Don’t get me wrong–I love Facebook. Through this popular online inter-university network, I have not only been able to stay in touch with friends overseas, but it’s also allowed me to re-establish contact with over a hundred people I used to go to school with while growing up back in the States. And as someone who unapolagetically loses touch easily while moving around frequently, that wouldn’t have been possible without this invaluable tool.
Now granted the improving functionality and increasingly blog-like features of Facebook thanks to Mark Zuckerberg & Co. are exactly what make it so appealing and accessible, I was a little bit shocked to log in today and find a page showing me more than just who ‘recently updated’ their profile. You see, despite the fully equipped photo-sharing, message board, and group/social networking capabilities, there’s been a new addition to the Facebook interface in the form of the ‘News/Mini-Feed’ features, described as follows:
‘News Feed highlights what’s happening in your social circles on Facebook. It updates a personalized list of news stories throughout the day, so you’ll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again. Now, whenever you log in, you’ll get the latest headlines generated by the activity of your friends and social groups. […] Mini-Feed is similar, except that it centers around one person. Each person’s Mini-Feed shows what has changed recently in their profile and what content (notes, photos, etc.) they’ve added.’
Although Facebook HQ assures me both that no information not previously visible is given out and that I can ‘check out’ my Mini-Feed and remove any ‘stories’ I don’t want from my profile, I still find the whole concept a little too creepy for comfort when I can see exactly who out of 200+ people has been adding/removing friends/groups from their lists and exactly when and what they’ve uploaded/altered/taken a liking to throughout the last couple of days.
As a result, there is no doubt in my mind that internet stalking is all the easier because of it. Personally, I didn’t go through other people’s profiles on a regular basis nor would I ever like to in order to be interested in the minor alterations fellow users have been making. But for those out there who monitor these details, I fear that this feature is sharing a little more than just the obvious, and suddenly I’m overwhelmed with visions of CCTV, espionage, and all things Orwellian.
I had read an article months ago on BBC NEWS about Facebook, stating that ‘for politicians, [the site allows for] a form of digital hustings, giving them a chance to set up stall in the place where young people are meeting.’
‘In the United States, Facebook has drawn the enthusiastic attention of politicians and businesses, eager to influence the hatching ground of the bright, young middle classes. […] Employers have also been using the website as a way of checking out job applicants – creating a rash of stories about sober-looking job applicants being caught out by their own frolicking Facebook listings. […] But in the UK, the question raised by Facebook is whether it’s going to be socially exclusive. As an Oxford paper asks, is it about sorting the “wheat from the chavs”? This extends beyond university, because Facebook also provides an ongoing private connection for students after they’ve graduated and when they’re in the jobs market. Will people be using these networks to tap each other up for jobs? How would you know if people were recruiting from lists of Oxbridge friends of friends?’
And though I believe it can be beneficial for both employers and potential employees to use Facebook as an information hub to help filter out and find those who are most suited for a particular job, I’m a little concerned with what uses governments may have with this. In a world today where there’s constant discussion over civil liberties and privacy and the ‘War on Terror’, could government officials log on under false e-mail addresses and peruse through profiles of, say, those belonging to a specific anti-war group? Certainly. If during the recent war in Lebanon there were stories about a government dispatching ‘cyber soldiers’ to infiltrate message boards and try to sway public opinion (certainly not unprecedented, and an action not limited to any one specific government), then surely Facebook can be used as a seemingly ‘harmless’ intelligence-gathering tool.
But yet again, though this may be so, it’s up to the users whether to join the network or not, and it is also up to their choices of what information to include and leave off. And personally, I think the feeds make Facebook a little more interesting in the sense that it’s more interactive now. So ultimately, the matter comes down to personal discretion and, overalll, I applaud the Facebook staff for their hard work and dedication and eagerly await for upcoming developments. But if my opinion counts for anything, and for safe marketing purposes, I hope that what’s to come is more Saatchi Brothers and less Big Brother…
New Facebook groups formed in response to the News Feed:
▪ ‘Students against Facebook News Feed (Official Petition to Facebook)‘ (182,572 members)
▪ ‘The new facebook is creepy as fuck‘ (2,577 members)
▪ ‘RESTORE FACEBOOK TO BEFORE IT GOT STALKER-ISH‘ (3,749 members)
▪ ‘BRING BACK THE OLD FACEBOOK!‘ (10,913 members)
▪ ‘Facebook News Feed SUCKS!‘ (6,728 members)
▪ ‘Facebook looks shit now‘ (2,812 members)
▪ ‘People who hate the facebook facelift‘ (24,790 members)
▪ ‘Facebook has gone one step too far‘ (265 members)
Update: 8.9.06 Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg has since sent out an open letter addressing the concerns of the Facebook community, and his team has upgraded the privacy settings to allow for more user control over the News Feed. The privacy controls are better than ever and–as the feeds are now basically an ‘additional option’–Facebook is all the better for it.
Also, he includes this message in the closing of his letter:
‘About a week ago I created a group called Free Flow of Information on the Internet, because that’s what I believe in – helping people share information with the people they want to share it with. I’d encourage you to check it out to learn more about what guides those of us who make Facebook. Today (Friday, 9/8) at 4pm edt, I will be in that group with a bunch of people from Facebook, and we would love to discuss all of this with you. It would be great to see you there.
Thanks for taking the time to read this,
Sarah Badr © MMVI