Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit (banazir) wrote,
Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit

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Facebook: the beginning of the end?

You may remember "Bloggers Need Not Apply", a toxic little bit of devil's advocacy by a liberal arts professor writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education under the pseudonym "Ivan Tribble". Since then, "Tribble's" article has been pooh-poohed by the likes of yours truly (here) and cavlec (in this sharp little piece). More rarely, especially on the net, it's even been echoed.

All of which brings me to today's discussion. Where do you come down on the Facebook's recent controversies?

For those who aren't familiar with it, The Facebook is a collegiate social network that is more like Orkut and than like LiveJournal or Xanga, and attracts the "university MySpace crowd", such as it is. It is a venue for alumni networking and also photoblogging. While Rupert Murdoch (in)famously bought MySpace for $500 million USD, THe Facebook is said to be on the auction block with an asking price of $2 billion.

If you haven't been following, The Facebook recently did two things, one controversial only in that it was announced as fait accompli, and the other controversial only given its existing clientele:

  • Created a "story" feed that aggregates all edits (including relationship status changes, posts on other people's "walls", changes of general status and mood, etc.) and summarizes them on the user's profile page. These can be suppressed, but by default, everything is shown to all friends. This created an inordinate brouhaha, because, like Tribble, apparently the assumption of some bloggers is that even what you post should remain unheralded unless you yourself make an explicit announcement of it. This seems sufficiently luddite to me to deserve a raspberry or seven. If you don't want it to be seen, don't post it online, and in particular, don't post it in a college networking social network!

  • Considered opening the service up to non-student users. This is already a de facto reality, as all one needs is an e-mail address at some university, but as with the aggregator issue, many people don't know or care about the ramifications of technology until they are upon them.

Personally, neither of these things surprises or bothers me. I have a Facebook account, and I know more K-State students on it than on Orkut, MySpace, or even LJ. I'd willingly have classed this all under the rubric of "much ado about nothing", until I saw the article "Why I Registered on Facebook" by John Lemuel in Chronicle Careers. "The beginning of the end," I remarked, half tongue-in-cheek, to Lynn, one of our student secretaries. She asked why, and I replied that this is what people have been worrying about for a long time.

I guess that I'm a little jaded at the whole reactionary atmosphere that is starting to unfold on social networks. Having been told through my whole childhood that The Internet Is A Bad PlaceTM, and having had to cope with general aversion to net publicity on the part of friends and family, I find its complement - i.e., wanting to hide one's blog or account from friends and family - a little hard to fathom. So, some people you know would disapprove if they saw it.

Put it in a place they won't see it, or better yet, don't put it online! Paper (or offline electronic) diaries aren't really a thing of the past! I guess part of this is that I'm close enough to my parents that the problem of someone pointing them to something objectionable that I posted here just isn't an issue. But that's true in general, as banazir is a 100% public blog. What I seem to be saying is: expect no privacy and security, and you'll never be disappointed. Moreover, have a care as to whom you trust. The property of being trustworthy, and furthermore not apt to repeat something learned in confidence, can change over time. You'd think this would be obvious, but to put it bluntly, there is an unending supply of emo teenagers on the net.

Back to "Lemuel's" article and my reaction to it: I find it a little ridiculous that students would worry about a forum that, after all, is open to any of their classmates, and say "oh, noes, there goes the neighborhood". There are plenty of us faculty on Facebook as it is: I, Mike Herman, and God knows how many other faculty have accounts. I'm more surprised that the whole idea of a university being a microcosm of the world, rather than a macrocosm of a fraternity or sorority, seems to have gone out the window. This week's U.S. News and World Report has a cover article telling parents what they should know, and tell their kids, about MySpace. From this I gather that there is a severe generation gap, and many families who didn't have children online decade ago are just now discovering the pros and cons of the Internet.

Is Facebook a new thing? I really hope not - not because I fear new ideas, as the saying goes, but because I fear old ones.

Tags: anti-blogging backlash, blogs, facebook, livejournal, myspace, privacy

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