Hi, I'm Ben Hazell. I used to blog here about the media, but now I work there I don't write here anymore.
I'm the Web Publishing Editor at - I find better ways to tell stories, developing tools, training and practice for journalists.

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The Blog

Rarely updated now, used during Journalism MA at the University of Sheffield.

More tea vicar?

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

How Your Creepy Ex-Co-Workers Will Kill Facebook

Obviously I think about Facebook a lot. Usually about twice a day, I get a pressing urge to just make sure the internet hasn't changed. Maybe someone's sent me a message. Maybe if my life were more exciting, I wouldn't have to live vicariously through the status updates of others.
If a friend falls in a forest and nobody posts a photo, did it really happen? (I'll come back to that another day.)

The main point Cory makes in that article (above) is that social networking sites force users to open themselves up to akward situations, which then cause them to migrate to new sites. The networking sites bring together contacts from all areas of our lives, all viewing the same profile. This can cause trouble.

I've seen many examples of this happening recently. As friends start teaching or working, they open their profiles up to whole new social mixes. In real life, relationships are broken into areas; your elderly workmates don't see what you did at the weekend, and you can't stare at photos of your ex with her new beau. But on Facebook, students can trace their lecturer's wife, and creeps can save copies of your drunken embarrassments before you can de-tag them away.

Sure, it doesn't have to be like this - there are privacy settings, and you can exercise some control over your friendship list. But privacy settings only restrict outsiders, and there are social pressures not to exclude some people. Can you refuse your boss, or you mother?

Facebook could be destroyed because you can't present all the varied facades you do in real life. Lists grow longer, we all get older, we move on, and complications arise.

Perhaps it all forces an honesty of self, but I suspect that many people prefer migration to censoring their fractured self. As users loose control over who sees what, they loose their freedom and are likely to seek asylum on whichever new website will privately harbour their community. We've already seen a repeated boom and bust cycle to social networking sites as the grumblers leave and the critical mass shifts behind them.

If Facebook is to continue to dominate it needs a system for splitting your profile. There are already limited tools in place for this, but they're buried. We need controls to secretly designate different social groups and present different fronts to each. LiveJournal and Flickr already have these kind of controls on a limited scale. Facebook will have to follow. They really need to spend more time polishing up usability and introducing users to the possibilities, and less time selling out our privacy and letting idiots host virtual aquariums. If it's going to survive, any given social networking site needs to remain useful, and not become a mess of gimmicks dancing to corporate themes. They have to let us be our many selves.


Sparkle17 said...

It could be argued that applications like the aquarium allow a little more breathing space for the multiple selves that you talk about. With some people it might be appropriate to have a food fight, with others a Scrabble game might be more appropriate. Following a friend's pregnancy with the 'Pregnancy Counter', or looking at how many countries they have been to, allows the relationship more depth than mere poking. Well, a little bit.

Geo Sun said...

Ben,in actuality we get the same dilemma of such privacy issues in China.The way we Chinese deal with it is to apply irrelevant photos and pseudonyms as our profiles and users names. See.I was totally taken aback when I came to UK finding out that everybody here posts his real name and personal info on the net! Wow,incredible.
For me,the issue you raised in this article is concerning more about the Internet ethics and the respect amongst each individual user.Admittedly,the impending net civilization is,as it were,a two edged weapon which can be used for both good and bad. Nonetheless,if you give a second thought as to it you will find that the quintessential part of it is still humanity inasmuch as it is created, designed and applied for our benefits.
Incidentally,now I've got to chance my Chinese custom of Internet useage in accordance with British unreserve.

tracycao said...

I just find, some of my friends seem to be sensationally "cool!" from what they told us through facebook.


FC said...

a difficult one. geo sun, does "your stripper name" have the same resonance in China? Personaly I think facebook is in danger of disappearing way up itself - the apps are all trash, and people have realised how little they want other people, even those on their own network, to see/stalk them. One event I went to recently garnered a lot of contacts - when it came to exchanging details I found many, having entered the professional world, had more or less shut down their facebook accounts, since like you say in china, one's personal life can be a bit of a liabilty. I think they need to make the levels of privacy clearer: perhaps allow you to categorise how close your "friends" really are - ie random met in pub can be delegated to some "sub friend level" - without them knowing - just to limit how much of your details they can see.

Ho hum, keep up the good blogging,


Grace said...

If a friend falls in a forest and nobody posts a photo, did it really happen? (I'll come back to that another day.)

I want an essay on this for your next post please.

I have my doubts about facebook really lasting another year. I know it sounds terribly snobby, but it's just not what it was like back in t'days of 3rd year essay-writing. It's expanded too much, and I don't think I'm ever really honest on there because I've guilt-added so many people I can't remember if there's anyone I should be hiding things from. It only really functions as a way of fooling yourself you still know people who you haven't spoken to in person for years, and maybe wouldn't even want to. Happy days.

Ben said...

Hey - there's a market for self-deception.

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