Facebook's Dark Side (And Some Thoughts Why I Blog)

I'd seen this before but a friend sending it to me last week inspired me to get it up on the blog.  It's a Flash video making some conspiracy theorist claims about Facebook – the people who run it having CIA ties, the abuse of its data-mining abilities and so on.

I'm not sure what to think – it could be true, it could be time for somebody to put their tinfoil hat back on.  But the way I look at it, if there is
a secret cabal controlling the world, they're operating at such a
higher level than my day-to-day reality, that it's as if they don't
exist anyhow (if that makes sense.)

I especially like how they claim these shady links to the Department of
Defense when really, that's who created the Internet and so by this person's
everything on the Internet is a military-industrial complex
conspiracy (including this blog.  Watch out!  I'm tracking you!) 

Okay, it's a bit more blatant than that when some of Facebook's top executives have direct DND connections but at the same time, you do ultimately have control about how much (or how little information) you put up on that site.

I have Facebook friends who have their first name, their last initial and not a whole lot more.  That's not the spirit of the place (in my opinion) but again, if you worry about how your information is being used, go ahead and make it a bit harder for the Illuminati to track you if you think it helps.

But other than perhaps listing your political and religious beliefs, I'm not sure if it's something to really worry about.  The Flash video says stuff like:

Facebook, you can see people's favourite books.  Or the Top 10 Movies
in any University community.”  Oooh, look out, the CIA is going to
dicovery that people actually like Tom Cruise and hate JK Rowling!

And of couse, there's the fact that anything will sound ominous with a deadpan delivery and some creepy background music. 

I think there's a deeper issue of how willing (young and/or tech savvy) people are to put up personal details online which is something that came up a lot at the Sask Library Association conference this weekend.

I get called on this by friends all the time.  Obviously, if you're reading this, you know that I'm someone who has decided to be fairly open about my background, my interests, and my personal beliefs online.  I don't know why teenagers do it but it made me wonder, why do I do this?

I think there are a few reasons:
– I believe that society, as a whole, is better when you are open with any and all information rather than secretive.  This can probably backfire and there are times when discretion is required but I think people err on the side of keeping information private and guarded too easily and too often. 

– I believe in a collaborative society and part of that deal is that you have to put your own information out there if you're going to be accessing other people's information – their blogs, their photosets on Flickr, etc.  Peer-to-peer networking, in all its forms, makes for a better world.

– I want my blog and Facebook profile and other outlets to be interesting and there are a couple easy ways to do this:

1) talk a lot about other people (the “this is what I think of Classmate X, this is how I feel about co-worker Y” school of blogging)

2) talk a lot about yourself (also know as the Golden Rule of Writing: “Write What You Know”).

I choose the second option (for the most part) because besides being the subject I know best, the responsibility for what I write, if I say too much, only (hopefully) comes back on me. 

I know there could be people whose opinion of me changes because they know my political or religious views or even because of some off-hand comment I make on this blog about some little thing.  But I think most of the people reading this are educated, critical-thinkers who are able to deal very well with differing viewpoints and worldviews. 

Here's a semi-related anecdote to this whole topic.  I bumped into Michelle D. at SLA and we were standing at the registration desk when a classmate of mine from high school who works in the Sask library community came up.  “What was Jason like in high school?” Michelle asked.  “I was a nerd!” I blurted.  “No, not really, Jason was pretty much the same as he is now – somebody who was always friendly and got along with everybody.” 

It's rare that you get some kind of true insight into other people perceive you so that was kind of nice to hear.  And to bring it full circle, I think that's the final reason I feel comfortable with being so open about myself online.  I hope that I'm secure enough with myself and who I am that I don't mind being open about that via my online presence.

