesitant to use Facebook for quite a while. 

(Before I get to Facebook, you have to understand that I come from the generation where if we kept a personal diary, we bought one of those cutsie ones with a lock and key, then worked to keep it hidden from older siblings….Me?  I didn’t have one.  I was not about to share my innermost thoughts on paper-with anyone). 


Now, I blog and have begun to create an ever-enlarging digital footprint (some would call it a personal learning network/environment, but that’s another post). 


And to the point of this post:  Facebook. 

Something about Facebook has just never “felt right” to me.  It has the same “feel” as when I first used Twitter…that sense of voyeurism (I mean “a prying – and uninvited – observer….” Not the other type of voyeurism!)  ….that I was looking at and seeing things there that really were not meant for me to see.  But wait, these things are on the INTERNET.  That’s a pretty public place, isn’t it?


I kept (and still keep) wondering WHY???  And I admit I still don’t really “get” it.  Call it generational, or whatever.  My self-disclosure frame was constructed long ago.  Central to it was this seemingly small piece of background info. My mother used to warn me when I was a teenager and about to go out: “Never do or say anything you don’t want to testify about in court.”  Pretty darn good advice-it stuck with me.  See, I still remember and quote it all these years later.  The same could apply to what you post/say/share/divulge/disclose into VERY public digital spaces where you participate.  Hence my reticence to join a community where self-disclosure in microscopic detail is the order of the day.  Not to mention all of the privacy issues raised by the aggregation and sharing of the same information to third parties…who is benefiting here? (Also another post…)


I still marvel at how something first created by college students – way back in 2004- to make it possible for fellow students at Harvard to get to know each other online could wind up being the mega-online-conglomerate that is Facebook today.  Just a couple of years back I kept hearing fits and snatches about Facebook in relation to our own connectivity and connection with incoming Freshmen and invited our then Dean of Students to come to my freshman seminar course to teach them about the dangers of too much self-declaration in Facebook.  She showed us this video:  Does What’s in Facebook stay in Facebook? This video has been online for a while now, but I still find it quite unnerving. 


And even though I hear students and my own children talking about Facebook often, I still didn’t join in-until very recently.  I have listened as some of my colleagues here share their own uses of Facebook in their teaching…creating “private” groups to connect with their students and push out course updates.  I have seen interesting examples of institutions using Facebook to remind students about important information like academic advising deadlines, etc. This came along side reading about the “creepy treehouse”effect, nicely discussed at Jared Stein’s blog, Flexknowlogy.  And I marvel at the fact that some are quite willing to use and encourage this application – knowing all of the behind-the-scenes data aggregation that is going on – who balk at the notion of using tools/products from other large here-to-remain-unnamed corporate entities.   


In spite of the fact that “this is where our students are” am I sold?  Not quite yet.  I continue to be quite concerned over the privacy and data mining issues.  And I think that we the Facebook-using-public have only minimal understanding about what is actually going on when we cheerfully upload and tag our photo-of-the-day, join/fan causes, buy stuff, share our music preferences, find long lost friends, etc….Some of us became alarmed anew when yesterday things like this this circulated around the Twitterverse:  Anger Greets Facebook Terms of Service Change”.  Still want to play??


I will admit that over the very few weeks that I have been using Facebook– sparingly – I have been able to connect long-distance with family and friends I might not otherwise be interacting with (especially not on a daily basis!).  I even used Facebook chat this morning for the first time.  There is indeed value in staying in touch.  But I have to say that the porous boundaries and blending of life compartments – family with work with friends all together in one location – leaves me feeling a bit exposed on all counts.  I’m not quite sure what to make of it. 


If you are a “seasoned” Facebook fan/user I apologize for pointing out what is probably old news to you.  But I suspect there are others like me who are still deciding – cautiously – whether to embrace this social net experience or not.  If you decide to join in, be careful and inform yourself about what you are getting into: 

1.      Ummm…you might actually read the Terms of Use  before you Accept.

2.      Take a look here at a Fortune article, How Facebook is Taking Over Our Lives

3.      Another:  10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know, by Nick O’Neill


This probably won’t be the last time I write about Facebook.  I am surprised by and about it every day.  For now, today…this is my take on it. 

Can it be useful for some purposes?  Yes, absolutely. 

Are there worrisome issues one needs to be aware of?  Yes, too. 

Will I keep my account?  For now. 

But I don’t intend to expand my “Profile” much beyond what it is right now.  So, if you want to know if I am “in a relationship”, what music I like, what my favorite movie is, what my favorite color is, what book I am reading….I might tell you.  Just not on Facebook.


One thought on “A Facebook reflection…buyer beware.

  1. I am on facebook and love it, but get quite conflicted about it at times. As a communication professor, I approach it from a this standpoint of feeling that it is really weird how much it digitizes relationships that were previously analog. The world of human relationships is incredibly complex. We are always many different things to many different people. This is similar to analog information that does not have clear deliniations. Relationships are always in flux. Analog info is what it is. I find that facebook tends to digitize our relationships through binaries. Digital info comes at us in either/or ways. Either I am your “friend” or not in a binary type of way. I sign up for this group that my friend recommends or I don’t (the fact that is so easy to sign up makes it almost obligatory to sign up for groups whose politics you agree with). There is no ambiguity, in the same way that digital media creates binaries, it makes our relationships binary as well. For example, should I be “friends” with students and what exactly does that mean since I am also “friends” with my brother? A better example is from a recent friend who I know has been having some relationship problems, but only recently changed his status to “single,” as if human relationships are things that are turned on/off in the same way digital info is 1/0.
    Also, from a communication stand point, I find Facebook self disclosure particularly interesting. It seems so much easier to disclose because you are reporting on yourself in a broad type of way (on your page) that is about me as opposed to within particular relationships that each have their own intricacies. There is no navigation of contextual disclosure. For example, when I identify as an atheist it becomes a part of my “profile”, it goes to my Christian friends and my academic friends. I would probably disclose this info in different ways in different relationships. Our communication becomes about establishing who we are instead of what our relationship is. Which is the point you are making I think when you explain that you will disclose in a personal relationship but get uneasy about doing it in facebook.
    None of this is necessarily bad, it is just different. And I have no intention of giving up my facebook page anytime soon.

    W. Benjamin Myers, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor of Speech
    Department of Fine Arts and Communication Studies
    USC Upstate

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