Farhad Manjoo at Slate, via tigtog at Hoyden About Town:
For as much as he’s invested in sharing, though, Zuckerberg seems clueless about the motivation behind the act. Why do you share a story, video, or photo? Because you want your friends to see it. And why do you want your friends to see it? Because you think they’ll get a kick out of it. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s somehow eluded Zuckerberg that sharing is fundamentally about choosing. You experience a huge number of things every day, but you choose to tell your friends about only a fraction of them, because most of what you do isn’t worth mentioning. Now Zuckerberg wants to lower the bar. “One thing that we’ve heard over and over again is that people have things that they want to share, but they don’t want to annoy their friends by putting boring stuff in their news feeds,” he said during his keynote. To me, this doesn’t sound like a problem that needs solving. If Facebook users aren’t sharing stuff because they worry it will bore their friends, good! Thank you, people of Facebook, for your restraint in choosing not to bore me.
But Zuckerberg couldn’t let this undersharing stand. “Our solution was to create a new place that’s lighter-weight where you can see lighter-weight stuff—that’s how we came up with Ticker.” If you translate “lighter-weight” to boring, you’ll understand what Zuckerberg is saying: Facebook now has a place on its site reserved especially for boring updates.
Tigtog encapsulates the point elegantly, when she writes, “Sharing is fundamentally about choosing what not to share.” And Pavlov’s Cat put it nicely in an FB status this morning:
… thinking and thinking about the cognitive dissonance that must exist in people’s minds between the FB privacy panics, on the one hand, and the impulse, on the other, to tell all to the intertubes. The test is, if you don’t want the world to see it, don’t even let it get as far as the keyboard. Much less the Post button.
I fully accept, of course, that many people have very legitimate concerns about the privacy of what they write on Facebook. I also abhor the fact that Facebook repeatedly fails to respect those concerns, and its general mode of proceeding where ‘amazing changes’ suddenly appear with no notice to users.
(Or are foreshadowed with the most meaningless and vacuous marketing speak that could be imagined: See this, for example.)
All this goes to the fact that the media of social communications are capitalist. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, as capitalists, fear competition (even if this fear is more part of the disposition proper to being a capitalist than anything real). Google+ comes along. FB’s response is entirely predictable, but must also be an open secret.
(Google+, incidentally, is clunky, not user friendly, and seems to me to be much worse than FB in encouraging spammers and marketing bots to ‘follow you’, and I don’t see a way to effectively prevent that, or to keep the feed from being cluttered by various types of stuff in which I have no interest whatever. That may be me as a user, but it ought nevertheless to be easy.
I would actually like there to be a government provided social media infrastructure. In Australia, this could be part of the NBN. Social media ought actually to be a public domain, because it fulfills a useful and probably, now, necessary social function. Unfortunately, I doubt anyone in government sees that.)
But I do think we’re seeing something broader here. These FB panics come and go. They settle down, people find ways around them. (And it’s possible to block the Ticker, if like me, you find it visually unappealing and I’m sure someone will write a script to prevent posts being an input to it, if they haven’t already. That would respond to some very legitimate concerns.)
One symptom is that often the FB privacy panics are false alarms.
What I would like to suggest is that they’re reflecting something bigger.
Sadly, I think Mark Zuckerberg may be right. In one way. That is: the “default setting” in our culture is to let it all hang out.
It’s as if there is a de-civilising process, and the Super-Ego is a rare beast. Some social theorists talk about a ‘thin subjectivity’ in late capitalism, where the process of becoming-subject is rather more one of subjectification, and the ego tosses and turns on the seas of desire and gratification, endlessly deferred because the desires and their fulfillment offered by late capitalism are false.
I would add to that the observation that, in the absence of a subjectivity shaped in a basic relation of reciprocal trust, the danger that one’s self becomes something akin to a species of automatic writing is heightened. The disinhibation brought about by drugs (alcohol being an obvious one) becomes more generalised.
Hence, I think two parts of the fear of the Ticker:
(a) the apprehension that one may do and say all manner of things that shouldn’t be seen;
(b) the actual lack of reciprocal trust that others will manage and alter their settings to ensure a desired level of privacy, despite the fact that reciprocal trust is proper to actual ‘friendship’.
Now, I want to emphasise yet again, for fear of misunderstanding, that I share many of the most legitimate concerns about FB and privacy. I just think it is worth diagnosing some of its structural features, and some of the ghosting that overlays and overcodes those legitimate concerns.
By the way, on the issue of reciprocity, tigtog, whom I’ve cited a number of times, has some useful and practical suggestions.
Another good idea is to do periodic Friend culls. When I realised last year I was friends with a violin (and a violin I didn’t even know personally), I did a big one.
I was also concerned that my FB page had become the site for hipsters one-upping each other, in manner of Twitter, and/or voracious political discussions. Neither were things I wanted to encourage or host in a space I regard as personal. I was loathe to be ‘friends’ with commercial entities, when I had no idea who actually secreted themselves behind ‘the brand’.
One paradoxical result of Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘deeping of emotional intensity’ might be that people have *fewer* FB friends.
Another choice is to use one’s Facebook page only as a bit of a placeholder for using the platform for private messages, gaming, or whatever. I know some people who do that, and it’s a a choice I very much respect.
Overall, though, I think people might like to consider the broader set of issues. Having been blogging in several prominent spaces since 2004, I’m acutely conscious of my internetty self-presentation. It poses risks to me, but it also brings significant gains. But I’ve often reflected on the nostrum, common in any context where FOI is at play, that you shouldn’t write an email that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the paper. Following Pavlov’s Cat, adopting a judicious and nuanced set of restraints on one’s impulses is *a good thing*.
And there is always the delete button! Particularly useful after one of those lamentable nights of Drunk Facebooking!
Update: It seems the latest ‘fix’ to privacy settings doing the rounds of FB is a hoax, or charitably, well-intentioned but wrong. Ask the Computer Lady has the real deal on how to make your privacy settings as robust as possible.