Okay, I gotta go find out what all these strange charges on my VISA are…

Comments 10

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I've been working for a provincial political part for four months now. Okay, so we're the Official Opposition, but still… It's a minority gov't
    I recognize that the Feds are a different order of magnitude, and the international community are another order (New Order has split up for good, so I hear, BTW). I think that you are being a bit paranoid.
    Not that that is a bad thing, but I'm just saying.
    These people want as much from you as you want from them and, well, a good amount of the time they aren't as smart and another portion they don't care as much, as you.
    Let them mine your data. What do you have to give them? Demographic data that is more useful than StatsCan? I give that crap away and they sell it at a premium. If you are honest, and everyone is using the same data to inform policy (strategy aside), then that only tells them what policy will attract your vote.
    Do it. Be honest. Leave the strategy to the policy hacks and talk and, especially, vote your conscience. Policy really does follow voices because they'll do anything for your vote: including agree with you. But if you moderate your vote for the lesser of two evils, the lesser evil knows that is good enough. Horse-shoes, hand grenades and politics. The vote is the only currency.
    Really. The system is explicit Use it.
    Er. Um. Cheers

    Posted 07 May 2007 at 3:45 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    My concern about being open and transparent on the 'net is not so much for me, but for my family, and in particular, my kids. I'm not one of the folks who thinks that if you put a picture of your kids up there, you're 'just asking for a pedophile or a stalker to grab them off the street', but I am one of those people who is relatively concerned about how my kids' and my family's information might be used.
    I don't put pictures of my kids up with their real names. I also don't put their names on their backpacks/jackets in any easily-viewable-from-a-distance location. Our kids don't have email addresses (they're seven and two, so it's not a big deal), and I don't use their real names (or very many people's real names) on my bournal.
    I, too, have asked myself why I've done this. While I do prize my tinfoil hat as one of my most favouritest possessions (it has an antenna), and I realise that if someone really wanted to find me and figure out who I am and where I live and what I do, they could do so relatively easily, and if they're determined to do that, then I think there's more to worry about than what I write about myself in facebook. And really, if the CIA wants to know what my favourite books are, they could just ask…it would save a lot of taxpayers' money…
    I just like to have at least a facade of control over what information goes out there about me and about my family; on sites like MySpace and Facebook, I don't put a lot of information in there, and the 'short bio' they ask you to write, I usually just write something completely silly. I figure that folks who know me, know me already and would expect that from me, and folks who don't can decide whether they want to take the time to figure out why I've done it.
    It's an interesting topic, and I know my mind about a lot of this stuff changed when I thought about how my family's information could be used…Plus, in some situations, there are other concerns, like if you have a family member who works for some level of government, there may be reasons you shouldn't be putting some kinds (or amount of ) information out there. I don't know.
    The facebook video thing reminded me of some of the ads the Grits ran in the last election campaign…

    Posted 07 May 2007 at 6:36 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    Not sure what I said that makes you think I'm being paranoid. In fact, I think I'm with you for the most part.
    I'm of the opinion that we live in the world that we live in and if part of that means that Safeway is going to ask for my loyalty card to help build demographic profiles of 30-something married librarians' grocery-buying habits, I'm willing to make that exchange for the discounts that I get.
    As for politics, I'm also fairly open, both online and talking to pollsters or whoever wants to know, about how I see things. But at the same time, there's a bit of an anarchist in me that likes to give glib and fun answers just to mess up the results because I like to feel that I can retain some sort of an upper hand if I choose. Or something.

    Posted 08 May 2007 at 2:54 am
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    Yeah, that's a legitimate point that your kids don't have a say in what information you put up about them and you're probably wise to be cautious.
    But at the same time, I'm guessing that Shea and I will probably be (quite) a bit more open when Oscar pops out (I just leaned over in the bed for confirmation and Shea agrees that this will be the case.)
    We'll put up pictures, we'll put up the baby's name and I guess, as with everything else on this blog, we'll deal with the consequences whatever they might be.
    It's kinda funny – I've written you off-list to ask you a tangentially related question about parents and their responsibility for children's choices in life.
    Without even seeing your response, I'm guessing that your answer to that question will be the inverse of what Shea and I would answer. Er, hopefully that's not too cryptic – I thought about posting the question here as a response but thought you might take it the wrong way so went off-list. Anyhow, I look forward to the discussion – whether it's offline or here.

    Posted 08 May 2007 at 3:11 am
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    Hey just read your post and came across this from the latest issue of Mute magazine. It's a little more saner account i think, than the whole “i'm being watched” (which i should say i don't entirely discount). “Web 2.0 is Internet Investment Boom 2.0. Web 2.0 is a business model, it means private capture of community-created value”. http://www.metamute.org/en/InfoEnclosure-2.0
    I personally don't care about much of my personal information being on the net, but I also like to use Facebook as a particular podium from which i can efface it's purpose of sharing interests and hobbies as just 'here is my contribution to consumer culture', and instead I can use it as a reverse propaganda model (unglib anarchism i suppose?) where I can put up quotes and lyrics or whatever criticizing the things I see screwing up the world.
    I also had a funny idea that I am seriously thinking of attempting (only after necessary legal protection though) that came out of a discussion about this very issue. I said that in order to prove it, you'd have to do something spectacular. Interests? Overthrowing governments. Books read? Communist manifesto, urban guerrilla, Proudhon. Hobbies? Bomb building, assassination planning….you get the idea. Then wait and see. Would you be disappeared to Cuba? I doubt it, but I think it would be funny to see if anything would happen. Oh hold on, there's a knock at the door……….

    Posted 08 May 2007 at 7:03 pm
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    sorry, that's not the latest issue of Mute. But it is Mute nonetheless.

    Posted 08 May 2007 at 7:15 pm
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    Yeah, sorry. I re-read and I missed your tone during the first (admittedly late-night) reading.
    I generally don't put too much information about my kids up on the web, but I hold no illusions about the risks. There are some, but there are still way more risks in the neighborhood and scool yard. And even those risks are pretty low, actually.
    Parenting is hard enough without wasting energy scaring yourself about things that are highly unlikely. It sort of messes up your perspective with regard to the more common and mundane risks in life.

    Posted 08 May 2007 at 7:23 pm
  8. Anonymous wrote:

    Oh yeah, there are many ways to jam Facebook. Even the people who choose to only sign up with an initial (or sign up their dog or put a profile picture of Bob Marley instead of themselves or whatever) are all “jamming” the system in their own way, consciously or not.
    But that's the whole thing about Web 2.0 – it's interactive but the web services don't always have control of *how* people interact with them.
    The Digg story I blogged about a few days ago is the perfect example – the site's users overwhelmed the site posting copyrighted information that could possibly end up killing the site if a lawsuit by Sony were successful.
    Quite an amazing story on a number of levels and the more I think about it, the more it might be seen as a watershed moment in the Internet's development.
    Will Web 2.0 continue to develop unbridled? Yes. Will companies attempt to put restrictions on as they get larger (just wait until somebody buys Facebook, especially if it's a mainstream media company just as Fox bought MySpace.) Yes.
    But new companies will always come along to supplant them. (Watch out Google!)
    (I really feel like I should re-read this to see if it makes sense. But I'm not going to! )

    Posted 09 May 2007 at 2:20 am
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    Hahaha. No need to re-read. You can just say you are following J. Kerouac's school of disembodied poetics. Yup. I said it.
    Anyways, how ironic:
    Facebook's on the Block
    The owners of the privately held social-networking site hope to fetch as much as $2 billion. And media giants like Viacom may make a good match
    Naw, that's not true. It's from 2006. But man, 2 billion for THAT! Sheesh.

    Posted 09 May 2007 at 2:45 pm
  10. Anonymous wrote:

    Two billion is pretty insane but I guess this is the equivalent of what Google was for librarians to the MBA-types – something that makes your research a hell of a lot easier. 😉

    Posted 12 May 2007 at 3:54 pm
%d bloggers like this: